By Leanna Coy
Eight months into the pandemic and two weeks after my 21st birthday, I was sitting in my college apartment feeling stressed and watching How I Met Your Mother to relax. My phone rang and I saw it was my dad, so I paused my show to answer. He was on his way to Texas on his motorcycle for the weekend, so I knew he’d be calling me as soon as he made it.
“Hello,” I said.
“Do you know a Dan Coy?!” a woman’s voice frantically asked.
My heart stopped and I jumped up.
“That’s my dad,” I said.
“He’s been in a wreck.”
My roommate, Skyler Martignetti, had just gotten home about ten minutes prior.
“I’ll drive!” she insisted.
I stayed on the phone with the complete stranger who was with my dad as she told me everything that was happening. About five other strangers had stopped at the scene to pray as my dad laid out on the highway. He was practically unconscious, but the stranger held the phone up as I cried through what I thought were my last words to him. She kept us updated as the LifeFlight helicopter arrived and they figured out he was heading to a hospital in Tyler, Texas.
My dad’s wreck happened over two hours away, so I had originally argued with my roommate that I could drive.
“I had just gotten off work and walked in the door,” Skyler recalls. “We had said maybe two words together before your phone rang. Watching your shaky hands hang up the phone, I knew you couldn’t- and shouldn’t- be alone to drive to your dad.”
I called as many of my dad’s friends as I could get a hold of, but once he got in the helicopter, there was no way for me to even know if he was alive until we made it to Tyler. I had to take off my Apple watch because my heart was beating so fast, it kept thinking I was exercising. I am an only child that was primarily raised by my single father. The rest of our family is spread out across the country. My dad and I have always been best friends and losing him had always been a fear of mine. Whenever I need advice or am going through a tough situation, my dad is who I turn to. But in this case, I was on my own.
Skyler and I made it to the emergency room and tracked down my dad. He was alive, but not by much. Until I arrived, the hospital wasn’t even sure what his name was. A nurse warned me it would be a while before I could see him but let me know that he had a severe brain bleed, a broken wrist and pelvis, and was intubated. I was so overwhelmed, I walked outside and sat on the concrete to get some fresh air.
A few hours later, I was finally allowed to see my dad. A different nurse escorted me to the elevator, where I saw myself in the mirror for the first time. I realized I still had mascara smeared down my face.
I shakily walked in the ICU, not knowing what to expect to see. As I entered my dad’s room, I barely recognized him. I couldn’t believe the unconscious man attached to a ventilator in front of me was him. Nothing can prepare you for seeing a loved one in that condition, but I was just thankful he was alive. My eyes were watering even though I was still somewhat numb from the day’s adrenaline. The room was silent except for the sounds of my dad’s machines beeping.
His nurse assured me it would be fine for my roommate to drive me home so I could get some sleep before coming back the next morning. I said bye to my dad and told him I loved him even though I knew he couldn’t hear me. From there, my series of road trips between Natchitoches and Tyler began.
Over the next month, I was thrown into a world of new adult responsibilities. On top of keeping up with my classes, I was suddenly dealing with the emotional trauma of not knowing when or if my dad would get out of the hospital, hiring a lawyer, filing an insurance claim, handling his finances, taking care of his dog, and gathering his belongings. Since my dad was on a ventilator, I couldn’t ask him any questions. Even simple tasks like finding his insurance were difficult without being able to get his help. I was getting so many calls from the hospital, lawyer, insurance agent, and my dad’s friends that if I even wanted to eat, I had to put my phone on silent.
One of the first tasks I handled was emailing my teachers. I wasn’t familiar with lawyers or insurance, but I at least knew how to get my schoolwork out of the way. The good news for me was that because of COVID-19, my classes were primarily online. This made it easier to get my work done on the days I was in Texas.
After a week in the ICU, I got a call that my dad was off the ventilator. I was ecstatic because I thought I’d finally be able to talk to him. However, when I got back to the hospital, I realized the severity of his brain injury. I never knew how much of a toll being on a ventilator takes. My dad barely had a voice and even though he recognized me, his eyes were glazed over. He had no idea what was going on. The whole time my dad was in the hospital, he couldn’t understand things like what year it was or even that he had been in a wreck. One doctor told me it could be anywhere from six months to two years until my dad might get his memory back. I was torn between being thankful he was alive and feeling like I had lost him anyway.
Another week later, my dad was moved to a regular hospital room. He had slowly started to get his voice back and was beginning to regain more of his long-term memory. I started getting pressure from the nurses about where my dad could go next. My main responsibility became figuring out how to get him into a nursing home for rehab. Putting a parent in a nursing home can feel devastating at any age, but it felt unfair that I was going through it at 21 years old.
Finals week was approaching, and on top of all my new responsibilities, I didn’t believe I’d be able to finish my classes. I began the process of requesting an incomplete but didn’t think
it was going to get approved in time. I decided to hustle and finish the rest of my work. Somehow, I ended up finishing Fall 2020 with a 4.0.
I got my dad into a nursing home in Natchitoches, and he began having physical, occupational, and speech therapy five times a week. I expected he’d probably spend a year or two there before moving to assisted living if we were lucky. My dad’s doctors and I all underestimated his resilience because after only two months of therapy, he had his memory back and could take care of himself.
“When you can’t do anything for yourself, pride goes out the window,” my dad said looking back on his situation. “I would have done anything to get out.” He has been back to living independently since February. “All I remember about the actual wreck is what I’ve been told,” he said.
Balancing classes is already difficult, but when tragedy strikes, it can be unbearable. The aftermath of my dad’s wreck was the hardest thing I’ve ever been through, but I’ll always be grateful everything worked out in the end. If life ever interrupts your time in college, there are resources available.
If you need to request an incomplete, Charlotte Grayson, a worker in the NSU registrar’s office says, “A grade of I (incomplete) in a course means that the student’s work in that course is incomplete due to circumstances beyond his or her control, as determined by the instructor, and that completion of the work could lead to a passing grade.” If approved, the incomplete grants students an extra 60 days to finish coursework.
In addition, the NSU Counseling center offers free services to students. Their office can be reached at (318) 357-5621.
“College: Interrupted,” is about my experience dealing with my dad’s horrifying motorcycle wreck that occurred during my junior year at NSU. I was sitting on the couch in my apartment when I got the call from a stranger telling me what had happened. It’s hard to know what to do when a family emergency strikes, especially as a college student. I wrote “College: Interrupted” for my COMM4230 magazine course at NSU.
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