“No! This can’t be happening! Oh God, I can’t do this!!” When I pulled up on the scene, there were emergency vehicles lining the road for as far as I could see. You see, I had just arrived at the location I was given, with no other details than “your husband has crashed his powered parachute and you need to come to this address”. Running across the property to the ambulance where most of the activity was centered, I could see a roped off area to one side where his mangled flying machine lay in a thicket of trees. I barely caught a glimpse of my husband before the ambulance pulled away. A thick bulky bandage around his neck looked ominous and his face was drenched in blood. I was given one instruction: get to the trauma center. I was pleading with God, making all kinds of deals, as I drove to the hospital. It was surreal and difficult to process. How could this be happening to us again? Just a short two years prior, we were reeling from a hit and run accident….
When I opened my eyes, I felt like I was trapped in a small bubble. Various faces would come into focus within the bubble and then fade away. I felt numb all over, my head felt thick and the quietness inside my brain was so…loud. The headache at the base of my neck was pounding and I felt staggering dizziness with even slight movement. It felt as though I was floating in and out along with the images around me, each time becoming a little more clear-headed, and, I am told, more belligerent. The activity around me was a blur, and I remember understanding that I had been hit by a car, but I didn’t have the ability to think beyond that.
An avid bicyclist, I was three miles into my 25 mile ride when I was hit from behind by a driver in a silver Honda. Witnesses have said that my bike and I rolled over and over until I landed, unconscious, on the double yellow line in the road. The driver, I am told, slowed down and then took off at a high rate of speed.
The lifeflight to the hospital and the days afterward are foggy. My head and neck ached for a few weeks, I had road rash, overall soreness and a very painful shoulder. As it turns out I had a fracture and a torn labrum which required surgical repair. The physical healing progressed well and I was back to my regular riding activities as soon as the doctors released me. The after effects of the concussion were much longer lasting. I had difficulty with speech and reasoning and underwent months of cognitive rehabilitation.
It has been five years since I laid in that road, but when I think about it, my heart pounds and I feel short of breath. The emergency room physician told my family that the crack in my bicycle helmet was a representation of the skull fracture that I did not get. He said it would have ended my life had I been without the protection of my helmet. I was given a second chance.
The second chance my husband was given was even more remarkable. Back to that October night. When I arrived in the emergency room, I had to wait a little bit before they would allow me to see him. As a former ICU nurse, many things, none of them good, were going through my mind. Nothing prepared me for what I saw when I walked in the trauma room. My husband lay on a stretcher with his left arm deformed from a fracture. The doctor peeled back the dressing on his neck to display a gory wound which extended from just below his ear to the bottom of his neck, his jugular vein visible and pulsing.
Earlier that afternoon, Paul had taken the powered parachute up for a flight. This was a relatively new hobby for him, but he had experienced many successful flights and assured me that it was the safest way to fly. On this day, however, he found himself a little too far from home as twilight was approaching. Instead of pushing ahead and landing in a potentially dark, but very familiar pasture at home, he made the fateful decision to land in an approaching farm field. As he was about to land, he didn’t feel confident about the angle of the approaching ground. He decided to do a fly around and try again, in order to avoid a hard landing. As he pulled back up to circle around, he clipped the top of an 80 foot oak tree and began an immediate free fall. The craft was buoyed by some branches on the way down but he was dumped on the ground, tipped over and entangled. Somehow, despite his dominant arm being broken, he was able to retrieve a pocket knife and cut the lines ensnaring his foot. Once free, he hobbled to the closest residence to ask for help.
At the hospital, as the doctor removed the dressing and pointed out the pulsing vein in Paul’s neck, a familiar sense of dread mixed with relief came over us. During the fall, a tree branch which had cushioned his impact, also almost took his life. He was impaled and the skin across his neck was ripped open. The doctor said just a millimeter further and his jugular could have been sliced open, resulting in a much different outcome. As it was, Paul went into emergency surgery to clean and close the wound and then had a second surgery a few hours later to repair the forearm fracture.
After a few days in the hospital and many weeks of rehabilitation, he was recovered enough to return to his firefighting job. Every doctor we encountered through this process reminded us of how fortunate he was. We were told that most people would not survive an accident of this kind. Paul was given a second chance and we were extremely grateful for the second time in as many years.
The story might end there, except that there is more to the beginning of the story. This was a second chance for my husband. But it was his third second chance. Let me take you back to 1996.
Paul and I dated in high school and married three years after I graduated. While I finished college, Paul worked construction and eventually started a home building company the year our first child was born. I had put my nursing career on hold by that time and was working part time for him.
On a chilly gray day that November I dropped our daughter off at preschool and had come back home to get my day started. I was pregnant with our second child and remember feeling very sleepy. I sat on the couch for a few minutes, drifted off and was startled awake by the sound of someone in the room with me. Initial fright turned to dread. Clearing the sleep from my eyes , I looked over to see my husband leaning back in a recliner with blood covering his forehead and running down his face. I noticed he was breathing rapidly and when I asked what was wrong he told me he had fallen at work. He was the only one on the job, arriving before his crew, and had been checking the framing they had done the day before. As he moved along, checking rafter placement, he literally walked off the end of the house. He fell about 25 feet and landed on his chest. He recalls that when he landed he could not breathe for several long moments. As he was frantically trying to suck air into his lungs, with no success, a neighbor drove by the jobsite. Paul tried to attract attention but all he could manage to do was to lift one finger as he watched her drive by, unaware of what was unfolding next door. Just as he feared that he was going to die all alone, precious air rushed into his lungs. He was able to drive himself home and, seeing that I was asleep, he quietly settled into the recliner beside me.
Later at the hospital it was determined that he had 5 broken ribs, a punctured lung and a fractured finger. Amazingly he had no significant internal injuries. He was admitted to the hospital for three days and was released on November 9th, his 30th birthday. It was the best birthday celebration we could imagine!
Being self-employed, he was determined to return to work as soon as possible. He recovered quickly and was back on the job shortly. Again and again, we were told by various physicians that it was amazing that he survived this fall, and with as few significant injuries as he did.
Life for us proceeded, our second child was born and Paul continued to work in the construction field. Our story might skip forward to present day, but there was another ironic bump in the road.
Two years to the day after his fall, on November 6, 1998, I was working in the office when one of our employees called. They were all known to joke around, so when I was told that Paul had fallen and was being transported by ambulance, I initially laughed it off as a joke. And when I realized that it was the two year anniversary of his first fall, I knew they were pulling my leg. It soon became apparent, however, that this was no prank, and I found myself driving to the trauma center, once again bargaining with God.
Upon arrival, I was taken to Paul’s side. He was strapped to a gurney with a brace around his neck and he was yelling belligerently. This was completely unlike him, as he is a quiet and rational person under normal circumstances. My inner nurse instantly worried about a head injury. Paul was unable to carry on a cohesive conversation so the emergency staff filled me in.
A custom home we were building was scheduled to close the following day. The purchasers had made a last minute request to have some branches cut off a nearby oak tree. Paul, who had cut down many trees, set up a ladder and cut the branch (which was about 18 inches in diameter). He was at the top of an extension ladder, over 20 feet high, when the branch fell. As it toppled, it knocked the bottom of the ladder out. Paul cartwheeled through the air, landing on the side of his head, his neck fully bent against the hard dirt.
Scans showed no brain injury. As with his first fall, he had fractured multiple ribs and had another collapsed lung. Additionally, he had a fractured cervical vertebra. Over and over, we were told how fortunate he was to have survived the accident and how incredibly lucky he was to have no spinal cord damage. He was admitted to the hospital and released on the third day, his 32nd birthday. Another grateful birthday celebration!
The recovery from this injury was somewhat more involved, as immobilization of the cervical spine was critical to the healing process. We went through the following weeks in a daze, trying to process the fact that he had suffered two life threatening injuries on the same calendar day two years apart. We were thankful for his second second chance and could not imagine that in another ten years he would receive his third second chance.
The cracked helmet. The crooked scar along a jawline. A vision of the pulsating jugular vein—a thin rope that was the connection between life and death. Little blobs of scar tissue remaining where chest tubes once reinflated lungs. A twinge of pain with certain movements. All of these are tangible reminders for us of what could have been and what is.
Many people ask questions. Aren’t you scared to keep riding your bicycle? How did you fall over 20 feet and survive? Are you frightened by risk of injury being a firefighter? Has the hit and run driver ever been caught? Do you feel like you want to wrap yourselves in bubble wrap and find safer activities to pursue?
We don’t have answers to all of the questions. We do know that we have refused to be limited by a fear of potential danger. We have been skydiving. We are taking scuba diving lessons. We have completed Iron Man competitions. We continue to ride bicycles.
Are we emboldened by the fact that we survived traumatic injuries, and therefore, have a lesser fear of danger? Or are we so aware of the thin line between life and death that we live for the next thrill? That we are not afraid to take chances? That we are naïve enough to believe that something like this could never happen again?
The questions we struggle with the most are the whys? Why did we survive accidents that others might not have? Why are we still here? Why were we granted second (and third and fourth) chances? When sleep doesn’t come easily, sometimes these questions are bouncing around in our brains.
Though we may never know why, we are trying to take advantage of the fact that we have more time. And that brings us to our most current adventure.
The Flyway Lodge. A long neglected property. A disintegrating historical keepsake in need of attention. A home with a rich and storied history fading away like the tattered pages of a worn book. A place deserving of a second chance.
Termite damage. Water damage. Outmoded electrical and mechanical systems. Dry rot. Crumbling shingles. Overgrown landscaping. A disintegrating sea wall. A lot of reasons to walk away. But somehow we were drawn to this special place. A place calling out for a second chance.
We can overlook all of the problems. We see magnificent copper cupolas on a carriage house built in the 1920s. We see clawfoot tubs underneath years of dust and grime. We see hardwood timber beams and oak paneling lining the lodge room, a room with a fireplace so big our entire family could stand within it and still have space. We see second chance opportunities everywhere.
A duck hunting lodge on the North Carolina Outer Banks brought back to its original luster. A piece of Knotts Island history restored and passed along like the scrapbook in the local elementary school library. An eco-lodge bordering the famed Mackay Island Wildlife Refuge. A warm and inviting bed a breakfast, a place to share with others. These are our dreams.
Last year we took what we consider to be the biggest chance of our lives. We sold our beloved farm, a home that we thought would take us to retirement and beyond. And we purchased the Flyway Lodge. We tried not to get buried in the what ifs and instead chose to focus on the possibilities. We had reservations but did not get frozen by fear. We were bolstered by our innate senses of adventure and have tried not to look back.
We invite you to join us on our journey to help restore this magnificent home. We face hard work and certainly some setbacks along the way, but maybe this is our purpose. To keep this lodge from crumbling into the Currituck Sound. To preserve a piece of waterfowl history for generations to come. We can only hope to restore it to some of its original glory and we look forward to sharing the Flyway Lodge’s second chance with you.