The Sweatshirt

I have a sweatshirt that has stood the test of time. It has been outgrown for many years, yet I cannot dispose of it. I own it, but it is not mine. The wide horizontal stripes are gray on the top, then red, then green on the bottom. It has a polo horse on it. I keep this shirt in my drawer where it is easily accessible, though it does not fit and I never wear it. I do this because it is a sweatshirt with a story that I need to remember often.
It is the shirt Bill was wearing when he came back to me from the dead. Not literally of course, though he was quite close to death in the days following his accident 27 years ago. The six weeks immediately after were horrific and he was not there to live through them with me…not in his head at least. Once he could open his eyes again, they were blank, as was his expression. He vacillated between tears, rage, depression, and laughter…which were all very odd with a flat affect. He had to be tied to the bed, ankles, wrists, and chest. While he was in ICU, he talked Louise into loosening his restraints once which caused quite a commotion when he escaped the bed. He regularly pulled equipment, IV’s out, heart monitors off, and that tube in his nose…yikes, that had to hurt. That tells you how out of his mind he was. I think the ICU nurses were glad to ship him to the surgical unit.
On the surgical hall, I was his live-in nurse…sleeping in the room with him, taking turns with Louise. He threw a lot of food. He called out to me one minute, and banished me from the room the next. He pulled the packing out of his sinus cavity after his surgery and handed it to Louise one day. She asked him what it was and he said, “Kleenex.” One day, he picked the doctor up and put him against the wall by his shirt. Another day, he threw a wheelchair…and a table…and shoes…and the tape player I brought him with music playing. He threw a lot of things, and unknowingly broke a lot of things…my heart being one of them.
Once in the rehab unit, he tried to escape the hospital daily, ending up in the parking lot on more than one occasion. At the same time, he loved to walk to the baby nursery and look at the babies. He carried breakfast trays for the stroke victims he lived with. He went to his room to look at the calendar every morning, because he knew they would be asking him the date. He never remembered it. Neither did he remember what year it was, or what hospital he was in, or who the president was. Not to mention he thought that HE won the Super bowl. They told me I was lucky he remembered me at all. I was happy he remembered me, but I didn’t feel lucky.
Then one day…then one day I walked into the hospital and around the corner as I had done for eight weeks. He was standing at the nurse’s station in the sweatshirt when he turned and looked at me. His eyes lit up and he said, “Hey Shell.” The sparkle was back…HE was back. I cried, because he came back to me. Up until that moment I didn’t know if he would. Childlike as he was, the mischief was back in his eyes and I felt we could handle anything…learning to walk, dress, express emotion appropriately…then onto driving, working, and playing music again. That shirt is the one in my drawer. It has survived numerous closet purgings. On hard days, I take it out and remember the moment that everything felt so possible.
It was and is a long road…27 years long, today. Brain injury is something that you cannot possibly understand unless you have lived it. Healing is measured in small increments over long periods of time. Just when you think the healing is complete, they tell you regression is also a part of the process. Not easy, to hear or to do. Nothing it easy about it now or in the future. I lost my husband that Feb. 2nd 1988, but God stepped in to fill the gaps. He became my helpmate, my confidant, my encourager… my life. He rebuilt my heart and my husband. My four children are the evidence. I wouldn’t wish a journey that includes a brain injury on anyone, but I also wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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