Little Red Flags

This blog is a continuation in a series I am writing about my husband’s brain injury.  If you wish to read the story in order, go back in my archives and find Begin at the Beginning…all the ones in the category brain injury tell my story. Some are longer than others…they come in chunks of time…sometimes quickly and others much slower.  Thanks for taking the time to read and being patient as I walk through the one of the toughest parts of my life again with new eyes to see how God used the broken pieces to create something beautiful.

I know you have noticed the gap in time of this post from the last one.  Many have told me they are trying to wait patiently.  I could say that it is because I have been busy, and that would be an accurate statement, in fact I believed it myself until today.  But today I have nothing on my schedule and my heart is hesitating to write.  Up until now I have been writing about the immediate crisis…the couple of weeks of trying to take in this catastrophic event.  Now I move into the rehab phase and I can see that things were not going to get better for a long time, yet it was not clear to me then.  I cannot tell you how painful it is for me to look and see the denial that 23-year-old me was in, and the heartache of beginning to realize she wasn’t going back to where she thought.  I can see it now…but at the time I could only focus on helping Bill get well. One step in front of the other…step, step, step.  I had not yet understood the ramifications of what it means to be brain injured.  This is hard to write because I feel for me.  I see the young me lost, and confused, and hopeful, and positive that things would be normal again.  I see her holding on to her faith, and trying to keep her sanity.  I see her sectioning off her heart to protect it from the lashings, but also from her own knowledge that this was going to change everything.  I see her justifying the actions of her husband and grasping at anything that looked like he was moving forward to being whole again.  Ignoring the blatantly obvious signs that things were not good, and creating a wellspring of hope from one slightly positive action.  That girl was a fighter for sure.  Stubborn or, as I prefer to say, tenacious.  She did not give up on her husband, or her marriage, or her God.  She believed and held firmly to that belief as if her life depended on it.  With those weaknesses and strengths blended together, and all of this hidden away in her heart she entered into a new phase and began to resume her life.

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When I arrived at the hospital, after my first break in weeks, I found Louise outside Bill’s room talking with a doctor.  I stood and listened into the conversation already in progress.  Louise had had a very stressful night with Bill and he had lashed out at her numerous times.  She looked as frazzled and upset as I had been the night before.  He seemed more agitated than ever.  She had found a nurse and told them that both of us were done.  We could not take it anymore. That got the ball rolling to try to find Bill a rehabilitation center to go to.  The doctor had come to do an evaluation and he was telling her his take on things.

“I asked him some questions, and he got violent towards me, lifting me off the ground and shoving me up against the wall.  Then he pulled back his fist and I braced myself for the impact, but it never came.  Bill said to me, ‘I ought to hit you with everything I have in me.’ But he didn’t.  He never hit me.  I talked him into putting me down because I knew from the words ‘I ought to’ that he had something inside of him that told him it was wrong to hit me.   This is a very good sign and I think it is wonderful progress.  I think he definitely needs to go to rehab and I will see what we can do to find a place for him.  The social worker will be coming by today to let you know the options she finds.”  I knew that this was supposed to be good news but somehow it didn’t feel so good for a neurologist to think ‘only being shoved against the wall’ was progress.  A little red flag was waving in my mind, but I pushed it away. 

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A little bit later, they came back to say that the rehab wing of the hospital had an opening.  This was a miracle because we had been talking about other rehab centers that were across the city and one kind of halfway house place in Texas!  Now he would be just five minutes from our house and I could see him daily.  The intake procedure for rehab was extensive.  They try to make it easy, but there are papers to be filled out and questions to be asked.  This is where things moved to a team approach and the first item was for me to meet the team.  I walked into a room filled with people around a big long table. It was completely overwhelming to someone who has been living in survival mode with very little sleep for a couple of weeks. Occupational therapists, physical therapists, social workers, the case manager, the doctors and I don’t know who else.  They kind of rotated in and out to each take their turn explaining what they would be doing and asking me questions about how Bill used to be.  They said that they needed to know what he was like so they could get him as close to that as possible.  Another red flag waving in my head.  I pushed it away.

Thank God Jim was still with me and he sat right beside me the whole time helping me field the questions.  He had been Bill’s best friend all through high school and college so he knew as much or more than I did about Bill. They had not wanted him to come in since he was not family, but he insisted he was there to support me and I told them he was like a brother to Bill.  Thank God, thank God, thank God they let him in.  I could not have done it without him there.  I don’t remember but one of the questions they asked from the hours long meeting.  They had noticed Bill was “active” and were wondering if this was normal behavior for him.  Jim said, “If you look up fidget in the dictionary it has Bill’s picture.”  Of the whole day that is the one thing I remember because it was so very honest and true, and it made me laugh.  Jim had to leave right after the meeting, but he was a life saver sent by God to hold me up.  I am convinced of it.

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The only name I remember of all the people at the meeting was Diane.  She was the case manager and she tried so very hard to gently tell me the truth all along the way.  She even introduced me to an elderly couple who would be leaving the rehab unit to go home the next day.  The wife was there because she had a stroke.  Diane introduced me and left us to talk in the woman’s room.  The husband began to cry as he told me of his wife’s condition when they arrived.  She was abusive to him and verbally lashed out over and over.  She had hit him, and thrown things at him, and been very agitated.  I could see the hurt in his eyes and my eyes were tearing up because the red flags in my head were frantically waving reminding me that Bill was in the exact same place. I KNEW the pain this man was in because I was living it! He told me of her vacant eyes and how hateful she had been.

 “Then one day, I came and she was back.  I can’t explain it, but she was back in there and looking out at me.  She still has some issues, but just knowing it is her again has made all the difference.” 

He was overwhelmed with emotion then and did not apologize for it.  He let me see…he let me in.  It was moving and it touched me deeply, but it also scared me to death to hear what I was facing.  My mind wrote it off, because “Bill wasn’t as bad as her.”  What I can see now, that I didn’t see then was that Bill was worse, and Diane knew that.  She put me with this couple to try to help me to see.  Only I couldn’t…not really.  I appreciated the man’s story because it so reflected my own place, but I could not put Bill in the place of his wife.  I would not.  I told the man that Bill wasn’t that bad and that he was already aware of who he was.

 Now, with great heartache, I see that he knew I was clueless.  The look in his eyes was one of pity mixed with great compassion, and he knew that grief like so many other things is a path that cannot be walked the same for any two people.  He knew my road was not nearing the end as I supposed, but it was only beginning.  He also knew that no words could help me to see more clearly. With tears still rolling down his cheeks he hugged me and kissed my cheek as I left their room. I never saw them again, but now I know he was not crying for himself…he was crying for me.

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