New Year, New Beginning (6 Month Update)

January 9, 2011 by  
Filed under Our Recovery Journal

Like most Americans, I really enjoy the moment that the Times Square ball finally drops all the way to the bottom and the clock hits zero on the TV.  Those few moments of cheering, noisemakers, clinking glasses and that one expected kiss make a great climax to the year.  Even better is the calm realization that there is a brand new year beginning and we can all start with a fresh perspective.  Anything is possible… new goals, new dreams, and a renewed outlook on life.

For Jessica and I, 2011 is a year filled with expectation and hope.  Charlotte has her 6 month check-up next week, so at that time it will have been 6 months since the delivery and Jessica’s initial trauma.

 

No Expectations, Only Hope

During the first few months of recovery, there were no expectations, only hope.  There were far too many variables in her condition to have any kind of accurate guess as to what a recovery might be like.  Her body was in shut-down mode when the journey began.  Although her heart restarted and began pumping, the vital organs provide the most clues about future potential.  When organs are not working, there is no evidence to use when analyzing the outcomes… no way to project how life might progress.

I remember hoping for so many things… first that she would simply make it, then that her organs would come back.  Then I hoped she would wake up, think, and communicate.  Eventually she did and “I” became “we.”  Jessica recovered enough to take back some ownership of her progress.  One day we desired to take a single step, and the next day a second step.  Eventually we gained enough confidence to walk across the room.

When things are going fine time seems to fly, but time really slows down when living with an uncertain future that is largely out of your control. The past six months have aged us 10 years.  Life’s circumstances have altered the layout of our house and everything in it.  The living room is now a bedroom and the bedroom now the kids’ play room.  Therapists and nurses are now daily guests in our home.  They help Jessica do what we aren’t equipped to do on our own.  Our lifestyle is now dictated more by necessity than by choice.

Our greatest hope is that our 2011 reverts back to much less exciting reality that mirrors our life before the trauma.  We want to be able to go outside and watch the kids play, to be flexible enough to make changes in our plans, and to eat at a restaurant as a family.  We desire to recover to the point where we might consider a vacation.

 

A Visit Worth 1,000 Words

Jessica’s current condition can best be described by the faces of nurses and medical staff that she goes back to visit.  Out of the five different hospital placements along the way, Jessica has no memory of the first three.  The only two she remembers are the nursing home and rehab facility. When she left the nursing home three months ago, Jess had her feeding tube.  She could not feel her right leg.  She had not yet attempted to take a single step.

Three months ago, Jessica was bloated.  She spoke with many pauses as her mind searched for the words she wanted to use.  Her nonverbal communication was virtually nonexistent.  I remember spending so much time working on eye contact and communication skills.  She was still bloated and was transported down the hall to therapy in a wheelchair.  Even getting from the bed to a wheelchair was a major production.  Harnesses, straps, and a lift take quite a while to operate.

This time, she walked through the front door with a cane and moderate assistance.  Her bloating has melted away and she looks like a meaner and leaner version of the patient that left the nursing home three months ago.

Exposure to new environments is an excellent way to assess progress.  We waited until Jessica seemed ready to walk around the facility to take a trip to the nursing home.  The details of her outing would work reveal themselves as we embarked on the journey.  She seemed to be outgrowing walks within the house.  It was the perfect time to try something bigger.  Our excitement encompassed the physical challenge as well as the emotion of seeing the staff and showing them how we had progressed.

The visit went well.  I had walked from the front door, through the main entry, down the hall, and into the therapy center dozens of times.  It seemed so much larger now as Jessica plodded ahead and I shifted into position as her sidecar.  Staff stopped to talk to us and I wondered if Jess would tire and need to sit.  Expectations were met as she stood tall and secured eye contact during these brief conversations.  She then made her way into the gym to show off some of her newest tricks.

The staff at the nursing home was really excited to see her and impressed with how she looked.  Many patients come to the nursing home and become fixtures.  Not many recover to the point of discharge, then come back months later looking like a whole new person.  In our mind, the days have been long and the progress slow.  The faces of the staff gave us a new perspective on our lives.  These faces told us that Jess’ recovery was so much bigger that we thought.

It is one thing to impress friends and family.  These clinicians performed an informal but thorough assessment during our visit.  Their eyes watched her movements as their brains analyzed her progress.   The visit went well and Jessica managed herself impressively.  My mind buzzed with activity on our return trip to the car.  Jessica had passed the physical test of a laborious walk.  More importantly, she had passed an emotional test of adult communication.  She no longer acted like a patient here… this visit seemed more like a trip to see some old friends.

 

Hope for the Future

Some neurologists are of the opinion that traumatic brain injury recovery can take place over the course of 6-12 months.  Other docs subscribe to more recent research on brain injury recovery.  The most current research suggests a recovery timetable of 12-24 months.  Either way, it is anyone’s guess as to what life might be like after life normalizes.

At this time she still needs help getting up or doing anything in the house, but the amount of actual assistance that she needs to get up and move around is still decreasing.  Jess is anxiously awaiting the day that she can pour her own drink, pick out her own clothes, and walk over to comfort the baby by herself. She is putting everything she can into working toward all of these goals.

Jess’ therapists enjoy working with her because she seems to “make gains every week.” Although progress is slow compared to the standards of our 21st century world, Jessica is steadily gaining strength and confidence in herself. The recovery is moving at light speed for a patient recovering from brain injury.

I work her out 1-2 times per day in addition to her regularly scheduled therapy sessions. However, Jessica does really well when her workouts are varied and social. I have encouraged everyone we know to consider coming to the house for a “therapy session” to give her someone different to work with.  She is very grateful that she doesn’t have to deal with me telling her what to do for that session.

It will be interesting to see what this year brings. Life goes on… and we are ok with the fact that life will never be the same again. Change isn’t always a bad thing, though. It is entirely possible that life will be as good or even better than before. After all, life is what you make of it. We hope that you join us in having a wonderful year!

 

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