It was a little late in the evening and I started not to answer the phone, but my hand grabbed it up and flipped the cover. A stranger’s voice asked if I knew a Tim McDaniel. Cautiously I said yes. “How do you know him?” said the voice. “I’m his sister, Linda Smith.”
“Your brother has been hit by a car. He is in critical but stable condition at Vanderbilt Hospital in Nashville. All I know at the moment is that he has some broken bones and a hit to his head. It’ll take a few hours for the tests to come back for fuller details.” Lauren introduced herself as a social worker who would be in the emergency room till 7 a.m. and his family could call her at any time. At some point when I called I was told he had some slight bleeding on the brain and was being closely monitored.
Tim is our youngest sibling, an Air Force veteran for a brief period who has been only a marginal veteran of society for a lifetime. Though he has lots of problems, he is still the funniest person I’ve ever known. One-liners and anecdotes roll off his tongue like they were born there. It’s almost like he can’t talk any other way. He is also gifted in art — mostly pencil sketches on notebook paper since he’s never owned any art supplies. He has sometimes sang for his supper — meaning that while traveling the highways he would win money in singing contests.
Nashville is his latest and longest port of call, but not because of the music. Handyman jobs took him there. He has lived a gypsy life by the tools on his belt or taking whatever job presented itself. He’s been a roofer, a carpenter, a pizza cook, a sign changer for billboard advertisers, and a carnival ride jock. It’s a rugged life and hard on those who love him because he is completely out of touch for long periods of time.
When Katie and I arrived at the hospital, it was so hard to see him like that it drained our energy fast. His head was gauzed up. On the second day they removed the gauze and left a bandage toward the back. There will be a map of scars covering his scalp when it heals. There were scrapes under his eyes and both legs were immobilized. We realized even at that he was blessed to be alive. Our sister Gaynell claims that both our brothers have nine lives.
The first thing Tim said when he opened his eyes and saw us was, “Get me a cigarette”. (They’ve since put a nicotine patch on his arm). That was the last clear thing he said. The medications kept him drifting off and muttering. But even then he had not lost his sense of humor. At one point he tried to lean closer to Katie to tell her something. Katie stretched across the bed rail as far as she could and leaned down.
“Oh, Katie,” Tim croaked, “I’ve cracked my cranium.” That was such a Tim-ism it brought tears to her eyes. When she told me later, I couldn’t quit laughing till I cried.
But more often than not, he slept fitfully, often plucking at the lines taped to his chest and the pulse monitor on his finger. He kept saying he wanted them off. He kept trying to move more than his injuries would allow. He put me in mind of a caged mountain lion shot with a tranquilizer dart. One morning when we walked in, he had managed to pull out some of the lines and his IV, spattering blood over himself and the sheets. The nurses were already on it and working fast. In less than ten minutes he was back in pristine condition.
Katie and I were very impressed with his day nurse, Donald. He balanced obvious compassion with firmness, his voice never irritable or confrontational in any way. In fact, the whole staff at the trauma center were friendly, courteous, and efficient and that took a great load off our minds.
We didn’t realize how many friends Tim had in Nashville until we had to share our visitor cards with them. We met Vicky and Holly, and a young lady and gentleman from the Green Street Church that Tim attended. And there were more that we didn’t get to meet. Only two visitors were allowed at a time in the room, and that only for a few minutes. Katie and I spent a couple of days there; going in for short visits, then waiting for elevators, then sitting in the lobby or the cafeteria, being swept along by the tide of people, then going back for another short visit, half of which was to say a few words as Tim drifted off again.
There were times when he had to be moved and he and his bed straightened up. That was the hardest. Hearing Tim yell through that closed door. I was proud of him, though. It was no little girl scream and he didn’t cuss. Just a manly yell loud enough to hear over the entire unit. But I knew the pain that had to be there to cause it and it ripped through both of us sisters.
Tim will have long weeks in physical therapy in his near future, and a lot more pain to endure before this is over. I don’t think he has entirely realized it yet. It’s all too new and raw. At one point when Katie and I had to stop him from crawling off the bed and pulling out the lines, he mumbled groggily it was time to go. “I’ve already been here three days,” he said. “That’s time enough.”
We came home yesterday feeling like we’d been run down by a steam roller. I posted about the accident on Facebook the day we left and updated this morning. I appreciate all the family and friends who have been praying for Tim, and for Katie and me as we traveled. God blesses with good friends and family. Thank you all.
I will be posting more on Nashville soon.