Stories from the Stringam Family Ranches of Southern Alberta

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Daughter of Ishmael by Diane Stringam Tolley

Daughter of Ishmael

by Diane Stringam Tolley

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Saturday, February 16, 2013

Tender Mercies

All I can fee l is gratitude . . . and love.

Twelve years ago, our youngest daughter was a Junior in High School.
She was a promising newbie on her rugby team.
An accomplished musician, playing both the trombone and accordion.
She loved to dance and was a superb and natural stage actress.
With a quick and wicked sense of humour.
Then, her life changed.
When she was 15, she went on a trail-riding camp with her class to the Rocky Mountains.
Something the school sponsored every year.
All had gone well.
Then, as the group made their careful way along the ridge of a high coulee, a rider in front of her lost his hat.
It landed on the ground directly at her horse’s feet.
The animal spooked and reared back.
And the two of them, horse and rider, went over the cliff, landing, with our daughter beneath, on the rocky streambed some thirty feet below.
The horse, shaken and confused, but relatively unhurt, immediately scrambled to its feet and took off.
Our daughter remained where she had fallen.
Her friends and schoolmates rushed to her side.
She was conscious and reassured everyone that she was fine.
Though in a great deal of pain.
They hauled her to her feet, set her on the back of an ATV and took her back to camp.
From there, she was piled into a vehicle and driven to the nearest town, Rocky Mountain House, and taken to the hospital.
By this time, she was confused and asking the same questions over and over.
The doctor there at the hospital gave her a cursory examination, ran a hand quickly down her back where her pain seemed the most intense, and sent her back to camp.
For three days, she slept on the hard ground and generally tried to move a little as possible.
Finally, the camp ended and everyone piled into the busses and vehicles to head home.
When I first saw my daughter, I could see she was still in intense pain.
I immediately took her in to our doctor, who ordered an x-ray.
And called us as soon as he had seen the pictures.
“Get her in to the hospital now,” he said. “Right now. Don’t stop for anything.”
Bewildered, we did as we had been told, arriving in the early evening.
She was immediately admitted.
A specialist appeared at her bedside. “Has she had anything to eat?” he asked.
“Yes,” I said. “Why?”
“She needs emergency surgery,” he said. “Her back is badly broken.”
The words went through both of us like a bolt.
“Broken?”
“One of her vertebra is completely crushed,” the doctor said. “The two on either side of it are mostly gone and only have one side each. They are point-to-point holding the rest of her back intact.”
We stared at him.
“I have to operate as soon as possible. Because she has eaten we’ll have to postpone the surgery until morning.” He sighed. “Well try to make her as comfortable as possible for the night.”
It was an emotional and sleepless one.
Early the next morning, they took my little girl, my promising athlete, musician, dancer and actress in to surgery to try to save what was left of her back.
My Husby and I waited.
Forever.
Finally, a team of medical people pushed her bed back into her room. She smiled at us groggily.
They snapped the brakes and turned to us. “Look,” one of them said. She folded the covers back at the foot of the bed.
“Wiggle your feet, dear,” she said.
Our daughter did so.
The tears that had never been very far away, began.
They had managed to insert two metal brackets, one on either side of her spine, and fastened them to healthy vertebrae above and below the affected three. Then they cinched the crushed bones apart.
The pain was unimaginable.
And my daughter never even whimpered.
Within a few days, she had been fitted for an external ‘clam shell’ that she could clasp around her to protect her fragile spine.
She was told it would be her best friend for the next six months.
And then she walked out of the hospital.
A few weeks later, we took her camping.
She wasn’t able to do much more than wade in the cool, clear water, but she splashed around in her swimsuit and clam shell and enjoyed the sun and the company of her siblings.
Nearby was a young woman, just older than my daughter, in a wheelchair.
I thought, then, ‘There but for the Grace of God goes my daughter.’
She had to give up her dream of playing rugby, but, other than that, was able to resume her normal activities.
And slowly grew new bones.
Her clam shell was discarded after two months.
She still dances and plays music.
Still acts.
She finished high school and college and now works as a carpenter, building stage sets.
She is a wife and a mother.
Today is her 27th birthday.
I see her dancing with her daughter or strapping on a tool belt or competing with her husband at a video game and I forget the grave mistakes that were made after her accident.
All I can feel is gratitude.

20 comments:

  1. Talk about dodging a bullet. You must tear up every time you see her.

    ReplyDelete
  2. God is so good and faithful to take care of us. What a miracle your daughters story is.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It truly is a miracle, Lynda! Something that I 'm daily thankful for.

      Delete
  3. Wow!! That is so amazing for you all.. I'm just wondering...did you ever re-contact that first doctor who sent her back to camp?

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We tried to. I just didn't want another father's daughter to go through what our little girl did. But we were blocked at every turn and never did connect.

      Delete
  4. Oh wow! Truly a modern day miracle! Thank Heavens for "mom's intuition". I too got teary eyed reading this.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I tried to read it to my Husby. And neither of us could make it through.

      Delete
  5. Still remember what happened to MY husby just last year! In fact, it'll be one year on the 21st. Still freaks me out thinking about it...

    ReplyDelete
  6. It makes my blood run cold to think what might have been - at several points in this amazing story! I guess none of you will be taking the miracle of life for granted now!!!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. You are absolutely right! It makes me shiver even now!

      Delete
  7. This is a parents worst nightmare... I am so glad it turned out well for your family... life can change in a second...Very emotional story Diane...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Life certainly can change in a moment! So so grateful . . .

      Delete
  8. What an amazing story. Your daughter must have an incredible tolerance for pain. I'm so glad to hear it ended the way it did. Not impressed with that first doctor, nor whoever was supposed to be in charge of first aid on the trip ...

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. We certainly did try to complain about her treatment. We were told that we had no proof that their actions actually endangered her. If she had been crippled, then we had a case. Made me SOOO mad!!!

      Delete
  9. I can't believe the first doctor didn't send her to x-ray immediately. off a cliff with a horse for heaven's sake!
    I'm so glad it all turned out well. I'm surprised she grew new bones in the spine, I didn't know that was possible. (I wish my spine would grow new vertebrae to replace the worn ones).
    It's lovely to read she can now do everything but play rugby.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. She was so out of it when she got home . . . I asked her if she had gotten and x-ray and she said she thought so. But she didn't. What a crack-pot of a doctor!

      Delete
  10. Oh my goodness! And there are people in this world who say there are no miracles!?!!! Your daughter is one! I can't even imagine what that was like for her or for you. Thank you for sharing this beautiful story. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I definitely believe in miracles! I will never forget the experience. Or the result. Tender Mercies.

      Delete

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Diane was born and raised on one of the last of the great old Southern Alberta ranches. A way of life that is fast disappearing now. Through her memories and stories, she keeps it alive. And even, at times, accurate . . .

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