NEWARK — Dave Murphy doesn’t remember the first four weeks he spent in the hospital, but he remembers the accident that put him there.
He couldn’t avoid the car that struck his motorcycle that July evening. He remembers lying on the ground, and when his body refused to roll over, he remembers the despair at the cold realization that he could feel nothing from the chest down. He remembers the faces looking down on him, snippets of voices detailing his condition as they put a tourniquet on his leg, wrapped a brace about his neck, strapped him to a back board and lifted him to a stretcher. He remembers blood filling his lung as his breaths became shorter, and he remembers knowing he was at death’s door.
“I was dying and I wasn’t scared,” recalled Dave, sitting on the unfinished deck outside his front door last week. “I took the oxygen mask off in the ambulance and told them, ‘Tell my wife I love her and tell my dad I’m sorry.’”
His wife, Tracy, was on a beach in Sodus Point spending some time with her sister when the call came that Dave had an accident. She had just retired after 13 years working for Dr. Mary Napolean, an eye doctor, and had become a certified celebrant with plans to work in the Murphy family’s funeral home business. The couple had big plans for the summer and for their future. They had a home they both loved with plenty of open space. Dave was active, bow hunting every year, boasting 17 consecutive years of netting a buck with a bow, and his charter captain business, Fishin’ Mortician Charters. He also worked full-time helping his dad out at the funeral home and eight other funeral homes. Life was good — and then everything changed.
It didn’t sink in for Tracy until she got to the hospital and chief surgeons from nearly every department joined her in a private room to explain the gravity of the situation.
“They weren’t very hopeful he was going to make it,” Tracy said. “But they don’t know Dave.”
“Don’t you dare die. Don’t you leave me,” began an incantation Tracy repeated over and over whenever she could get close to her husband. Dave was lying in the ICU at Strong Memorial Hospital with two broken scapulas, one punctured lung, 12 broken ribs, two open leg fractures, 10 fractured vertebrae in his back and neck and a broken collar bone — and those were just the breaks doctors had tallied.
“He was just broken,” Tracy said.
Broken, but not beat. As Dave’s body struggled to heal, Tracy made a point to learn every doctor’s name and what every piece of equipment in the room was and its purpose. To reach a multitude of worried friends, the nurses pointed Tracy to CaringBridge.org where she found a coping mechanism in writing regular updates on Dave’s condition. For more than a month, Tracy never left his side.
Page 2 of 3 - “While I was fighting for my life, she was sleeping in a chair,” Dave said. “Knowing she stayed by me ... She kept me alive. I was living for her. I never loved her more in my life.”
By week five, Dave was showing improvement, and Tracy gave him a cell phone to see that a growing social network of support for Murphy Strong, the group formed to help him, with each person praying for his recovery and donning the “Fishin’ Mortician” logo as their profile photo.
“I couldn’t even look at it. It made me cry,” Dave said. “You don’t know how much people care until you’re gone, but I know now.”
He was getting better, but breaks in his back were paralyzing him. Doctors were certain he’d never walk, Tracy said. She struggled to accept that.
Every day she’d check to see if feeling was returning to his legs, flicking at a toe, but no reaction followed. Then one day, she told him to wiggle a toe. It took everything he had but he did it. Days later, he was moving his feet. Today he has control of every muscle group in each leg, and although a promising sign, he knows he has a lot of work ahead of him.
“I cry every time I get something back,” Dave said, exercising his muscles as he talks. “It gives me hope.”
As soon as Tracy was confident Dave would be OK, she started going home at night. It would be nine weeks before Dave would go home. His home was being modified to accommodate his physical challenges. Wheelchair-bound in a generously donated electric wheelchair, Dave was faced with having to ask and accept help for most everything.
“i went from bumping my head on everything to being unable to reach anything,” the 6’4” gentle giant said. “It’s an event. All the things people normally take for granted is a huge event for me.”
Friends have been raising money to help the couple make ends meet. Between Facebook and GiveForward.com, Murphy Strong had raised over $5,000 to build a deck and ramp on the front of the house where a hot tub can be installed to help with rehab. Dave Stiles and Mike Greene have been building the deck. Marvin DeRoo of Do-All Construction installed a lift and renovated the mud room so Dave could get in his home. Steve Joyce and Ricky Block have created and sold hundreds of T-shirts for Murphy Strong, and Matt Ury has managed most of the donation-collection details. Tracy’s aunt sends her $50 every other week, and countless envelopes containing cash or gift cards arrive anonymously to support the couple.
“I feel like every other word that comes out of my mouth is ‘thank you,’” Tracy said. “I can’t say it enough.”
Page 3 of 3 - Friends coming and going from the Murphy home all agree they don’t need thank yous though. Seeing Dave move his legs is all the thanks they need.
“The outpouring is overwhelming,” Dave said. “Just seeing the small-town love. I don’t ever want to leave Newark.”
The new normal
The accident and Dave’s slow but steady recovery has taken a toll on the couple. Tracy said she feels like a caretaker, not a wife. Such a small thing as just laying together for a while the other day was huge, she said. And everything requires planning now, she added, to make sure they have all Dave’s medications and necessities and ensuring their destination is handicap-accessible.
“Acceptance is key,” Dave said. “We know we have to be patient, learn to live this life first.”
There’s likely a million reasons why this happened, he said. Maybe he needed to slow down or maybe he needed to stop working so much, but none of that matters now. Dave expects to start physical therapy some time after the holidays in an anticipated two-year process. The goal: to be able to walk again.
“I’m not going to let it get me down,” Dave said. “I’m going to fight to make the best of what I have.”
Tracy said her husband can do anything he wants when he sets his mind to it.
“I’m ready,” Dave said. “This is the biggest challenge of my life. I’m ready.”
A Murphy Strong fundraiser will be held from noon to 8 p.m. on Sunday, Oct. 6 at the Newark Firemens Field. The family-fun event includes food, shirts, bracelets, raffles and many activities for the kids. Music will be provided by Frankie and Jewels, Black Ice, The Movers, Jamie Notarthomas, Misfit Karma and more.
Donations are also accepted at GiveForward.com and Reliant Community Federal Credit Union for the David Murphy Benefit Fund.
Join Murphy Strong on Facebook for regular updates on events and progress.