It was exactly how it was in the movies. The accident played out in excruciatingly slow motion. From the moment Callie saw the other car rushing at her in her periphery, to the surreal impact, to her car rolling end over end like a giant, metal tumbleweed, it all happened in half time.
Witnesses claimed her car literally exploded in a barrage of glass and steel, like a cardboard piñata hit with a baseball bat. The noise, she testified, was the worst part. It still haunted her dreams.
The pain came later, when she was in the ambulance screaming toward the hospital. Her arms strapped to the gurney, as much to stabilize her, as to keep her from exploring the devastating damage to her face and body.
In a morphine induce fugue, she only caught bits and phrases as doctors and nurses tried to save her life. One young intern couldn’t hold down his lunch after her temporary bandages were removed. An older nurse, crossing herself, wondered aloud if it wouldn’t be better to let her die.
The driver of the other car was lying on a bed across the ER, covered in a white sheet. Naomi’s injuries were beyond repair. The reporting officer, reading from his notes, confirmed that she was not wearing a seat belt, and evidence at the scene indicated that she sped up just before the collision.
When approached, Naomi’s family sorrowfully signed donor forms, hoping her death would have some meaning, perhaps provide another family a chance at life.
Callie’s husband paced the halls waiting for the surgeon to bring him news, unaware that the dead girl from the crash was his former lover. Bryan had ended his affair the day before, telling Naomi he wanted to make his marriage work. Unwilling to accept his rejection, Naomi decided if she couldn’t be with Bryan, neither would Callie.
The operating room was a rush of adrenaline. In a twist of fate, the two women from the car crash were donor compatible. Callie’s throat, ripped apart by flying debris, would be reconstructed using Naomi’s harvested larynx and trachea. A rare transplant, it would be only the third time such an operation was done in the U.S.
Waking after the 18-hour procedure, Callie was only vaguely aware of Bryan sitting at her bedside, her hand clutched in his. He held up his other hand to stop her from trying to talk. Drifting back to sleep, she felt the bandages around her neck, and tried to remember where she was, and why.
Two weeks later, Callie was back at the hospital with Bryan, and ready to have her sutures removed. It would be her first attempt to speak since the accident.
The police told Bryan that Naomi had caused the wreck, crashing into Callie intentionally. What he didn’t know, because of the hospital’s confidentially policy, was that Callie’s organ donation was from his jilted lover. Callie didn’t know anything about Bryan’s affair or its connection to her injuries.
Bryan held his wife’s hand as doctors unwrapped her bandages, and snipped her stitches. Her doctor gave Callie a small cup of water, telling her to take tiny sips to lubricate her throat.
“Are you ready?” The doctor took the cup and sat in a chair across from her, his hands on either side of her neck. “Just one word, that’s all you get right now.”
Callie nodded. Over the past two weeks, she thought a long time about her first words with her new voice. Taking a deep breath, she turned to her husband.
All color drained from his face as he frantically backed away from his wife, knocking over the instrument tray with a loud crash.
*The idea for this came from a morbid fascination with what would happen to someone who could no longer speak because of injuries sustained in some kind of accident. My research found that a larynx, trachea and thyroid transplant has been successfully performed, but is very rare. Only two have been done since 1998. I then wondered if the transplant recipients would speak like the donor, or if they would sound completely different. I lie awake at night pondering these sort of questions.