As told by Diva Touché Flambé
It truly was a freak accident. Rupert was jarred, but at least it seemed clear that nothing seemed to be wrong with the rental car. There was no broken glass and there didn’t seem to be any damage. As he remembered it, the car slammed into the ditch and immediately bounced out. Rupert hardly remembers even being dazed, but did think that it was odd that when he touched his leg he could feel his leg with his hands, but his leg didn’t feel the touch of hand. He knew something was wrong. He saw a car go by and realized it wouldn’t be clear to a passerby that anything was wrong. He was just sitting in a car by the side of the road. As soon as he saw another car Rupert leaned on the horn and watched as the car stopped and backed up.
Everything that happened after that seemed to zip by. Apparently, Rupert was able to tell the stranger that he was Viola Kinnard’s son, and he needed help because he couldn’t move his legs. The guy went back to Jonestown and an ambulance showed up. Rupert assumed the guy had called it.
Looking back Rupert assumed that he must have been in pain, but he barely remembers being given a shot. It was most likely the shot that rendered everything afterward a blur. He knows he was taken from the car into an ambulance and driven to nearby Clarksdale and examined. Later, he found out that his family had been notified and had shown up at the hospital. X-rays showed it was clear that Rupert had suffered a crushed spine. It was years later that Rupert’s sister Luredia told him she collapsed to the floor of the hospital when she saw the X-ray of the injury. Rupert remembers nothing of the Jonestown hospital. He was barely aware of being transported to a helicopter and flown to the Regional Medical Center in Memphis—“The Med.”
When he thinks back on all that happened within a relatively short period of time it makes sense how little Rupert remembers of the days involving such a life-altering incident. He remembers feeling guilty about what his parents must be going through, having just buried his mother’s mother, but he was grateful that both his mother and father were there. He had also been worried about the condition of the rental car and was told there wasn’t a scratch on it. He wondered how his sister Annette had made it to the airport. He managed to call Scott and leave a message on their answering machine. Eventually Rupert learned that upon hearing that Rupert couldn’t feel his legs Scott immediately knew what Rupert was facing.
Scott got the news on a Monday. Rupert’s godson’s parents pulled together frequent flyer miles and transferred them to Scott, who arrived at The Med in Memphis that Wednesday, April 10. Scott immediately assumed the role of Rupert’s caretaker and left no room for any of the nurses to question him. By that time Rupert had encountered yet another dilemma...he had acquired salmonella food poisoning while in the hospital. Not only were the effects of the food poisoning more uncomfortable than the effects of being paralyzed from the waist down, it also delayed his back surgery.
Hospital staff was trying to convince Rupert that the food poisoning must have happened before he arrived there, but Rupert had eaten all his meals with his family before the accident; so it made sense that he would gotten sick after having arrived at The Med.
“It was the most uncomfortable I had ever been in my life. I had never spent a night in hospital before. Not only was I confined to bed, I had to wear a back brace. During the first days of the food poisoning, Scott was disgusted with the lack of care I was receiving from the hospital staff, so he took it upon himself to find the ward’s supply closet and took care of the mess that resulted from my ‘secondary condition.' As rare as it was for my mother and father to be together, when they joined me and Scott and were all there at the same time, I was very much aware of how special it was to have them all there with me. “
Rupert’s entire experience at The Med ended up being quite the roller coaster ride of horror. Eventually his father went back to Chicago. His mother, sister and nephew would visit often. Scott did indeed get to stay with Rupert and the two ended up being moved to a private room. Rupert was on all kinds of pain medication and drugs for the food poisoning, in preparation for the back surgery that ended up happening on Friday, April 12. During the procedure a metal Harrington rod was inserted. The spinal cord injury was to the T-12 vertebra.
In the end it was clear that The Med’s trauma unit and surgical team were top-notch. It was with the staff of the county hospital that the quality of care plummeted. Many of the staff at the hospital seemed to suffer from what so many other institutions seemed to embody those days: pure apathy. Rupert could certainly imagine that at one point these workers had been enthusiastic about the idea of helping people. But many of them now seem to think of what they were doing simply a job—and they demonstrated that they resented the responsibilities of their jobs. So much of what Rupert went through verged on being abusive. He hated to think how horrible it was for those who did not have an advocate by their side. This made him all the more grateful for Scott’s presence and background in the medical field.
“I felt as if I drifted through this period of living in such an unfamiliar and uncomfortable environment. It was like being submitted to a huge endurance test where nothing was in my control. I hated the food, and the attitudes of so many of the people with whom I came in contact. It seemed to me that they were unable to imagine how they would want to be treated in such a situation. There were so many examples of shoddy treatment and incompetence that I simply wanted to be surrounded by more loving people. I longed to be back in Portland..”