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.