Brook Weber should be thinking about the final details of her wedding this week, a small affair with a few friends at Jay Cooke State Park that was scheduled for Oct. 5. She and fiancé Miles Weske love the outdoors, and fall is their favorite time of the year, so this was going to be perfect.
Instead, Weber has spent the past two weeks at Weske’s bedside at North Memorial Medical Center in Robbinsdale, talking to him over the rasp of a ventilator that keeps him alive, cherishing each facial tick and each squeeze of the hand.
“He’s in there and he wants to wake up,” Weber said.
A flight nurse at Sanford Medical Center in Bemidji, Weber sat in the hospital’s cafeteria Thursday and examined the sparkling rock on her left finger. On her left thumb was his stylish wedding band, a memento to keep him close when she paces for miles around the hallways of the hospital, waiting.
Weske, a flight and ground paramedic, was doing the job he had dreamed about as a kid when the helicopter he was in crashed just outside Alexandria, Minn., on Sept. 17. Weske, along with pilot Joshua Jones and flight nurse Scott Scepaniak, were going to pick up a patient at the Douglas County Hospital when the aircraft went down around 2 a.m.
Weber was paged about 5 a.m. Being a flight nurse, she knew that calls at odd hours are rarely good news, and something in her gut told her it was personal this time. By the time she called in to work, Weske had been transported to North Memorial.
Weber’s professional training kicked in long before her emotions got the best of her. “The initial days were definitely the worst,” she said. “For the first couple of days, I was trying to comfort everyone else.”
“I went through the Kübler-Ross stages of grieving,” Weber said. “At first I was so angry at him. [I said] ‘I love you so much. We were supposed to be married in two weeks, don’t you leave me now.’ ”
The crash busted Weske’s body, breaking his vertebrae, ribs, sternum and femur and collapsing his lungs. By the time Weber got to the hospital, her fiancé was held together with screws and rods and plates. Most of his bodily functions were being run by machines. She knew the odds were against him, but she also knew how strong he was and how much he cherishes life.
At one point, Weber discussed with Weske’s family the possibility of conducting a marriage by proxy, in case he didn’t make it.
“Just for me, for coping reasons,” she said.
The couple, who have six children by previous marriages, met through their work in medicine and immediately clicked. “We knew on our first date that we were going to be together forever,” Weber said.
For a few days, forever seemed to be coming quickly.
In the crucial first 24 hours, Weber saw Weske struggle to stay alive. Shortly after arriving at the hospital, Weske went into cardiac arrest. His heart was fine, but the trauma and failing organs were too much for his body.
“I thought, ‘This is not good,’ ” said Weber. “No one comes back from this. That’s when knowing too much was a bad thing.”
But Weber also knows from experience that humans beat incredible odds. “If anyone was going to do it, it was Miles,” she said.
Weber said the two others from the helicopter are recovering well, and one has left the hospital. Slowly, Weske’s condition is beginning to turn for the better, too.
On Day 12 of the ordeal, Weber wrote in their CaringBridge journal: “A lot of secretions. I am happy about this … yes, that’s right … I’m happy about secretions.”
Late last week, Weske was stable enough for doctors to perform surgery and begin to put him back together. Each day, there are gains and setbacks, moments of joy and agony.
“We are going to deal with this for months,” Weber said. “His lungs are pretty sick. Just like a bruise on your arm, they take a long time to heal.”
Weber has been documenting their struggle on the CaringBridge site with the precision and gallows humor of a nurse.
“Out of respect for Miles, I refuse to eat at Buffalo Wild Wings until he is up to eating some Mango Habanero wings,” she wrote one day. “I think if I broke that respect rule, he may have a stroke.”
On Thursday night, after a rough day, Weber wrote:
“After these last 2 weeks, he’s stuck with me … for life. Between the wrinkles and the gray hairs he has caused, I own him. Sorry about your luck, baby. #notsorry.”
By Saturday, Weske was much more alert and trying to tell Weber he loves her, she said. “It’s really brought back that personal connection that lack of communication can hinder,” she said. “It’s wonderful.”
A GoFundMe account has been created to help with medical costs: gofundme.com/milesweske.