If you’ve spent any time with me you know I am a SNEEZER! I sneeze often and I sneeze hard! The incident I will describe happened on January 5th, 2019 and since that day I have not sneezed – not a s-i-n-g-l-e time…
My father passed away in December, we had been VERY close. Though sad, for me it was a blessing as he was 85 and had lived a good long life but had spent the last 2 years in severe depression. My older brother has struggled with depression and fitting into society his entire life. Most of his friends and family have had to distance themselves from him over the years. The passing of my father brought us together and no doubt brought my brother to a psychological and emotional place that we will never know. They were not close but had been developing a phone relationship.
As the executor of my father’s estate I called a family meeting to debrief and go over his will and beneficiaries. The rest of the family thought it went surprisingly well – our estranged brother was agreeable and able to stay on task. We parted with a good, almost light feeling and he took with him some mementos of my father’s belongings.
With my sister in town for just a few more days I arranged a meal together at a location convenient for all the family, including a quiet private dining so my 85 year old mom and step dad could hear. I arranged a luncheon at Arnie’s in Edmonds and everyone seemed excited to get together again and be able to share and connect. The Murphy’s were running about 10 minutes late and as it turned out so was my brother. We pulled into the parking lot, saw him near his car, waved, and parked. It took us several more minutes to get our things together. As I stood outside of my son’s back passenger door nagging him to get his shoes on, I heard my brother call my name. I turned to my left to see him standing about 12-15 feet away with a shotgun pointed at me, then he pulled trigger while we looked in each other’s eyes.
God’s first protection was that we were late, so the incident did not happen in the private dining in the restaurant, with my entire family to see. The second of God’s protections was that I was holding a 9x12 1.25" thick, softcover science project book. It was covering my heart which my brother had successfully aimed for. The book burst into a thousand pieces of confetti as the gun my brother had chosen to use was bird shot. Several things flashed through my mind but in a split second I knew to jump in the car for safety. I remember hearing a second shot but I don’t remember the sensation of being hit again in the back. I climbed in the car with my son, who calmly comforted me. I called 911 but they were BUSY! And I waited, meditating on self-care and focusing on my labored and gurgly breathing.
The first shot hit the book which saved my life. My father gave me the science project book several years ago and I brought it to pass on to my sister. The second shot penetrated my back, left side just below my scapula, in a pattern about the size of a large orange. God protected me again because it did not hit my spine nor did any of the shot penetrate to any of my organs. I was later told in the hospital that my wounds were ultimately “superficial”-praise God!
There was a third shot. I didn’t hear it but my son did. From the back seat of our car he glanced up to see my brother put the smoking barrel under his chin – he looked away in time to miss what happened next. As my frantic husband was trying to drive us away for protection my son said “Dad, he’s dead. He shot himself.”
As my son and I sat and waited for help we looked at my left chest, which was burning! We didn’t see my clothing broken in any way or any blood, so we thought I wasn’t fully shot until my husband came around the car, opened the door and saw my back. It felt like less than 2 minutes and someone came to help me. They encouraged me out of the car and sat me on the ground. As I slid out of the car we could see the bird shot pattern of blood on the backseat of the car. Turns out 2 nurses were doing business in the development and were first responders. Next thing I knew the EMTs were there, cutting my new sweater off of me! I asked them if they could just pull it over my head because it still hadn’t registered that my sweater was destroyed in the back. Next I asked for privacy as now I’m sitting in a parking lot in my bra! I mostly kept my eyes closed, again meditating on self care, but I could see my brother’s body, covered in a white sheet, and my sister, who is a hot shot nurse in the Air Force, at my side. My husband was caring for my son and I’m told they were shaking as they held one another.
They took me to Harborview-the best for trauma. The ride was surreal and as they were caring for me I remained with my eyes closed, but I was acutely alert! They asked if I knew my typical blood pressure and resting heart rate – I did know it and was able to tell them, along with several other data points, with complete lucidity. As they monitored me on the ride one of them said “Jill, how is it that your heart rate is 62 and ours are going thru the roof?!” I smiled and continued to meditate and listen to them. Philippians 4:7.
Psalm 23 Harborview: The story will begin here but due to space limitations it will continue in posts.
The ER was a curtained off area and as I was there for probably 6-7 hours I was eventually able to listen to what was going on around me, the stories of why other people were there. At one point my husband came to my bed and said “Honey, you’re not going to believe this but there are other people here having a worse day than we are…” The ER staff at Harborview… There are no words for what those people do.
The flurry continued as they took x-rays with a portable machine, I had to sit up, I had to pull myself onto my right side so they could view the wound. I remember then rinsing it with warm saline – ahhhhh, that felt sooo good.
During the ambulance ride I shared with the EMTs that I have been told by 2 ER doctors over the years that I have a high tolerance for pain. They asked me about my pain level on a scale from 1-10 and I said “OK, so for reference if a 10 is labor with my son, I’m at about a 7.” As my treatment progressed I learned that I had to learn to “ask my body” what my pain level was so that I could help them gauge how much pain reliever to administer as we wanted to stay ahead of it. We came to the agreement that we wanted me at a 3-4 so I was responsible for letting them know if it began to creep up to a 5.
Later in the hospital, despite the regular doses of Fentanyl, I was still able to answer their questions: Do you know where you are? Harborview. Do you know where Harborview is? Seattle WA. What day is it? Saturday, January 5th. What is your mother’s maiden name?! The theory behind these medications is if you’re not in pain they will make you HIGH. If you are in pain they administer, then ask, then administer, then ask until together we get the pain under control, again a 3-4. I later learned from my sister that Fentanyl is 100x stronger than Morphine and yet I was completely coherent answering their questions... That is my only gauge for understanding how much pain I was in.
Next is where the miracle of “no sneezes” comes into the story. As a result of the x-rays they determined that I had 3 broken ribs. My left lung had been severely bruised and had “bounced” in my chest cavity causing a space that would become a natural place for blood and water to accumulate. So while in the ER they inserted a chest tube between 2 of my ribs. A creepy part of this phase was the doctor saying to someone “push your two fingers in there to spread and make room for the tube. Now do you feel her lung? Good, now you know you’re in the right space.” Ewww.
The water through my IV was limited so as not to exacerbate the collection of fluids until they could confirm that the tube was doing it’s job. For the next 5 days in the hospital I was tethered to a blood box. It was essential as they were able to monitor the fluid and therefore be able to note when it was no longer draining, and the tube could be removed. This was an important marker as the point at which the tube could be removed marked when I could go home.
I had a hole in my back where the second shot hit me, just below my scapula and to the left of my spine. My (dominant) left hand was unmarred as well as my face, the second shot to my back missed my spine altogether. The story continues in the Journal section.