87: Unstoppable

87: Unstoppable

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

Unstoppable

Patience and tenacity are worth more than their weight of cleverness.

~Thomas Huxley

Chris and I married in our twenties. On our wedding day, we imagined our lives would be wonderful, full of fun, kids, and memories galore. But instead, we’ve traveled a journey we never could have imagined.

On a crystal clear blue-sky day in June, Chris softly kissed me as I slowly awakened from my slumber. “The kids are watching Sesame Street,” he whispered. And he headed out to the bus stop on our corner.

The screech of brakes shook me from my sleepy fog. Immediately, I heard screaming. “Someone call an ambulance!”

I scrambled downstairs, thoughts racing. Chris would be the first one to call for help. I didn’t hear the bus go by. Panic edged into my mind. I glanced at my little girls watching TV; they were fine. I pushed open the front door and peered through the screen. A small crowd stood over a body in the street.

“Is it a man?”

A stranger looked up and nodded.

“Does he have a moustache?”

Another nod.

I flew out the door.

My husband had been hit by a truck. He was lying in the street, semi-conscious, blood pooled around his head. The blare of sirens grew louder.

“Chris . . . Chris. It’s me. It’s Elise, your wife. Hold on, honey. You’re going to be okay.”

The EMTs rushed to Chris’s side, checked his vital signs, then quickly but gingerly lifted him into the ambulance.

“You’ll have to follow behind,” they told me.

I ran to the neighbors’, blurting an explanation, begging them to watch my children. A young woman beckoned me to the transport vehicle. We trailed the ambulance to the trauma hospital, sirens screaming, lights flashing.

In shock, I cried, begged, “Please God, please let Chris live.”

We careened into the emergency room entrance as Chris lost consciousness. Medical personnel ushered me into a small spare private waiting room where I was asked to sign scary documents detailing procedures I didn’t understand.

How could this be? How could I be in a hospital with my husband on the brink of death?

Suddenly, our dear friend, a developmental pediatrician, burst into the waiting room. Instead of his usual commute, he was heading to a meeting and just happened to be in the area when his wife paged him. And now, here he was, explaining every update, every intricacy of what was happening. He injected some clarity and peace into this nightmare.

Chris survived the surgery, the first huge hurdle.

A sweet quiet nurse in scrubs entered the waiting room where now many family members gathered. “You can see your husband now.”

Fear shook me to my core. “Your husband is stable, but he is unconscious and bruised.” The nurse tried to prepare me in a whisper. Gauze covered his head like a mummy. Intravenous lines led to beeping, whirring machines. His face was black and blue, both eyes purple, swollen shut.

Chris remained in an induced coma for three days. All we could do was wait and see. Dazed, I drifted through days and nights, staying by my husband’s side. As he came to, he didn’t know who I was. He didn’t remember his three children. He communicated mostly through unintelligible mumbles and gestures. What lay ahead?

Eventually Chris was moved out of the ICU to a general medsurg floor. There he got basic therapy, scrawling his name, speaking in scrambled sentence fragments, wide-eyed with confusion.

After a week, Chris was moved to a rehabilitation facility. My once healthy independent husband was now totally dependent on others to care for him. Yet he was determined and courageous in the face of huge obstacles.

He worked tirelessly at relearning everything—how to talk, walk, write, bathe, feed himself. When I went to visit in the evenings, Chris grimaced. “This is really hard.” He was absolutely exhausted after every long day of grueling workouts, constantly pushing himself to reach every single bar his speech, physical, and occupational therapists set for him.

After several weeks, Chris moved back home. I was terrified. What if he slipped in the shower? What if he wandered out when I wasn’t watching? What if he fell down the stairs? What if he hit his head?

He continued daily trips to rehab. Our neighbors, friends, families, even strangers pitched in to help us. Dinners were delivered to our doorstep. A neighbor transported Chris to and from rehab every single day. Offers for help with the kids were constant. Cards and prayers poured in from literally all over the world.

Soon it was time for Chris to return to his job in marketing. It was too early, according to his rehab therapists, but his office insisted he at least try a part-time reentry. It was almost more than I could bear to see Chris standing back out on that street corner where he was hit, waiting for the bus again. But he was unstoppable. At times Chris got depressed, felt useless and discouraged. But he’d just push through.

One evening, Chris returned home from work. His eyes were hollow, shoulders stooped in defeat. He could no longer do his job. We sat in our backyard and cried. What would happen next?

Within a few days, Chris reached out to some old contacts and began teaching poetry workshops around the state. They seemed to go okay. Each day, I held my breath in fear. What if Chris got confused or lost? What if someone was impatient or mean to him?

I was astounded at the bravery Chris mustered for every assignment. Oh, there were panicked calls from time to time. Chris got lost . . . or worried he didn’t do a good job. But every time, he would get up again the next morning, walk out that door, and face the new day fearlessly, with all its complications and possibilities.

Chris had earned his MFA in Poetry from Columbia University years before. Ready for the next challenge, he marched up to the local university and applied for an adjunct professor position. Again, I paced and wrung my hands in anxiety, waiting to hear. Chris was excited and confident. He got the job! This was unbelievable . . . a miracle!

Within a couple of years at the university, Chris decided to go for his doctorate in education. What? This was just crazy. Not only did it seem impossible, but we couldn’t afford to send Chris to school. Our oldest daughter was entering college, too. But my husband just smiled. “I’ll just take the next step and apply.”

He got in. Exciting, but we couldn’t afford it. I figured it was a done deal. Then, one day late in August, a couple of weeks before classes started, there was a letter laid out on the dining room table.

“Congratulations! We are offering you an assistantship to cover your tuition . . .” It was a full scholarship.

It has been twenty years since the accident. I knew when I married Chris that he was a good man: smart, loyal, kind, strong. But I never could have imagined his tenacity, confidence mixed with humility, and unwavering resolve. He is my hero. He may be brain-injured, but he has accomplished more than I could have ever imagined possible.

~Elise Daly Parker

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