81: Every Day Is a Gift

81: Every Day Is a Gift

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

Every Day Is a Gift

Love always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres. Love never fails.

~1 Corinthians 13:7-8a

I magine how you would feel if on the inside you were the same person you have always been, but your life was totally different. You no longer have the ability to walk, talk, or eat. You no longer have any control of your own life. Insurance companies, doctors, therapists, hospitals and nursing homes no longer see you as a person, but as a statistic. You are given no prognosis.

Your diagnosis? Severe traumatic brain injury.

We’ll probably never know how long my husband Henry lay crumpled in the ditch that sunny August afternoon with his motorcycle on top of him. What we do know is that a school bus driver spotted him and called 911. When the EMTs arrived, they assessed his condition and summoned a medical helicopter. Henry was Life Flighted to a university hospital in the city where we lived.

He sustained multiple facial fractures, a broken shoulder, and bruised lungs. But, in the great scheme of things, none of those injuries mattered much. Because in spite of the top-of-the-line protective helmet Henry was wearing when he crashed, he had suffered “hard brain whiplash.”

He was in a deep coma. For fifteen days, I sat by Henry’s bedside in the trauma unit, holding his hand and wondering whether the next breath he took would be his last. He underwent countless tests and procedures, including a craniotomy in which neurosurgeons removed part of his skull so that his brain would have room to swell.

Before he was to receive a much-needed shunt to control the fluid on his brain, Henry was transferred to another hospital while still comatose. From that hospital, Henry was sent to a nursing home where they had never had a patient with injuries as severe as his. It quickly became obvious he’d been sent there because it was assumed that sooner or later he would die from complications associated with his injuries.

Through it all, I sat by Henry’s side during the day and slept next to his bed at night. I talked to him. I read to him. I sang to him. I begged him not to give up. I reminded him that he was only thirty years old and had a promising career as a graphic designer ahead of him. I fought in every way I knew how to fight to get him the care he needed.

Finally, Henry was accepted at the Patricia Neal Rehabilitation Center in Knoxville, Tennessee. I’ll always believe that was the turning point in his recovery. At last, Henry had doctors and nurses who were truly knowledgeable about brain injuries. He regained the light in his eyes. He weaned himself off oxygen and was able to get his tracheostomy removed. And he received the physical, occupational, and speech therapy he desperately needed.

After three months at Patricia Neal, Henry and I finally went home. I would now be his doctor, nurse, caretaker, and therapist.

I won’t pretend it’s been a bed of roses since then. More than five years have passed since the motorcycle accident, and Henry and I still have a long road to recovery ahead of us. He has a feeding tube and is confined to a wheelchair. This presents problems because we live in a house that is not completely handicapped-accessible, but with the help of our friends we are working to raise funds to build one that is.

Henry understands everything and can communicate through gestures and facial expressions. He can speak a few words but is still considered nonverbal. We continue to search for a speech therapist who can help him. And because Henry’s injury was to the left side of his brain, the right side of his body is very weak. He’s also legally blind in his right eye.

But he’s making progress every day. Slow progress, but it’s steady. And that’s good enough for both of us.

I teach elementary school by day and take care of Henry the rest of the time. “How do you do it?” I’ve been asked countless times. “Where do you find the strength?”

My answer is always the same. Love and the Lord. We make it through each day because I love Henry and he loves me, and because God is so very gracious and merciful. It’s as simple as that. When we married eleven years ago, we promised to care for each other in sickness and in health, and we meant it. Every day we have together is a gift.

I’ve never once thought “I can’t do this anymore.” Not ever. But I have thought about what advice I would give other caregivers facing the many challenges of traumatic brain injury. Here are five things I would tell them:

1. Talk, laugh with, and touch your loved one just as you always have and encourage others to do the same.

2. The squeaky wheel really does get the grease. Whether you’re dealing with doctors, hospitals, insurance companies, therapists, or case managers, never quit insisting upon what you know your loved one really needs.

3. Celebrate small steps. Recovery from traumatic brain injury is a marathon, not a sprint.

4. Pray without ceasing.

5. Never, never, never give up.

~Heather Roach

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