Our three girls finished school and Catherine and Abi moved out of the house to enjoy their first taste of independence. Catherine went off to look for herself in England. Abi moved into a flat walking distance away from our family home, and Nikki was taking a gap year working as a waitress and saving in anticipation of travelling.
One night at quarter to twelve, we got the phone call that every parent dreads. ‘Your daughter has been involved in a car accident.’
Michael and I threw our clothes on and raced to the hospital, straight through red traffic lights, hazards flashing, horn beeping. We screeched into the Casualty at the same time as an ambulance was drawing up. We looked, as they wheeled a bloodied apparition on the trolley.
‘That’s not Nikki,’ I said, relieved. Then I noticed the patient was wearing one of my jumpers.
‘It is Nikki,’ I screamed, racing after the paramedics. They tried to move me out of the way, but I managed to find my daughter’s injured hand. She couldn’t speak, but she was moaning, so we knew she was alive. But that was about all. Her face was full of glass and swelling rapidly. Her teeth had gone through her lip, and one ear was badly severed. There was blood everywhere.
‘We’re here, Nix,’ I tried to comfort her. ‘Try to relax while the doctor examines you. We’ll be waiting.’
We waited a long half hour, me in and out of the toilet, and Michael alternately pacing the floor wringing his hands, or sitting hunched over with his head in his hands.
Finally the doctor came out and said they were taking her to X-ray and from there she would go into the ICU.
Our other concern was her boyfriend, who had been driving the car. Apparently he had been unconscious when the ambulances arrived, and had been taken to a different hospital, because they didn’t know if he had Medical Insurance.
The diagnosis on Nikki was initially two fractured vertebrae, a ruptured kidney, a broken right ankle and a mutilated left knee, plus extensive cuts and bruising. While I remained with her, Michael drove through to the other hospital to find out how her boyfriend was doing. He returned later to say he had regained consciousness and had escaped with just a swollen hand. He was being kept in for observation after suffering from concussion.
For the next three days I stayed at Nikki’s bedside, rushing home late at night to sort out food and clean clothing for the family. I was very concerned that she was complaining of pains that did not seem to relate to any of her injuries. After five days with her back in a brace and both legs in plaster, they discovered she had developed a thrombosis in her thigh.
At that t Catherine was staying with my parents, so when I made the call to England to give them all the news, I was relieved that Catherine had family around to reassure her. Nevertheless, she caught the earliest plane back to be with her sister.
The accident affected Michael badly, and he would wait till we were in bed at night and ask questions like ‘What if she dies?’, questions I could not allow myself to even consider. Maybe it was easier for me, because I thoroughly believed in the power of prayer, and I knew Nikki would get better.
When she was moved into High-care, her friends came to visit her. Some stood in the doorway with utter shock and disbelief on their faces. Others burst into tears.
Just before the accident, Nikki had done a stint of modelling, so I had some current photos to show the plastic surgeon.
‘This is what she looked like last week, and this is what she must look like when you’ve finished with her’, I told the specialist. He managed to do an excellent job and as the scars healed, we saw Nikki’s beautiful face re-emerging.
It was the sudden change from being an active girl to almost complete immobility that had brought on the deep vein thrombosis in Nikki’s leg. But with her back in a brace and both legs in plaster, she came home after a couple of weeks, and I reluctantly returned to work.