Two Full Years of Recovery (24 Month Update)

July 14, 2012 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

Some fears are best revealed after the fact.  Fears of roller coasters, heights, and even clowns can result in tense situations.  Remember back to the very first time that your parents let you go to the amusement park with friends.  Think about how no one else seemed to have any problem with the biggest rides.  How embarrassing it would be if they knew just how much anxiety you felt?  How dreadful if they knew how apprehensive you were about experiencing greater speeds and taller heights.

Fear is an emotion we often keep inside.  It is a feeling of helplessness… one that keeps us from living the way we want to.  Even today, fear still lives inside us.  Fear of being caught off guard in an uncomfortable situation or of having to confront another adult about dishonest behavior.  We avoid these situations whenever possible and feel anxious when our serious problems need serious solutions.


The Fear of a Year

Exactly one year ago, I was fearful of the future.  I was scared of what the rest of our life might be like.

Some of this fear came from the scientific reality of how the brain functions.  An easy way to understand brain injury recovery is to picture an orange.  When trauma strikes the brain, some cells die while the surrounding cells are stunned.  The dead cells can be represented by the inside of the orange and the stunned cells by the outer peel.

When a brain cell dies, it never comes back.  The cells inside of the hypothetical orange will never come back… their function is lost.  The cells represented by the peel are simply stunned.  They can be paralyzed for months and they can either live or die depending on the specific injury and the extent to which each cell is stimulated.

The possibility of jumpstarting these cells is a compelling reason to stimulate the brain sooner rather than later.  Time is crucial because these cells will be lost if they are not revived.  The more of these stunned cells that can be salvaged, the easier it is for the body to regain the maximum amount of function.

The scary part of the one year mark was that there was little hope of additional stunned cells coming back.  Jess had made significant gains during the first year of recovery, but we had done everything we could think of to stimulate her brain.  Some of her progress could probably be attributed to the fact that many cells did regain their function.  In a second year of recovery, it was unlikely that more cells would wake up and enhance her progress.

Another concern at the one year mark was the recovery’s overall trajectory.  Jessica had done so well after beginning outpatient therapy at approximately the ½ year mark, but the gains seemed to be slowing as she surpassed the one year mark.  Her sessions were up and down.  Frustration set in as she began plateauing on some of her therapy assessments.


Monitoring and Adjusting

Jessica wasn’t the only one to hit a plateau.  The first year had taken its toll on me as well.  Although so many people helped me during the first year (and especially my sister who lived with us for a good part of that year), I was beginning to tire out.  Managing a family that includes a handicapped wife and three young kids is no picnic.  I knew how important it was to take care of myself.  I tried.  There was simply too much on my plate… it was time to delegate.

The time had come to enlist some serious help, so we contracted a homecare nurse to take over Jessica’s daytime care.  This would enable me manage the kids and allow Jessica to focus on her recovery.  Caretaking had consumed our lives for the first full year.  Bringing in more help was the only sensible option.


Big Second Year Gains

In the interest of time, let’s skip over most of the little details about how hard Jessica worked during her second year.  We can just agree that her goals were challenging and she worked tirelessly to achieve them.  If working out in therapy was her occupation, then the past year brought great progress.  Not only did she gain endurance and strength, Jess also gained the ability to think about her role in our daily life.  She now ponders ways she can help and pitches in whenever possible.

The yearly anniversary of survival is an event that is to be celebrated.  It is an event that forces us to look at where we are today and compare it to where we were in the past.  The most logical way to gauge our progress is to compare where we are after two years with where we were after the first year.

Some of the major differences:

  • A year ago, Jess used a quad cane in the house and needed moderate assistance to move around outside.  Today her cane has been downsized two levels (starting from a quad base, she moved to a duck foot and then a single point).  She can navigate everywhere inside the house and even tackles the driveway and patio independently
  • A year ago, I did the grocery shopping.  Now, Jess is able to walk the entire grocery store by pushing the cart.  She is able to stop and pick most items off the shelf, check out, and pay with plastic
  • A year ago, the baby often ignored Jess and generally refused to sit with her.  Now Charlotte lets Jess change her diaper and read her stories.  Charlotte often approaches mommy (instead of me) to get her a snack or drink
  • A year ago, Jess had trouble handling large crowds and lots of noise.  Now she is able to sit through all but the loudest of the kids’ activities
  • A year ago, Jess would not have been able to get up from a fall.  Now she is able to crawl across the floor and transfer from the floor to the couch


Although the (above) physical changes have been great, the changes in her psych have made the most difference in our life.  Jess is now able to consider my well-being before asking me to wait on her.  She has learned that her capability includes getting herself a snack or a drink, checking on the kids, and doing the stairs independently.

I don’t know that I ever expressed the amount of daily frustration that came with all the waiting.  Whether it was brushing teeth, preparing meals, getting dressed, walking on stairs, or a number of other daily activities… a year ago Jessica needed me to stand there and assist her with some small part of each task.

The kids got used to us being preoccupied in another room… they took advantage of this unsupervised time to ramp up the volume of arguments and increase the intensity of disagreements.  Minutes seem like hours when you are helpless to prevent the kids from tearing up the house.  Sounds of bangs, thuds, and especially the crinkling that comes from unauthorized bags of potato chips are small doses of torture for a parent who is trapped upstairs.  The realization that three kids can spill three different drinks in three different rooms in three minutes… it’s enough to drive even the most laid back parent a little nuts.

The waiting was tough, and in this second year the waiting has become a much smaller part of our life.  Jess has learned to do a lot of daily tasks without help or supervision.  She has freed me up to manage the house and keep an eye on the kids.  A combination of functional gains and personal empowerment has helped create a life that is infinitely more livable today than it was one short year ago.


From Patient to Mother

When this recovery began, every bit of effort was an investment in the future.  As the months have gone by, Jess has tightened her grip on the reins of motherhood.  All of the early effort paid dividends.  Her evolution has allowed her to begin giving back to the family by managing children, chores, and activity.

Eventually the recovery will slow to the point that it can simply be called “living.”  The fear of permanently plateauing is a fear that will live inside us forever, but it is a fear that we have now come to terms with.  Jessica will always live with limitations but she will always strive to do her best as a wife and mother.  Despite all of her daily frustrations, she takes comfort in the fact that Charlotte survived the trauma unscathed.

A busy life is a natural coping mechanism for dealing with negative thoughts.  There is little time to sit back and feel sorry for ourselves.  In fact, life is looking up.  Jess can not only manage activity, she can now supervise it.  She is savvy enough to take some shifts managing the house and the rabble who dwell within it.

“A busy life is a natural coping mechanism for dealing with negative thoughts.”  [Click to Tweet]


Independence and Fear

During the next year, both Jessica and Charlotte will gain more independence.  Right now, she doesn’t fully trust herself to manage the baby.  They can be left alone for only a small window of time.  By next year at this time, that window of time will be opened much further… far enough to let in a cool breeze of freedom and contentment.

The fear that I felt one year ago still plays a part in our lives.  There is no guarantee that things will get any better than they are today.  She has to work hard just to maintain her current speed, endurance, and balance.

If Jess were to experience a bad fall or a seizure, she could lose everything that she has worked so hard to gain.  If she got stubborn and decided to slack off during workouts, she would quickly begin losing balance and stability.   She would most likely end up falling and causing damage to her body and her psyche.


Turning Fear on Its Head

As we move into the third year of recovery, our fear will actually serve to strengthen us.  Instead of dwelling on fear, we’ll use it for motivation.  After all, it is very easy to appreciate today once you realize that there is no certainty in tomorrow.  We acknowledge all the little joys in life because we understand that it could all be gone in a moment’s notice.

This trauma has changed our life in many ways.  We have learned to accept that life will never revert to what it was before… that we will always have limitations and risks that other families don’t have to consider.  We have learned to focus on what we have and limit thoughts of what we’ve lost.  We have learned how important it is to surround ourselves with positive people.  We have learned to appreciate each day, each hour, and each moment.

I look forward to updating you on our progress in each month of our third year of recovery.  We are excited to see what the future holds for Jessica and for our family.  As you read about her successes and failures, it is our sincere hope that you can use our experiences to enact positive change in your own life.  It took a trauma to help us focus on the miracle of life.  It is my hope that we can help you realize how great life is and how every day you draw breath is a day to be treasured.


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10 Responses to “Two Full Years of Recovery (24 Month Update)”
  1. Tracy Fedkoe says:

    Congratulations on your two-year recovery Jessica! You are blessed to have a family that cherishes you every day. Your (and Jason’s) determination inspires us all and reminds us of the power of love and the power of faith.

  2. Jason Turka says:

    Thanks Tracy!

  3. annie says:

    Love yourwebsite and updates. And in this one reading about your honest reflections/wisdom about fear. Love Annie Andrew Rocco

  4. annie says:

    (Also the website looks good and reads well on my phone:))

  5. jturka says:

    Thanks so much Annie! There is a “mobile” setting for phones, but it seems to look best when “mobile” is turned off.


  6. Raymond says:

    I’m truly touched by your story. Jason is a great guy with love & Jess’s persistence to make this wonderful ending happened. I am so pleased to see this result. The best luck to you and your family.

  7. jturka says:

    Thank you Raymond. We appreciate your thoughts & support.

  8. Paul says:

    hi,I had a stroke Jan,2011 so I know what is your wife going through. I can do everything myself so I guess it’s a little better.I exercise 2-3 times a day and I have to say is very frustrating that I don’t see too much progress.I am only 40yrs old and walk like 70 yo.If I may,I would like to suggest 2 things which may help your wife.1-there is a nice stationary bike you can buy ( about $100).You sit in a chair,watch tv and exercise your leg- my knee had improved a lot after 2 weeks.2-You can also try botox injections (insurance covers it) into the muscles for your wife. It improved my walking about 25%- my foot is more relaxed . Thank GOD that your wife has a husband who cares. My wife had left me and it’s really hard if you don’t even have anyone who will give you some moral support. Please show your wife this video (if you haven’t seen it already)-there is a small hope for us:).
    Great website and good luck to your wife.

  9. Paul says:

    oh and I love your orange/brain example :)

  10. jturka says:

    Sorry to hear about your marriage, Paul… but glad to hear that you’re motivated to continue on.

    Like us on Facebook to receive updates and information on stroke and tbi recovery. We’ll be looking into more practical devices for walking, bike riding, etc during the coming months.

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