12: Flashes of Hope

12: Flashes of Hope

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Flashes of Hope

Truth is the torch that gleams through the fog without dispelling it.

~Claude Adrien Helevetius

The lights were down low as Hugh and I watched the movie Vanilla Sky on television while our twin daughters were out at a middle school dance. When I rented the movie, I knew nothing about it; I was in a hurry and liked the title. Near the beginning of the film, a jealous girlfriend takes her cheating lover on a wild car ride, intent on killing them both in a crash. My muscles tensed as the car veered out of control and flew over a bridge. I wanted to turn the movie off, but I couldn’t. I sat frozen, my heart racing. Hugh sat in the recliner next to me. When I glanced over at him, his face looked blank, like he might doze off. He’s always in a trance, I thought. The movie continued, disorienting me with its emotionally violent twists and turns.

Only two months before, Hugh had left the house for an afternoon workout on his bicycle. He was a seasoned athlete who had completed many bike races and triathlons. I had dropped off our daughters at a local skating rink for the afternoon, picked up some groceries and driven home. I heard the phone ringing as I unlocked the front door. I set down my paper bags, answered the phone, and heard a frenzied voice say, ““Do you know a cyclist?”

Hugh had been struck by a car and rushed to MCV Hospital in Richmond, Virginia. When I arrived at the emergency room, a police-woman, trauma coordinator, and chaplain tried to guide me through the initial hour of what was to become my new life. The chaplain told me I might want to say goodbye to my husband—he had a massive head injury. When I saw him, before they wheeled him up for surgery, I pressed my hand to his chest and begged him to hold on. He was unconscious, and all I could think about was how I hadn’t kissed him goodbye before he left for his bike ride. Those first moments and the thirty-three days after, when Hugh progressed from the ICU to the step-down unit to the acute brain injury rehabilitation center, felt like a bad dream that slowly morphed me into a vague, foggy replica of my former self.

When Hugh woke up from his coma, his eyes looked dazed and empty, as if his soul had left his body. Slowly, he began to move, walk, and speak, though his speech was raspy and irregular. In my bed alone at night, I wondered: Did my husband die in that accident?

The surgeon removed a large chunk of Hugh’s skull and put it in the hospital freezer until his brain swelling receded. He said it would take about three months before they would put him back together. In the meantime, I was told to keep a close eye on him. Hugh was sent home with a canvas gait belt around his waist that I would hold to keep him upright, and a thick white helmet to protect his skull. I signed papers as his designated “guardian.”

At home, Hugh alternated between agitation, sitting in his recliner dismantling the remote, and falling asleep from the exhaustion brought on by short bouts of rehab. He was nothing like his former self, so I don’t know why I glanced over at him as if he could shield me from the violence of the movie I was watching, but our eyes met, and for a second, I thought he actually saw me. A little while later, my cell phone rang during an intense movie sequence, and I jumped before answering it.

“Hi, hon. I’m thinking of you.” Hugh’s whispery voice said.

I glanced over at him, sitting nearby in his recliner. His eyes softened in an old familiar way, a way that I had not seen since before the accident. He was holding his cell phone and staring straight at me. My mind, still confused from the dream sequence of the movie, felt tricked again. Was Hugh really calling me now? Had I fallen asleep? Did his eyes really crease in that old way of his? I played along. Slowly I rose from the couch and walked away from him into the dining room, holding my cell phone tight like a lifeline.

“I’m right here. Don’t you like the movie?” I asked.

“It’s okay,” he said.

“Why did you call me? We’re in the same room.”

“I was just thinking about you so I thought I’d call and tell you.”

“That is very sweet. Are you courting me?”

“I guess,” he said. I held my phone through long silences as we talked for a while longer. We talked more that night than we usually did over a full day. I was transported back in time as I stood in my dining room, speaking to my husband only steps away. For the rest of the evening, we watched each other more than the movie. I kept staring at him, amazed that he was alive. He kept staring at me as if trying to get to know me all over again.

In the movie, an eerie voice says, “Open your eyes.” The main character’s conscience plays tricks on him. He’s in a coma, and he’s battling inner demons of vanity, love, and righting past wrongs. He’s lost, confused, struggling, and hiding. That night, alone with my husband in the house, I fell in love again with the past and present version of my husband.

These momentary flashes of my pre-accident husband were flashes of hope, a fulfillment of longing. After that night, I would seek them out, and notice each familiar character trait returned to me like a gift as his brain slowly healed. The months and years passed, and somewhere along the way, the fog lifted, and there stood my husband, not my old husband, or my new husband, just my husband as he was simply meant to be.

~Rosemary Rawlins

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners