Light in the Darkness
Because of the lack of blood flow, Carol’s limbs and patches of skin discolored, turning a sinister shade of black from infections that further threatened her already tenuous life.
Faced with decisions that could save his wife’s life while irreversibly altering it, Scott felt he could not move forward without speaking to Carol. During semi-lucid moments when Carol would wake from unconsciousness, she and Scott discussed what needed to be done for her survival.
During the first surgery, doctors amputated Carol’s left foot just above the ankle and her right lower leg mid-calf. After further deterioration and a second surgery, Carol lost her left hand above the wrist and her right ring finger.
These developments “happened one at a time instead of all at the same time, so having some spacing was easier to digest mentally,” Scott recalls. “But as they accumulated, I definitely was thinking, ‘Oh, my gosh, how is this going to work? Are we doing the right thing for her?’”
Carol possesses only vague recollections of those 49 days she descended into darkness—a patchwork of terrifying and confusing memories.
“The first memory I have after my amputations was with my mom,” Carol shares. “She was cutting my fingernails, and I told her she missed a finger. She said, ‘No, I didn’t.’” Unable to see, Carol counted her fingers as her mom worked down her hand, insisting her ring finger had been missed. That’s when her mother began to cry.
“She got upset and said, ‘I thought Scott had told you,’” Carol remembers. “When you can’t see all the machines and you are so medicated that you can’t feel anything, it takes time for reality to settle in,” Carol says.
But, alongside the darkness, light also flooded Carol’s hazy memories. “My husband would come in and bring cards to read over and over of all the people who cared about me and loved me,” she remembers. “My brother Heath gave up his life and stayed by my bedside.”
As Scott struggled to hold his family and his new dental practice together while spending nights at the hospital with Carol, support from friends and family poured in from every direction. Carol’s brother Heath quit his job so he could stay with Carol, holding her hand before surgeries, staying nearby to soothe her anxiety when she woke, and helping her learn to breathe when suffocating pressure crushed her chest after her tracheotomy tube was removed.
Carol recovering from her amputations
In addition, Carol’s father, stepmother, mother, and brother Shawn visited several times a week, sharing their courage and encouragement. “I tell everybody my support system is the most amazing in the world,” Carol says. “They just loved me and believed in me and kept telling me I would get better. No one ever let me think any differently.”
Though she was in a medicated coma and unable to respond, Carol remembers when her best friends from high school—Erica, Lisa, Kim, and Nicole—drove from Utah and parts of Washington to stay with her for several days, filling the room with laughter. “Carol was literally at death’s door,” Erica Thurston says. “Her body was wrapped in bandages. [She was] swollen and discolored. There was something inside of me that felt that Carol needed to know that we were there for her. The first thing I did was go to her side, press my cheek to her cheek, and whisper, ‘Carol, it’s Erica. I’m here, and I’m so sorry.’ With our heads inches from each other, I watched as a tear ran down her cheek.”
Entering the Abyss
After seven weeks, Carol was transferred to Harborview Medical Center to begin the most excruciating part of her treatment: receiving skin grafts on 30 percent of her body.
“Skin grafts were literally one of the most horrific things I have been through in my life,” Carol says. “It was just torture.” To make matters worse, the drug she took for pain created terrifying hallucinations and nightmares, deepening the debilitating depression and anxiety she was already experiencing. “I would imagine the worst things in my mind and see these experiences and imagine they were real,” she says.
This mixture of pain and psychological torment sent Carol spiraling into a mental abyss. “As a protection, I tried to shut down my emotions, numbing myself,” she shares. “I pushed everything out. Even hope. I didn’t die, but I ceased to live.” Left weakened and vulnerable from the skin grafts, Carol contracted a drug-resistant bacterial infection that again threatened her life.
Carol's family visiting her in the hospital
“I had no control over my body or mind,” she writes. “That loss of power was more difficult than anything I had ever experienced.” Despite her inner turmoil, Carol continued to be “beautifully thoughtful” and mindful of those around her. “She would be lying in a hospital bed at Harborview going through the horrific procedure of skin grafts, and when I would call, she would answer the phone and, without skipping a beat, want to know how I was doing,” Thurston recalls.
After five more weeks of treatment, Carol was finally able to return home. But even in a familiar environment, she couldn’t find comfort. Without the help of nurses and with bed sores on her hips, an infection in her back, and braces on her legs, Carol quickly realized how weak and helpless she truly was. “I literally couldn’t move. I couldn’t pull my blanket up. I couldn’t do anything for myself. I just felt like a giant mummy in tremendous pain.” But the most heart-wrenching realization came when Carol interacted with her daughters. “When [my oldest daughter] Chloe would come to the hospital, she was so scared of me, and it bothered me so much because here I spent every day with her for years, my baby girl that I adored so much,” Carol says. “I love being a mom. It is absolutely my greatest joy and greatest accomplishment in life, and I would do anything for my daughters.”
Upon returning home, Carol was constantly confronted with the fact that her 2-year-old was terrified of her and that she couldn’t hold her newborn without pain radiating through her arms.
During this time, Carol’s older brother Shawn moved near the Decker family. “Shawn was very endearing and so kind. He was a gentle soul. He would do anything to watch over me and protect me,” Carol says. At her darkest moment, Carol remembers Shawn coming to her, asking if she needed anything. “I said, ‘Yeah, you can get me a gun.’ I didn’t see a way out at that point. In the weeks after I came home, everything just came crashing down on me.”
“Carol, we are not gonna go there,” Shawn replied, kissing her forehead and telling his sister that when she healed, he would swim in the ocean with her, take her on adventures, and help her accomplish whatever she wanted in life.
Shortly after she returned home, Carol’s hometown of Enumclaw, Washington, held a fundraiser for her, renewing her hope. “When they wheeled me into [the fundraiser], there were 5,000 people there, and they all stood up and started clapping for me. I couldn’t believe complete strangers were doing this for me and my family,” Carol says. “You think, ‘Oh, my gosh, I have to raise my children in this world that is so bad,’ but then you go to something like that and you [realize] there is so much love and so much goodness.”