80: Rest Is Best

80: Rest Is Best

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

Rest Is Best

Wisely, and slowly. They stumble that run fast.

~William Shakespeare

It’s a cool, rainless November evening when my cell phone rings. “Your daughter’s been in a rollover car accident,” the paramedic says. “We’re taking her to the hospital.”

For a moment, I lose my ability to think. I want to hang up the phone, get my shoes on, and get in the car. Fast. I don’t cry.

As my husband drives us to the hospital, Sarita’s twin brother sits in the back seat in silence. I call our other daughter at college to let her know about the accident. I am unusually calm.

At the hospital, we sit in the emergency waiting room until a social worker comes out to talk to us. “Sarita is a little disoriented and kind of confused,” she says. “But that’s to be expected.”

She tells us we’ll be able to see her as soon as they complete a CT scan and X-rays on her right arm, back, and neck. The social worker reassures us that our daughter is awake and talking. I remain calm.

Fifteen minutes later, a nurse leads us through the emergency room doors. Sarita is lying in a hospital bed with a brace around her neck and an IV in her arm. Dried blood is caked in her eyebrows and along her hairline. My heart thumps a little faster.

But I still don’t cry.

Sarita bursts into tears the moment she sees us. Her heart rate monitor flashes high alert when she tries to talk. Through her tears, she asks about her friend who was driving.

“She’s fine,” I tell her. “You’re both going to be fine.” I say it with confidence, and as I do, a strange energy rushes through me.

A short time later, Sarita’s scans all come back normal. But it’s not the end.

“She has a concussion,” the doctor says. “Her head is going to hurt for a while.” He gives us instructions on her care and I try to absorb everything he says.

I help Sarita change into hospital scrubs for the ride home. We bring along an ice bag for her head and a vomit bag for her nausea. As I sit next to her in the back seat, holding tightly to her hand, she drifts in and out of sleep.

At home, I help her into bed. Then I sit down and try to read over the hospital papers the doctors gave us. Concussion: an injury that occurs when you receive a sudden blow or jolt to the head—a type of traumatic brain injury. Watch for seizures, loss of consciousness, confusion, vomiting, numbness. Rest is the best way to recovery. Limit activities. No television, no texting, no computers.

My own mind is a fog. When my husband convinces me to get some rest, I leave our bedroom door open and lie awake for a long time. How can I hear her breathe from here? Did she move? Roll over? Call for me?

I spend the following days in caretaker mode: bathing her, holding the ice pack on her head, cleaning the cuts on her forehead, and giving her pain medication. I watch the bruises on her arm deepen and spread. I ask her gently about the accident. The last thing she remembers is getting into the car.

I still don’t cry.

Twelve days later, Sarita tries to go back to school. She texts me after two hours, with a headache so intense she has to close her eyes. She can’t listen to her teachers. She can’t look at her classmates. She comes home and sleeps. She doesn’t make it through a full day that week or the next.

She tries more ibuprofen and Extra Strength Tylenol. Even though the teachers allow her extra time to complete her assignments, she starts to see her grades drop. She can’t read through a whole chapter of AP biology. She complains about blurry vision. The headaches continue.

“Everybody thinks I’m fine,” Sarita says.

And on the outside, it seems that way. Her cuts have almost healed. Her bruises are beginning to turn pale yellow. But her brain is another story.

More days go by. I Google everything I can about concussions. I ask friends for advice. I look for naturopathic solutions to Sarita’s headache pain. Nothing changes. We both grow more frustrated.

Sarita wants her normal life back. She wants to go to school for an entire day. She wants to go out with friends and try out for the next theatrical production. And when she does, she doesn’t make the cut.

“The teacher said she could see it in my eyes,” Sarita says, when she gets home. “She could see that I’m not better.”

I tell her there will be other plays and maybe it’s for the best. Maybe she needs more time and more rest. It’s not what she wants to hear.

“I didn’t ask for this,” she cries.

And she’s right. Nobody asks to have her life put on hold. But Sarita’s brain has other ideas.

That night, after I tuck her in, I finally cry. I cry for the trauma she’s been through. I cry for her pain and her struggle. I cry for almost losing her.

Sarita faces each day with more strength and determination. She stays at school until the final bell rings. She plods through another chapter in her biology book. She says the headaches are not as bad as they used to be. But when she climbs into bed at 3:30 on a Wednesday afternoon, I’m not convinced.

Finally, our family doctor suggests that Sarita see a concussion specialist. The specialist asks her to rate her headaches and neck pain. He tests her ability to perform simple body movements. He asks about her mood.

Then we get his recommendation: scale it back. He suggests she only go to school half days, leaving school early on some days, starting late on others. He recommends less schoolwork, less problem solving, less thinking. Lots of nighttime sleep and daytime rest. He suggests physical therapy and maybe a walk for exercise. Some outings with friends to keep up her spirits.

“I can’t scale it back,” Sarita protests.

But we both know it may be the only way.

And so she rests more, thinks less. Her new glasses improve her blurry vision. The physical therapist’s exercises help her neck pain. An evening with a good friend is just what she needs to put the smile back on her face. Day by day, the headaches grow less intense and less frequent.

When an entire week goes by—and then another—and Sarita stays pain free, we both laugh and cry and laugh some more. We realize that the moment Sarita listened to her brain and slowed down was the moment she began finding her way back to normal. And normal is a very sweet place to be.

~Annette Gulati

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