32: The Making of a Miracle

32: The Making of a Miracle

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

The Making of a Miracle

What lies behind us and what lies before us are tiny matters, compared to what lies within us.

~Ralph Waldo Emerson

It’s October 6, 2002, one of those autumn days when the air smells of dried leaves and the trees are pumpkin-colored. I’m at work when I hear my cell phone buzz under my desk. It stops. Then buzzes again. It’s my daughter Annie. She’s sobbing.

“Mom, Casey was in a motorcycle accident. They had to cut away part of his skull. You’ve got to get to Charleston. He’s at the Medical University of South Carolina. Hurry, Mom. Hurry.” I cup a hand over my mouth to muffle animal cries rising from the depths of me.

The drive to Charleston usually takes three hours. Not today. Annie is waiting for me, her eyes red and swollen. We rush down the hallway into the intensive care unit. Casey’s skull, swathed in gauze, bulges on one side. His nose is widened. Lips puffed. I can barely discern this face as my son’s. My nineteen-year-old boy. Behind me, I hear the sound of a nurse’s rubber-soled shoes squeak on the tile floor.

“Your son was on his motorcycle when he was hit by a car,” she says, her tone low and soft. “The ambulance got to him just minutes after an anonymous 911 call came in. We don’t know how long he was lying there.”

I hear her, but I barely absorb what she is saying.

“The impact to Casey’s skull caused his brain to swell. The neurosurgeon removed a piece of the bone to release pressure. He saw a blood clot and suctioned it out.”

I want to ask, “Is he in pain? Can he hear us if we talk to him? Is he going to live?” But I can’t. My words get stuck. My body grows numb. I feel like my world is wobbling on a three-legged chair. I pray.

Twenty-four hours later, the neurosurgeon has put Casey into a medically induced coma to give his brain time to heal. Machines beep and blink. I talk to my son.

“Casey, I just want you to know that I’m not going to give up on you. I am going to pull the low hanging fruit from every spiritual tree—call on God and every one of His angels to heal you. I promise to leave no stone unturned. Do you hear me, son?”

One day slips into another. Casey is unchanged. The neurologists fight to minimize the effects of the trauma to his brain, fight to save his life. I place my hopes on less traditional methods of wellness. I hold onto a mustard seed, spritz my boy with Lourdes holy water, use alternative healing techniques on him, and even summon the Blessed Mother Mary and her angels with prayers.

In time, time measured in the agony of minutes, hours, days, nights and weeks, Casey improves. Physically. That is when the real challenges begin.

On the step-down hospital floor, and in a rehab center, Casey struggles to speak, to walk, and even to eat again on his own. Watching him tugs at my heartstrings.

His time in rehab comes to an end. The shell of my boy walks through the door of our house, yet it appears a total stranger is living inside, another challenge to understand.

I must find a new way to parent my son, to meet this challenge head-on, to overcome this obstacle. The days grind on. I visit a spiritualist church for strength, hope, guidance, anything. I pester Casey’s kind doctor for answers. He describes in plain English what frontal lobe damage is and details the repercussions of a traumatic brain injury. I take notes.

“The frontal lobe handles planning and organizing,” he tells me. “It also plays an important role in managing emotions—dealing with hunger, aggression and sexual drive. Separate sections of the brain control those primitive emotions, and they’re equipped with a ‘stop’ button that prevents people from doing something inappropriate. The slightest thing—something someone says or does, a loud noise, a scream—can send Casey into overload. Before you know it, he acts out.”

“What can I do to help?” I ask.

“The best tool is a time-out. Let’s say Casey is so angry he wants to throw something. Get him out of the environment or away from the person who’s angering him. Have him go for a walk or sit in a different room with a door closed. Whatever works best.” I sigh. Easier said than done.

Recovery has been a winding road filled with potholes, but four years after the accident that nearly took his life, Casey received his associate’s degree from Trident Technical College. In that moment, that wondrous moment, I realized that sometimes we don’t know what God knows. According to Casey’s doctors, in the majority of traumatic brain injury cases the patient shows the most change in the first two years. But by the grace of God, Casey continued to improve far beyond that deadline.

Nine years after my son suffered a traumatic brain injury, I am finally able to let go of two fears—never seeing him get married—and not getting to dance at his wedding. Casey proposed to Lyly and they were married at Carothers Coastal Gardens—an enchanting Spanish-heritage home filled with lush gardens, overlooking Galveston Bay. With twinkling eyes and a glowing smile, Casey stretches out his hand and draws me close, and we dance on a dime. I’m caught up in the miracle . . . the dance of my lifetime . . . this dance with my son . . . my precious, precious son. He’s not only walking . . . and talking . . . he’s dancing . . . we’re dancing.

What helped Casey turn the corner? What allowed him to have another chance at life? Was it the constant care of doctors and nurses? The power of prayer that circled the globe? His family’s undying love and support? My abiding faith, hope and perseverance?

Maybe it was all of the above.

~Pattie Welek Hall

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