58: Adam

58: Adam

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

Adam

Vitality shows in not only the ability to persist but the ability to start over.

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

I will never forget the neurosurgeon’s words: “Please prepare yourself. If he does recover, he won’t be quite the same son you knew. No one is ever the same after traumatic brain injury.”

Adam struggled through his teenage years. Academically bright but continually frustrated. A typical teen, we thought. We’d had the bleached “Eminem” haircut, the dope-fuelled rebellion and the sudden lunchtime “flu”—distinctly alcohol-related.

What would be next?

As any angst-filled parent of an eighteen-year-old will tell you—it’s the car. How would we survive the agonizing years of a teen who can legally drink and legally drive, and perhaps will do both at the same time? I clearly remember the palpable fear that dogged my nighttime hours every weekend.

Unfortunately, my fears were finally realized.

That Saturday night was the perfect storm. It was raining heavily and the roads were wet and treacherous. I was on tenterhooks as Adam drove out of the garage.

“Please be careful,” I shouted after him.

“It’s Saturday night, Ma.” His words hung in the air.

As I went to bed that night I had that sinking feeling in my gut that speed, the weather, alcohol and teen bravado were all conspiring to wreak their havoc. Rog, my husband, was used to my maternal moaning and snored loudly beside me. Then came the phone call. That hospital call will haunt me forever.

There he lay. My big, little boy—so beautiful—and so still. No sign of torment on his innocent face and no sign of the horrific injuries that were yet to manifest themselves as his broken body prepared to struggle for survival.

We were not given any reason to be hopeful by the doctors. We were given many reasons to prepare ourselves for the worst. Most of the bones in Adam’s face were broken and his neck was fractured. The impact of the steering wheel smashing into his head as his car swerved off the road and hit a tree at over a hundred kilometers per hour was catastrophic. Thankfully, nobody else had been in the car.

“I’m so sorry. If he does pull through, he’ll probably have irreparable brain damage.” The doctor’s words tore at me.

Rog and Nick, my older son, were my crutches during the zombie-like days to follow. They held me and hugged me as we kept a vigil at Adam’s bedside, consumed by fear and heartache as we prayed for our stubborn son’s spirit to win his battle for life. He’d survived the eight-hour operation on his face as surgeons meticulously realigned and pinned together his facial bones. But his brain had borne the brunt of the accident, the swelling so great that both sides of his skull had to be removed to allow it to expand.

Hour after hour, we stared numbly at the monitors . . . beep, beep, beep . . . waiting, hoping and praying for a miracle. Would the Adam we knew pull through to live, laugh and walk again?

I was very silent in those raw days of deadening grief. I was surrounded by people who cared, really cared. And although well-meaning friends and relatives were constantly in touch, I couldn’t face anyone except for my husband and sons. My mum and dad were the exceptions. They kept our family afloat with their stoicism and support. Meals were quietly provided and laundry efficiently dealt with. I could not have endured without my family. We all knew that as long as Adam pulled through, we would be there for him—no matter what.

Then, after the most torturous week . . . I’m sure I saw his eyes flicker. Maybe his favourite strains of Guns N’ Roses had penetrated the comatose days after all? Coming out of a coma is not as it appears in the movies; or at least it wasn’t in Adam’s case. It was a terrible time of fear and panic and restraining of limbs, which sought to tear out alien tubes. I longed for the day when we could at least remove the pipe from his trachea. Perhaps then he’d be able to eat, drink and maybe even talk. I knew this was asking a lot but silently I hoped against hope anyway.

A month later, it happened. The tubes, screws and nose splint had been removed from his body. All that remained was the neck brace and the bandage protecting his stapled head. He lay there staring blankly, mute and unable to move . . . but glimmers of light were beginning to dawn.

“Blow me a kiss, Adam,” I begged and he did—well he tried.

“Move your right toe, Adam,” I persisted, and he did. I was ecstatic.

“He’s obeying commands,” I shouted in amazement.

“He hasn’t done that in years.” Rog actually laughed. It felt good to hear that long-absent sound.

We tried to contain our excitement, but this was unmistakable progress and we clung to it and wouldn’t let go.

“Adam, hold up four fingers . . . well done. Okay, now three . . . yes, fantastic, now two . . . brilliant . . . now one.”

“You’re pushing it Kay,” Rog murmured, as we held our breath together.

But then slowly in typically determined Adam style, up came his middle finger. His sense of humour and defiant spirit had won through. The nurses gathered round and we laughed and cried. Never had anyone been so ecstatic to see that gesture! That was the moment I knew Adam—the real Adam—was back.

Slowly he regained his speech, but it took many long, painful patient months of rehabilitation before Adam took his first tentative steps. Wheelchairs, catheters, and physiotherapy filled our days and dominated our lives. I had given up work and spent every waking moment with Adam, only going home to sleep when the hospital bedded down for the night. Even then, I “astral-travelled” to my boy every night, willing him on:

“I know you can do this. You’ve never given up on anything.”

I remember Adam’s homecoming clearly. It had taken five months to live a lifetime. “Drive carefully. We’re nearly there,” I cautioned Rog, as we left the hospital with our precious passenger. There were still many hurdles to cross but we were ready to tackle the future again. Adam’s memory had blanked out the accident itself but he was fully aware of everything else, and he knew he had been given a second chance.

“It’s good to be home, Ma,” he smiled.

He didn’t blow that chance. He is now coming to the end of his double-degree in law and behavioural science, and he’s met a wonderful partner with whom he wants to share his life. He’s still not ready to drive and he has some peripheral vision impairment, but I can honestly say that my beautiful, strong boy is the Adam I know.

There were many times during that desperate journey when hopelessness and despair almost overwhelmed me, and hope and prayer were all I clung to. But as horrific as the experience was, I learned that traumatic brain injury is not always the end. It can also be a new beginning.

~Kay Ward

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