Rehab hospitals are filled with people who have lived through something they shouldn’t have.
I heard that statement 25 years ago by my friend, Claire, who was going into the field. I remembered it because I thought it was poignant. And that I hoped that didn’t happen to me.
Since the last time I posted, Julia’s stitches in her head have been removed, the trach in her throat has been removed, she has been taken off the 5x/day stomach feeds and been moved to soft foods, then to solid foods. She’s been transferred to a wheel chair that she can manipulate herself. She is talking more. Her legs and arms are getting stronger. Her voice is getting stronger. The greatest sign of recovery is the positivity and optimism that are coming through. She’s making jokes. And getting them. She smiles a lot.
While Julia was beginning to wake from her coma at Jeff, we were told to prepare for a negative shift in personality. Expect that, when they wake up, they are frustrated and resentful, we were told. It’s natural… just wait.
We’re still waiting.
Tonight, at dinner, over mush, she said, “Can I cover this?”
“Cover what?” I asked.
“Like can i help pay for it?”
I can barely look at it and she wants to pay for it.
Julia is very concerned about all the hands that are caring for her and thanks them constantly. The other day she looked the 2 aides who were changing her dead in the face and said, “Wow. You guys really work hard.” The aides just looked at each other and started laughing. A rare moment in a thankless job…
Recently, we were told that “depression” is something they are actually looking for, as growth, because it indicates insight into their situation. Think about that.
I know what they’re talking about. I see the dead-eyed look in the people around her in the hallway… in the dining hall. I think of Lt. Dan in Forrest Gump who wanted to have been left out on the field. I imagine they think Julia’s positivity is an indication that she’s lacking insight into her situation.
Her Aunt Jen asked her recently, “How are you feeling about all this?”
Julia said, “I know it sounds strange, but I really don’t think about the accident much. I think about when I’m better.”
That’s exactly right, Julia. Positive visualization. Believe and receive!
I think that’s pretty insightful…
A book Julia was raised on is Man’s Search For Meaning. The author, Viktor Frankl, survived one of the most barbaric Nazi concentration camps, Auschwitz. In his memoir, he writes of watching a man, malnourished and riddled with sores and lice, take his one ration of stale bread, and walk over to another man, more sickly, and give it to him. In this moment, Viktor Frankl has the epiphany that the brutal soldiers can take nearly everything from a prisoner, even their life. The one thing they cant take is their ability to choose how we they’re going to react to the situation. I learned this lesson live, in person, watching my college friend, Dan, battle elegantly with his own fatal illness. Thus, this quote from Frankl’s book graced the cover of our 1st fundraiser in his name:
“The last of human freedoms is the ability to choose one’s attitude in any given situation.”
I love how he calls it a freedom. It really is a freedom if you think about it. We always have a choice over our attitude, no matter what anyone else does. It’s freeing! I so see that in Julia now. I don’t think it’s a lack of insight. I think it’s a courageous act of freedom.
IT TAKES A VILLAGE
I recently faced the daunting task of moving. This was a colossal effort. Not just because it’s the first move I’ve made without a partner with strong shoulders. Or because I’m a boarder line hoarder. But because I had no energy for it. Zero. No motivation whatsoever. I didn’t care what went where or if it got thrown out altogether. It all seemed so inconsequential. Like my will for it was missing. And all I wanted to do was be at the hospital. As I put it off, anxiety mounted.
Our lives are shaped by our fears, real or imagined. Usually we overestimate the problem and underestimate the resources. As blessings in my life don’t seem to stop raining, resources appeared in abundance. My sister-in-law, Jen, hired movers for the big stuff. My sister Susan and her sons Zach and Johnny spent a full day packing and hauling boxes. As did friends Lauren, Kerry, Angela and Charlie. Paul Padien donated his legal services to protect me from a vicious landlord and her heartless, aggressive lawyer Peter (whose last name my lower-self would love to publish). That was while my other sister/sister-in-laws stood sentry at the hospital in my stead to make sure Julia got her mid-day rest. I feel protected and grateful and relieved it’s over! Thanks to all!
My mother used to say, “Some people run faster when they’re ahead, some people run faster when they’re behind.” My daughter must be the latter because good Lord is she running!
She takes to every therapy session like it’s the first one of her daily grueling schedule. She works tirelessly without complaint. The other day she was on a machine in somewhat of an inverted position, doing leg presses upward with her 1 good leg. After several sets of 15, I could see she was in pain. Not just by her face but by her shaking leg. “Are you okay”, I asked. “I’m okay,” she said. The therapist said, “Do you want to try a couple more Julia or do you want to stop?” (Me: Shaking my head) Julia: “I could do a couple more.” Therapist: “Okay how many do you want to do?” (Me: Holding up a goose egg) Julia: “10?”
Julia’s long-term memory is returning but her short-term memory has not. She has to be re-oriented constantly as to where she is and why. This would be scary to me, but she stays poised and present. “I think it would be scary”, she said, “but because I know there’s a reason for it, it’s okay.” (I think she means a medical one, but I wonder…) To choose one’s attitude in any situation!
She tells me of her dreams at night that are fascinating, and often involve my deceased father. We work with her confusion and disorientation during the day as “daydreams”. We work on ways to help her separate her daydreams from reality. I tell her, “Julia, in 30 years, roles will be reversed and you’ll be helping me figure what is real and what’s a daydream so let’s figure out a code word between us now so that if other people are around, and you get off on something you think is real but it’s not, I’ll just say it. Then you can do the same for me, deal?”
“That’s a good idea,” she said. “A code word… how about, ‘Oprah is coming to Pennsylvania’?” Perfect. (Philadelphia’s a great spot for a Presidential announcement. ; ))
Tonight I walked in after her brother’s basketball game, minutes after friends from SJU had left from a 3-hr Scrabble tournament. They sent me pics and I was excited to hear about it, as these fellows are among her favs.
I burst in, “Hi! I heard the guys were here! How was it?”
When I remind her of the games, she says, “I’m at the shore. I’m in Gran’s basement.”
So that’s an example. What I think is interesting is how often she thinks she’s at my mom’s house. I guess that’s a safe place. I tell her I imagine when I’m daydreaming I’ll go there too…
Our problems are only as big as the ones behind it. That fender bender that made you miss an important meeting is only important until your kid gets into none of the colleges they apply to. Which is only big until you lose your job. Which is only big until that diagnosis. Which is only big until 2 tons of steel mow down your daughter in the street. Which is only big until someone takes your child, and you can’t see or touch or know how they are. At least mine is sleeping in a hospital bed, under my watchful eye, as I write this. That’s how I see it. Thank God I have the freedom to do so.
Julia’s cousin Greg and his fiancé Biz considered changing their wedding date this summer so that Julia can dance at it. Maybe they won’t have to…
Today’s miracle: Julia takes her first steps.