I’m a little disoriented and groggy as I wake up. I’m dizzy, too. “Boy it’s bright in here,” I think to myself, wincing. “The sun usually doesn’t shine like this in my room. It hurts my eyes.” My eyes haven’t adjusted yet so I pause for a moment to gain my bearings. “No…it’s not the sun, it’s that light over there. Hey wait a minute, where am I? This isn’t my room. I don’t recognize this place.”
I hear Tom’s voice and that of a woman. I can’t see them. I can’t even tell where exactly their voices are coming from. “What are they saying?” I ask myself as I focus my hearing.
“No,” he says, it really doesn’t hurt too much. My knee’s just a little stiff. I’ll be alright.”
The woman replies, “That’s great! I’m still going to give you something for the pain…just in case.”
I’m distracted when I realize I feel something wet on my face. My face is partially covered so that I can’t see out of my right eye. My head is itchy, too, very itchy. When I scratch myself, clumps of hair come out in my hand. “What in the world?…I’d better stop!”
A woman, presumably the same one I heard talking to Tom, stands over me, interrupting my thoughts. She looks like a nurse. “Oh,” she says, “you’re finally awake. Don’t worry about anything. You’ll be all right. We’ve called a plastic surgeon.”
“Called a plastic surgeon? Why? What in the world does that mean?” I try to verbalize what I’m thinking, but never get the chance. A buzzing in my ears grows louder. I pass out.
The next thing I know, a man is standing over me with a Polaroid camera. He’s dressed in a suit. He’s a somwhat older man wearing glasses. He smiles warmly and softly says he wants to get some “before” pictures for his album. Then he explains that I’d been in a car accident and went through the windshield.
He’s the plastic surgeon who was called in to repair my face. His name is Dante Grecco. I learn that I’m in the emergency room of Passaic General Hospital and that I’ve been in a serious car accident.
I have no memory of being in a car accident, but it must be true. I don’t think I’m dreaming all of this. It just feels too real. I try to retrace my steps. My friends and I had gone out partying. We went to a grungy little bar called the My Way Lounge to have a couple of drinks.
I don’t remember having much to drink, only two or three Black Russians. I wasn’t in a drinking mood. For me, this is pretty good. I’ve been known to down as many as twenty-two of those things in one night.
I remember Tom and I getting into the car to go home. I was driving. I remember approaching the bridge on Van Houten Street, then…yeah…lights…lights in my eyes. Those lights in my eyes, it must have been another car! But I still don’t remember the accident or how I got here. I just remember the lights.
Dr. Grecco holds up a picture. It’s supposed to be me, but I don’t recognize myself. My face is a bloody pulp. I’m having a hard time even believing it’s me. I notice a couple of teeth missing when I bite down in reaction. The doctor notices my recoil and says, “Don’t worry, you’ll look good as new when I’m done. It’s a good thing they called me.” He goes to work on my face.
The doctor and nurse count the sutures as he sews. As he hits 226, he announces he’s done. I secretly hope they don’t charge by the stitch, but later on I find out that’s exactly what they do. He explains that in a few weeks I’ll have to go to his office for an exam. The external stitches can probably come out then, but the internal stitches will have to stay a while longer.
“Internal stitches?” I ask.
“Yes,” he says, “Your cheek muscles are severely lacerated. I’ve used a technique called a baseball stitch to reattach them. It takes longer for the muscles to heal. There’s also another baseball stitch in your chin.”
He continues, “They have a loop of thread which hangs outside of your face until the muscle heals. When we’re ready, I cut the loop and pull. The stitches slide right out.”
The damage is primarily to the right side of my face, chin, and forehead. I have some minor lacerations on the left side of my forehead and on the right side of my head near the temple. That’s why the hair was falling out when I scratched myself. My scalp was open. There was nothing holding the hair, but it’s fixed now.
When Dr. Grecco finishes with me, the nurse wheels me to x-ray so the ER doc can complete his exam. I can barely stand up to get into the chair. My body just isn’t responding to my brain’s commands.
The x-ray technician asks me to stand against the film plate. I try but my knees keep buckling. After repeated tires, he finally props me up in such a way to help me stand. My right shoulder is so sore I can just about scream.
When I get back to the ER, the doctor says I have a severe concussion and a dislocation of my right shoulder. Somehow though, the dislocation reduced itself so no other treatment is necessary besides a sling to immobilize it. The concussion though is much more serious. I’ll be spending at least a few days in the intensive care unit.
All I want to do is sleep. My family is on my mind. By the seventh day in intensive care, I’m able to sit up on the edge of the bed without help. An amazon of a nurse walks by, sees me sitting up, and says quite loudly, “What are you still doing here? If you can sit up, you don’t need to be here. We could use the bed for someone who’s really sick.”
What compassion! She calls the doctor and makes arrangements to transfer me to an ambulatory floor.
I’m finally able to get up and walk around. I feel much stronger but still suffer from occasional bouts of dizziness. I’m very careful walking the first time I have to go to the bathroom. What a relief to go by myself!
I see my face in the mirror for the first time since I got to the hospital. Yuck! I am such a mess. How could this have ever happened to me? I’m never going to look good again, not that I looked that good before. Maybe this will be an improvement and just think about how popular I’ll be around Halloween…
The thing that makes this whole incident worse is that both of my parents are in the hospital. I’ve been taking care of my four younger brothers and sister for several months now, ever since mom went into a sanitarium to have her tuberculosis treated. She’s in the chest hospital at Glen Gardner, all the way on the other side of the state. She’s been there for more than 10 months.
Dad had a stroke in June 1972. He never came home from the hospital. He’s completely paralyzed on his left side. He lives in a VA nursing home in Neshanic Station. That’s another long haul for us, and now I don’t even have a car. It was totaled. I’ll be happy when I can go back home.
Three days later I’m released. Dr. Grecco gives me strict orders to stay out of sunlight because it causes wounds like mine not to heal properly leaving big scars behind. If I stay out of the sun, the scars stay small, quite possibly, near invisible.
Great, that means I can’t work. I pump gas for a living. I’m outside all the time. My gas station job supplements the social security survivor benefits we get for mom and the kids. Julio and David are both 21, Emil is 17, and Lydia is 12. I’ll be 22 in another two months.
We get checks for everyone except Davie and me. We’re both too old to qualify for benefits. The only reason Julie still gets it is because his mental retardation classifies him as permanently disabled. He’ll get a check every month for the rest of his life, unless social security goes broke.
Despite the help, it’s all just barely enough to cover the mortgage and bills. We eat because of the gas station job. At that, we eat a lot of spaghetti, tuna fish, and peanut butter. Now what am I going to do? If I don’t work, I don’t get paid. Since I can’t work in the sun anymore, it means I can’t pump gas anymore.
When I get home, Emil and his friends are merciless toward me. They call me baseball face or stitch or whatever else suits their fancy. I take it though because I’ve gone through this before with them. For the longest time they called me “Slick.” I always thought it was because they liked me and thought I was cool. I found out they called me Slick because I came home from the gas station covered with grease and oil. Slick, as it turns out, is short for oil slick. Leave it to Emil and those miserable Hopf twins!
After a few weeks of recuperation, I’m laying in bed worrying about the future and trying to figure out why this all happened Suddenly, I’m struck with an overwhelming urge to read the Bible. I can’t describe the nature of this urge, but it hit my like a ton of bricks that this is something I had to do. My mind wasn’t thinking about anything religious. I wasn’t going in that direction. I even tried to shake off the urge. I couldn’t. I had to find a Bible and I had to find it quickly.
I’m not even sure if we have a Bible in the house. My brother Billy used to have one. I think mom kept it when Billy died. I’ll look for that one. Where could it be? I search through drawers, boxes, bookcases, and then bingo! Here it is, buried under clothes right in mom’s dresser drawer.
I have to tell you, I am not a religious person. We never grew up with any religion in our home. Mom is an excommunicated Catholic. Dad is a non-practicing Lutheran. I was baptized as a Lutheran when I was an infant, but that was the first and last time I ever attended a Lutheran church.
Our parents always told us that it wasn’t their place to influence our religious beliefs; that when we were old enough to make decisions for ourselves, then it was our decision to make. They didn’t want to lead us any which way. That’s probably because they never had any leading of their own.
The only conversation I ever had with my dad about anything close to being religious is when he told me his father had been some kind of preacher. What kind? He doesn’t remember. He was very young when his father died.
In high school, I started going to mass with my friends. I attended a Catholic college prep school and all of my friends went to mass. It never really meant much to me. I guess I didn’t understand a lot of the rituals. I even got a pass from attending the religion classes in school because I was a protestant.
Personally, I’ve always held the belief there is a God. But with our upbringing, He didn’t mean much to me. I figured that as long as I was good and He didn’t bother me, I wouldn’t bother Him. I always thought of myself as a good person and someone who’s good to others, but now something is trying to get my attention. I have to read His book.
This is the first time I’ve ever held a Bible in my hands, let alone read one. I take it back to my room and close the door. I stare at the cover awhile and even set it aside for a moment. Then comes that annoying urge again telling me to open the book. So I do. I open it to somewhere in the middle and read the first scripture verse in my life:
“Arise, O LORD; save me, O my God: for thou hast smitten all mine enemies upon the cheek bone; thou hast broken the teeth of the ungodly.” – Psalms 3:7
I can’t believe my eyes! Here I am with 226 stitches in face, mostly in my cheek, and two broken teeth. I read that verse over, and over, and over again. I want to make sure I understand what I’m reading. Is God really telling me that I’m ungodly?
I don’t have to look very far for the answer, only to the nearest mirror. When I see the stitches in my cheek and my two broken teeth, I realize for the first time that God has literally reached down from Heaven and slapped me right across my face for my ungodliness. The scars of that ungodliness are something I’ll have to look at every day for the rest of my wretched life.
By now I’m terrified. All I know about God is what I picked up attending mass with my friends, and that’s not very much. What I do understand is enough to scare the living daylights out of me. I know that ungodly people go to hell when they die and I sure don’t want to go to hell.
I look up at toward Heaven and cry out, “What am I supposed to do now God?”
His answer comes in the form of a second, equally strong urge. “Read the card you were given.” There are no voices to hear, no visions to see, just a strong impression on my heart about what I should do.
Almost six months earlier, a man walked into the gas station and handed me a little card about the size of a credit card. It even looked like a credit card. The front was printed to resemble a MasterCard. The back, though, was entirely different. It was filled with writing. As he handed me the card, he made me promise I would read it. I took it home and threw it in my top dresser drawer. I never read it. It’s this card that I must read.
Bounding to the dresser, I start looking through the drawer for the card but can’t find it right away. So I pull the drawer out of the dresser and dump it on the bed. There it is. There’s the card. I pick it up and read.
As I read I learn that ungodly people…sinners, go to hell, but that anyone who wants to can go to Heaven. There’s the way out of my dilemma. It’s called salvation. Whatever this salvation thing is, I want it. This card teaches me what salvation is and what I need to do to be saved.
Salvation is eternal life with Christ in Heaven after you die. Salvation is given to us freely by God as a gift. The result of Salvation is to have all of our sins, past, present, and future, wiped clean. We are forgiven for our ungodliness completely and forever. To get saved, all we have to do is accept this gift from God. Jesus calls this becoming born again. It can’t really be this simple, can it?
It sure can! After comparing the verses on the card against the same verses in the bible, I know now without a doubt in my heart that I am reading truth. I get down on my knees in the middle of my bedroom, and with tears streaming down my face, I call out to God to save me, to come into my heart, forgive my sins, and give me eternal life. I got saved, gloriously saved!
I’m sorry I never recorded the exact date of that experience. I’ve come to learn that the day of your salvation is the most important day of your life. All I know is that it happened sometime late in May 1976 after a near fatal car accident. I also know that if I had died in that accident, I’d be in hell today suffering an eternal penalty for my ungodliness because I never would have been saved.
But things are different now. I have full confidence in knowing that if I were to die today, I am 100% certain that I’ll be in Heaven. It’s all because of God’s love. This is not presumption. This is a statement of fact based on God’s Holy Word, the Bible.
If you want to learn more about getting saved, please visit this page: The Gospel. If you decide to accept the gift of salvation from Jesus Christ, please drop me a line to let me know. I promise I’ll pray for you. You can send me a note through our contact page.