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About Brain Injury
by Theresa Scott
Editor's Note: In this survivor story, Theresa Scott relives the day an aneurysm ruptured in her brain, leaving her helpless in her home. She recounts the day of her injury-moment by moment-through a combination of narration, dialogue and stream-of-consciousness writing. Her technique provides an urgency and immediacy to her story. Theresa's thoughts appear throughout this story in italics.
Again and again the image floats through my mind's eye-the rounded toe of a black shoe and the cuff of a dark-colored pant leg. I try to figure it out and why I keep seeing it. I begin to hear some sounds, too-footsteps up and down the stairs, the front door opening and closing, somebody kicking at the shoes piled by the door, something metal bumping and scraping against the wall and stair railing. I hear Diane crying on the kitchen phone and a man's voice close by trying to calm and comfort me.
What's that smell? Breathe in. Ugh! Try it again. Just as bad this time. Dry and dusty smell, very dusty. Something's fuzzy and red and smells dusty. Why am I looking at the toe of a black shoe and smelling fuzzy, red dust? This is a mystery; think about something else for a while. Here it comes again, the toe of a black shoe, dark-colored pant leg cuff, dusty smell and many different noises.
Concentrate. It means something. Figure it out. The image, sounds and smell fade in and out of my mind without warning or invitation and I struggle to find their meaning.
At first unbelieving, and then denying it and willing with all of my being that it not be true, I realize that I'm beginning to remember the events of Saturday morning, August 15, 1998.
So far that day I've delivered Sam to his first behind-the-wheel driver's lesson up at the high school and I've returned safely to my home in Ramsey. I have some trouble getting out of the car; I don't know what's wrong, but I do make it out of the car and into the house. Then, as I stand by my dining room table, I start to feel on odd sensation in my head and quite shaky. I don't feel very good. There's a crackling, popping sensation washing over my head; it's very odd, I don't like it, and I'm afraid. I tell myself, "go to your room now and lay down." So I stagger into my room, bumping into the walls and doorways as I go down the hall.
When I get in there I decide to lie down on the floor before I fall down. Now I am on the floor. I try to stretch out, to lie flat. I taste some fuzzy, red strands of the carpet-Ack! I push the strands out of my mouth with my tongue.
Now what, what has happened, what can I do?
Hero No. 1
Be still, one of the girls will come upstairs eventually. Be still and wait. Just wait. Wait for one of the girls. Wait. Wait. Wait.
I hear running steps in the hallway. Then, she's kneeling beside me, leaning over me, and shaking my shoulder. In a trembling crying voice Diane says, "Mom, mom, honey, mommy, ohhh nooo, mommy, what's wrong, what can I do?" I tell her, "I need an ambulance. I fell down and cannot move. I cannot get to the phone to call. Please call an ambulance for me."
She runs back down the hall to the kitchen phone. "My mom, she can't move, I need an ambulance for her. She fell down," Diane sobs. My wonderful, beautiful, darling daughter Diane, Hero Number 1, made the first 911 emergency call on my behalf. She saved my life. I hear her as she stands by the window overlooking the front yard and driveway, willing the ambulance to come. "Hurry, hurry, mommy, oh mommy, " she cries softly.
Diane comes back to my room and tells me the police are at the door and she needs to let them in.
Police? What the hell-I asked for an ambulance-I don't need the police! Sudden panic-did something happen to Sammy? He's not in the house; I dropped him off at school earlier for behind-the-wheel driver's training.
Then I realize that no, he's not here about Sam, he's here to help me.
Thank goodness someone listened and sent him right over. The police station is very close to our house; they can get an officer to us within a minute. I calm down and begin to hope. I know that it's all right now; the policeman is here, he is not afraid, he knows what to do, and he can do it. My girls won't have to face this crisis alone. I hear him greet Diane as he comes in the house and up the stairs. She tells him what has happened and brings him back to my room. Diane returns to the dining room to take up her post by the window.
"Ma'am, Mrs. Scott, are you in any pain?"
Ma'am??? Who's he talking to? Must be me.
"No," I say, "I have no pain."
"How did you end up on the floor?"
"I don't know. I meant to lie down on my bed or the floor. But I think I fell down on the floor instead. There's something wrong with my head."
"What's wrong with your head? Does it hurt?"
"No, it doesn't. I don't know what's happening. I felt an odd feeling in my head and I thought I should go lie down in my room. And now I'm on the floor and can't get up off it or move around by myself."
"We'll help you and we'll get you to the hospital. Now I hear the ambulance, can you hear it?"
The policeman grips my shoulder next to my neck; it helps me concentrate on the sound of the siren.
"It's coming for you, it's almost here," he says.
I concentrate on the pressure of his hand and listen very hard-now I hear it, the ambulance siren! It doesn't sound very close...how much longer before they get here?
Diane calls out: "It's turning into the driveway. I'll let them in."
Fear Creeps In
The policeman leaves my side to go out to talk with the paramedic from the ambulance. I can hear them talking and planning how to get me out.
"We can turn it on its side to get it in but once she's on it we won't be able to get it out. We won't be able to handle the gurney with her on it around the corners and down the stairs."
The policemand comes back to my room. "Ma'am, can you get to the door," he asks.
"Only if you help me. I cannot stand up by myself."
Suddenly I'm so scared. They are here. They are in the room with me but they cannot get me out. They cannot rescue me. I won't see my babies' sweet, sweet faces ever again.
I'm horrified and embarrassed to discover that all bladder and bowel control is gone-and now they want me to walk to the ambulance! Two people I have never seen before in my life are going to have to lift me to my feet, walk me through the house, down the stairs, through the door and to the ambulance while all the while urine and feces are dribbling out of my pant legs.
I feel confused and helpless and hopeless. I can't get out of here, I can't get to the phone, I can't help myself. Something is happening to my head. It frightens me and I'm terrified that I am going to die right here on the floor. I start to cry.
Please God, help me now before my children hold this helplessness as their last image and memory of me.
The policeman recognizes that I am very distressed and crying. He kneels by my side; I can see only the rounded toe of his black shoe and the cuff of his dark pants. He wipes the tears from my face and tells me that he knows that I am afraid. But, he's done this before, he knows how to help me, and he can get me out of here. With the policeman on one side of me and the paramedic on the other, they help me to sit up. Waves of dizziness start and I begin to vomit. The paramedic holds a plastic bag for me. After the vomiting stops, they lift me to my feet, put my arms around their necks, grasp my wrists with their hands, and put their arms around my waist.
How can they stand this? I could never be a first responder. They have no idea who I am, I'm a stinking mess, but still they are so caring and reassuring.
I waver a little once I'm on my feet; they hold me tighter and closer against themselves. It's hard to keep my eyes focussed on anything. The policeman very calmly tells me, his voice inches from my ear: "One step at a time. Walk with me. Here we go."
I lean against him, into the strength and safety of his arms and the sound of his voice. His voice comforts and leads me on the slow journey through the upper level of my home.
"Walk with me. Take a step. Here we go A step. Take a step. Through the door."
It goes like this until he guides me to the top of the stairs. The policeman guiding all my steps.
Long journey to the ambulance
I see her eyes wide with fear and brimmed with tears as I'm walked through the house and to the ambulance.
I'm so sorry you need to see me like this, but I am so grateful that you, Diane my darling, recognized that the sound of my falling needed attention and investigating. I'm so thankful that you had the courage to come upstairs to see what was happening.
"Can you make it down the stairs," the officer asks. I look down the seven steps just to get down to the landing. Then I need to go out the door, to the sidewalk, to the driveway to where the ambulance waits. I'll be seven steps closer to life. It seems like a long, hard way down the steps.
How can I do that? Can it happen? Of course it can, I can make it. I have to make it. I must make it. I've walked down those steps thousands of times. I look at the policeman. "Yes," I say.
Somehow we make it down the steps. First they lift my arms from around their shoulders and place my hands on the stair railing. I hold onto the railing, lean over it and then move haltingly down each step. The paramedic holds onto me; the policeman also steadies me as we come down. We reach the bottom of the steps; they gather me up again between them and we go out the front door onto the sidewalk.
It's bright and sunny out here. I'm sure the neighbors are wondering what's going on at our house now.
They lower me to the gurney. I tell the policeman and the paramedic that Sam is at school and he needs to be picked up. They call Diane over to us so I can repeat that information to her. I do that, she kisses me and says she and Margret will see me at the hospital. I kiss her back.
They lift the gurney into the ambulance. The paramedic jumps into the back of the ambulance beside me and anchors the gurney in place. The policeman closes the doors to the ambulance. I know I'm in a lot of trouble when the paramedic tells the ambulance driver, "full lights and siren." We turn from our driveway onto the neighborhood street, lights flashing and siren screaming.
Hero No. 2
Hero No. 2 is the man whose black shoes would not leave my mind's eye. He answered a frantic 911 call for help. He didn't turn from me disgusted with my physical condition, but instead gave me hope that help was on the way and believed I could help save myself. He encouraged me and reassured me. He picked me up from the floor and held me firmly and safely in his arms, restoring dignity to my person. And, from the time he entered my home until the ambulance doors closed with me inside of it, kept constant verbal or physical contact with me. But most important of all, his presence in the midst of chaos calmed my daughters. His name is Officer Shel Erdman of the Ramsey Police Department.
The Ambulance Ride
We head south on Highway 47 toward Anoka and the hospital; the siren sounds our way as the ambulance rolls through the streets. I hear the driver talking on his radio, telling someone that we're five minutes out (whatever that means; all I know is that Samuel is out of the house and he needs to be picked up).
The paramedic sits close beside me in the ambulance. He reaches overhead and opens and shuts drawers and doors getting the supplies he needs for me. It's a busy place in here. He puts an oxygen mask on my face and attaches monitor wires to my skin. I can't talk to him, but my eyes search his face for reassurance as he cares for me and talks to me and watches me all through the trip to the hospital. His presence, voice and eye contact keep me conscious and aware. He's my Hero No. 3, an unknown hero.
The ambulance travels the route I would have taken: 47 to 116 to 7th Ave. to Coon Rapids Boulevard to the hospital. I recognize the turns as we go-the short, quick, winding ones in the neighborhood, then a left onto 47, left onto 116, right onto 7th, a left around that funny corner onto Coon Rapids Boulevard, and a final right into the Mercy complex. Well at least that's turning out the way it should.
At the Hospital 50 percent of the people who survive the initial brain aneurysm rupture live long enough for an ambulance to get them to a hospital.
We go into the ambulance bay at Mercy. It is so bright in here and noisy. The attendants roll me out of the ambulance and take me into the hospital.
For a long time (weeks then months) I have no idea what happened after the initial ride into the hospital halls. I have only the stories that my family and the hospital staff tell me and the written reports of my condition and progress to guide me.
I repeat the stories to myself and to anybody who will listen. Some of the stories are funny (the cat on the bicycle, my trip to California); most of them are not (my missing skull bone, my wanderings through the hospital that result in my being tied to my hospital bed for weeks). Soon the stories become mine. I think I remember them.
Heroes No. 4 & 5
Meanwhile, Sam calls the house over and over trying to let me know that he needs to be picked up. Nobody answers. Eventually he gives up and walks home. When he gets there, nobody is home. Soon the phone rings. It's Cesare, Diane's sweetheart, calling from the hospital to see if Sam is home yet. Hospital staff had suggested to Cesare that he notify the Ramsey police, after he was sure Samuel was home, that I was in critical condition at the hospital and to request that the police bring Sam up to the hospital to be with me.
The girls are reluctant to leave my side to go home to get Sam. They are afraid I will die when they are not with me. Cesare lets Sam know that I am at the hospital but does not tell him the details of my condition. He does say, though, that he's calling the police to ask them to bring Sam up to the hospital to be with me. Sam sees the police pull into the driveway and goes out to meet them. He rides to the hospital in the police car and the policeman tells him what has happened. Sam, who has to face the ride to the hospital by himself without knowing what was waiting at the other end for him, is my Hero No. 4.
The hospital notifies Greg's employer, MCTO, that the children need their dad by their side at the hospital. MCTO shuttles a relief driver to meet Greg on his route and then brings him back to the bus garage so he can pick up his truck. Greg, my former husband of 20 years and my Hero No. 5, hurries to be with our babies through the early hours and days of my hospitalization. Then he moves into our house, from his nearby apartment, to live with the children throughout my hospital stay. He is the best person to be with them.
Not only is he their father, but he also went through a similar frightening experience when he was a very young man. He was notified, when he was in the military service, that his mom had been in a life-threatening car accident. He understood the terror that was in the children's hearts as they waited and waited to hear words of my survival, and had much tolerance of their impatient reactions to each other, to him, to the medical staff, and to my family members as a result of their confusion and fright over what the future might bring for them and me.
Bringing family together
Diane calls my sister, Emma, leaving one tearful message after another on her answering machine that "something has happened to mom, we're at Mercy hospital, please come as soon as you can." Emma, my next hero, gets home late Saturday afternoon, listens to the messages, and drives as fast as she can from south Minneapolis up to Mercy to be with the kids.
Fifty percent of the people who live long enough to get to a hospital survive the next 24 hours.
It's as if tomorrow won't come and yesterday never was. There's only the sameness of the days; I wake everyday to the same noises in the same room. I go to the same therapies; I'm uncertain where I am, why I am where I am, and why I need to do the things I do. My life revolves around my printed daily schedule that tells me where I need to be and when. The activities are always the same.
How long have I been doing this?
People (I'm sorry to say I don't know or remember who) come to visit me; I know that I have children and they are with me daily. At some point, hospital staff begin to write the day and date on the whiteboard in my room. That helps a lot. I don't have my regular work schedule or the children's school and activity schedule to help me keep track of the days. I don't even have a calendar hanging in my room.
A new consciousness
Slowly a new consciousness begins to form; I'm on my way back to life. It started with the recurring shoe image and the dusty carpet smell. I begin to remember. I look in the mirror; my hair is gone, there's a huge scar on my head, everywhere I go I need to use a walker or someone pushes me in a wheelchair or on a gurney. Eventually I am steady enough on my feet to leave the walker behind. For awhile I have an IV pole that I pull or push along with me, too. It's much easier to get around when the only thing I have to struggle with is the IV pole (and me).
I remember the day the children and I are talking to Dr. K. He has already described to me, and shown me on the CT films, what has happened hidden inside of my head to cause such highly visible trauma in my life. Diane asks him about the huge hole in the side of my face. He starts to explain and I interrupt him, of course, with my version of the story. He lets me talk and smiles and nods as I relate to the children (in the same words he used to tell me) what has happened to my skull.
I tell them that the site of the aneurysm was directly in back of my eyes and about one and a half inches into my brain. The aneurysm rupture caused a subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH) to occur. The surgeon cut out a piece of my skull to get into my brain. He put a metal clip on the aneurysm to stop the hemorrhaging in my brain, install a shunt to handle future bleeds and sop up the blood and fluid that had been pooling in my brain because of the injury. (Because of the metal clip, I'm told I can never have a procedure known as an MRI.) The children already know this story of course. They lived through it while I was unconscious and unaware. The real question here was whether or not the hole in the side of my head would ever be repaired. I don't have an answer for that yet.
An aneurysm rupture usually causes subarachnoid hemorrhage (SAH). With an SAH, the blood from the hemorrhage goes between the brain and the brain's covering. It has been estimated that 4 in 100,000 will have an SAH or 25,000 people annually. Above the age of forty, there is a higher incidence of SAH in women than in men. However, under the age of forty more men than women are affected. A third of patients who suffer a subarachnoid hemorrhage will survive with a good recovery: a third will survive with substantial disabilities and a third will die as a result of the hemorrhage.
I can describe what happened to my brain. I cannot describe what happened to my being. I begin to suspect that I may not be the same person I used to be. My children rant and scream at me, tears flowing down their cheeks, "mom, it's not your fault but you're not the same, you're just not the same." They do not know or cannot say the words that would tell me how I have changed. And I do not know them either; I think I'm as I've always been.
Friends begin to visit
I'm just beginning now to discover all of the people who came to see me while I was hospitalized. When Margret's friends stop by to see her at our house they remind me that they were up to see me. I have to apologize to each of them that I don't remember-that I blew up my brain-they think that's a silly explanation and laugh. And their laughter is much more delightful than the worried and sad expressions on their faces, and appreciated as much as their tentative wishes of hope and good fortune that they try so hard to express when they first see me.
The day before one of my surgeries, I'm sitting with several members of my family in one of the hospital lounges. We're working on crossword puzzles, having a contest to see who can complete the most clues in the newspaper's daily puzzle. Everybody has a copy of the puzzle except me, Marlene has my copy, we're working it together. I'm wearing my Vikings' hat and hugging my Vikings' pillow; I must have looked silly. One of the neurosurgeons sits down to join us and stares at me. It makes me uncomfortable. I can't figure out what he's doing there. We're trying to work on crossword puzzles, he's neither participating nor helping.
If you're not going to do the puzzles with us or at least tell me why you're here, get the hell out of here. This is my time with my family.
Marlene reads the clues to me and writes down my answers in the paper. I answer a lot of the clues-crosswords are one of my favorite activities. I still don't know why the doctor was there watching me. He talks to my brother. To my brother? Who's the patient here? I'm cranky, I know I'm cranky, but I can't figure out why he is ignoring my presence. I'm a human being; maybe my thought process isn't quite what it was, but I am the patient, talk to me.
Beginnings and endings
One day I come into my room, back from therapy or lunch or somewhere, and see some papers on my bedside cart. There are some unusual letters on the papers. I look at them and think. Then Doug, one of my hospital attendants, comes into my room, says, "aha, here's where I put them" and grabs the papers.
I say to him, "alpha, beta, gamma, delta, epsilon...zeta, eta, theta, iota, kappa... ...omega!" He is very surprised.
After Doug finishes with whatever hospital work he is doing, he comes back and we sit down together to go through his Greek lesson. I haven't a clue about what he is trying to do. He reads something to me in Greek. I try to read it back to him but what I really do is repeat what he just said. All I can remember is the alphabet; I have no idea how to join the letters together to make words. I'm happy that I can still remember the alphabet and how the letters are formed. It's been years and years since I've had any reason whatsoever to even think about it and I have never had occasion to actually use it for anything other than in a crossword puzzle. And up until that day, no one, except my mother, has ever cared that I knew it at all. That Greek language lesson was the most fun I had in all the months I was in the hospital. It was one of the few spontaneous, totally unplanned events (that didn't result in danger to me or anyone else) to occur during my hospital stay. It was as fun as the crossword puzzle contest. I had my life's alpha and omega, beginning and end. Last summer, omega-my life before the event ends and alpha-my life after the event, begins.
Today in occupational therapy I cook (or more specifically, I bake). I choose brownies. The kids will love them and I'll be able to pass out a few to the admin staff that I know in the unit. I also get some homework in OT. One of the things I had to do was plan a meal, organize the tasks necessary to complete it, and actually carry it out. I was able to do that successfully without any help from the kids. Greg finds out about my cooking assignment. He says, "you cooked? You COOKED? You never used to do any of that, with or without help!" We laugh and laugh about that! Greg did most of the cooking (usually grilled well-done burgers!) when he and I were together.
I get homework in speech therapy, too. But what I like most to do in speech is play the computer memory game with knights, castles, weapons, etc. I work hard at that game, keying and clicking to my heart's content. Soon I'm able to remember many different sequences of events and repeat them successfully as the computer asks. And best of all, I get to sit at and work (?) with a computer for awhile.
Family time at the hospital
If the kids are coming up to visit me I always order extra treats on my lunch and dinner menus so I have something for them. The first time I did that I wrote a lengthy explanation on my menu about how my three kids were coming up to see me and I had no treats for them. Could food service please send up extra cookies for them? I was surprised and delighted to actually get what I ordered. After the first lengthy explanation I just note "kids coming, need three cookies" on my menu. I keep the cookies in my room for the kids to have when they come to visit me.
Dr. K. comes into my room, looks questioningly from the tangle of hair and bump of covers in the middle of my bed to me sitting at the side, and asks, "who's this?"
"This is my daughter, Margret." Margret, my little girl hero, would frequently sleep curled up on my hospital bed, keeping me company and toasty warm. I was able to give her some comfort, too, stroking her hair, massaging her head and back. There was only one difficulty with this arrangement, though, and that was the size of the hospital bed-twin. She took up most of the bed, even though she slept all curled up, leaving me to try to sleep/relax on a little corner of it. Just who is the patient here, the mom or the kid?
Margret did a tremendous amount of work keeping our house in order while I was ill. She was also put in charge of arranging for some of my transportation and care needs. She had to make sure that there was always someone with me at first when I came home; I could not stay alone. She had to arrange for some rides to and from my therapies for me when she would not be available (she works every afternoon). She did a great job with that; took such good care of me. She would call Mary (her friend Katie's mom) to make sure Mary knew my schedule, when to pick me up and where to take me. Then, if Mary brought me back home after therapy, Margret would make sure that she was available to stay with me until Margret (or Sam) would get home. I always tried to arrange my therapy times so I would be done when Margret got off work; but it didn't always work out that way. I remember one day my therapy session was over and I was waiting to get my next session scheduled. All of a sudden Kelly and Katie show up. I see them peeking around the corner into the room and waving to me. I was so surprised! I wasn't expecting them, but Margret was not able to come to get me that day and they agreed to come in her place. Margret has a wonderful group of friends. I love Margret and all of her friends and appreciate what she and they have done for me.
Marlene tells me the story of my hairless head. It seems that with my first surgery they only shaved the hair off half of my head (the half with the incision, of course). Well, Marlene couldn't sit still for that. There I was, half a shaved head, the other half covered with my brown hair. I and it looked silly. Bad enough that I had to have a huge, staple-covered scar on my head, but now I have to run around with half a head of hair. She went right home and got her hair-cutters' razor, came back to the hospital, and shaved the hair off the other side of my head. Thank goodness she did that. At least the hair grows in evenly. Now with every surgery they shave all the hair from my head, not just the area where they cut into my brain. But the first operation was a life-saving surgery-they can't, and I wouldn't expect that they would, be too concerned about appearances and future hair growth when they don't even know if I'll live through the day.
Diane gives me a soft and fluffy hat. It feels so wonderful on my scarred and shaven head. I can put it on and it cushions so well that I am able to lay my head comfortably on my pillow. There is a huge incision scar on my head. It extends in a C-like pattern from my forehead, over the side of my head, to the front of my ear. It is a quite wide and raised welt, held together with staples. It's tender and it hurts and my head is cold. Thank goodness for the hat.
Once the staples are removed, the surgeon presses very hard on the scar. I'm not quite sure why he does that, I think it's to break down the tissue that's underneath and to make the scar lay more flat on my head. I don't know that for sure, though. Now there's only a line to mark where the incision used to be. I saved all of the staples that he took out of my head. I hope to string or loop them together. I believe in recycling. I have to look in the toolbox or drawer for the needle-nose pliers so I can handle each staple and attach them one to the other.
First steps at rehabilitation
For awhile I get to go home evenings and then spend days in the Sister Kenny rehab unit at Abbott Northwestern Hospital. Every day the van transport picks me up at the Northtown YMCA and drives me to Abbott; then at the end of the day picks me up at Abbott and delivers me back to the Y. I love the van drivers. One of them tells me: "You know, we've (the drivers) been talking. We can't figure out what's wrong with you. Why are you a Sister Kenny patient?" That's the best news I've heard forever. If these guys who regularly transport brain injured people can't see the results of my brain attack in my actions or hear it in my voice, that must mean that I am making a very good physical recovery. I repeat the drivers' comments to everybody I know.
My niece Carrie tells me to say to them: "What do you mean you can't tell what's happened to me. Don't you know that I used to be a tall, black man?"
"Oh, sure," I say, "and look what happened to me. I turned into a short, fat, white woman. That's reason enough to have to go through months of therapy."
We laugh and laugh about what the drivers' reactions to that announcement might be. Marlene, who works at the Y, picks me up at home in the mornings and brings me back home in the evenings. It's good to be home. One of the first things that I do when I get to start spending evenings at home is to vacuum the carpet in my bedroom.
During one of my last hospitalizations, I talk to my friend Laura on the phone. I'm anxious because it's December and I have to get some baking done or the kids won't have any of their Christmas cookies and we won't have our gingerbread village to put together. I tell her I have to get out of the hospital to bake cookies. The doctor tells me I will be discharged. I'm happy and making plans. Laura calls and says she's coming out to my house to take me to lunch. She shows up with a huge tray filled to overflowing with a big assortment of cookies. She tells me that she asked everybody at her work where to buy the best cookies. She went out and bought all those cookies for my kids so I wouldn't have to worry about getting the baking done. She's wonderful and caring and my hero friend. As she says as we sit in my living room, "I decided that you were not going to have to worry about baking when you came home. Everybody at my company remembers you, is hoping for the best for you, and gave me great advice about where to buy the very best cookies for your babies." We have cookies forever. We were not able to make or assemble our village this year. I'm too tired to tackle that project, but there's always next year.
Sam takes me over to the high school one night. He wants to show me around the sound and light booth where he spends all his time working with the theatre productions. He and his buddies eagerly show me the equipment that they run for each show. I'm amazed; I've never seen the other side of a production before, and to think that these kids are the ones who are responsible for making everything for a major production come together. The director sees me with Sam as Sam helps me down the steps leading to the stage. He comes over to us, embraces me, and says: "Thanks for sharing Sam with our program. He has many talents and is a cooperative and hard-working techie. I'm sure you're very proud of him and the contributions he makes." I thank Mr. Knutson and tell him, "he's an angel, he's my best boy, and I am very proud of him." Then Sam brings me into the director's office so I can rest on his sofa. I sleep there through the evening and Sam wakes me when practice is over and it's time to go home.
After I'm home for awhile, my wonderful neighbors call me on the phone, want to know what has happened, and to let me know that they are available anytime to help in any way that's needed. And I already know that. From the day we moved into our house, Mike and Gwen have always been most generous and gracious with their attention and help. One day, Gwen and I meet at the mailboxes out by the road and talk. She wants to know the details of what happened to me and also asks me what has happened to our big red dog. I tell her that Izzy suffered a seizure and died in Diane's arms last summer while the two little ones and I were on vacation in Montana. That news is met with silence, then Gwen says, "stay away from that house-everybody's having seizures over there." We laugh and laugh and laugh about that one (not to be insensitive to Diane and how hard it must have been for her to comfort our pet as he died, or to any pain suffered by our pet, but because of the coincidence of the events). For several weeks Mike and Gwen do all of our grocery shopping for us and drive Samuel wherever he needs to go when the girls are not available to do it. They also prepare a coming home celebration lasagna dinner, with all the extras. We're so fortunate to live right across the street from these neighbor heroes.
I discover along the way that Jaye (the daycare mom in the neighborhood and another neighbor hero) sent over many cookies and treats for the kids while I was hospitalized. Then, the Franks (more heroes) across the street the other way, as well as Mike, did our mowing for us all of the time during the late summer and fall. In the winter when it snowed, Ryan Frank would rush over to our house with his snowplow-equipped pickup to get our driveway all cleaned out. I have to have a summer party to recognize all of the people who did everything for us for so long. Because Greg moved in with the children when I was in the hospital, and everybody in the neighborhood saw his truck at our house every day and night, folks mistakenly thought we were back together and would comment to each other (and later me) about that news.
One day I talk to Carrie. I tell her that I can't believe that I walked from my room to the ambulance. I just can't believe it, I had a ruptured brain aneurysm, I should have been dead but instead I walked to the ambulance. She tells me that disbelief and astonishment over that occurrence had been everyone's reaction including the emergency medical staff at the hospital. I think that the medical staff realized that they were working to save an extraordinary person, me, and they did miraculous things to bring me back. She also tells me that she knew I would recover fully, that I would find my way back. One of the reasons for this certainty is, according to her, because of the day she came to visit me and I insistently told her to "look out in the hall, there's a cat riding a bicycle." That announcement was met with much hilarity by the hospital staff and my niece. Anybody who could imagine that would certainly recover. (I wish I could actually remember saying that; I can't think what events would have led me to see a cat in the hall of the hospital-and riding a bicycle to boot.)
Doctors get thanks
I don't know who was the first brain surgeon to operate on me. My children told me his name but I have forgotten it. Dr. R. assisted at the first surgery and has performed each subsequent surgery (to install my brain shunt and to drain pooling blood and fluid from my brain) and all of my post-surgery checkups. He's my doctor hero. One day I am at his office for a checkup. It's over, he's walked me out to the receptionist desk so we can schedule my next appointment. I do that and sit down to wait for my daughter to pick me up. Dr. R. stays in the reception area, too, flipping through some files that are probably for his next appointments.
I say: "Doctor... Doctor."
"Hmm," he replies.
I say, "Doctor."
He looks up and says,"Yes?"
I say, "Thank you... thank you for saving my life."
He's momentarily silent, stares at me (probably can't figure out who I am because he's busy with some other files), nods his head, and accepts my thanks. I like him a lot and admire him very much. He's the only person I know who even begins to care or understand what I go through.
Many of the other people I know are too worried about how this injury of mine has affected them. (And of course that's the exact reaction I expect from my children; this event has been most traumatic for them. It has turned their life order upside down. They take care of the mom; the mom can't take care of the kids.)
Dr. R. also did some shunt repair work on me at another hospital. He stopped by my gurney to talk with me as I was waiting to be wheeled into the operating room. I told him I had a message from my staff to him and it was "tell the doctor to do it right this time. We don't want you to have to keep going into the hospital for surgeries." Apparently he was not insulted by my staff's comment and promised that he would do it right. And he did. The shunt works now. I have had no dizziness or headaches since that surgery. I tell other people at work about this. They can't believe I would tell a neurosurgeon to "do it right." But I laugh about that; he seems to be a human being. The children are so pleased with the outcome of this last surgery. Margret tells me: "Mom, it's as if a light turned on in your eyes. You're so there, you're just right there now when I talk to you." And I'm happy that the kids are so happy.
After the hospital
Sam wants to have a superbowl party at the house and invite several of his friends. I tell him that that's a great idea-I like football and will be watching it anyway. Before everybody gathers, Sam's friend Orrin arrives. I say to Orrin, "sing to me." And he does!! He has the voice of an angel. He sings in many of the high school musicals as well as the concert choir. Pretty soon everybody else shows up. Sam's friends bring treats to have; I have the pop (and the company of many teenage boys). One of them looks around and says, "hey, Sam! Where are all of the girls?" I remind them that we've gathered to watch a football game, now pipe down, watch the game, and eat, and don't worry about the girls. They're good boys and I think we had a fun time watching the game, at least I did.
What can I say about my next hero? Without his efforts and concern I would not be where I am today. I would be sitting in some nursing home, maybe recovered, maybe not. My little brother, Steve, went toe-to-toe and nose-to-nose with the insurance company, spending hours and hours away from his business and family concerns arranging the very best surgical and rehabilitative care for me (despite the insurance company's reluctance to approve many of the treatments). Their solution to my recovery options was nursing home care; no rehabilitative efforts, no special therapies. Steve, knowing that the Sister Kenny Institute is the premier treatment/recovery center for brain-injured patients, worked with the doctors on my treatment team to get my care at that facility approved. He was successful, and because of his efforts I came back to life.
I have returned to most of my former self. I write. I read the newspaper daily. I read and understand trade magazines and business documents. I talk. I walk. I live with my children and take care of them. I go to work every day at the same computer training and technical documentation unit management job I held before I was injured. I drive my car. I continue to chair the annual American Cancer Society Fund Drive for my community. I read a complete novel in January of this year. Besides surviving, that was my greatest achievement of all through my entire recovery period. I told Doctor R. about it when I saw him in January, I was very happy and satisfied. He was impressed and encouraging. I had missed reading, hadn't been able to concentrate long enough to finish a book-I like to read from cover to cover in one sitting if possible (staying up all night if I have to). I could only watch nonsense on TV. But now I can read for entertainment. I haven't tried to jump rope (I can still jump to conclusions)-and I expect to bicycle ride and have already made tentative plans to horse ride this summer.
Although Greg moved back to his apartment when I was well enough to come home, he continues to visit frequently and comments that even though I suffered a major brain injury, I am still much smarter and more capable than most people who have not been through the same injury. He and I continue to have a very peaceful and friendly relationship, as we have had since divorcing about seven years ago. We both are committed to our children and what's best for them. And what's best for the children is that their parents set aside personal anger and resentment and instead be loving, patient, and forgiving human beings.
I feel fortunate to have survived and recovered from my ruptured brain aneurysm. I feel fortunate that I had so many people in my life who stepped forward to help me and especially my children through my illness. Most people that I talk to who have heard what happened to me tell me about their mom, or their friend, or their brother who also suffered this injury and did not survive. I can only think I'm here because I still have something to do; but I haven't figured out what that something is yet. I know that I still have children to bring to adulthood and I'm working toward that goal.
Now I know that I will die. And I know that I may die in an instant-in the blink of an eye. Knowing this makes my children more treasured (if that's possible) and my family more valuable. It makes almost every problem unworthy of anguish. It makes having fun and laughter with my family and friends very important for today is a gift and tomorrow is unknown.