‘I have received so much love . . . that there is a healing aspect in all that has happened’
As she headed home on F.T. Valley Road Jan. 9, Virginie Audrain’s life changed when her Subaru was hit head-on by a pickup truck whose driver, police say, was high on drugs.
Not quite three months later, she’s finally made it home, and says she’s agreed to talk about her traumatic and still-unfolding experience in part because she’s so . . . grateful.
“I wanted to have an opportunity to express how thankful I am for the generosity of this community, in so many ways,” says the 53-year-old artist and dancer, who returned a few weeks ago to the home she shares on Rolling Road in Sperryville with companion Jim Carter, a stonemason and gardener who’s also become, these last few months, her full-time caregiver.
“I mean in donations, in money, in food,” she adds, “but also . . . in thoughts, in prayers, in cards people have sent. I can’t go through this experience without feeling so totally grateful for having received so much. . . . People I don’t know, who’ve never met me . . . it’s something that is mind-blowing.”
This Sunday (April 3) at 2 p.m., Sperryville United Methodist Church will hold a benefit concert, co-sponsored by Sperryville Volunteer Rescue Squad, with music by Duane Siler and The Improbables and special guest Wynnie Thompson. The concert at the church is the latest of several fundraising efforts spearheaded by the congregation and others, including fund drives both off- and online (bit.ly/helpvirginie, or contact the church at 540-987-3355) which have so far raised about $14,000 to help Virginie and Jim pay the bills and get back their lives.
This would be encouraging news — until you remember that the medical bills are ultimately likely to be in six-figure territory.
The driver of the other vehicle, 28-year-old Bryan Daniel Graves of Rixeyville, had neither a valid license nor insurance, police say, and is charged with DUI. (A March 15 hearing was continued to May 17 as blood test results from state authorities were delayed.)
Rescue workers had to cut Virginie out of the wreckage. Transported to Inova Fairfax Hospital, she spent a week in the intensive care unit, where surgeons repaired a pelvis broken in four places, her fractured left tibia and right upper arm, hand and fingers, and her broken left wrist, among other injuries.
Virginie says she’d spent earlier that Saturday out and about, with a stop at the Book Barn and later the Flatwood recycling center — where she actually ran into Jim, who said he had a few more errands to run and would see her at home. That’s the last thing she remembers, she says, before waking up at the hospital.
All told, she spent 16 days at Inova — in ICU and then in the hospital’s trauma unit, before the hospital transferred her to a nursing home in Alexandria.
“The first week, I don’t remember,” Virginie says of her time in ICU. “I said things I don’t remember. I repeatedly told Jim I didn’t have an accident. I had people come and visit and I absolutely don’t remember them. I really started waking up, becoming conscious, when I left ICU.”
In the trauma unit, she says, she began to eat again, and she could feel her body begin to heal. “And I have to take this opportunity to say how grateful I am for the company of my companion, Jim, and my old friend Jensen, who gave me so much the last few months,” she says. “Without them I wouldn’t be feeling as well as I am.”
After the accident, Jim called Jensen Kvarnes, a longtime Rappahannock resident who was teaching music lessons in Fairfax, near the hospital, to ask if he could get there. “He was so shaken up that he didn’t think he could drive, and it was getting dark,” says Jensen. “I was very close by, so I went.”
The two took shifts at the hospital with Virginie. Jensen says the first sight of his longtime friend was “let’s just say, an awful moment.” She remained unconscious, and finally a nurse suggested he go home and get some rest and come back the next day. “The next morning I called pretty early, and they said they’d just woken her up . . . they woke her up, and she could respond to simple requests, she could move her feet, etc. That’s a very good sign. They said they had decided not to . . . induce coma.
“Her whole head was banged up real bad,” Jensen says. “She never lost her cognitive ability, but a lot of what’s been recovering the last few months is her brain. Her brain got really smacked around.”
A day later, when they’d removed the breathing tube and Virginie could communicate, Jensen recalls, “Jim and I could see that she was . . . there. And that day the nurse said to Jim and me, ‘She’s going to be all right.’ Nurses don’t say that unless they’re really sure, and I have to tell you, it meant a lot to hear that.”
Not quite three months after the accident, Virginie still has no sight in her right eye, and the tear ducts in both eyes aren’t functioning properly, so her eyes burn and, even with eye drops, she can’t focus on much in the way of books or TV. She and Jim are preparing to see a neurologist for a diagnosis of her vision and eye problems, something she says the doctors at Inova didn’t get much chance to focus on.
“We are starting from scratch,” she says, meaning the next phase of medical assistance and therapy.
She has in recent weeks started to lift and move her arms; a visit to the orthopedic doctor next week will determine how soon she can leave the wheelchair and start putting weight on her lower body. Her three weeks of weekly visits by physical and occupational therapists, provided by Inova, end this week. She and Jim will now have to visit a physical therapist locally.
Donna LaPre, an artist and friend, is among the core group of volunteers who’ve been bringing food and spending time with Virginie since her return home — in part, she points out, “so that Jim can get out and work — Jim needs to work, because right now they have no income.” LaPre, still recovering nine months later from her own accident last July — kicked by a neighbor’s calf who she’d tried to rescue from the fence where he’d gotten his head stuck — is thus well aware of what help can mean when recovering from a serious accident.
“It’s an accident, it’s not like surgery, which you can prepare for,” she says. “This was sudden, out of the blue. And people don’t realize what a long haul it is, to heal not just from the initial injuries, but an impact like that causes problems that might not even become evident until you start putting weight on your legs, and start walking.”
There’s a “care calendar” online where friends can sign up to visit, bring food or provide in-person help — the link and access instructions can be found at the top of the caringbridge.org page started in January by Barbara Adolfi and Madeleine Prince (caringbridge.org/visit/virginieaudrain).
“I see so much good progress,” says Jim. “I guess I am anxious to get back to a normal life. I want to see her out in the garden, doing a little weeding. . . . It hasn’t been normal for the last three months. It’s getting there, and that’s great.”
“It took a while before I could hear stories about the accident itself,” Virginie says. “The first responders who were there, who took care of me. . . . There was my neighbor [SVRS medic Harold Beebout], who drives by my driveway all the time. I just feel for him that he had to see me in that car, and he drove with me to the hospital.
“I think, ironically, I have received so much love and so much goodness, that there is a healing aspect in all that has happened to me. It’s probably going to sound weird, because it was such a horrible accident. But I think it’s . . . it has given me so much, at the same time.”
In the trauma unit and the nursing home, Virginie says, “I could actually feel people sending me love and healing energy.
“And I had a beautiful little moment yesterday, that crystallizes the hope I feel,” she says. “For the first time, I was able to do a few dishes in the kitchen. While I was doing the dishes, I heard Jim start up the tiller in the garden. It filled me with joy and hope that life is starting again.”