Total Pageviews

Monday, December 16, 2013

Your Son I Am.


Today I had a thought.

I was driving you to work, and upon glancing in my rearview mirror I noticed that Frank was about to fall asleep.  I made some comment about how happy that made me, and I said that I probably sounded like a horrible parent.  You looked at me and said, “No, you sound like a parent.  A normal one.”

I thought then, how insignificant these types of conversations used to seem to me.  I wondered how many times I have dismissed a similar transgression with you, with my husband or my son.  I thought how nothing you say is insignificant to me anymore.  I thought about the first two months after you woke up, some of the first things you said to us.

For instance, I remember getting a text from Dad while I was at work, about a week after you woke up.   Someone had asked you your name, if you knew who Mom was.  You responded, “Your son I am.”  Like Yoda.  We were thrilled. 

Some days after that, during speech therapy you were asked to name animals, as many as you could. This is one of my favorite stories regarding your recovery, actually.  You began to name off some common farm animals.  I believe you said cow, horse. 

Then you jumped to dinosaurs.  It was as if the five year old Patrick was in the room, the one who carried his dinosaurs with him on every trip in the back of our station wagon, threw them down slides in the backyard and interrupted our Barbie games with brontosaurus chasings. 

One by one you named the different species.  I am told the nurse was smiling.

It was amazing, and probably close to the cutest thing I have ever heard.  You were coming back to us, slowly but surely.  In your own way. 

I can remember driving home from a hair appointment mid-May, getting a call from mom after another speech therapy session.  The doctor was prompting you to answer some basic questions, and you had responded with “Why are you making me say all this shit?”

It was the most familiar, “Patrick-esque” statement I had heard in weeks.   With the sun beating through my windows then, I lost it on highway 40 during rush hour.    

During your rehabilitation stay, I was able to witness the brain during its early stages of healing.  For me, this was incredibly interesting.  Also terrifying.  Sometimes you would speak so coherently.  There were also times where you’d be mid-sentence and then repeat the commercial that had just come on TV.  Sometimes it would seem that what you were saying was a different language, but upon second thought, actually made sense.    Once, you had been watching the Cardinal game with Dad, cursing at the television, repeatedly referring to the “God Damn Serdaps.”  It took Dad awhile, but he finally realized what you meant.  “Serdap” is Padres spelled backwards.  We were playing the Padres. 

Your recovery has been an amazing thing to witness.  A terrifyingly painful, inspiring progression.

There were times where I knew, one hundered percent, that you would be fine.  There were times where I would cry myself to sleep, driving home wondering if you’d ever be the same.   Now, eight months later, just looking at you is enough to make me feel like I could change the world.  I wonder if you’ll ever realize how strong you are, how much of an inspiration you are to all who know your story.  I have always considered you to be the best-case scenario.  Nothing about that has changed. 

“Have a good day.”  My motherly proclamation as you exit my car.  I watch you walk through the doors.  I notice you deliberately not using your cane.    

And I just want you to know that on days like today, seemingly normal, slowly-dragging work days, bitterly cold run-of-the mill days, days where you feel like you are on auto-pilot, days where you feel frustrated, defeated, days where you might be forgetful, days where you can’t seem to figure out how you got to where you are…

I want you to know that you’re amazing. 

I want you to know that I love you. 

And I want you to know that you’re alive. 

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Angel Rachel

Last night was a turning point for me.

Lately, I don’t recognize myself.  For one, there’s the anger.  This awful, living and breathing thing that has taken over my daily thoughts.  I catch myself giving dirty looks to complete strangers.  Why wasn’t it their brain?
Second, there’s the multitude of calls I reject from my friends on a daily basis.  I’m doing them a favor, really.  Saving them from this dark place I am currently lost in, the sick negotiations that are taking place in my mind.  I can handle you walking with a limp for the rest of your life.  Just give me comprehension, give me logic.  I won’t ask for anything ever again.  I can actually hear a voice in my head every time I press the ‘decline’ button.  Save yourselves.  Quite the lonely place to be.

But mostly, I can’t stand the silence anymore.  My entire life, I have appreicated time spent alone.  Silence has never made me uncomfortable.  I love a deep thought, a thorough reflection.  But now, the worst part of my day is walking in the door every night after visiting you, when everyone’s asleep.  There are no distractions, and I can’t begin to sort through the thoughts that take over then.  I won’t even write them on paper.  So I watch the infomercials, and I read the paper at 2am.  I have even snuck into Frank's room to read to him while he's asleep.  Yes.  I have. 

So last night was our slumber party.   You and me.   I arrive to the hospital around 8:30 as they are locking the main lobby doors.  Mom and Dad fill me in on the details of your evening.  You have a new nurse tonight, Rachel.  She enters and we say hello.  Yes, I’m another older sister.  Yes, you are the baby.

When I ask if you want me to read to you, (I’ve come prepared, Hunter S. Thompson) you nod.  Sometimes, it’s like you grasp what is going on, nodding and mouthing words in response.  Other times, you are prone to intense “zone outs”, seemingly ignoring this world altogether.  You are not there yet, completely, but I’m told this is normal.  All a part of the process.  I hate it.  This step-down unit.  This in-between.  I can hardly stand to see you like this. 

Rachel comes in several times throughout the night to check on you.  Once, I ask her how long she’s been a nurse…if she has any children.  She stops abruptly, and leans over your bed as you stare at her.  She asks me if we can discuss this a little later.  Immediately, I feel bad for asking.  Of course, I nod. 

You sleep on and off throughout the night, never for more than twenty minutes at a time.  It’s disturbing each time you wake, confused, agitated.  You want to scratch the scars on your head.  I can’t let you.  You want to lay on your left side.  You can’t, Pat.  That side of your skull currently resides in your abdomen.  You try to get up to walk, to mouth to me what you need.  I do my best to guess, change the channels endless times.  Are you thirsty?  Are you in pain?  The anger never fading.  I’m angry all the time.

Around 3am Rachel enters, and she can sense that I’m upset.  You have been up for a while, and I can’t get you to calm down.  I think you might be in pain.  She begins to gently massage the scars on your head, quietly “shushing” the outside world, calmly reassuring both of us that you are okay.  I watch your eyes close, your fists unclench.  I think of Mom holding you as a baby, and I can feel the tears starting.  Once you’re asleep, Rachel pulls up the chair next to me.  It is then that she tells me.  She didn’t want you to hear this part before.

Rachel tells me that she lost her thirteen year old son and husband in a car accident several years ago. 

She goes on to say that she has seen patients in rooms just like this, waking in the night, searching for a familiar face…that you are lucky to have a sister like me, a family that never leaves your side.  She tells me that you will make it through, that we all will.  She hugs me then, and next to the humming of your machines I feel like I have known her all my life.  I can’t help the tears that come.  I excuse myself for some fresh air.  Rachel will stay with you.

I make my way down the elevator and out the ER lobby doors.  The hospital is eerily silent at 4am, the air outside perfectly still.  I’m standing in the same spot I stood that night, after they let me see you.  And for the first time since then, I think of him.

There had been a man who approached me in the rain.  I was standing alone, staring at the parking lot.  He was hunched over, in obvious pain.  He touched my shoulder, asked me for help.  He had just been discharged and needed to walk home five miles.  He was hungry.  Did I have any change?
Obviously then, I had been preoccupied.  But like a zombie, I reached into my wallet, handing over the twenty I had taken out that morning for a school fundraiser.  He walked away then, thanking me.  I realize now that I hadn’t even noticed which direction he had taken.  Had he walked to a warm home?  A family?  Had he a brother to read to?
For the first time since your accident, I stop being so selfish.  I can begin to see my life for the things that I have, instead of all I could potentially lose.  I think of my friends.  My amazing friends who have no earthly idea what to say to me.  Yet they still call, every day.   I think of you, how you continue to fight as I stand here asking 'why me'?  I think of “Team Patrick”…of Rachel, a woman who has buried a child and still finds the strength to tend to the needs of strangers.  I picture her sitting with you then, in your dark room.  Hadn’t she been angry?  Hadn’t she frightening thoughts in the silence?  And here she was now, lighting the path for someone like me. 

But mostly I think of her.  I notice the highway in the distance, and I can see her driving past every morning for the past five years without a second glance.  In that moment I can sense a change.  In that moment I feel luckier than she ever did.

I float up to your room then.  For once, I can’t get there fast enough. 

I’m not there yet, completely, but I’m told this is normal.


Saturday, December 14, 2013

For Patrick

There are days where I still soar
Back to who we were before.

I watch us dance, amidst the gray
Before the trees began to sway.

Promises, in tethered dreams
But safety wasn't what it seemed.

I felt the chill
I watched the skies
They mocked my desperate, muffled cries.

Broken glass and flooded streets,
She moved the ground beneath my feet.

A force delivered you from me
Now, there are things I cannot see.

Red rubber balls and folded hands
Lay punctured, drowning in the sand.

The aftermath, and I am lost
In nature's unforgiving cost.

But that same wind that bent the trees
She moves the clouds, and lifts the seeds.

And even though I can't forget
The stars will burn.
The sun shall set.

On remnants of a life now made
Of siren sounds and yesterdays.


Saturday, December 7, 2013

Remember When

(May 21, 2013)

I figured it out.

The reason it is so hard for me to look at pictures of you before the accident, that is.  

You would think I could do it now.  You are awake, you are out of the hospital.  Technically this is a rehabilitation "hospital", yes.  But you are speaking, you're alive.

I have been reading a lot lately.  Mostly about traumatic brain injuries, success stories, medicines, therapies, personal articles and blogs.  I have also seen a number of pictures.  There is always the family photo, everyone smiling around the patient.  Everyone so happy.  But I can always pick out the injured.  And it's not because of the scars or the myriad attached medical equipment.  It's the eyes.  

Your eyes are different now.  In all of these pictures, these pictures of total strangers...strangers who have overcome insurmountable odds, horrific accidents and close calls, I see the same thing.  They are lost.  

You can tell a story however you want to.  You can elaborate and exaggerate, but your eyes don't lie.  Ever.  

Yours are telling me that you aren't there yet, completely.  There is an emptiness to them, a longing that is hard to stomach.  When I look at your "old" pictures, I don't see that space.  I see laughter, I see youth, I see endless possibility.  I see my brother.  

Whenever they ask you questions, I can feel my stomach tighten.  It's hard to watch them ask you these things.  "Which one is red?"  "What is meant by the phrase, 'honesty is the best policy?"  "Which one doesn't belong?"

I want you to answer correctly so badly.  For your benefit, of course, but also because I don't know that I can live in a world where you don't get it right.  These questions aren't "it" though, for me.  They can tell me that you are healing cognitively, but they can't show me the person you will be.  

These questions don't tell me if you'll still love The Strokes.  They can't show me that you'll laugh at the same things, that you'll still prefer to shop at thrift stores, or that I will still loathe arguing with you more than anyone else on the planet.  

I realized today that I can't look at your "before" pictures, because I haven't seen your"after".  We aren't there yet.

I can remember a game we played growing up.  You, Molly, and I.  It would usually be springtime or summer, and we would circle the date on the kitchen calendar...whatever day we decided to play.  We would count the remaining days until Christmas and take a mental note.  

Once December came around, we would meet back in the kitchen.  Sometimes, growing so impatient the week before, hastily pulling the calendar down and searching the months for that long lost day, still marked in red.  

"Remember?!"  We'd exclaim.  

"Remember when Christmas was THIS far away?!!" And we'd wonder how we'd ever made it so far...

I know there will come a time when you'll be back.  

It might come to me in the form of a random, sarcastic text message as I wait in line at the post office.
I may see you across the dinner table, subtly mocking an unsuspecting member of the family.

I might catch you in a fleeting moment, mid-laughter as you throw your head back.  

But there you'll be. 

I will smile, and I'll think to myself.  There he is. 

There's my brother.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013


(April 28, 2013)

That feeling when the happiest moment of your life just happened…
The nurse came in and said you were awake.  They had been trying to wean you off sedation for several days, trying to safely awake you from the coma.  But every time, you would become agitated from the pain and all of your numbers would go crazy.  In fact, the medically-induced coma is what saved you.  It stopped you from moving long enough so that your lungs could heal. 
The nurse came in smiling, a rare expression here.  It had been a long day.   I had pulled three chairs together and was attempting a nap.  It was early evening.
“He’s awake,” she said, smiling.  I’ll never forget that smile. 

Mom and Dad went first.  We didn’t want too many people in there at once.  We didn’t want to overstimulate you.  Dad came back a few minutes later. 
“Come on,” he said, tears in his eyes.  It felt like Christmas morning.

Up until that point, you had made eye contact with me once.  It was two weeks prior on Saturday, the 13th.  I had gotten to the hospital early that morning.  The only ones in the waiting room were mom and dad.  I had walked back with mom to check your numbers.  Our scary routine.
You were asleep, but we could still talk to you, they said.  Studies had shown that you could hear us, they said.  I said your name, and you opened your eyes ever so slightly.  I remember they looked like little slits, like the first time they handed me my son.

“Patrick,” I said again.  You slightly turned to look in my direction, but your eyes would not focus.  It was incredibly disturbing to watch your pupils dance like that, like you were searching for something…like you were very far away. 
I could tell that you were in pain.  I could tell that you were not ready.

The next day was your big oxygen scare.  We almost lost you, and after that they put you under.  For weeks none of us would know your outcome.  When you woke up, would you be able to respond to commands?  Would you understand?  Could you communicate?  The prognosis of a TBI is the stuff of nightmares.  You could wake up without the ability to swallow, to speak.  You could wake up with little difference after rehabilitation.  The unknown is enough to drive you crazy.  A very dark place.

As we followed Dad to your room on this day, I thought of something that had been haunting me since the night you were hurt. 
I had been angry at you for something.  We were young.  I was about 10 or 11, putting you at 5 or 6.  We were in Mom and Dad’s room, and I was trying to get you to leave.  You wouldn’t.  You were always around, always following after us.  When you refused to leave, I did something that only a horrible older sister would dream of doing.  I hurried to the door, turned off the lights and left you alone.  But not before saying, “Fine, let the ghost get you.”

I can remember standing in the hallway then, hearing you start to cry.  I immediately felt bad, and seconds later you came running past me, hysterical.  I know that you remember this.  It is often brought up at family gatherings in an attempt to make me feel guilty.  It always gets a good laugh, and I always apologize.  But I’m not really sure you know that I truly mean it.   I want to tell you that. 

I want to tell you how sorry I am for letting you down that day.  For all of the times I made you feel too small, insignificant.  I’m sorry for all of the times I pedaled a little faster, or ran a bit too far.  I’m sorry for not “waiting up”, for ever leaving you scared.  I want to tell you how much I love you, how all of my favorite memories involve you, how I want my son to share your brilliance, your zest for life, how I would give anything to glance back now and see you running behind me.

I can’t shake it.  The possibility that I could say all of this to you someday, and that you might not understand is just too horrible.  I keep thinking of your ACT score, a 30.  You could wake up having lost everything.   I place thoughts like these in that very dark place, but sometimes I find myself lost there too.
When we enter, I can tell that your nurse has been crying.  I’ll never forget that smile. 

“Patrick, can you do it again?”  She prompts.  “Your family’s here now…can you show them?”
Mom calls me over to the side of the bed, your right side.  “Patrick it’s Nora,”  my voice is quivering.  “Can you stick out your tongue?”

You looked at me.  It must have taken all of your effort, but you looked at me, a focus that I had been dreaming about. 
It took you a second. 
I watched you squirm, I watched you try.  I saw your tongue peek out, ever so slightly.  Barely a slit, like your eyes on that day.
You understood.

I pictured myself in the hallway that night, watching you run out of the dark.

For as long as I live, I’ll never be happier.


Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Thanksgiving 2.0

Each year we reflect on what we have.  I am no different than most.  

I am always thankful for my health and the health of those close to me.  I'm thankful for my family and friends.  But this year, as I glance around the table I realize that my list is more specific now.  In all actuality, it feels like every day is Thanksgiving.   This year I am thankful for things I never knew I should be, for feeding tubes and ventilators, for paralytic drugs.  I am thankful for the people who are working right now, away from their own families, to help those in the state that you were in. 

I’m thankful for science.  I’m thankful that somewhere, at one point in time, someone figured out how to decompress the brain, saving the irreplaceable cells that enabled you to remember me…those that housed your sense of humor, your personality.

I am thankful for Ativan and Propofol, Heparin and Coumadin. 

I'm thankful for neuroplasticity.

I'm thankful for nurses who are truly living their calling.  The ones who spoke to you like you were still a person, inquired about your interests and your life.  The nurses who cried with us, the ones who fought for you and bagged you by hand for ninety minutes while you clung to life.

I'm thankful for nurses who sit with terrified sisters in step-down units, all through the night.  As you repeatedly woke up confused and looking towards the door, I'm thankful for the nurse who came running, gently massaging the scars on your head when I couldn't calm you down, lulling you back to sleep as a mother would do.

I'm thankful for nurses who have seen all that we have seen and worse, and still clock in the next day.

I’m thankful for husbands.  The kind who allow me to be distant and difficult, standing aside, quietly holding the pieces of my life together.  Husbands who love my family so much that they will completely remodel rooms in a matter of days, so as to better accommodate your needs.  I'm thankful for a husband who holds me up when he feels like collapsing.   I'm thankful for his shoulders, for his hand, and for my son.

I'm thankful for the person who called the police that night, that in the midst of tornadic winds and a power outage, someone saw a body and called for help. 

I'm thankful that I will never have to know how long you lay there in the rain...that I can forever tell myself it was five minutes. 

I'm thankful for lights at the end of very dark tunnels. 

I'm thankful for all of the times tragedy has been averted, and for the strength this incredible experience has afforded my family.  I'm grateful every time a breeze stops me mid-sentence, for the ability to recognize what is truly important.  I'm thankful for a heightened awareness.

But mostly, this year, I'm thankful for you. 
I’m grateful for the opportunity to see you smile, to be able to drive you to work and watch you walk away.  I’m thankful when you get angry with us for opening doors and holding your drinks.  I’m thankful for the times I have had to watch you struggle, for the proof that you are very much alive.  

I'm thankful for rainy, dreary days at rehabilitation centers, long movies and portable DVD players.  I'm thankful for air mattresses and overnight bags and dry shampoo.  I'm thankful for wheelchairs and physical therapists, for parking lot barbeques and extra pillows.

I’m thankful for every birthday you have yet to celebrate, for every holiday there will not be an empty chair.

I'm thankful that to my son, you will be much more than some distant memory, more than a picture on a shelf.
I’m thankful when my phone rings and it’s you.  Every.  Single.  Time.

Don’t you dare think that it’s ever lost on me.