I’m notorious for blaming my blog strikes on “busyness” or “craziness.” I shouldn’t use those words so casually.
This past month has truly been busy and it’s honestly been one of the craziest times in my life.
Kenton’s Grandpa Clarence became ill early on in May. His condition worsened and long story short he was put on a ventilator and his chances of survival were low. The time came for Grandpa to come off the vent and we wanted to make certain we were there by his side.
We, and when I say “we” I mean my little family of three, packed our car and headed east on the night of Friday, May 21. We spent the night in Pittsburg, Kansas with my Grandmom because her home was very close to the hospital Grandpa Clarence was in.
We woke on Saturday, May 21 (the day the world was to end, remember?) and made plans to take the trip to the hospital as the doctors planned to take out the vent by afternoon.
We arrived at the hospital. Connected with Kenton’s grandmother, Evelyn, his mother, Sandy, and his 16 year old brother, Jonathan.
Grandpa Clarence stood a small chance of holding his own oxygen once the tube was removed. However, he had to be conscious before they could perform the procedure. For nearly two weeks prior he had been sedated and it was taking a long time for the meds to wear off. It was decided that they’d wait until Sunday, May 22 to remove the tube. This would allow him more time to come around and be alert.
In Grandpa Clarence’s few moments of consciousness he communicated with us through blinks and responded to us when we asked him to move his fingers. Perhaps the most hopeful part of the day was when my little man, a 7 year old, came in to see his “Grandpa Great.” Clarence’s eyes lit up and he performed better for our little Judah than he did for the doctors. Judah rubbed his hand, talk to him, and acted so brave. Honestly, I stood in the corner like a coward because I can’t handle these situations well. Judah told his sleepy great Grandpa goodnight and we eventually checked in to a hotel for the night.
The next morning, Sunday, May 22, I woke and went for a short run to a local gym. The gym offered free passes to hotel guests. I wanted to ride a bike and did just that. I planned to run back but Kenton needed to get to the hospital, so he picked me up and dropped me off at the hotel. I stayed with Judah and Jonathan while Kenton joined his mother and grandmother for a trip to the hospital.
Just around noon the doctor removed Grandpa Clarence’s breathing tube.
Due to the good news that Clarence was breathing on his own and holding steady, plans changed. Grandma Evelyn needed to make plans to stay close to the hospital for the week while Grandpa hopefully improved. Grandma lived in a city about an hour away and was without her car. Long story short, Kenton was going to sit with Grandpa, Jon, Sandy, and Evelyn were going to drive back to Evelyn’s house and get her car. Once they got back, we were going to return to Wichita.
The troops took off and that was that. Judah and I came to see Grandpa once more. Judah was again great with him. He helped give Grandpa wet sponges as his mouth was very dry. He talked to him, showed him pictures, and he even played his video from his piano recital for his great grandpa.
I stepped out to make a phone call to my family as they were very curious about Clarence’s status. As I called I saw the lobby TV explain that the entire region was expected to get strong storms and severe weather later in the afternoon. I even left that detail in the message on my Dad’s voice mail.
“Looks like we’re going to get some bad weather this afternoon, that should make going home interesting.”
As my 16 year old brother was going to be driving Grandma’s van back I felt I should warn him about the pending weather. So I sent him a text.
I left Kenton to sit with his Grandpa and took Judah out to lunch. After lunch we went to the mall. We goofed around for quite some time. We were using up tokens at the arcade and then planning to head down the street to Target, Judah had a gift card he wanted to spend.
Kenton called me while we were playing ski-ball and told me he wanted to go ahead and leave town. His mother, grandmother, and brother were about 20 minutes or so away and his grandfather was asleep. Kenton said he was drained and thought it would be just fine to go ahead and go.
I explained we had a few tokens to blow and then we’d be right there. Judah and I took our sweet time. We even took a different route back to the hospital, a more scenic route. While we were sight seeing, Kenton sent me a text.
Yes, I sent that text while driving. I’m sorry.
I had asked Kenton to check the radar before he left the hospital. I knew it was predicted to storm and the sky had grown completely cloudy.
I pulled up to the entrance of the hospital, he got in, and told me the radar looked ok. Apparently it just showed some thunderstorms and we were fine.
Good enough for me.
We headed out of town. I needed gas and a Diet Dr. Pepper. I began to stop at the first gas station I saw and Kenton told me to keep going. “The one further down has better soda.”
We got gas, I got a soda. I listened to the ladies in the station mention the bad weather coming. One woman even said she was going to pull her car under the port to protect it from hail damage. I thought we were ready to roll, but Judah wanted a drink too. So He and Kenton went in as it began to sprinkle.
I was in the driver’s seat as I wanted to give Kenton a break from his long, taxing day. Once everyone was squared up, we finally took off for home. I asked Kenton to send my Dad a text and let him know were were coming home.
I didn’t notice my Dad’s response because it had really started raining as we got on the highway.
You see we weren’t just hitting any old spring storm on May 22, 2011. We were hitting the beginning of the storm that produced a multi-vortex EF5 tornado. We were driving out of Joplin, Missouri before it was destroyed. Grandpa Clarence wasn’t just at any hospital, he was on the 7th foor at St. John’s, the one that took a direct hit.
The rain dumped on us and then the hail hit. I could no longer see where I was going. I pulled over under a tree along tiny, two-lane highway 171. We turned up the radio, attempted to hear what they were reporting about this storm.
Not really knowing where we were, the locations given for the path of this storm weren’t helping much. Baxter Springs was mentioned, I knew we weren’t there. Joplin was mentioned and I knew we were just outside of Joplin. Now the questions remained.
“Do we stay under this tree? Do we turn back? Go forward? What do we do?”
It appeared to let up a bit, so I got back on the road and kept going. I was wrong. It started dropping golf ball sized hail and I was driving blind. I found another tree and pulled over once more. The little highway was full of cars pulled to the side. We cranked the radio, but the hail was so loud we couldn’t hear anything. I was really scared. I kept wondering when was the point that we needed to get out and duck in the ditch for cover.
I kept looking at the trees above. Being a life-long Kansan, I knew that the trees would be whipping around violently if a tornado was coming. The trees were calm. Then I freaked, “Wait, what is it about ‘the calm before the storm’?'”
Before I had time to say anything more, Kenton looked back and saw Judah. He had his knees to his chin and his hands over his ears. The poor thing was terrified.
Our parenting mode kicked in simultaneously. “It’s ok buddy!” “It’s just a hail storm.” “It sounds worse because we’re in the car.” “If we were at home, it wouldn’t even be noisy!” “We’re ok, we just have to let it pass.” “Don’t worry.”
My hands were shaking as I tried to act cool for my little boy.
Kenton finally got a radar on his phone and he decided we need to get out of there. He and I awkwardly traded seats without getting out of the car, we buckled up, and he gunned it. Our goal was just to find a place with shelter. We were in rural Missouri, there was NOTHING! We passed a “town” called Waco. It has one carport. That wasn’t good enough. He sped on as I tried to listen to the radio. The radio was saying that Joplin was in the direct path of the storm.
I feared for my little 16 year old brother-in-law. I feared he was driving into this monster.
I grabbed my phone and saw my Dad’s text. As I told him what was going on, Kenton found a gas station in Asbury, MO. We pulled under the station and finally got out of the hail. We both began trying to hear and read what was going on.
I then had to call my little brother-in-law.
I dialed his number and he quickly answered.
“Jon it’s Lacy.”
“I’M BUSY!!! I’M OKAY, BUT I’M BUSY!!!” (click)
I told Kenton he sounded like he was in a bathroom or something. Not sure what was happening I sent him a text to clarify why I was calling.
We went ahead and left the car for the shelter of the gas station. We went in and it seemed as though the storm was dying down. The clerk told us we were fine to keep going west towards Pittsburg. Since it seemed that all was clear we went ahead and started driving again. It was just raining by now and we could even see sun light on the horizon. We took some deep breaths and assumed we’d have one heck of a story to tell the family later.
About then I managed to get another call into Jonathan. I wanted to make sure he was fine. I assumed he was, but I wanted to double check.
He answered. “LACY! A tornado HIT the hospital! Windows are out. The ceiling’s down in Grandpa’s room!”
Not knowing what he really meant, I asked, “Are you guys ok?”
“Yeah, we’re ok.”
Then I lost him.
We tried calling again and nothing. Kenton tried calling his mom. Nothing. I tried calling Grandma Evelyn’s phone. Nothing.
I thought I had a novel idea. I decided to call the hospital. I assumed the bad thunderstorm had messed up cell lines, but the hospital would let us talk to them on the land line.
I dialed and a panting voice answered, “St. John’s Hospital!”
“Hi, I’m trying to check on a family member.”
” I know everyone is. I don’t know. The power’s out, we just don’t know, I’m sorry”
The panic in her voice was horrible.
I pacified myself and Kenton by saying that she was probably worried because patients were on vents and she was scrambling to check on the generators. I even questioned her professionalism. Thinking that was no way to speak to a concerned family member. At that point, I just didn’t know.
We were going to stop in Pittsburg to get our bearings, make sure everyone was fine, and then continue home. I talked with my Dad. He said he turned to national weather and it looked like a serious storm had hit Joplin, but we were ok to keep going. So we did.
I continued to call the cell phones to try and get a status update. Finally I got Evelyn’s phone.
“Evelyn, it’s Lacy. ARE YOU OK?!”
“Yes, we’re ok. We’re trying to get Grandpa out. There’s debris blocking his room.”
(This was the first time I got a sense that more than a bad thunderstorm had hit)
“Oh, my! But everyone’s ok?”
“Yes. Have you talked to Sandy?”
(My heart sank.)
“No. We thought she was with you.”
“She was behind us in the car. She hadn’t gotten here yet.”
(With a sick stomach I motioned to Kenton to stop.)
“I’ll keep calling her, ok?”
As I explained to Kenton that no one knew of his mom’s location he turned pale. His first reaction was to turn around and go back.
Judah had grown scared once more when he heard that his MeMe was missing. He asked if he could sit in my lap as we sat at another rural gas station along the highway. I held him and we continued to dial like crazy. Just before Kenton was ready to turn around he made phone call back home to his Step-Dad, Kevin, in Wichita. Kevin answered with, “She’s OK!!!!”
We all breathed deep.
Kenton got the details and hung up.
Sandy had stopped at a gas station and was behind Jonathan and Evelyn by a few minutes. As they were pulling up the the hospital, she was driving there. As they were rushed to shelter in the stairwell (where Jon was when I called him), Sandy took shelter in the only place she could find, under a bank drive thru. A horrible place, but the only place.
We didn’t know what had really happened. No one really did yet. We were told to stay away from the area because emergency vehicles needed to get in. We just continued towards home. We knew everyone was ok and we knew we couldn’t help them anymore.
This epic story goes on to tell of my sweet baby brother. The one who was 5 when I met him. Who was now a full grown man helping carry patients down the seven flights of stairs. My once toothless kindergartner was riding in the bed of a pick-up truck with his very sick Grandpa as they transported him to another location. The lego fiend, we’ll say, “scrounged” an O2 tank and a mattress the next morning so his poor Grandpa could get out of Joplin. I couldn’t have been more proud of Jonathan Russel Elliott.
And my mother-in-law, Sandy. She became my hero. She may one day read this so I must qualify these statements by stating that, I’ve always loved her. From day one, I’ve appreciated her spirit. I may not have always understood her or liked what she was doing, but I have always loved her.
But dare I say, she’s always tended to be a bit pushy. I’m sensitive and shy. Her louder nature has always been hard for me to adjust to.
My mother-in-law was supposed to be in Joplin that day. As a nurse she wasted no time helping the victims who were coming out of the hospital. She began bandaging up wounds, cleaning up tubes, and making makeshift slings. As they were transporting her father in a truck with her young son in the back, she followed in her car with her mother. When the vehicles were separated, she didn’t waste time with timidity. She flashed her Wichita USD259 “School Nurse” badge as a means to get passed “security.” When she couldn’t find her son, she grabbed scrubs and searched the ER like she belonged there. Her “pushy” nature was no longer a flaw in my eyes. I finally saw how that trait equaled strength. She was a big, bad Mama Bear out to take care of business. I only hope I would be that courageous. I loved her more after that day was through.
By Wednesday, everyone was back in Wichita. Grandpa was checked into the 9th floor of Wesley Hospital. Jonathan hated this.
“He should be in the basement!”
We reunited, hugged, and listened for hours.
I’ve cried about the what-ifs. What if Kenton didn’t decide to leave? We were within 30-45 minutes of being in the storm. Where would Judah and I been? We were on Rangeline Road. That road is destroyed. The path I ran that morning is gone.
Would I have been separated from Kenton? Would our car be wrapped around a tree? Would we be here telling this story?
All we could do was thank our God that we all ended up where we did.
Grandpa had the worst view of the storm. They didn’t have time to get him out of the room. His window’s blew, his face got cut, his bed was moved, and he was drenched by the rain. After surviving that we thought he was invincible. His condition improved everyday. He was getting ready to be moved to a long term care facilty. We were amazed. We thought we were going to lose him in Joplin.
Another storm struck our lives last week. The doctors determined his lung condition was relapsing and he’d have to go back on a vent very soon. Even after the treatments, he stood little chance of recovering. Clarence raised the white flag last weekend and said enough was enough. His quality of life was low and with heavy hearts we had to respect his wishes.
Sunday, June 12, we had what Clarence himself called a party. Tons of family, stories, laughs, and even ice cream filled the hospital room. Our little Judah bravely fed his great grandpa an ice cream sundae. Clarence let him know it tasted great. Kenton got to tell his grandfather how much he loved him and Clarence got to return the love. I sat in the corner and cried like a baby as this went on. Then Clarence turned to his oldest Great Grandson and told him how much he loved him. It was an amazing day.
Monday afternoon Clarence went to sleep. He never woke up.
His funeral is on Monday. Almost one month since the tornado.
I will miss him. I will not miss this month. I am glad to see it pass.
It has been one hell of a month. These events warrant the terms, “crazy” or “busy.”
Clarence was an amazing man that I was honored to know. Kenton valued his opinion more than anyone else. When I met Clarence he was warned that “Kenton is bringing a girl he likes.”
Clarence gave his approval of me within the first few hours. Kenton and I have been together ever since.
Goodbye Grandpa Clare.
Love, your very shy, hopes you knew I loved you even though I was too scared to tell you, granddaughter,