Sam Landstra — Staff Writer
An assortment of “get well soon” cards decorate an end table placed next to the hospital bed of Alan Park. One shows a picture of friends; another rests unopened in its envelope. A pile of medical paperwork and broken glasses also clutter the nondescript piece of furniture.
Jazmín Mendieta and Hannah Vanderhooft huddle around the bedside and look upon their sleeping friend with a mixture of care and worry. An entanglement of tubes and wires dripping fluids and recording vitals sprout from Park, who lays propped up at a 45-degree angle in the bed. A pair of compression sleeves to prevent muscular atrophy hug his legs.
In the corner traces of sunshine filter through fully drawn blinds and glint off the wood-paneled floor in the otherwise dark room located in the neurosurgery wing of McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. Park requires low brightness for his light-sensitive eyes.
The trio sits in silence. The sterile air feels heavy. Only the steady beep of a monitor or distant closing of a door breaks the prayerful quiet.
“Welcome to my home,” Park says, at long last.
Despite the clipboard at the end of his bed detailing a fractured temporal lobe with internal bleeding of the brain, despite his tired eyes and limited conversation ability, Vanderhooft and Mendieta know their friend is still himself, cracking jokes in his hospital gown.
The Paraguayan international student and East Hall LCA suffered traumatic head injuries from a longboarding accident, causing a weeklong stay in the hospital this past September.
On a Saturday evening, Park hopped on his electric Blitzart longboard after dinner and headed out on his routine circuit. He would exit his LCA apartment, ride towards KDCR on the 6th St. sidewalk, loop around Covenant Hall a handful of times, and head back though the middle of campus. The route takes less than ten minutes and is always accompanied by jazz, classical, or heavy metal music.
Park set out at a steady pace and turned a corner onto the East/North Hall fire lane.
“There was a crack on the ground, and I was like, ‘Oh, I see that crack. It’s not going to do anything to me because I’m an expert at longboarding,’” Park said. “So, I just went for it.”
The jagged break in the cement jolted Park and his board off, causing him to fall.
“One part of my brain was like, ‘Okay you’re losing balance and you’re gonna fall,’’” Park said. “And the other part was like, ‘You’re losing balance, but you’re going to be okay like always.’”
Park collided headfirst into the pavement. The impact mangled his glasses and cracked his skull.
“And boom,” Park said. “That was it.”
Some moments later, while Park lay dazed on the ground, a student ran to his assistance and helped Park inside. He struggled to remain upright. A distant pain shot from the back of his head. His ear was bleeding. Park might have blacked out during these disoriented moments, but he doesn’t quite remember.
After a CT scan at the Sioux Center Hospital revealed a fractured temporal lobe, Park rode in an ambulance to McKennan Hospital in Sioux Falls, where a specialist could treat him. His sense of time and awareness slipped away. Even though he remained in the hospital for a week, Park felt it lasted only three or four days.
Mendieta, a fellow LCA, was relaxing in her apartment that same Saturday night when she received a text asking if Park was okay after a longboard accident. She didn’t know.
“When someone falls from a longboard you expect a scratched knee or a broken arm,” Mendieta said.
The next day, however, Park’s father informed her of the situation over the phone. Mendieta, along with Vanderhooft, traveled to visit their friend two days later.
The smell of antiseptic lingered in the room. Vanderhooft sat in a chair next to Park, and Mendieta talked to the doctors. The two had brought some pictures of friends to keep Park company. A concussion-induced fatigue kept chatter at a minimum.
“This is not Alan,” Mendieta said. “I could see he had the spunk in him, but it was a very tired Alan, a very quiet Alan.”
A nurse shone a flashlight in Park’s eyes, examined his ears, asked him to wiggle his toes, gave him a dosage of Tylenol, and tested the strength of his arms. When four hours had passed, she would do it all again.
“If I want to pee? Nurse. If I want to walk? Nurse.” Park said. “Everything is a nurse.”
Doctors had thought Park needed open head surgery to drain the dangerous pool of blood and air bubbles accumulating in his brain but later opted for intense monitoring. Most individuals who suffer a cracked temporal bone do not survive. If they do, damaged nerves often cause paralysis in the face. Park was fortunate.
Before leaving, Mendieta and Vanderhooft read passages from Romans 8 and James 1 over Park. The verses, read first in Spanish and then in English, speak of present suffering and future glorification. In Africa, Canada, and Paraguay, the families of respective LCAs lifted up prayers of healing.
“There you could just see that God is God everywhere,” Mendieta said. “We can see a community of believers praying in foreign countries for a beloved son of God.”
Park returned to campus the following Saturday and began the difficult transition back to college life. A bottle of Tylenol and darkened prescription glasses did their best to keep his headache at bay while he worked on missed schoolwork from his apartment. The lingering effects of his concussion prevented him from going to class for two more weeks. He could concentrate, but only for so long.
Jan Park, a brother, flew from Paraguay to assist Park during his outpatient recovery. He cooked meals and spent time with him over the next several days.
The prayers and help of others worked together with time and the pain faded away. Park returned to class. Cognitive function improved.
“It was really comforting.” Vanderhooft said. “After seeing him not able to open his eyes it was good to see Alan moving around and acting like himself.”
A dulled function of the senses sticks around, though. When Park attended the Curry Craze this October, he could not smell the distinct aroma rising from the dishes. The sharp zing of Sprite tastes more like carbonated water. Park hopes time heals these wounds as well. Most doctors predict improvement.
“It was lame,” Park said, reflecting on his accident. “Unlucky that I fell, unlucky that I cracked my skull, but lucky that I didn’t die…That was an expensive longboard ride.”