Chapter 3: TBI – “No Life Threatening Injuries …”

Pat loved Phil's Challenger and enjoyed riding in it.

Pat loved Phil’s Challenger and enjoyed riding in it.

“No life threatening injuries.”  That was the report I received while riding in the car to Edmonton that night, from my son.  He had turned around after confirmation that Pat was being flown to Edmonton and he went straight to the University Hospital to be there when STARS arrived.  At that moment it calmed me somewhat, but looking back I wonder if I always knew it couldn’t be that simple.  It certainly wasn’t.

“Small brain bleed…”  When I arrived that first night, the doctor explained to me that after the CT scan, it was apparent that things were more serious than they had originally thought.  Pat had a broken arm, dislocated elbow, broken back, broken neck, broken ribs, severely bruised kidneys and a small brain bleed.  The latter is the one I hung onto, the one I wanted answers about, and the one about which they could predict nothing.  And for the remaining weeks of his coma, as his bodily injuries began to heal, they still could predict nothing and had no explanation for his ongoing unconsciousness.

My friend stayed with us until early morning when we finally went to Michael’s apartment to try to get some sleep.  I remember walking in, laying down on the bed and trying to stop myself from crying so that I could fall asleep and be stronger when I woke up.  Waking up was awful.  I had about three hours of sleep and when I opened my eyes in that groggy state of needing more sleep but knowing there was a need to get up, I think I was hoping to find that it had all been a bad dream.  As I looked around the bedroom, I started to cry because I knew it was real and that this was just day one.

That morning my brother contacted my son to let him know that he had taken care of all the arrangements at a hotel right across the street the next day to make sure I had somewhere to stay that was close by.  I was so thankful he had stepped in and taken care of it for me.  I had little concept of time and couldn’t think past the next minute or two so making any kind of plan was beyond my capacity.

For the first few days I walked around in a daze, I was confused and disoriented, and had it not been for my children who led me around and watched over me constantly, making sure one of them was with me at all times, I would have forgotten to eat, drink, sleep.  I felt like my brain was broken, I couldn’t connect things together properly. I was present but disconnected in conversations, as I heard people talking but experienced things as though I was out of my body watching it all. How was the world still spinning?  How could people be coming and going and living their lives like normal when time had stopped for me?  How could life continue in one place after another when Pat’s was on hold with so many uncertainties?  I was trapped in my own mind, in my own pain, and for me, everything had stopped and there was no life if Pat wasn’t living it.  I broke down crying in public places, I was overwhelmed walking through the cafeteria or across the street to the hotel.  Every simple thing was just too much.

From my journal, January 6, 2013:

I need to be close to him. I find that even though there is nothing I can do at his bedside, just being close to him gives me some peace and keeps me feeling connected. As soon as I leave for the waiting room I feel scared and agitated…I don’t know if I am coming or going, I can’t think straight and I can’t make small decisions. I am following people around as they are helping me get from one place to another so that I eat and rest. I keep waiting to wake up from this nightmare, because I can’t believe it is real. It has been my worst nightmare, that he would not come home one night and be lying on a table somewhere when I finally got to see him. And it came true and now I can’t seem to shake the image of him being hit and thrown across the road and how scared he must have been in the moment when he realized he was going to be hit.

Family, and friends who are family, came to be with us.  Some took us for meals, some brought food, some prayed with us, everyone listened.  Most importantly, they were just there, no questions asked, no campaigns to cheer us up.  They just showed up from the first morning on, taking care of us and making sure that whatever we needed was being done.  I was overwhelmed by the generosity of Pat’s workplace, our parishioners, and the wider community who had set up, maintained, and donated to a trust fund to help us with the unexpected expenses incurred by such a sudden tragedy.  I received notes and cards with more donations, some from people I hardly knew, and I remember thinking that I have never been a person who could just accept things like this without needing to pay them back, and there I was, in a situation where all I could do was say thank you over and over again, humbled to know how much I would need the help, and finally realizing that the people somehow needed to give it.

All of that helped me to hang on to the idea that God was taking care of me, sending me help, sending me people to take care of me.  I was scared out of my mind, but still trying to be thankful for whatever good was happening, trying to see signs of God’s help in the kindness of others.

For the nearly five weeks he was in a coma I did not feel anger.  It surprised me.  I felt many things, but not anger.  I even asked my friend to pray that I wouldn’t get angry.  I held onto the fact that the accident was bad enough that he should have died, but that God had saved his life, so he had to wake up and be OK because nothing else would make sense.  There was a reason he didn’t die, and the only reason I had was that he was going to be OK.  It was the simple logic in my mind so shaken and scattered that I couldn’t even think properly.

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