62: Jonathan’s Story

62: Jonathan’s Story

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

Jonathan’s Story

Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower.

~Albert Camus

“Please God no, please God no!” I found myself saying over and over in my head, as I ran as fast as I could toward the end of our street. Seconds before, the frantic ringing of the front doorbell had broken the usual tranquility of a Sunday afternoon. As I approached the door, I could hear a panic-filled voice calling out my name. I felt a sudden rush of anxiety, yet I was still unprepared for the terrified appearance of our eleven-year-old neighbour Josh, with his arms flailing about, eyes wide with shock and voice almost hysterical, screaming, “Cheryl—come quick! Jono’s been hit by a car!”

“What?” I cried out in disbelief. “Where, Josh? What happened?”

I didn’t even wait for his reply, but instead ran out the door and straight past Josh, leaving my son Chris still inside watching television, and the Mexican dinner I had been cooking still simmering on the stove. As I approached the corner of our street I remember thinking to myself, “Why can’t I hear him crying? He should be crying!”

It was then that I saw my husband Robert. With a look of sheer torture and panic drawn on his face, a look forever etched in my mind, his hands were held above his head as he ran into the house on the corner of our street, screaming, “Help me, help me! Ring an ambulance!”

It was a Sunday, a lovely autumn Sunday, with amber leaves strewn across the lawns of the well-kept houses on our street. A day spent at home doing normal family things, Sunday things, together things. Jonathan, then age twelve, had spent most of the day playing outside in the mild warmth of the fall sun with his brother Chris, aged ten, and their friend Josh. They very rarely ventured past the corner of the street, and if they did, they knew to let me know first.

“Mum,” Jonathan had said only hours earlier in his husky confident tone as he munched on a toasted sandwich, “I love days like this, when we don’t do anything, or go anywhere, just stay home all day. They’re my favourite days!”

Simple words, yet ironically they could have been his last.

I kept on running and finally saw my darling boy, my precious Jonathan, lying crumpled like a rag doll on the road. As I knelt down beside him, I knew straight away it was very, very serious. There was an enormous amount of thick, dark-red blood oozing from his nose and mouth. He was on his right side and his eyes were open. I stroked his face and spoke softly to him. Something inside me told me to be calm and not to cry, though every fibre of my being was trembling with fear. I tenderly picked up his limp right hand and said, “Mummy’s here darling. You’re going to be all right. Just keep breathing. That’s right, in and out, nice and slow. Good boy. Just keep breathing. That’s right, my baby, you must keep breathing. Don’t stop, darling.”

I held his hand and kept speaking to him, silently praying for the sounds of an ambulance siren. I knew he could hear me, even though he lay deathly still; his eyes were telling me so. He kept breathing steadily for a few minutes, but then suddenly he vomited. It was then that I began to get truly frightened because his breathing became laboured and his eyes glazed over. I knew I was losing him! I stood up and asked if anyone from the circle of people who had now gathered around us knew CPR. A sea of faces stared back at me, some in horror, others in pity. And then, just as I was about to lose my sanity and scream in desperate fear of what was about to happen, by the grace of God, I heard a siren. I turned and looked down the street and saw the approach of bright flashing lights, standing out against the backdrop of the golden glow of the sunset. For some reason I shall never forget this sunset and the ominous feel it had—it was as if it could be setting on our lives forever . . . .

That was sixteen years ago, but when I go there in my mind, it feels like yesterday. In May 1997, my beautiful boy, who could play three musical instruments, run like the wind, and was at the top of his class academically, was hit by a car whilst crossing the road to come home. Initially he had a Glasgow Coma Score (GCS) of 3 and we were told many times over the ensuing three weeks in intensive care not to expect him to live through the night. He was in a coma for approximately six weeks and had post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) for about ten months. We were told he might never walk, talk or even eat again. But due to his relentless drive and a well-coordinated holistic programme of rehabilitation, he has defied the odds—going back to school to get his high school certificate, working, and even learning to drive. Not only can he walk independently but he can run! He plays tennis, swims laps, plays the piano and snow skis!

Learning that your loved one has suffered a traumatic brain injury is extremely difficult. When you first emerge from the devastating shock and enraged denial, the real pain and heartache are enough to threaten your very existence, and if you let it, the resentment can destroy your soul. The loss of your life as it once was, and the partial loss of the very essence of your loved one, is very, very significant. What can you do? You have only two choices: you can spend your life mourning the fact that your dreams are now shattered, or you can do whatever is within your power and capability to change what can be changed, without forsaking the insight to accept what cannot.

Our family was able to carry on by taking one day at a time and looking to find something positive from each day. The fact that we still had Jonathan in our lives was the main source from which we drew our strength. Even now we still find it best to live our lives one day at a time, enabling us to concentrate on small pleasures; things that in a normal life would be taken for granted, now add richness and colour to our lives. Even though the past decade has been physically demanding and an emotional roller coaster ride, caring for Jonathan and his ever-changing needs has brought us closer together as a family and enriched our lives in many unexpected ways.

For despite living in a society that values status, production and competition, Jonathan has—through boundless courage and true dignity—taught us that personal credibility doesn’t come in the form of I.Q. numbers, degrees or sporting trophies. He has revealed the importance of validating and accepting individuals for who they are and whatever contribution they make to society. He has learnt to not only live with his residual impairments, but to teach those around him to do the same.

Some of the life lessons I’ve learnt over the last sixteen years are:

•  The importance of never giving up hope despite, or perhaps in spite of, foreboding predictions.

•  The importance of centering your life on what it is you have—not what you lack.

•  The importance of family, friends, and community support.

•  The importance of not allowing the barriers other people create to get in the way of what you really want to achieve—never let someone else’s doubts blur your vision.

But by far, of all the knowledge I have gained during our journey of hope, discovery and healing, one important fact stands out: recovery cannot be accurately determined by science, nor can potential be predicted, or spirit measured.

~Cheryl Koenig, OAM

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