This very lonnnggg link leads to my blog friend’s Lisa great blog. This week in her ‘experimental year’ of blog entries, she talked about heroes. I love her blog because she invites us in and she invites us to share. She makes me think and I like that. I like electronic conversations, I’m sure no one knows that about me…right. I never shut up in person or on paper and this has turned into the Great American Novel. Good thing I’m married to a good listener.
My good listener husband is my own hero. We have been through so much together in our almost ten years. The plan we had for our lives when we got married didn’t work out in the end. It all changed when he clobbered a buck doing sixty uphill at night in Montana on his motorcyle.
Like Gabby Giffords, Terry suffered a severe traumatic brain injury, TBI in the common parlance these days. We watched the Diane Sawyer hosted show with Gabby and her husband Mark a few nights ago. It was hard for Terry to watch, it made us both cry. It brought back so many tough memories. Terry remembers very little of the early days after his accident but I kept a journal down the whole road back, for which I am eternally grateful because memory can change when you revisit it.
My friend Faye is a hero to me. She dropped everything and jumped in the car and drove to Montana with me to be with Terry for those first terrible days in the ICU in Billings when we didn’t know if he would live or be conscious again. My son Corey is a hero too. He rode his motorcyle out to Montana in October, just beating the snow, to be with me after Faye had to leave. He also stepped in when I needed him desperately to care for my son Torin who was only 14 at the time. I was in Bakersfield and Torin was alone because of an issue with Terry’s family. Corey gave up two weeks with his own kids to take care of his little brother and our house.
Torin is my hero too. He stepped up and tried to become a man at the age of 14, taking on cooking and cleaning and helping mind Terry and keeping me in one piece. He understood there was no time or energy for him. The accident ended his childhood forever.
The intensive care unit nurses and doctors in the hospital in Billings, Montana are my heroes. How do they do that day after day? The ICU is not a place that has good outcomes in many, many cases. They see people in life threatening and life ending situations and they get up every day and go to work with positive attitudes.
I still want to write a book about what its like for families facing the aftermath of TBI and I’m working on it, in between all the other things I juggle on a daily basis. Don’t get me wrong, I was born to juggle, and it will get finished because the story is important to tell if it will help others in the same leaky boat with their injured loved one.
Why is Terry my hero? Because he fought so hard to get back to us. When he was hurt he lost his short term memory and his ability to do things like count money or write his name or know when a pot of water was boiling. He was an athlete whose balance was gone and now he had to learn to walk again, he fell down a lot.
At home with us, he truly thought the laundry hamper was the toilet and he drank soap and put on my clothes thinking they were his. He broke his arm and his neck and all his ribs and punctured both lungs in the crash, physically and mentally he was a wreck.When he came home from the local hospital rehab center, he was physically on the mend but he thought we were keeping him prisoner, the mental issues were just getting into full swing.
Another one of my heroes is Dr Joe Moisan, Terry’s ombudsman. We found Dr Joe by a miracle and he cut through red tape like he owned Arthur’s sword. Dr Joe was diagnosed with a blood disease and retired before Terry got a chance to meet him and know him, which makes me really sad. Because of Dr Joe, Terry got a chance to get better. He was accepted into the Centre for Neuroskills in Bakersfield although he was a little past their upper limit in age.
The staff at the Centre are my heroes. They deal with with TBI patients 24-7-365 with both a residential and treatment focus. Some patients will get better, some will live there forever. TBI is a terrible thing and its effects are wide ranging and the severity is different in every case. The only potential cure is hours and hours of one-on-one therapy and no one knows how far any one person can get. Their goal is to return the patients to independent living which means learning to shower, get dressed, cook food, all the things we take for granted have to be relearned in many cases.
TBI results in some pretty strange crazy. Terry was in many ways a really big three year old, no ability to judge, no ability to make decisions or even actually see what was real and what wasn’t. The people who work with TBI patients have infinite patience and watch over these people like guardian angels every second of every day.
Terry went to Bakersfield in November and got into intensive therapy. He didn’t know where he was at first and he kept trying to unscrew the window screens and escape. He thought Bakersfield was Olympia and he was trying to get home to Bellingham. Terry has never lived in Bellingham.
He had a breakthrough in December that he remembers, he called me on his little green Migo phone (for small kids only dials a few numbers) to tell me he couldn’t understand how he thought he was in Olympia because it was obviously Bakersfield out there and the doctors were there to help him because he was hurt.
From that breakthrough Terry took off like a rocket. No one has ever worked harder to get better. The doctors told me in our weekly call that he was the most focused and dedicated patient they had ever seen. I remember being afraid to visit him. Would he still be that sad-eyed blank-faced person I had delivered to the Centre? When I rang his doorbell for that first visit to his apartment at the Center in January, Terry answered the door. It was Terry, I could see it in his eyes, he was back. His strange roommates and their minders were so happy for him, that’s a moment I won’t ever forget to be grateful for.
Here at home, John Neff and John Hartung and Darell A. are heroes too. They didn’t have to, but they stepped in and made sure we were going to be okay. John Neff, who passed on recently, marshalled the staff from the City of Lacey to make improvements to our house so Terry could come home from the hospital. John Hartung and Darrell spearheaded a fundraising drive which helped offset the travel costs of going back and forth to Montana and to Bakersfield. I owe so many people so many thanks I could write a blog and just list names.
Terry came home from Bakersfield in April. He was different. I have said its been like being married to his twin. A little odd sometimes but he’s still Terry. We had a huge party and invited everyone who had lent a hand, we were so happy to have Terry able to hug everybody and give them his own thanks. Best party ever.
He returned to his job as Fire Inspector, thanks to John Neff who believed in him every step of the way. It was hard for him, people look at TBI people like they might go bat flap crazy any minute, or drool, or forget, fill in your preferred symptom. He knew lots of people were waiting for him to screw up and prove he couldn’t do it. He didn’t fail. He went to work every day and he felt like a leper a lot of the time but he did it. Five years later he’s still doing it. Life has gotten easier but it still has challenges. He can’t retire yet because of the financial burden of the accident, ancillary costs of my losing my job to care for him and the things you never plan for and think about. He’s tired, but he still gets up and gets it done every single day.
He can’t run anymore which breaks his heart, but he walks every day, sometimes twice a day. His beloved dog Meesh would not be happy without his walkies. Terry gets foggy and forgetful when he is really tired and we adjust for that now. He has lost the ability to feel emotional highs and lows in a lot of cases which has been hard for both of us. Our lives have changed, and he was depressed enough to go into therapy. He wanted old Terry back. His doctor told him old Terry was gone forever and he needed to face that and get to know new Terry.
He has done that. Every day is hard when you are someone you didn’t used to be. For 60 years he was exactly who he wanted to be and now he faces a different man in the mirror every morning. Because he fought like a tiger to come back to us, and because he proved everyone who said he couldn’t do it wrong, and because he never gives up no matter what, he is my hero.