Tuesday, October 21, 2008
9:40 a.m.: October 23, 1996
At that time, on that date, my brother's life changed forever. This Thursday marks the 12th anniversary of his traumatic brain injury.
Paul had always been my favorite brother, despite our age difference of 16 years. For the first 44 years of his life, he was independent, an avid reader, a follower of news & current events, extremely athletic, an amazing cook, very loving (though not obvious about it), utterly devoted to his dogs, and a complete smart aleck. He would do things for people in a very 'quiet' manner--never wanting recognition or even acknowledgment. He was the epitome of independence. And athletic? WOW. In 1976, he was the Southern California Golden Gloves champion for featherweight boxing. Around that same time, he was featured on ABC'S Wide World of Sports for knocking out his opponent in the first few seconds of the first round. He was fast and powerful, despite his slight build. In every way, I admired and looked up to Paul.
And on that dreary, overcast October day, he was a pedestrian who was hit by a speeding car--22 miles per hour over the speed limit, to be exact. Paul was thrown 80 feet, landing on his head. When paramedics arrived, he had no pulse.
He was airlifted to a hospital 90 miles away, and spent a month in a coma. I learned that no one ever really spends more than a month in a coma; after that, their eyes open and they are in a vegetative state (if they're not responsive, of course). Did you know that? Neither did I. It's not like the movies where they open their eyes and suddenly begin conversing. Not like that at all, unfortunately. Suffice it to say, I learned more than I ever really wanted to know about brain injuries.
For six months following, Paul was in a persistent vegetative state. He would look around, but didn't seem to be "there." He had no muscle control, so he couldn't even hold his own head up in the wheelchair. He had to be secured, with a belt around his forehead attached to a board, to keep him upright. He was in a permanent fetal position, his legs drawn up tight to his chest, due to the injury. And he would drool. I'm pretty sure there's nothing my poor mother ever went through (not even my other brother's brain surgeries, as a child) that compared to seeing her grown son in that state. Here she was, in her 70's and widowed, having to travel hundreds of miles to a neuro care home to see him like that. Over the first two years, she & I made the trip--often with my 1-year-old son in tow--every other Friday. We would talk on the way there about our hopes for Paul, and cry on the way home. I think, by the third year, we finally stopped crying so much. But it was never easy. It wasn't like a death; there was no closure. And very little hope. I have found that the grieving never really ends.
To add salt to the wound, my 49-year-old sister killed herself three years after Paul's accident, also in October.
Today, my brother still resides in the same care home. He's no longer vegetative, thank the Lord, but he can not speak, eat, or walk. He is confined to his bed or a wheelchair, and fed through a tube in his stomach. He is extremely alert (consistently gets 100% on spelling tests!) but has no short-term memory. He doesn't remember that our sister passed away, or that our mother has since. So we just try not to mention them at all. (For awhile, every time he would realize they were deceased, he'd mourn all over again.) I wonder if he is confused as to why our mother no longer visits. When we visit, he remembers us, but he doesn't remember the visit a few hours after we have left when the staff asks about it. I wonder if he thinks we are never there... that he is just alone with his caregivers, 24/7. I have no way of knowing.
These are just some of the things that haunt me.
Paul's life is the true meaning of a fate worse than death.
On a lighter note, prior to Valentine's Day 2007, he insisted (through pointing to letters on a chart) that he needed to go shopping for a gift for me. It was the first time in his eleven years there that he'd ever suggested such a thing, so I can't imagine what prompted it. His wonderful caregivers took him to the mall, and he picked out the earrings that are in the picture above. More importantly, though, he hand-wrote that Valentine's card for me. I still cry looking at it. That alone was one of the very best gifts I have ever received.
Thanks for "listening"; it's therapeutic to write about Paul. And, please--hold your loved ones close. Remember to keep things in perspective, when you can. Life can and does change in the blink of an eye. Be grateful. If there's one thing I've learned from all of this, it's to be grateful for the everyday things in life--and for the people in it.
Also, please pray for Quince--fellow blogger Rebeckah's dear friend who is going through his own personal hell after suffering a very debilitating stroke. He needs all the positive thoughts and prayers he can get right now, and so do his wife and small children. Please don't forget about him as he works at recovering. He will need your prayers for a long time.
And if you have time for an extra prayer once in awhile? My brother could still use some, too.