Part 7 – A Whole New Kind of Pain: Rehab
After nine days in the ICU, John was transported by ambulance to Swedish Hospital in Denver for what they thought would be five days. John was there 19 days.
During that time, four challenges to recovery became obvious.
First was John’s pain level. As John woke up more and more, he felt every ache. The pain was excruciating at times. Because of that pain, John didn’t move as much as he was asked to move. And ergo, a pulmonary embolism or blood clot, developed in his lungs. This added many days to his stay in rehab and proved to be a complication he would have to deal with for the next six months.
Next, we quickly realized that John’s brain injury had caused memory loss. He had no memory of the accident at all and he couldn’t remember a list of three words for more than a half an hour. Deductive puzzles that John would normally finish quickly took him an hour to finish. And even then, he didn’t always get everything correct. Cognitive therapy proved to be extremely frustrating for John. At one point he told me, “You know, I’m used to being one of the smartest people in the room. Now…well, it’s obvious I’m not. Are they going to let me come back to work again? Will they put up with me?”
The third obvious effect of the crash was the personality change. John got angry very quickly. He cussed and ranted often. He noticed this change and at one time told me that he had lost “the ability to show grace.” This third challenge was the one that unnerved me the most. My usually gentle husband called everyone who worked in the hospital, “Crackheads.” He complained non-stop about everything. And he treated me at times, horribly.
Lastly, his leg developed an infection. When John was first placed in ICU, he had a bad bruise on his left calf, but it was one of the last priorities for the doctors. During rehab, we noticed it had scabbed over and then started to turn black. Wound specialists were called in and did their thing. Two months after John left rehab, this wound would become infected and demand surgery.
I hated every moment John spent in rehab. It wasn’t like ICU was a party, but the tyranny of the urgent prevailed. In my shock of “What just happened?” my responses and emotions were at a level of high adrenaline. Always. In ICU, John got constant care from the nurses. In rehab, he was expected to do a lot for himself. It was like going from a four star hotel to a Motel Six.
In rehab, John and I both realized this was going to be a long road. Adrenaline left and a committnment to the drudgery of recovery began. One step forward, two steps back. Over and over.
However, since I am married to a man with a wonderful sense of humor, there were some great moments. Our main doctor was a Russian woman, who spoke with a thick accent and sounded as if she smoked four packs a day. Think Tevye from "Fiddler on the Roof" was a smoker's hack. She was often comic relief for us when she left the room. John's physical and cognitive therapists found my husband charming and funny. Developing relationships with these two ladies was a blessing.
Folks visited John often and sometimes they would leave and he would ask me “Who was that?” He honestly didn’t remember. At one point, John asked if we could put a sign on the door – “Traumatic Brain Injury Patient – Please introduce yourself.”
Although he was dealing with a blood clot that caused pain in his chest, some guy friends visited a couple of times and made John cry with laughter. I left the room when they came, knowing John was in good hands and also because I was scared that the laughter might cause some kind of rupture. :0)
God’s infinite grace became apparent to John and I while he was in rehab and we had some wonderful talks about how blessed we were. Not just because John was alive, but because of the presence of God so powerfully palpable in our lives. And John, who was already in this process of becoming a aggressive warrior-man for Christ, continued in his resolve that fear had no place in living for God.
In fact, one day after we talked about the concept of safety and motorcycle riding, John said the following. I thought this was so wonderful, coming from a man who almost lost his life, that I wrote it down verbatim.
“There is a faulty theology out there that minimizing risk is the only thing that honors me, others and God…There is nothing wrong with being safe. Safety takes work. Dozens of times every minute, you assess risk. To be safe is to effectively analyze and manage that risk…But Careful? Careful is a terrible way to live. Careful is to try to control and eliminate risks. People who try to live careful think they have the ability to manage their own lives. Careful people will be disappointed and eventually surprised. They might even end up blaming God. I don’t mind trying to be safe. But I never want to live a ‘careful’ life.”
(Come back Friday, December 24th for Part 8 "Home and Healing."