Endurance

roger-annie2_new

| Author’s note: This account of the tragic and inspiring lives of Roger and Annie Golden was written in support of fundraising efforts, specifically as a submission to ABC’s Extreme Makeover: Home Edition television show. Events and the people detailed here are from the perspective of Roger Golden.

 

Elizabeth Ann Golden’s internal clock is off. She might sleep through the day and be wide awake in the middle of the night. On a given day she might sleep straight through, or waken intermittently. It falls to her husband Roger to stay on top of her random schedule. Annie, as she’s known by most, sleeps in one of those elaborate hospital beds, and is fed formula twice a day through a stomach tube.

Getting up for the day (or night) is a joint effort of common rituals: bathing, tooth-brushing, hair-combing. Additionally, Roger will help Annie do arm and leg therapies. She has some range of motion in her legs, and in her right index finger.

Their Cuyahoga Falls, Ohio, home is set up for her unique needs. Roger has seen to that. And it has been a long, painful journey to this point. Looking back to the start of their marriage, Roger might have thought the test of his love and commitment would be racial intolerance–for theirs is an interracial relationship. Or maybe it would be blended family issues, since he met Annie Riley when she was divorcing, a mother of two, including a daughter facing cancer. What Roger couldn’t know is that his and Annie’s life together would be torn in a way that would make race and mixed families manageable by comparison.

“There’s no limit to what I get from her, and what I give to her,” Roger says. He is a man who pushes beyond dedication, whose existence daily puts his marriage vows to the ultimate test. In sickness and health. For better or worse.

Even when worse turns out to be more than you could have fathomed.

 

ROGER & ANNIE

Roger and Annie met in spring of 1989. Both worked at Little Tikes, the Hudson, Ohio-based toymaker. Roger’s inclined to give broad smiles, which he does recalling the first impression Annie made on him when he met her in the parking lot at work.

“There’s these feet underneath a car,” he says. “I thought, ‘Oh my God, that’s a woman working on a car.’ She’s just wrenching away.” He eventually met the owner of the feet: a petite, 5-foot blonde. All smiles. But no one to be pushed around.

Roger, a burly and gentle-looking black man, offered to help, but actually found that Annie seemed to know more about cars than he did. He followed her part of the way home to make sure the car didn’t break down again. They laughed about it the next day and became fast friends. But she made her independence clear to him.

They shared common friends from work, and socialized through bowling and softball. Their friendship grew, but Annie, who was going through a divorce, decided to leave for North Carolina to spend time with her father. She and Roger corresponded for about a year, and she used the time away to finish up a medical degree.

When she returned to pay a visit to Little Tikes, she and Roger soon after resumed their friendship. He met her children from her previous marriage: son T.J. and daughter Misty.

By wintertime Annie was preparing for a job at St. Thomas Hospital in Akron, Ohio. She found herself in a tough financial situation and was struggling to find a place in which to spend time alone with her children. Roger offered up his apartment on occasions, allowing Annie and her kids to have time together. He also bought her a winter coat and boots.

 

RACE RELATIONS

As their relationship deepened, the time was fraught with the uncertainties and complexities of their situation. An ex-husband. A father not too keen on their interracial relationship, according to Roger. Her daughter’s cancer.

Roger told Annie he would not come between her and her family.

“Her dad hated my guts!”

Annie traveled to North Carolina to see her father, despite knowing he disapproved of their interracial relationship.

“Her trip down there told me how much her dad meant to her–I didn’t want to come between them,” he says.

Roger was also concerned about what Annie’s ex-husband might say, and her kids.

“She took both of them on,” he remembers. “It wasn’t so much it was a battle but that it was something she didn’t have to do.

“I’m working at Little Tikes making $10 an hour. So I can’t really give her a whole lot. Let alone anything that comes from society. But she was persistent, and I thought, ‘Gosh, if there’s a person who is willing to put her children and her relationship with her family … to be with me … black or white, you can find someone ready to take your back on something like that, this might be something to go after.’ ”

 

DAY OF JOY

Roger and Annie Golden make it official. (Photos courtesy of Roger Golden)

They married on Aug. 6, 1994–Annie’s birthday–at Roger’s grandmother’s house. His mother and father attended the ceremony, Annie’s parents did not. There wouldn’t be a joining of families on this day. But it was a day of joy.

“I wasn’t looking for a relationship when I met her,” Roger says. “Just her spirit–how she worked through things–that was just so attractive to me. I never expected to fall in love.”

When Roger and Annie’s father eventually met on Thanksgiving of 1994, the tide slowly turned, Roger says.

“He understood I had nothing but good intentions.”

During their time together, Roger believes, mutual respect was earned.

“He called me son,” Roger remembers. “I value that a lot, because I know that wasn’t easy for him.”

 

THE STRENGTH TO DO WHAT WE NEED TO DO

Annie’s daughter Misty had a particularly bad cancer episode in June of 1999. The disease was taking a toll on Misty’s heart, and it meant another lengthy, precarious hospital stay. Roger remembers looking on as Annie and her ex-husband had somber discussions about their daughter’s treatments and prognosis.

The news got better and Roger credits God for Misty’s eventual discharge from the hospital. When she was finally able to travel, Roger and Annie took Misty to visit Annie’s father in North Carolina.

It was a restful, enjoyable time, Roger says. Annie, meanwhile, was looking ahead to her next challenge: law school. She’d set her sights on earning a legal degree. The time was significant for her children as well. Her son T.J. had joined the military. And upon their return to Ohio, Annie and Roger learned Misty had been accepted into a prominent care facility for her disabilities, which kept her wheelchair-bound.

That early August weekend was bittersweet for Annie. Misty would receive good care, but would be away from her family. That Sunday, Roger remembers arguing with Annie and the silence between them for much of the day. After receiving a call that some motorcycle helmets he had ordered were available, Roger and Annie agreed to head to Akron to pick them up. They rode Roger’s motorcycle.

The day was beautiful, Roger remembers. And the ride was made special by a sudden hug and kiss on the cheek from Annie.

“I’m sorry,” she’d told him. “I love you.”

About 500 feet later their motorcycle was struck by a car.

“It was like an out-of-body experience,” Roger recalls. “The car came out of nowhere. I saw it, like you see a car pass you on the road and you don’t really give a though to it, but then to have it right on top of you …”

Roger remembers scattered details, vividly: Sliding over the hood of the car, his left hand hitting a windshield-wiper blade. Part of him wanting to move, yet part of him being held back. He remembers tumbling. And seeing a little girl holding a balloon or a ball at the side of the road. He stops rolling. He lays on the highway perplexed, holding his head and moving his arms, thinking, “I’m OK. We made it.”

The little girl’s running away, toward a house. And then he’s jarred by the sound of metal twisting as the car that struck him backs up off the remains of his motorcycle. The driver is attempting a getaway.

“Where you going?” Roger remembers asking the driver. He tries to stand up to confront the man, but his legs offer no support. Roger notices his left leg is turned outward, bent at an impossible angle.

He shouts, “Stop that car!” and begins crawling after the vehicle. He and the driver suddenly notice the body in the middle of the road. Roger’s thoughts turn to his wife. He crawls after her as the driver flees the scene.

(Later, he says, he learned that drivers in two cars behind him witnessed the accident and gave chase.)

Annie is in the middle of the road. People gather around her. There is blood. There is debating about whether she should be moved.

“I crawled after her,” Roger says.

People in the crowd are praying over her. Roger reaches the crowd and looks down at his wife. Her nose, eyes and ears are bleeding. Her breathing is a gurgling sound.

“God,” he remembers praying, “if you’re going to take her, take her now. If you leave her with me, give us the strength that we need to do what we need to do.”

Looking back, Roger believes the grace of God kept him focused.

The little girl’s grandmother calls for help, which is prompt to arrived, although it seems to take forever, Roger recalls. The nearest hospitals were in the cities of Akron and Barberton. While Barberton Citizens Hospital was a mile and a half closer, Roger chooses Akron General Hospital after remembering Annie telling him that facility has a trauma center.

The decision likely saves Annie’s life.

 

GOLDEN HOUR

Circumstances left son T.J., then 17, with the responsibility of calling family and friends with the news. “I’m not mad at you,” Roger remembers the boy telling him upon learning about the accident. It would be the first real time Roger’s and Annie’s parents would meet. His family and Annie’s, joined by their faith in God, held a prayer vigil in the hospital trauma unit with families of others victims.

From the time the Akron Fire Department got the call to the time Annie was in surgery, 22 minutes had passed. Roger was later told about the golden hour–the precious 30 to 40 minutes that offers the best shot at recouping brain function in a person suffering severe brain trauma. While the Barberton hospital was a few minutes closer, the Akron facility was better equipped to handle Annie’s type of head injury, Roger says.

Roger’s injuries included  broken bones, toes, and his body required a plate, pins and rods. He spent three days in the hospital.

“Our faith is what sustained us–from marriage through the accident,” he says.

At about 3 a.m. the night of the accident, Roger was finally able to see Annie.

“It didn’t look nothing like her,” he says. “She’s hooked up to every kind of machine imagined. I’m still thinking about how she kissed me on the motorcycle and said she loved me. I wanted it all back, the way it was.”

Annie’s body had come to rest 30 feet from the impact of the accident. She had a fractured skull, broken ribs, punctured lungs. For 12 crucial hours they waited for what was the best-case scenario: that she’d be able to breath on her own. Or the worst: death.

Annie was stabilized, but kept on a ventilator.

This is not the story of the hit-and-run driver. His history of a suspended license, according to Roger. The anger his family directed toward Roger. The man’s filing for bankruptcy, and his eventual apology in court. His being found guilty of failure to yield the right of way, which resulted in a 10-month sentence. This is about Roger and Annie’s road to recovery.

“She’s coming home no matter what it takes,” Roger pledged to himself. Annie was never afraid of a challenge. Her father’s initial refusal to accept Roger, her continued efforts to seek a better life for herself. Annie was not afraid of a challenge. To honor her, Roger wouldn’t be either.

Annie was in Akron General until September of 1999. Then she was moved to hospitals in Barberton, then Pennsylvania. Still on a ventilator.

Roger was looking at a future of Annie being shuffled from facility to facility. A future of being constantly told what Annie would never be able to do. Insurance funds were dwindling and he needed a plan to avert for Annie a life in a nursing home.

 

MAKING A HOUSE A HOME

It was then that his quest came into focus: He would make their home the place to meet Annie’s needs. He took measurements of his Cuyahoga Falls house and studied it to find out how to maximize space and expand their home. In July of 2000, he had to temporarily place Annie in a nursing home while he made plans to reshape their home to meet Annie’s condition. By August, he’d received clearance from the city to make additions and improvements to his home, which included adding inner and outer walls, masonry work, a ramp to enter and exit the house. Annie’s father and brothers, along with Roger’s father and brother arrived in September on a Saturday to begin a portion of the expansion/reconstruction project, including roof work, plumbing and adding a crawl space. The house has a couch the same height as Annie’s wheelchair and a customized shower. By Sunday, the job was complete.

Annie Golden, 2012

January 2001 was a particularly hard time. He could not qualify for medical assistance. Annie had a seizure and was placed in a medically induced coma. The year saw trips to Akron City Hospital, a stay in a Warren, Ohio, hospital and, by May, a return to Akron.

After setbacks and delays, on Dec. 23, 2002, Annie came home. A home prepared for her by the man who vowed to keep her, for better or worse.

There are the inevitable questions:

Have you ever wanted to give up?

No. Christ could have quit when he was being crucified.

How do you survive?

I have conversations at the well [actually a sink in his home] where I find reassurance that God is in our lives. I thank him for perspective.

Are you angry?

Yes. It’s the one thing that bothers me most. I get tested. But I prayed to God, “If you leave her with me, give us the strength that we need to do what we need to do.”

Does Annie feel she’s a burden to you?

She sometimes apologizes. I tell her she’s done nothing wrong.

Would you consider leaving her in the permanent care of others?

No. She’s worked too hard. There’s no limit to what I get from her, and what I give to her. This is my wife.

Today, Annie is able to remember dates. She can do math, can express her needs. All of this, of course, is beyond expectations. Roger tells how he and Annie were fortunate enough to reunite with some of the emergency room surgeons who six years earlier saved her life. The surgeons were stunned by her progress, he says.

“They shed tears,” he recalls.

Annie sees her daughter every other weekend, and frets about her son being in the military during a time of war. She watches TV sitcoms–the oldies are her favorites. And gardens with her mother and sister, who let her toil in the soil. Annie aids Roger with some of the meals by stirring the food. They share in her daily responsibilities: brushing teeth, maintaining fingernails. He chuckles at the experience of highlighting her hair: “She wanted to try a new color.”

Since October 1996 he’d work at a supply company in a neighboring city. His employment at the company was essential in those early stages, providing crucial health benefits and income. He credits his employers for patience and giving him time off. His coworkers offered support in myriad ways: prayers, phone calls, cards, even a spaghetti-dinner fundraiser. To hear former employees talk, Roger seemed to pull out the best in them. One coworker even went to her church and got Roger involved in its fellowship and support. But the commitment to his wife’s needs took a toll on his job. He eventually had to leave in 2004.

“I couldn’t do my best work,” Roger admits.

He now works a janitorial position. Two aides split time to help out with Annie while Roger works. This allowed him to take care of most of an unpaid student loan. Most importantly, the job offers the flexibility he needs to work around Annie’s schedule. He gets things done while she’s resting, and exploits snatches of time throughout the week to get his own rest. “We roll with what comes,” he says.

Despite his best and unrelenting efforts, there are still needs.

A pool for therapy. (Roger got the idea from an ABC television series Extreme Makeover: Home Edition, in which a wheelchair-bound boy used a swimming pool for therapy.) A van better equipped to transport her easier. A porch so she can get outside. Due to cuts to his medicaid, Annie lost a speech therapist.

A woman who was so independent is now dependent upon a man who still holds her in awe.

“We talk about the accident but she doesn’t really remember.”

His eyes light up as he describes the woman she was, they light up when he describes the woman she is.

“That’s my wife,” he says with a smile. “This is the deal.”

–Marvin Brown

< Features

| Home |