August 3, 2008

In Cases of Emergency, Web Sites Offer Solace Webs of Concern

By Carden Hedelt, The Free Lance-Star, Fredericksburg, Va.

Aug. 3--Former Stafford County resident Garrett Ebling was driving home from work nearly a year ago when the world as he knew it was pulled out from under his feet.

On Aug. 1, 2007, Ebling was driving in rush-hour traffic across the Interstate 35 bridge in Minneapolis when it collapsed, sending hundreds of commuters into the Mississippi.

Ebling suffered several broken bones, a ruptured diaphragm and a ruptured colon in the fall, and he had to spend the next two months in the hospital.

Instead of keeping friends and family updated by phone or e-mail during his hospital stay, Ebling's family turned to caring

CaringBridge helps people who are going through medical crises by letting them create free Web pages. The pages can be viewed by anyone, anywhere, who wants to keep tabs on a friend or loved one while he's in hospital.

People can use their own computers or hospital computers to create and update their sites. They can share their progress in an online journal, upload pictures and receive supportive messages from visitors to the site.

"My mother and fiancee shared news through that site at first," Ebling said. "Things were happening at a rapid pace, and it was a good way to keep everybody updated."


In the first journal entry on Ebling's CaringBridge site, his fiancee described his semi-collapsed lung, his broken jaw and other injuries, but also her joy at learning he had not suffered brain damage.

She also wrote:

"[I]f you would like to call, please consider texting or emailing here instead, the emotional strain is great, and while we adore you all, we simply can't keep up with the calls. If you would like to visit, please email/text and we'll let you know of a good time."

Ebling was kept in a medically induced coma for 18 days after the bridge collapse. He said that because of the CaringBridge site, his loved ones, instead of being on the phone all the time, were able to "focus on things like getting me ready for surgery and all the other things that go along with taking care of someone in the hospital."

Bette Goglia, chaplain at Mary Washington Home Health and Hospice, has seen CaringBridge users benefit from being able to express their feelings online.

"[CaringBridge] would help them feel supported," Goglia said. "It would help them to be heard because it's almost like a blog where they can go share their story."

Goglia also pointed out that being able to receive messages is a big part of the benefit that CaringBridge offers its users.

For Fredericksburg resident ReBecca Bennett, the messages that she has received through her CaringBridge Web site have been a "godsend."

Bennett takes her 15-year-old son, Craig, to North Oakland Medical Center in Pontiac, Mich., every year for three-week therapy sessions. He has cerebral palsy and epilepsy. She said that without the messages and support from friends and family, the therapy would be too much for her to bear.

"You can always find someone when you have nobody to talk to," Bennett said. "Sometimes you want to cry, but it's cathartic. You can write it all out, and I know that at 6 on the next morning, I'll have someone telling me that I can pull through this."

Bennett has seen her son benefit, too, from reading the messages, most of all those from his friends at Stafford High School.

"He has a lot of friends at Stafford that message him," Bennett said. "He's been getting a lot of attention from all the athletes at school and that has been really, really helpful for him. It helps him get through his treatments every day."


For Ebling, the best aspect of his CaringBridge site was being able to keep friends and family at far ends of the country updated.

Ebling, who worked for the Stafford County Sun from 2003 to 2005, still kept in touch with friends in the area, and being able to keep everyone in the loop so simply was "a relief."

CaringBridge was also a means for Ebling to relate his successes. He posted updates on a regular basis during his stay at the hospital and continues to update his site, which has been viewed more than 100,000 times.

"I was in the hospital for two months, and for six weeks of that I was in the [hospital] bed," Ebling said. "When three of your four limbs are broken, you can't do too much. So when I had successes, I could use CaringBridge to relay those obstacles that you passed."

"It's a great tool," Ebling continued. " It's really a jewel for those going through an experience like I went through."


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