For the past few days, I’ve been engaged in a massive purge of our living room, in preparation for Patrick’s new “Inspire Cardio Recumbent Stepper,” which is to arrive and inhabit 1/4 of our living room in the next few days. Patrick, (who before his TBI used to run upwards of 15 miles a day), is extremely excited to have the ability to exercise again. This new step forward is being made possible ONLY through the generosity of those who continue donating to our ongoing fundraiser, and we cannot thank them enough. I have read an amazing wealth of articles about the powerful impact of cardiovascular exercise on TBI recovery, but for Patrick, who spent 2 years wheelchair bound, exercise has been difficult. Finally, he can sweat again! We are suped to take this massive (recumbent) step forward.
Anyway, in so purging the room, I came across a very important box of memories from Patrick’s first few months of TBI recovery. There were pictures I had hung up all around his room and taped to his bed of us, his friends and family. There were cards that people had sent him at Christmas time, which I hung up as well, along with Christmas decorations to brighten up the space. I found his first cognitive therapy worksheets, and the famous Walc Cognitive Rehab workbook, which Patrick and I used on our own during that very tumultuous first year without almost any professional therapy. I found myself completely absorbed in all of it; falling into another realm that seemed like a lifetime ago, but also just yesterday.
And then I came across something that stopped me in my tracks.
I was back at Memorial Rehabilitation Institute in Hollywood, Florida. Patrick was about 60 days post Traumatic Brain Injury. I had been living there with him on a cot off and on for weeks, and flying back and forth to NJ when I either ran out of money, or my parents got so concerned about my well-being that I flew home to appease them. But this time, it was my mother’s 60th birthday, and I had to go back to NJ. I was also COMPLETELY out of money, and didn’t know how I would get back to down to FL. I was scared and nervous as hell leaving him.
While waiting for a taxi, I took the back of an envelope that had held one of those giant-sized-cards you can get at Hallmark, and began writing. I had been hawking the nurses and assistants for weeks, and I wanted to make sure that somehow, Patrick still got what he needed, with me away. I wanted them to know that he wasn’t a patient that could slip through the cracks, without anyone causing an uproar. I wanted them to know that I loved him.
So I began writing the words… “ABOUT PATRICK,” which was a list of instructions to be followed but the staff. (Looking back now, I have to laugh a little at myself. I am sure the nurses found me a bit intense, and my instruction sheet was the subject of some conversation over lunch. But I was advocating, before I even knew what advocating was all about).
I hung the giant envelope above his bed… signed with “Thank You. From one who loves him….- Andrea.” I kissed his head, locking eyes with his for a moment, which were pleading for me to stay, and forced myself to exit. I walked down the long hallway to the elevator, and out of the building. Then, I got in the taxi, and felt my heart leave my body. It stayed at Memorial, while my body flew home.
I was back in our apartment, sitting on the floor, surrounded by papers, bills and boxes, and holding this envelope in my hand. I tucked it away with the other memories, slid it under our bed, and resumed cleaning. But for the rest of the day, I carried that memory around with me in my mind.
An hour later, we were in the car driving to an appointment, when Patrick picked up his phone to make a phone call. As he began to dial and talk, I felt as if time slowed down almost to a standstill.
“Hi. Could you connect me with the pharmacy please? Thank you…..Hi…I’m just calling to refill my prescription….. No, I don’t have my RX number on me…… Patrick Sheeran? S-H-E-E-R-A-N. 6/16/82. No, SHEERAN. Yes. That’s right………..When will it be ready? Can you make it any sooner? I need it before Sunday……. A few hours? Oh great……..Thank you so much. Goodbye.”
I was in a complete state of wonder. I caught myself starting at him and put my eyes back on the road. His phone call was as normal as anyone on planet earth (not planet TBI) would make. No fumbling, no confusion, no stuttering, no tangential thinking, no waiting 10 seconds to say hello and getting hung-up-on, no speaking inaudibly, and no handing me the phone when the first curve-ball question was thrown at him. It was effortless.
And I thought: TBI gives you the great gift, or turning a simple phone call, into an absolute masterpiece.
In that moment, with the memory of that giant envelope that I hung above his head years ago, my emotions were overwhelmed. How did we get here? How had we hung on through so much? How was it possible, that once upon a horrific time, Patrick was incontinent, non-verbal, paralyzed on his left side, missing half his skull, unable to roll over on his own, with a trache and feeding tube…. and now, he was making a phone call to re-order his medication? I was absolutely astounded. And I remain so grateful for that moment of crystalline clarity, which can be so hard to find in the fast-paced, stressful day to day that we live on Planet TBI. Clarity gets lost in troublesome colonoscopies, and never-ending physical therapies and frustrated tears. But as we drove down the pike with the windows down, and the sun hot, my brain was clearer in those few moments than the summer sky.
“What?” He asked.
“Nothing. You are just so Patrick-y right now.”
He smiled at me, and shook his head as if to say “you’re so silly.”
He didn’t “get it,” because he was just being him.
And for that, he had never looked so beautiful.
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