(Part 1 of 3)
This blog is about my observations and experiences with a good friend who had the misfortune of suffering Traumatic Brain Injury, as the result of a car crash. I’ve divided the story into three parts which I’ve been wanting to share with you:
Back in the day, when I studied for my doctorate, I learned about human psychological and social development, learning disabilities, and emotional disturbances. During that time, I read about TBI — Traumatic Brain Injury — and strategies for re-education, from a glossy blue and yellow workbook called Brain Stars – Brain Injury: Strategies for Teams and Re-education for Students. An excellent source book, but no real people stepped out of the book and spoke to me.
Years later, I met Samantha, also in a helping profession, and we traded advice and became friends.
I was in awe of Sam’s intellect and wit, and her awesome energy.
That was before her injury and the story I wrote about it, Crash.
Recently, I ran across a description by Dixie Coskie, TBI Ten Years Later: A Mother’s Story Continues. The author notes:
“But the reality is — unless you have experienced the loss, the heartache, and the ripple effects that brain injury can inflict — you cannot possibly understand the magnitude and the seriousness of the life-altering implications. The long-term impact that TBI imposes on the injured person, family members, and friends is unthinkable.”
Here’s Part 1 of my story about Samantha:
CRASH: Missing Samantha
I can’t get it out of my mind. I hear about car crashes every day. This is different. Someone I know has been hurt. Badly. Someone I care deeply about.
“I’ve thought about you every day since I heard. I’ve wondered how you’d look. Would you be able to speak? Recognize me?” What would we talk about? I wait.
Months pass. Your father posts on Facebook, “Samantha woke up after sixty days in a coma. She said a few words.”
It’s Sunday, today. Time’s up. I’m coming to see you, Sam.
Sunlight streams through the large windows of the nursing home. The woman at the front desk smiles stiffly. I sign in and she directs me to your room. As I approach, my stomach clenches. I knock and peek every so carefully around the corner at an empty bed. A tall guy in green scrubs stands in the hallway, looks over and mumbles, “She’s at uh, physical therapy.” He strides away, down the hall. The idea of physical therapy cheers me. I know it’s an important treatment for head injuries.
I stand in the middle of the room clutching my parcels: organic lotions from the Body Shop, a desk-size Monet calendar, and my favorite dark chocolate and hazel nut bar, low sugar, of course. Healthy. You were always into nutrition. My beautiful “speedy recovery” card with primitive drawings of giraffes, painted by Holocaust survivors, accompanies the gifts.
Part of me, a secret part, wants to dump the package and flee. If I leave and you see only my name on the card, will you know who I am? I certainly don’t want to sit by myself on the side of the bed, waiting, studying my phone, haunted by memories of times when I lay in hospital.
And worrying about you.
Part of me longs to stay. I hear metal clanking against the floor nearby and peer out of the doorway of your room. I see two aides wheeling you toward me, on a gurney. When they get closer, I see you. I sigh with relief. I can easily recognize you. Except for the pallor and dullness behind your hazel eyes. As you move your head from side to side your auburn curls crush against the pillow. You moan, “ow” and you held your hand over your belly. I learn later that you had pelvic injuries.
You see me then. I stand, smile and wave. You smile back, shifting your whole body now, restlessly. As they help you up, one aide asks if you want your special recliner chair. You point to it and nod. Your walk is slow and deliberate and she holds your arm. You sit. I move to the chair across from you. You continue to murmur “ow.”
We sit in a bubble, looking at each other, not speaking. An invisible connection stretches between us.