My Husband Was Run Over By A Truck And Suffered A Traumatic Brain Injury

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woman waiting in hospital

There’s a song, “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea” by Snow Patrol, that will forever be seared into my brain.

It played on repeat as I weaved my car from the west side of San Francisco over pothole roads to the southeast side. I couldn’t turn the song off because my phone was in the glove box and not easy to reach.

At a stoplight on Divisidero, my phone buzzed. I hesitated before diving across the seat. Answering it meant knowing. Did I want a world without James?


It rang again, louder, like an order for me to answer. I ripped the glove box open and disconnected the phone from the charging cord. “Hello?” I whispered. Please, please, please don’t say it. Don’t say it.

“Is this James Sutton’s wife?”


“Can you come to San Francisco General? He’s been in an accident.”

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My minivan’s windshield wipers beat in frantic unison with my pounding heart. “Is he okay?”

“I’m sorry, I can’t give that information over the phone. You’ll need to speak to a doctor.”

He was dead. I rested my head against the car seat. Someone honked, and I tapped the gas too hard, launching my minivan into the intersection. “I’m coming now.”

I had no tears; my brain was focused solely on being with my husband. “Tell James I’m coming.”

I waited in a line five people deep to find out if my husband was dead. I waited to find out if everything I had ever wanted had ended.

Hushed conversations swirled around me, and I strained to hear them through my mind’s protective veil. I would be okay. James would be okay. Everything was going to be okay.

“Name?” “Jordan,” a burly man answered. Click-clack. Click-clack. “The doctor will be out in a minute. Have a seat.”

A blast of cool air hit me from behind and blew the protective veil off. An uncomfortable numbness spread from my head to my toes, and I shuffled forward one step.

The woman in front of me had thin streaks of silver sparkled throughout her dark, bra strap-length hair. When she moved forward, her hair swayed against her back.

I need to tell James’s work he won’t be in today. I stared at my phone.

Who should I call? Who would care that James wouldn’t be in today?

The only name I could think of was the CEO’s assistant who I had met a few times, and she seemed to like James. When she answered, I told her James had been hit, and she asked about his condition.

“Maybe dead.” Only the enormous pit in my stomach kept me from crying.

She gasped.

“It’s my turn.” I hung up.

The desk attendant typed James’s name into her computer and refused to meet my focused gaze.

“A doctor will be out in a minute.”

As I stumbled toward an orange, plastic bucket seat, Joe and Molly burst through the sliding glass doors. At six foot two, Joe towered over tiny Molly, and he often barreled into rooms, leaving Molly to trot behind.

“Is he here?” Joe’s booming baritone filled the packed waiting room. He taught high school English at an all-girls school. Had he left in the middle of the day? Had James and I inconvenienced him?

I pressed my lips together and exhaled through my nose. “I’m waiting for the doctor.”

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We huddled together on the chairs. Molly squeezed my hand, and Joe stared off into space. James was their only child, but most importantly, he was the glue that held us all together. Everything Molly and Joe did was for James, and by default me and the boys.

“Where’s Tate?” I realized my son was missing.

Molly tried smiling, but the corners of her mouth didn’t pull up enough, and her hazel eyes were flat. “Mr. Hanley has him. He’ll keep Leo and Ryan, too.” Mr. Hanley was our Catholic school principal, a big man with a bigger heart, who Molly had worked for years. Outside of our family, there was no one I trusted more with my children. “He promised to take them to Hamburger Haven for dinner.”

“They’ll like that.” The boys always begged me to take them to the greasy spoon, and I always refused out of disgust.

The heavy, metal door separating the waiting room from the ER swung open, and a middle-aged doctor with tightly pulled-back hair assessed the room. “Sutton?” She scanned the room, and her gaze zeroed in on me. “Sutton?”

Molly gently pushed on my back but didn’t get up herself. When Joe started to stand, she held him back. “Let her go first.”

If James were dead, I didn’t want to know. I wanted the possibility of him for as long as I could hold onto it. I didn’t move.

“Mrs. Sutton?” I blinked in confusion. I wasn’t Mrs. Sutton, that was Molly. Did they want to talk to her first?

Molly prodded me forward, and I stumbled toward the doctor.

The door softly closed behind us as we entered the cold, sterile hallway where a strung-out man lay handcuffed to a bed, and a woman yelled from deep inside the bowels of the hospital. My shaking legs refused to hold me. I leaned against the cold wall and fought to calm my ragged breath. I couldn’t do it.

I couldn’t walk toward something I didn’t want.

The need to run away from the tragedy rushing toward me grew. If I walked out of the exit, could I restart the day? I’d tell James I loved him and insist on driving him to work. I would fix things if I could just get a do-over.

The doctor backtracked to me. “Your husband sustained multiple injuries, but he’s going to be okay.”

He wasn’t dead? I shut my eyes tightly, trying to process the doctor’s words. James was alive? My exhale came out in a rush, and when I inhaled, relief settled into all the empty places, but I still couldn’t move.

“He’s going to be okay, I promise,” the doctor said softly.

“Okay how? Okay as in never walking? Okay as in a few scratches?” Was it greedy that I wanted him returned the way I had sent him off that morning?

“He hurt his wrists, dislocated both his shoulders, has severe road rash, and received thirty stitches on his backside, but he’ll be fine.”

The doctor stopped outside an open door. “He’s resting, but he’ll be okay. It looks scarier than it is.” She tapped her head. “He’s lucky he had on a helmet. If he hadn’t, we’d be having a different conversation.”

I inched closer to the doorway, and the doctor gave me a confused look. “He may have a mild concussion,” she said. “But I don’t think it’s anything too serious. The nurse will walk you through the symptoms and care.”

I stared past her into the room and gasped. My whole world was on a cold, sterile table under a crisp, white sheet. Bright lights glared down at James, and dozens of machines whirled around him.

At that moment, I knew my life had changed, because all my supposed strength, all the BS type-A stuff I did, failed me. I failed James, and I failed us.

From the day we met, James had been my life, and me his. We’d occasionally let other people in, like the boys, but at the end of the day, it was always only us. The boys would one day grow up and leave to start families of their own, but James and I had chosen each other forever.

In that hospital room, we were given a chance at a longer forever.

My chin trembled, but I didn’t cry. James hadn’t left me, and he was going to be okay.

“You can go in,” the doctor said with a twinge of confusion.

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“I know it looks scary, but he’s fine. Really.” She motioned me forward, but my leaden legs held me in place. “Is anyone else with you? Should I get them?”

I trapped my sobs behind clenched teeth and nodded.

The doctor walked away, leaving me clinging to the door frame. James’s chest rose, and I sank to my knees, a guttural sob ripping from my throat. He was alive. Broken and bruised, but alive.

Molly touched my back. “He’s going to be okay.” I wiped my face with my sleeve and moved so she could pass by. In another life, Molly would have been a nurse. Through all three of my awful pregnancies, she had cared for me by changing my sheets, emptying my puke bowl, and making sure I ate what I could.

Joe lumbered behind her, and after collecting myself, I joined them in the room. James’s unfocused eyes fluttered open before closing again. His clammy, pale skin matched the white sheet, and his hair stuck up at strange angles.

James hadn’t left me.

Relief battled with horror inside me. I wanted to wrap James in my arms and never let go, but James did not look fine. He looked broken, fragile, and nothing like the strong, solid husband I knew. If I touched him, would I break him?

“I’ll get the discharge papers ready,” the doctor said. I drew my brows together.

“Already? He looks awful.”

“He’ll be okay with rest and time.” “But don’t you think — ”

“He’s going to be fine, Mrs. Sutton.”

While we waited for the discharge papers, Molly fussed over James.

I let her gingerly change his clothes into leftovers from the hospital Lost and Found. I watched as she helped James shuffle toward the car because his stitches prevented him from sitting in a wheelchair. I waited as Joe arranged James, stomach side down, in the backseat of their sedan.

I did nothing to help my husband.

As I drove home alone, with a plastic bag of James’s shredded belongings, I blared “An Olive Grove Facing the Sea” and fought the sinking feeling that, despite the doctor’s reassurance, James wasn’t okay.

How could anyone be run over by a truck and be okay?

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This post is an excerpt from Mia Hayes's memoir Always Yours, Bee, about her husband’s accident and her subsequent spiral into mental illness, was selected by BookBub as one of “15 Powerful Memoirs to Read in 2021.” She is also the author of the women’s fiction series, The Waterford Novels.

This article was originally published at Medium. Reprinted with permission from the author.