As the posts regarding Ray’s recovery from brain injury, and our experience of the last year continue (a little slower than I’d hoped!), I know the burning question in the minds of many is, “But how is Ray doing, now?” The process of brain injury recovery is actually a three-year deal, so we’re only a third of the way in. Regardless, I find that I can only address his recovery in the context of how he was doing a year ago.
A few days after the heart attack, Ray’s neurologist predicted that he might never walk or talk again, preparing us for a man who might very well spend the rest of his life in a semi-vegetative state. Thanksgiving weekend last year, I sat down with each of the older children individually, doing my best to answer the question that was most on their minds: “When is Daddy coming home?”
My answer, catered to the age and understanding of each child, was this: “Daddy may never come home. He may spend the rest of his life in a hospital bed, unable to care for himself.”
As the days went on, he began to speak and control his movements more. Most of the time, he was able to recognize me, and could tell us the names of our oldest two children, but he had no memory of having more than two kids, and – on more than one occasion – he mistook me for a doctor or some other hospital employee.
Much to the surprise of his doctors, he was able to go to a full-blown rehab hospital on December 8th. I remember his first day there vividly, when his occupational therapist had to bodily lift him from his bed and into a wheelchair, which had supports on either side of his head and a strap that held him in the chair. She wheeled him into the bathroom, propped his arm on the counter, and placed a toothbrush in his hand. He gripped it with his fist and managed to stick it in his mouth, making a few vague motions back and forth in a sad mockery of brushing his teeth.
At the end of January, it was time for him to leave the rehab hospital, and, based on the recommendations of his team of doctors and therapists, we planned to send him to a secondary rehab facility (read: nursing home). This was due to the sheer reality of his remaining care needs, and the seemingly impossible task of a mother with five children, one of whom was still in diapers and not even walking yet, taking care of of a grown man with such immense needs.
Thankfully, those plans did not come to fruition. At the time, he needed 24/7 close supervision. Showers required my arms in a cage to prevent him from falling over. Nights called for caregiving chores I never expected to have to complete at the age of 41, and days weren’t much easier. He couldn’t walk more than a few steps without falling, but he didn’t know that. I’d get him seated on the couch, admonish him to stay there, and run to the bathroom. Moments later, the kids would yell, “Mommy, Daddy’s up!” He would either completely forget to use the walker at his side, or he would have hold of it, lifted completely off the floor, just carrying it along for the ride, while putting it to absolutely no use.
Now, just over one year into the recovery process, Ray’s balance is almost perfect. Falls remain a possibility, but only slightly more so than for you or me. He walks, showers, and shaves unaided. He makes the sandwiches for the kids’ lunches most days, and cleans up the kitchen after dinner every night. He helps with laundry and many other household tasks. In fact, he’s regained many of his former abilities. His math remains better than mine, and, while his day-to-day memory presents a challenge in many ways, he can actually remember many names, dates, and facts far better than I can. From blowing leaves, to chopping down trees, to replacing my car battery, I am consistently impressed with the many things he is able to do.
Brain injury is a tricky thing, though. I’ve heard it said that a brain-injured person might recover 90%, but it will be a very different 90%. Indeed, the Ray of December 2016 is very different from the Ray of November, 2015, and I’ve come to realize that, while I’ve neither divorced nor been widowed and remarried, the husband whom I
kissed good morning today is not the same man I kissed goodnight on November 18th, 2015.
Both men were made to love and be loved, though. That’s what I will strive to continue to do, and we’re blessed with children and many family and friends who continue to offer their love and support as well. For all of you, we are very grateful.