Life of limb?
A wife's choice
Tuesday, May 31, 2005
Story By Diana Keough
Plain Dealer Reporter
By day's end Barb Nagy's
spat with her husband, Ryan, would seem trivial.
But now, at 7 a.m. Monday,
April 11, it was all she could think about.
When she arrived at work an
hour later, she was still angry. She wanted Ryan to take their two
children to day care that morning. He couldn't. He had volunteered to work
an overtime shift and needed to be at the Middleburg Heights police
station for a 7 a.m. meeting.
"I wrote it on the
calendar," he told her.
"OK, but you didn't tell
me, and I didn't look at the calendar," she snapped back. He always had
Mondays off. She counted on it. She was in the middle of resetting a Dots
store with the spring line. As visual planner and new store coordinator
for the clothing chain, there is one day a month she cannot be late.
Monday was that day. Twenty store managers and her boss were going to be
there. If she took the kids, she would be late.
They fought Sunday night.
She knew he took the extra shift for the money. "Everything's always about
money to you," she yelled. He cringed whenever she accused him of that
because they both worried about money a lot. The money he made working
overtime shifts and side security jobs came in handy.
Ryan felt bad about
upsetting Barb. Not only did he want to help her out with the kids, he
wanted to finish the massive swing set, still in parts, he had started
putting together Sunday. He needed Monday to finish the project. Ryan
tried to get someone to take his shift. No luck.
Barb told him she would
take the kids to day care and made him promise to help dress them before
he left. Barb then rolled over in bed, turning her back on him.
The next morning was
hectic. Zachary, 3, wouldn't cooperate. After wrestling Zach into his
clothes, Ryan looked at the clock and yelled to Barb he had to go. He was
going to be late.
Hearing the garage door
slam, Barb ran after him. After last night's fight, she wanted to make
sure she said goodbye. She hated it when they fought. But he was gone.
She ended up arriving at
work with two minutes to spare. I shouldn't have gotten so mad at Ryan,
she thought. She was too hard on him. He was off at 3. She'd call him
Once at work, Barb was
frustrated. She was repeatedly called to the phone. Silly questions,
needless interruptions. Each call required a climb down from the top of a
"No more calls," she
announced. Ten minutes later, she was called to the phone again.
"Take a message," Barb
said, clearly irritated.
"It's Tom, and he said it's
important." Tom Wilkerson worked with her in the corporate office.
What the hell could be so
important from Tom? she wondered. She picked up the phone. "What's up?"
"It's Lt. Tom Miranda."
Ryan. It's about Ryan. Barb felt bile rising in her throat. "Ryan's been
in an accident. I don't know all the details, but I'm coming to get you,"
he told her. "Ryan's at Metro."
Ryan, 30, had talked a
million times about taking people to Metro. That's where the worst trauma
patients are always taken, he had told her. Barb slid to the floor,
holding the phone.
"Oh my God. Oh my God. Oh
my God," she screamed, still holding the phone.
Ryan Nagy was assigned that
day to the traffic detail. Nothing unusually challenging. Just checking
seat-belt violators, flagging speeders, pulling them over, writing
tickets. Six hours. Just six hours and he would be home to finish the
He couldn't wait. He wanted
to make sure everything was cool between him and Barb. He hated it when
they argued over stupid stuff. Throughout their eight-year marriage, he
could count on two hands the number of fights.
He loved being a cop. He
had been doing it for nine years. On normal days, he was a patrolman. He
was also on the Southwest Enforcement Bureau's SWAT team.
Today, Ryan decided to work
Interstate 71, choosing to park around the Bagley Road exit, heading
north. For some reason, drivers loved to open up on that two-mile stretch
of road between Bagley and the airport.
This day was no exception.
Rare was the car not exceeding the 60-mph speed limit. He had to pick and
choose. He wasn't a jerk about it. Someone had to be going 8 to 10 miles
over the limit for him to flag them. By 1:30 p.m., he had issued 13
speeding tickets. Only an hour and a half to go, he thought.
Just then a blue Jeep
Cherokee whizzed by. Eighty-one mph popped up onto the laser's digital
screen. Bummer, dude. Too far over the limit to let you go.
Ryan jumped in the squad
car, hit the lights and siren and pulled into traffic. The Jeep pulled
over immediately. Ryan approached from behind, making his way up the car
on the driver's side.
The Jeep's driver was
polite and apologetic. Ryan informed the driver of his offense and went
back to his car to run his plates and driver's license.
Ryan wrote the ticket and
got out of his car, walking toward the Jeep. A loud, strange noise caused
him to look sharply over his left shoulder.
Careening across two lanes
was a huge pickup truck, coming straight for him. He had only one escape
route: to run between his car and the Jeep.
The pickup hit the left
bumper of the squad car, slamming both Ryan and his car into the back of
There was no escape.
Barb scanned the hospital
waiting room for a familiar face. No one.
A social worker asked
whether she was Ryan's wife, then guided her down a long hall filled with
firefighters, police officers and paramedics. As she moved toward them,
one by one, they turned to look at her without saying a word.
This is like an episode of
"Third Watch," she thought. It was Ryan's favorite show. When she walked
into a conference room and saw Ryan's friends Sonny Kovic and Ed Szoke
standing there, her legs buckled. Barb collapsed to the floor. Kovic
lifted her gently to a chair.
"It's bad, isn't it?" she
asked Kovic, a firefighter in Middleburg Heights.
"I think he might lose both
of his legs," Kovic said, choking back tears. He was one of the paramedics
who brought Ryan in. "I couldn't work on him, Barb," he said. "I just
couldn't. He's bad. Really bad."
Szoke, also a Middleburg
Heights firefighter, assured her the squad had done everything they could.
They brought him straight here in the "bus," as they called the ambulance
instead of waiting for LifeFlight. Ryan didn't have time to spare.
The room began to fill with
people dressed in white doctors' coats looking at her with sympathetic
expressions. She heard them say "trauma team" over and over. She couldn't
look at them. She couldn't stop crying. She felt the room spin.
Focus, she told herself.
She forced herself to look up. Standing in front of her, extending her
hand, was a chaplain.
"What are you doing here?"
Barb asked the woman through clenched teeth, using the palm of her hand to
rid her face of the tears that wouldn't stop coming.
The chaplain looked
helplessly at Barb and then at the surgeon. Barb was thinking of Ryan's
mom. They're so religious that if she sees a chaplain in here, she's going
to think Ryan's dead, Barb thought.
"She's part of our team,"
the trauma surgeon said.
"You need to leave. Right
now," Barb said, pointing at the chaplain and then motioning toward the
door. The chaplain didn't budge. She was too stunned to move. Barb
repeated, louder, with more venom, "Leave. Right. Now."
How dare they bring her in
here, Barb thought. The chaplain turned and began to leave.
"Where was your Boss when
this happened?" Barb sneered as the chaplain left the room.
"Is he going to die?" she
asked the doctors. At first, no one answered.
"He's lost a lot of blood,"
the surgeon said.
"His legs? What about his
legs?" she asked, remembering what Kovic had said.
They told her they couldn't
know for sure until they got him into surgery. But more than likely, one
leg was so crushed it might have to be amputated.
"You can't do that," she
said, frantically. "Ryan's told me he'd rather be dead than lose a limb or
said they weren't sure about his other leg either. It had open
wounds and perhaps, multiple fractures. His back suffered severe damage as
well. They were not sure what internal injuries he had.
"Can I see him?" she asked.
With Kovic beside her, the
doctors led her through a maze of long halls to Ryan's bedside. A nurse
told her Ryan had been prepped for surgery.
It was hard to see Ryan
through all the tubes and lines attached to him. He was surrounded by
blood-soaked towels. There was blood all over the floor.
As they wheeled Ryan away,
she thought, My world does not work without this man.
When Barb made her way back
to the waiting room, it was overflowing with people she knew. Women from
work, Ryan's mom and dad, aunts and uncles, more cops from Middleburg
Heights. Some brought their wives.
She wondered where her mom
was. She and her dad were on their way to the hospital from Columbus,
where they lived. They should be here by now.
Barb didn't know they were
stuck on I-71 in the traffic caused by Ryan's accident.
An hour and a half after
she left Ryan, the doctors came out of surgery and told Barb they wanted
to talk. Ryan's parents, one of his aunts, and Barb's aunt and uncle
followed her as she was led through double doors into a small office.
The trauma surgeon was
holding papers rolled up in his hand, moving them back and forth. He
calmly told her Ryan's right leg was too far gone to save. It had to be
"If we don't amputate his
leg, your husband is going to die, Mrs. Nagy," the doctor said. As he
finished saying this, Barb's mom and dad, Christina and Jim Bagnoli walked
in. Christina rushed to her daughter and let her fall into her arms.
"Can't you wait until he
comes to and ask him?" Barb asked. "Can't you stabilize him?"
The doctors assured her
they couldn't, that the amputation was absolutely necessary.
And because Ryan was not
able to make the decision himself, the doctors said they had to defer the
decision to his wife.
"Please, don't ask me to do
this," she cried hysterically. "He'll never forgive me. Please, please."
The doctor unrolled the
papers in his hand and showed her where she needed to sign. On top of that
form was another. It read: Permit for amputation and pathological
It was standard operating
procedure. Did Barb want Ryan's amputated limb back so she could bury it
or did she want the hospital to burn it and then dispose of the ashes.
"He's going to hate me,"
she shrieked. "He said he'd rather die than have this happen to him."
Ryan's parents assured her
that Ryan wasn't like that. That he would forgive her. That he would
understand. That she must do this to save his life.
Christina pulled Barb aside
and firmly took Barb's face in her hands.
"You're right, Barb" she
said sternly. "Ryan probably is going to hate you for doing this. He's a
ballplayer. He's a cop. He's on the SWAT team. Everything in his world
revolves around his body.
"He might not hate you
forever and maybe he will," Christina said. "But you need to save his
life. You need to do this, Barbara."
"He's never going to
forgive me," Barb sobbed as she signed both papers. As she did, Ryan's mom
and dad stood up and left the room.
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