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.
In no time, the empty house went from a source of sorrow to a place of refuge. It continued to feel empty, but after my long days of waiting tables, navigating the hospital, fielding questions, greeting visitors, answering and returning phone calls, and dealing with my very childlike husband, I was happy to be enveloped by silence upon arriving home at night. I think that in part, this was because my job turned out to be a huge blessing. It gave me somewhere to be where there were regular people doing regular things. It was exhausting but constantly busy, no time to think. I was up and prepping food by 9:00 each morning. Lunch service started at 11:00 and went until 3:00. When the doors closed and the last table cleared we took our lunch break, and then got things cleaned up by 4:00. It was a tiny place with just the owners and me. I was the only employee. They knew my situation and worked with me beyond anything I could have ever dreamed. Mitch let me have 100% of the tips from both my tables and his. They paid me, and loaded me up with food daily to take with me. I went from work straight to the hospital. I usually had pinwheels, quiche, soup and white chocolate raspberry cheesecake or whatever was left at the end of the day, and upon my arrival I was greeted daily by the entire medical staff. I filled the fridge and became the favorite caregiver…I am sure of it. As much as they enjoyed the food, they were good to me by making sure I ate my share and generally looking out for me.
The first week of rehab took some getting used to. It was hard because when you are in denial, you really do not want to see head injured and stroke patients all around you. It forces your eyes to open. And while I could not see everything I would be dealing with, I soon became more aware of the truth than I would admit. In the room next to Bill’s was a teenager who had also been in a car accident. He had an open head injury, which is exactly what it sounds like…the skull open and brain severely damaged. When we arrived he had been in a coma for 6 months, but had recently opened his eyes for the first time. He had not spoken and could only blink his eyes to express himself…kind of. His parents were the sweetest people and took me in immediately as our next door neighbors. They told me the story of how the doctors told them there was no hope and they refused to accept that. The day before he was to be moved to a rehab center across the country, he turned his head and said, “Hi mom,” which changed the plan entirely. She cried as she told me “Don’t ever give up, no matter what they tell you.” I took those words to heart.
There was another teenage guy who sat in a wheelchair beside the nurse’s station. His girlfriend came to see him regularly at first, but slowly he was left there on his own. He had a glazed over look about him, and was constantly taking off his clothes. That is a common thing for head injured people to do believe it or not. He would stand up in front of his wheelchair and pull his pants down to his ankles and then sit back down. No words, no expression, just pull them down. The nurses, who were used to this, would simply call to one another “Robert’s pants are down again.” One of them would explain for the hundredth time that it was not allowed for him to sit there without his pants on. This was repeated several times a day. The row of wheelchairs parked by the nurses’ station were the “strippers” and they were there so that the nurses could re-dress them quickly to avoid a disturbance in the hallway. In our case Bill was Mr. Modest and created a scene anytime a nurse came to help him bathe or dress. Since he could not yet walk much on his own this was a daily issue.
There were many stroke victims on the unit. They were in all states of recovery. Some were aware of their surroundings, others were not. Some had slack faces that seemed haunted. Others yelled loud enough that everyone on the hall could hear them. Some walked with a limp and a cane. Most were in wheelchairs. In the dayroom and in the hallways, the nurses would push the wheelchairs and the patients would sit and look at one another. If you looked into their eyes they had the same empty stare Bill had. It was hard to shake the feeling of being in a nursing home, or a unit for the mentally ill. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest came to mind more than once.
There were some good things about Rehab as well. One was that patients there can where regular clothes. This was wonderful news to Bill because he didn’t want anyone to know he was a patient at the hospital. I snicker as I write this because there was NO WAY anyone would assume anything else. He looked like Frankenstein with his fresh zigzag scar and slightly swollen greenish eyes. It didn’t seem to cross his mind that being in a wheelchair is a pretty good indicator that he was indeed a patient and not a visitor. However, being in a wheelchair rather than tied to a bed was a definite improvement…that and the fact that in rehab you are allowed to move around more than just your little room. The physical therapist discovered that Bill had a hip injury which, in addition to his head injury, caused his balance to be off. Therefore he was confined to a wheelchair, until they could stabilize his balance when walking. Bill of course didn’t want a wheelchair but once the battle to get him into it was done he seemed to forget the tantrum he pitched and settle in.
As much as I didn’t like him tied to a bed, pushing him in a wheelchair turned out to be a greater challenge. If I pushed too slowly he got agitated. If I pushed him too fast he was enraged. There was a certain speed where his hair would blow just a bit and that was the sweet spot. However, maintaining that pace for my 4 hour visits after working all day was a challenge. Fortunately family members and friends who came to visit were happy to help out by taking a few laps around the hospital with him. In his agitated state it was not advisable for him to be still, nor would he allow it for long.
The good thing about rehab for me was that Bill had a sitter. The first evening I came for a visit, there was a nursing student named Pearl in the room with him. It was her job to watch Bill to make sure he didn’t harm himself or anyone else, and to keep him from wandering off. She was very sweet and kind to him. He called her Ivory because he couldn’t remember Pearl. He said that he knew her name was the color white even though she was black. This endeared him to her further and he was the only one she allowed to call her Ivory. She sat with him whenever he was not in therapy, and through the night. There were other sitters who took shifts, but she is the only name I remember because of her kindness to us. Knowing she was there with him helped to make the transition to my new life less difficult and helped me to sleep at night in my empty house of refuge.