Doris turns 17 at the end of June and promptly takes, and passes, her driver’s test. Now she can drive herself to her job, to hang out with her siblings after work, to her favorite yoga classes, and to visit her friends. What a freeing moment; the world is at her fingertips with no need to rely on anyone. Doris takes advantage of all driving has to offer. She drives to work, lifeguarding at the ocean, then goes to the library after work to prepare for the SAT. This is her last summer of high school and it is full, focused, and fun. She works, does practice SAT tests, meets up with her siblings after work for a snack, then hangs out evenings with her friends, and has her weeks and months planned out.
On Wednesday, Aug. 22 she works the late shift because she wants to get her application for her Irish passport finished, so has to get her photos authenticated. She drives to the EH Town police office, finishes the forms, and goes to work. After work she is going to the library to study for the SAT and tomorrow she will go to Matt Silich’s, her best friend’s birthday party – everyone will be there. Sunday she is starting her second job, one that she can do during the school year, hostessing at Cittanuova on Newtown Lane in East Hampton. That way, next summer she can work during the days as a lifeguard and in the evenings part time at the restaurant with her brothers. In October, she will take the SAT and apply someplace early admission by Nov. 1. But before all that, and at around 4:30 in the afternoon of the 22nd, she jumps in the water to cool off from the summer sun.
She breaks her neck. Just like that. Now she can’t walk, run, lifeguard, hostess, drive, meet her sisters, hang out with her friends, go to yoga. Forget all that, she can’t move her legs or arms, she can’t move her neck or torso. She can’t brush her teeth, wash her hair, hold her cell phone, swipe the screen, eat or drink by herself. She is immobile in the bed. It is almost a week before her hair is washed. She lies for days in the bed, prostrate, with the ocean salt and sand and her body’s oils snarling and irritating her hair and scalp. After a week, the nurse tries to have her sit up. But it is too much for her. Her heart stops. She turns blue and they use those machines usually seen only on TV shows, unless you are in the medical field or an EMT, to start it up again.
Just like that.
Gradually over the past three months, we have seen Doris slowly but steadily progress; wiggling her toes, moving her leg, withstanding higher and higher elevations on the “tilt table," stand, ambulating with a walker and a cast on her left leg, then ambulating down the hall with only support on one leg and a modified cane to aid her balance. Three weeks ago she took her SAT, at the hospital, in the middle of the ravages of Hurricane Sandy, all through the kind efforts of our High School, in particular, Mr. Fine, Mr. Jager and Mr. Hamer.
Watching Doris’ gradual recovery as nerve endings come back to life, slowly, at their own pace, is as thrilling as watching a baby go from a completely helpless newborn, who then learns to sit up, to “cruise,” to take first steps, and finally to walk. This is better than that, though. This time, we are watching our baby come back to us. And this time, it is so much more cherished, because this time I understand what a gift it is to have life and ability and the gift of mobility, and to have it all from Doris.
And this time, Doris is not just joining our family, her parents and sisters and brothers, and her aunts, uncles, and cousins. This time, Doris is also returning to her other families, her AFS family, her lifeguard family, her high school family, and her town.
Doris’ gradual and steady progress toward recovery is almost as inexplicable as her accident. But for me and Tom and Sally, Helen, Joseph, and Rodger, Doris’ continued progress is a testament to Doris’ courage and determination, to the expert professional medical care she received at Stony Brook and continues to receive at NYU Rusk Rehabilitation Center, to the love and support of our extended family and our community and Doris’ lifeguard and school families, and to the power of love and prayer.
So yes, Tom and I have a lot to be thankful for this year.
For our Doris and her exemplary courage and determination.
For Sally, Helen, Joseph, and Rodger, for the unfailing love they have
for their sister and each other and for being there when it matters.
For my sisters and brothers who sheltered me from troubles and
provided me with strength and courage and love.
For Doris’ friends and lifeguard community, for being there and
continuing to be there.
For the professionals in our community and in the medical institutions
Doris has had the luck to attend, for their expert care and concern
A personal thank you to my firm, Farrell Fritz, for being supportive, flexible, and understanding.
For East Hampton Town. Thank you, all of you, from Bill Wilkinson to
John Ryan, Jr. and John McGeehan and everyone else, for
knowing the meaning of community and for your kind love,
caring, and support.
Editor's Note: Theresa Quigley, an attorney and mother of five, is the East Hampton Town Deputy Supervisor. Her youngest daughter, Doris Quigley, a lifeguard at Atlantic Avenue Beach who was injured at the end of August, is hospitalized at NYU's Hospital for Joint Diseases, as Rusk Institute was damaged during superstorm Sandy. Her family hopes she will be released at the end of December. On Thanksgiving, she was giving a day pass and will get to enjoy dinner with her family at an aunt's house in New Jersey.