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six weeks later

Sunday, June 16, 2013

Yesterday marked six weeks.

Six weeks since a stranger called late in the afternoon to say my husband had been in a bike accident an hour away from home.  My six-year-old, who had gone riding with him, gave the man my name and number.  I told him I lived in another town, and it would take me a little while to get there.  He said he would wait with my husband and son until the paramedics arrived.  I never got his name.



Details of the days that followed are still very sharp, as though brought into focus by a lens. I paced the living room for the longest ten minutes of my life until my best friend could get to my house.  She stayed with the kids most of that week, and even slept at the house the first night.  I put a soda and an iPad in my purse for my son, then followed Google to a strange hospital in an unfamiliar town.

When I first pulled back the curtain beside his ER bed, he was giving his social security number to someone from admissions.  I thought, he's fine, see?  He looks fine, he sounds fine.  We dodged a bullet.  As the night unfolded, though, I realized I had called it early.  A lacerated kidney, bruised ribs, a concussion.  He looked okay, but he wasn't.

That night we thought he would just spend a night in the hospital.  But each morning he was a little worse than the day before.  At first I was afraid they would send him home, when it was obvious he wasn't ready, and I knew I wasn't equipped to care for him.  Thankfully, he had a great doctor, and after a day or two the nurses stopped bringing it up.  On the evening of the third day the concussion symptoms began, and for a couple of days he was too sick to see anyone, even me.

That week I felt like I was on the dark side of the moon.

The truth we never say to one another is that in some back corner of our minds, we are all waiting for the phone to ring.  We know it can happen - ice on the interstate, a drunk driver, whatever.  Death comes too soon in families all the time.  We buy insurance and hope we'll never need it.  It's the shoe that could always drop, and though nobody is prepared for it, exactly, it always feels like a possibility.

But there are other possibilities, too, ones that had never crossed my mind.  What if his brain doesn't recover?  What if he's not able to work?  What if he is a different person on the other side of this?  Last year someone close to me had a similar concussion, and though she has recovered, she will never be the same.  What if he is here, but changed?  What if I have to go back to work?  I know no one here yet.  Do I even know what school the kids are zoned for?  What if I have to put the babies in daycare?  Would this be a near miss in our life together, or was the life we had before that phone call over?

the road to the hospital
Therapists warned to give him plenty of space to heal.  He needs a quiet house, lots of rest, no noise or stimulation.  I laughed out loud.  We have four children under six years old, I said.  How am I supposed to pull that off?  They told me to clear his plate.  He doesn't need to pay bills, he doesn't need any responsibilities right away.  And in that moment it occurred to me how naive we had been.  We make all decisions together, but he's handled the nuts and bolts of our finances for the past decade at least.  Bill schedules and passwords were never written down.  I wasn't even on our new bank account yet.  I kept meaning to stop by and fill out the paperwork, but I just hadn't gotten around to it.  Why hadn't we prepared for something like this?  How could we have been so arrogant to assume nothing would ever happen to us?

Inexplicably, on the sixth day I walked into his room and he was sitting in a chair, showered and restless.  "I am ready to go home," he said, and he was.  When his doctor came by, she was as surprised as I was.  Three hours later he was discharged.  Together we drove into the unknown.

The following Monday he saw a cognitive therapist.  For an hour she asked questions, made notes, flipped through flash cards, scored tests.  Then she declared, "You don't need me.  You have symptoms of injury, not damage.  See here?  And here?" She held up a graph.  "This shows me that your brain is healing.  You don't need therapy."  After his appointment we went  to lunch, and I let out the breath I did not realize I had been holding.  He's fine, see? I told myself.  He looks fine, he sounds fine.  He's going to be fine.  Not all wounds are fatal.

But life before that phone call is over.  His body has more or less recovered without incident, and his brain is healing at exactly the pace the therapist predicted.  These days we are all restless together, ready for him to return to work and exercise, ready to find our new normal.  But never again will we expect every day to plod on just like the one before it.  Never again will we think life will always move along its assumed path.

Yesterday morning he told me he dreamed of our wedding day.  I woke up thinking about him, too.  All day I was aware that it could have been our first Father's Day without him, or with a new him, a father and husband we did not yet know.  Instead it was a regular Saturday.  We took the kids to the park in the morning, grilled steaks for dinner, little boys on bikes in between.  Not that different from a Saturday six weeks ago.  We are different, though, thankful and tender and uncertain and more confident, all at once.  Life is not as it was, and not yet as it will be.

But we are going to be fine.

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