20: After the Dark Clouds, Contentment

20: After the Dark Clouds, Contentment

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

After the Dark Clouds, Contentment

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher storm, but to add color to my sunset sky.

~Rabindranath Tagore

I looked at my husband in his hospital bed. His swollen head was bound in bandages and his eyes were closed, but he was no longer in a coma. A retired university law professor, he had gone from lecturing large classes to not speaking at all.

Full of questions, and needing reassurance, I asked the doctor, “When will he be able to walk and talk again?” He looked at me and answered, “Ask me that a year from now.” I thought his answer was cold, but I know now that he was just being honest. He gave me no false hope, but instead a bit of advice: “When you pray, don’t ask God for anything. Just thank Him for today.” That wasn’t the way I usually prayed. I brought God all my worries, wants and needs, but the doctor’s advice made sense. God already knew what I needed.

Our problems began one August night when my husband fell in the kitchen and hit his head. Weeks later he walked slower and staggered. One evening in September, he leaned down to put books on a low shelf and crumpled to the floor. We rushed him to the hospital. An MRI showed a blood clot pressing on his brain. Surgery was performed and the clot removed, but the bleeding didn’t stop. After a second surgery, the surgeon came out with a solemn face.

“The next twenty-four hours are crucial,” he said. “I’m not going back in there again.”

I knew he had done all he could do and the rest was up to God.

Our grandchildren recorded encouraging messages. We placed the tape player on his pillow and played it every day hoping their voices would help him wake up. They pleaded, “Please wake up, Pepa. We can’t go to the State Fair without you.” “Pepa, I wonder what you’re thinking right now.” “I love you, Pepa.”

Deep in my inner being I knew my husband would survive. I couldn’t imagine life without him. The first glimmer of hope came when my husband was in the process of getting a feeding tube inserted into his stomach. In the recovery room, I held his hand. He squeezed my finger. It was his first physical response, and I felt that a miracle had just happened. Soon afterward he was transferred to an acute-care hospital. There, two therapists lifted him to a sitting position on the side of his bed. When I saw his head fall limply to his chest, my heart sank. Devastated, I thought, “He can’t even lift his head. Is this how it’s going to be?” I left the room sobbing.

In time, he made more progress physically, then mentally, and our family was elated when he was accepted at a rehab hospital in Dallas for brain-injured patients. There he worked on his speech, memory and comprehension. When he became frustrated with his inability to talk, he gritted his teeth and growled. But his therapy would soon be postponed.

In December, an MRI showed a new bleed, which meant another surgery. I hoped this would be the last, wondering how much more he could stand. When he was finally out of intensive care and in a private room, I was allowed to stay with him. Now, maybe he would get better and resume therapy. Dark clouds hovered over Dallas, and a major ice storm enveloped the city for days. Going home and back would have been impossible. I prayed and wrote poetry.

Then, my husband suffered a stroke. I couldn’t believe it. The entire time I had been hoping and praying that he would be able to continue his therapy. When he was re-evaluated for therapy, he failed the test. He couldn’t understand a simple command: “Point to the floor.” If he was at his lowest moment, so was I. Weeping and praying, I wondered what would happen next. At this point he was dependent on a feeding tube for food in and a catheter for urine out.

When we admitted him into a skilled-nursing facility near our home, I felt we were giving up. Every day I cried on my way there and cried when I left. I had a towel in my car to catch my tears. I tried to deny it, but I was depressed. When friends asked how he was doing, I dropped my head and tears stung my eyes. It was hard for me to talk about it. After fifty-five years of marriage, our roles had completely reversed. He, who was strong and in charge, became weak; I, the weaker one and a follower, became strong and more independent.

Finally, there was a major breakthrough when he remembered his family. One day he asked, “Why did you leave me?” I assured him that I had been there every day. Gradually, the dark clouds of that bitter cold winter passed, and our future seemed hopeful.

There were gaps in his memory, and his speech was far from perfect, but he began to make progress. He didn’t remember that he ever had a feeding tube or a catheter, but he recalled his childhood. What he had forgotten, we replaced by making new memories.

During my visits now, we often sit in the courtyard under the gazebo. We watch cardinals build their nest in a Rose of Sharon bush. Silver airplanes glide through the sky on their way to Love Field or DFW Airport. My husband notices the vapor contrails left by high-flying jets, and watches them spread and fade away.

He, who was an avid reader, can no longer hold a book. The entire right side of his body was affected by the surgeries and stroke. He enjoys hearing me read though, and within one year we read through the entire Bible together. Sometimes he attends the scheduled activities, but television and radio are favorites. He handles his wheelchair well and wheels himself around faster than I can walk. A highlight in his routine is when our daughter takes him out to eat, and sometimes to a movie. He looks forward to those outings.

When I remember him over six years ago in a coma, and I see his amazing progress, I feel we are blessed. As the Apostle Paul said in Philippians, “I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation,” my husband and I are learning contentment with our situation. I know that God is in control, and when I pray, I always remember the words of the doctor as I say, “Thank you God for today.”

~Betty B. Cantwell

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