RONAN – Cathy Marmon started keeping a daily journal on Sept. 10, 2013.
Except for writing in the dates at the top, the first several pages are blank.
That day, and ensuing ones, were a blur then and remain one now. There was the phone call every parent dreads, to Cathy, who works at Valley Bank in Ronan, and her husband Dave, Ronan’s street supervisor and assistant fire chief.
There was the rushed drive to Billings, where all they knew was that their son Elias, 25, had been in some sort of construction accident.
There was the meeting, as soon as they arrived at St. Vincent Healthcare, with the emergency room doctor and the hospital chaplain.
A strap had broken as the crew Elias worked on was installing Jersey barriers on Interstate 90 near Billings. A 10-inch-wide, 4 1/2-foot tall and 10-foot-long, steel I-beam had dropped out of the sky and onto their son’s head.
The Marmons got the bad news up front: It wasn’t clear whether Elias, who had undergone emergency surgery, would even live through the night.
Six and a half months, nine surgeries and two hospitals later, Elias Marmon came back to Ronan on Thursday.
He’s a paraplegic — paralyzed from the mid-chest down — and in a wheelchair.
But he’s home.
The accident cracked his skull from his forehead to his neck, injured his brain, broke his back, crushed his spinal cord and left him blind in one eye — to name a few of his injuries.
Elias has also battled pneumonia and infections, especially with a bed sore so severe “I could fit three of my fists inside his back, all the way to bone,” Cathy says.
He has two metal plates in his head, another on the left side of his face, two metal rods in his back and a smile on his face.
“I’m three-quarters metal,” Elias said Friday morning, about 16 hours after arriving home from Denver.
“We call him,” says his dad, “ ‘Humpty-Dumpty.’ ”
The family has another name for him, too.
After all Elias has been through, younger brother Dalton says, they tend to think of him as Superman.
Elias Marmon, the father of sons ages 7 and 6, has worked as a logger, built tresses and poured concrete since he was 18.
A friend, David Old Chief, helped get him on with Plain Feather Construction of Billings about 3 1/2 months before the accident, and just as the construction and excavation business began replacing Jersey barriers, also known as Jersey rails, that often serve as the median on narrow sections of interstate highways.
“They’re taking out the smaller medians,” Elias explains, “and putting in bigger ones that can stop a semi.”
The people at Plain Feather have been great, Dave Marmon says.
“They were there in the waiting room when we got to the hospital, and at his bedside three or four times a week” in Billings, he says.
“When they couldn’t be there, they’d call on their lunch hour and put us on speakerphone so we could talk to them,” Cathy adds.
Surprisingly, Elias’s co-workers told the Marmons that after the I-beam fell on Elias, Elias “jumped up and started running around.”
“One guy told me they had to tackle him,” Dave says. “The ambulance crew couldn’t intubate him, he had so much fluid and blood in his throat.”
Elias remembers none of it, and soon was in an induced coma.
On Oct. 24, Elias was transferred to Craig Hospital in Englewood, Colo., which specializes in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries.
He’s spent the past five months there, with the Marmons making multiple trips to Colorado and staying two weeks at a time.
Back in Ronan, doorways were widened, handicap ramps installed and a handicap-accessible bedroom and bathroom is being added to the Marmon home.
Workers comp has covered much of that and medical bills, but there have been many expenses that haven’t been covered, including the many trips between Ronan and Billings, and then Ronan and the Denver area.
Much to the Marmons embarrassment – “We’re not the kind of people to ask for a handout,” Dave says – friends are throwing a benefit barbecue for the family on Friday, April 11, at Willard’s Bar in Ronan. Neater still, the barbecue, from 6-9 p.m., will then morph into a birthday party for Elias, who turns 26 on April 12.
Elias, whose rehabilitation will continue in Ronan – he says there is a chance he could walk again one day – has plans for down the road.
“The staff at Craig really helped me,” he says, “and it put the thought in my mind that I wanted to help people too.”
He wants to eventually go to college, and become a counselor who either works “with troubled teens, or people in my situation, who have brain injuries or spinal cord injuries.”
“I’m huge on learning new stuff about what’s going on with me,” Elias says. “I think that goes both ways, and if I’m working with other paraplegics, I can learn new things from them as well.”
Once his mother started keeping daily entries in the journal she decided to keep, she was faithful about it.
But Friday morning was the first time she’s gone back and read any of the entries, and it brought tears to her eyes when she explained why she started it.
“When we found out Elias was paralyzed, I decided to keep it,” Cathy says, “so that if he ever wanted to go back and read it, he could see what he had come through to even be alive.”
It’s been a lot, and it’s not over.
But they’re grateful it’s the cards they’ve been dealt, and not worse ones.
“The doctors told us they were amazed,” Dave says, “that he even made it through that first night.”