Return of an Angel
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As Told by Rob and Anthea..

On the morning of the 19th of April 2000 we had everything we could ever have asked for… life was wonderful for the Fisher family... I had sold my internet business and bought a beautiful house and could afford wonderful holidays for the family... we had been to the Commores, Bazaruto and Disney World and we were off to Europe in June... then the unthinkable happened…

Anthea and the kids were coming back from Umhlanga Rocks after a visit to the Orthodontist, Dr Vally, where he had told Mandy another 2 weeks and the braces were to come off! They were traveling South on the N2 when a drunk driver in a huge earth moving truck lost control on the opposite side of the N2 and he crashed through the barrier and hit them head on! Mandy was in the front passenger seat and got the brunt of the smash with the windscreen crushing the front of her skull.... Anthea broke both her arms and nose and they were trapped in the car for nearly 2 hours... Anthea managed to call me on her cell despite her broken arms and I will never forget that phone call as long as I live... Terror doesn't describe her voice... it was much much more...
My first call on the way to the accident was to my sister Gill who was head of trauma for St Augustine's hospital... by the time I got to the scene there were already 3 emergency vehicles on the scene... the next 2 hours were a complete blur for me... seeing your family broken and bleeding in a scene like that is more than anyone can bear. Mandy was already in a coma...

After what seemed like forever the fireman cut them out the vehicle and Anthea and Mandy were on their way to hospital... thankfully my youngest, Kelsey, was in the back seat and had no major injuries other than bad bruising due to the seat belt. Apart from the shock she was ok and already on her way to hospital.

As I write this I can smell the accident scene along with the chaos and the crowds and the onlookers who just get in the way. I can't really describe in words how I feel… only those that have experienced terror and beyond could begin to understand that feeling of utter helplessness and the emptiest feeling in the pit of one's stomach.

I got to the hospital some 15 minutes after the ambulance and the next few hours were again a blur... sometime later that evening the doctors came to talk to Anthea and I and the news was devastating... Mandy would not survive the night!

Again that indescribable feeling… I have tried to think of words to explain it but words fail me… for Anthea and me it feels like the end of the world and far beyond anyone's worst nightmare. Helplessness to the utmost extreme! We don't know how we will ever recover from the news… Anthea was wheeled into theatre and put under for the operation to repair her broken arms. At that moment I'm so alone and can't bear the thought that I would never again be able to hold my first born baby and tell her how much I love her!

I now have to go outside to all our waiting family and friends and tell them that Mandy isn't going to make it… from this point till I wake up the next morning (the hospital put me up in a private ward next to Anthea's) I still don't remember.

I wake up and go through to see Anthea and Kelsey and Anthea just looks at me and says "Go and see our Baby"… I take the long trip from the Neuro Ward to ICU (a trip I was to make many hundreds of times more in the next 6 weeks) and with every step I get more scared of what news I may get when I get to ICU.

Mandy was still alive on life support in ICU... but they told us she wouldn't make it and if she did the injuries to her entire brain were such that she would be a vegetable. She was just lying motionless in the bed all swollen with tubes and monitors hooked up to her… not something a parent can see without wanting to pass out. How could God (if there is a God) have done this to us? Why us?

My sister Gill would spend the nights at Mandy's bedside because without her being there we could never have left the ICU.

After 2 days the doctors decided to take her off the ventilator. She started breathing by herself and Anthea and I have hope... the doctors told us we shouldn't have hope because the scans showed a "diffuse axonal injury" and there is no chance of recovery. The convulsions then start and during one of them she bites a hole right through her tongue. She had a permanent airway (trachea) and drips running in on 4 lines. We feel absolutely helpless. The swelling gets worse and we can't remember how Mandy's voice sounded. When I get home in the evening I listen to some recordings of Mandy's voice and away from the world I dissolve into tears and sob uncontrollably and I hate the world and I would like to kill the barstard that did this to my family!

The next week was a nightmare and we spent every minute we can with Mandy. I would wheel Anthea (with all her drips and drains) in her wheelchair as she wasn't mobile due to her injuries. The ICU staff were fantastic, especially one particular nurse who nursed Mandy most of the time... Hailey… she kept us going and told us there was always hope.

It was about 2 weeks after the accident that the doctor sat us down - at Mandy's bedside with all the staff from ICU and said, "The scan definitely showed a diffuse axonal injury. If Mandy does come out of her coma she will be a huge anchor on a small boat ... Take her to an institution, mourn her and get on with your lives". Mandy hadn't moved in the bed for 36 hours and we feared the worst... the doctor was right and we were loosing Mandy...

I walked out of ICU feeling like my life was ending too... Early the next morning (she still had not stirred) I went to the statue of Mary in the garden and started to pray for the first time in many many years... I was never sure there was a God and I now prayed and said that if there was a God now was the time that I needed him... I bartered with God and told him that I knew this wasn't the way to pray but for the very first time in my life I needed a God and if he was listening now was the time for some action! Then I walked back down the stairs to ICU.

I walked up to Mandy's bed and held her hand in both of mine and sang to her. She squeezed my hands back! My prayers had been answered and I knew then that we would get Mandy back... just what we would get back I didn't know and I didn't care... we wanted her back no matter what!

The doctors still gave her no chance, but at the end of week two we were determined that we were going to get our child back. Up until week 3 the staff and physiotherapists would send us out when ever they needed to do something, which was every half an hour, but from that point on we would get proactive and stay and help the staff... I learned to change and clean her tracheotomy... Mandy would get really distressed (in her coma) when the staff fiddled with her trachy and when I did it (talking to her all the time) she was much calmer.

Week 4 saw her transferred to high-care, still in a coma.... we would arrive in the morning and Mandy would not look good… the endless antibiotics, anticonvulsants blood transfusions and bad nursing care was taking its toll. Everyone said we had ICU syndrome, and they made our lives very difficult as we tried to spend as much time with her as we could. When we discovered a huge pressure sore on the back of her head we knew it was time to move her.

We realized that Mandy needed attention 24 hours a day, and she was not getting it in high-care. We insisted on a private ward where we could bring in our own nurses, and stay with her, talk to her, play music and read to her, for as long as we liked, without being told we were being " unrealistic " and "not handling the situation very well". In so doing we made sure she got all the love and attention we could give her and from the moment we got her into the private ward she improved. We were communicating with her - as was Nomsa, her wonderful day nurse that helped us and looked after Mandy and Anthea (still incapacitated), as if they were her own.

It was on Mother's day that Monica from the Catholic Church where my friend Christine goes, arrived (I call her one of God's angels). She prayed for us and asked God to return Mandy to her family. The next day Mandy put her arms up to us as if to say - I am ready to get up and going now. Of course every time the neurosurgeon would come in and say "open your eyes Mandy, pull my moustache Mandy - she would lay there and not move - he thought we were nuts when we vehemently told him that she was responding and even drinking the odd sip of cream soda! We thought or should we say wished that it would be like the movies and she would just get up and say I am fine let's go home! The nightmare feeling traveling to that hospital every morning - looking at the world around us carrying on - Did they not see that ours had fallen apart?

She was still being fed through drips and a stomach tube, catheter in place. Somewhere in week four she came out of the coma and we were overjoyed but of course there was no real communication and we had no idea what we were getting ourselves into....

The reality of the situation became apparent as we watched her trying to lift her head one day during physiotherapy… she was blue and unable to control her body… we wondered at what price we had our daughter back. Our struggle had just begun. We would sit her up in a chair and prop her head with pillows just to get her out of that bed! We talked and sang and read to Mandy and she would communicate with a smile or hand movements… we had secret hand signs for when she would want some privacy during visiting hours… It was an emotional roller coaster… one day she would improve and our hopes would soar and the next day she wouldn't look so good and we would take it in turns to go outside and cry for our child.

Week 6 arrived and the day to remove her trachea arrived.... the ward was full of the nursing staff and the procedure began.... not as simple as we had hoped and the poor nurse took major strain and was really distressed during the procedure as was Mandy. I chased everyone from the room other than those directly involved... another minute and the trachy was out! The nurse then blocked the hole in Mandy throat and said "Say hello to Mom and Dad Mandy"!

"Hello Mom and Dad" came out of Mandy's mouth! Well it was just unbelievable to hear Mandy's voice again and Mom and Dad just dissolved in happy tears! Our prayers were answered! Our first born was back and I knew she would leave the hospital soon and we could go home! As I write this story the tears come back into my eyes as this was the point that I knew for sure that we were getting our first born back!

Sometime later that day we started to try and see how bad the brain damage was and Anthea held up a R100 note and asked Mandy what it was?

"Half a pair on pants" was Mandy's reply! Again laughter and tears! Mandy had her sense of humor! My God this was more than we could ever have hoped for!

We took Mandy home in a wheelchair (she had broken her ankle pretty badly as well) on week 8! The next few months saw Mandy improve and learn to walk again. She had lost a lot of her vocabulary... "What's that brown pile on the grass Daddy"? "A mole hill Mandy." "What's a mole Daddy"?

Mandy is blind in her right eye and tunnel vision in her left. From designing web pages before the accident she could hardly use a mouse now.

We thought the worst was over when Anthea realized Mandy was leaking spinal fluid from her nose. The roller coaster had started all over again. The scan showed that she had no frontal bones and her brain had herniated through her nasal passage and eye… the one that she could still see through. We prepared ourselves and sent Kelsey to Cape Town to be with Anthea's little sister Clair who had stayed with us and run our home and left her husband alone from the 19th of April to the 6th June once again she stepped in and became Kelsey's surrogate mother.

24 hour nursing, physiotherapy and oodles of love and patience for 6 months and Mandy was ready to head back to hospital for a craniotomy so they could repair the broken bones in her face and skull. The weeks before the operation were an endless stream of testing. Her pituitary gland was damaged she was not getting vital hormones - try this - do that and finally with the help of Dr Buck and Dr van der Merwe the operation was scheduled!

The operation will be a "piece of cake and should be over in an hour and a half" said the specialist. Anthea and I were of course nervous as hell and geared up for a long two hour wait….. we went to browse around the shops to try and pass the time… we were of course back at the hospital by 14:00 to see our precious first born… at 17:30 we were still waiting and our minds were running wild! What had gone wrong!

Just before six the surgeon came out to assure us that it had gone well and he had had to do a little more work than he anticipated. He could not believe how well she was - as she had developed an abscess and the damage found was severe.

Back to ICU (for what we had thought would only be two days) again we camped beside Mandy's bed for the next couple of days… 3 days later Mandy was ready to be released from ICU to go to high care for a couple of days… Anthea and I were with Mandy awaiting the nurse who would take her to high care, when Mandy's eyes started to flicker and she went into convulsions! Again we thought the end had come… we could simply not have gone through the pain and anguish again. Thank God we were in ICU and drugs could be administered and the convulsions stopped.

A week later we left the hospital not to return again!

Well its one year and seven months since that "day" and Mandy is back at school. She has just finished her first term back at Kloof High School (the school has been fantastic and put her back into the same class with the kids she was with before the accident) and despite loosing a year and a half of schooling passed this term just under the class average!

Mandy has always been a special child and an Angel… and now we are convinced she is on earth as an Angel. We always say that on that fateful day of the 19th April 2000 that God took Mandy and tucked in her wings and sent her back to us because she has work to do on earth!

Thank you God!

Rob & Anthea Fisher
22nd October 2001