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Sharen Heath and brother Jody (insert)
30 January 2007
My name is Sharen, and for a little over the past three weeks I've been reading narratives at this Aneurysm Survivor Support Web site.
You have all been a source of information, insights, reality, and hope. With abundant warmth and gratitude, I thank you for all you have shared with everyone who visits here. You may never really know how important your sharing has been to others such as me and my family...
My husband and I live in Washington state. We recently returned from the Denver region where on January 7 my brother Jody, 54, suffered a sudden ruptured brain aneurysm in the right frontal lobe. It was a series of three little connected balloon aneurysms, reminding us of those thin balloon dogs they create at County Fairs. A rupture occured, causing Jody to collapse in his snowy driveway. Fortunately a neighbor saw him and immediately called 911.
The next day Jody endured life-saving surgery at Swedish Medical Center, in South Denver, where they specialize in neuro trauma. His aneurysm was clipped and for the next two weeks Jody remained sedated and asleep. We weren't sure what to anticipate as the hospital social worker, for example, warned us possibly "to prepare for a new Jody," saying that the old Jody we knew very likely was in the past. That's when you suck it in big time, isn't it?!
Happily that does not seem to be the case. While visiting for 5 days into his third week of recovery, we witnessed vast improvements. While he currently remains on life-support - a trach, a feeding tube, and a spaghetti plate's worth of tubes and wires - Jody is showing important signs that the Old Jody is intact and vital. His essence is there... his sense of humor, his frustrations, and his joys. Rehab looks right around the corner.
For example, in conversing with him and telling him of some of his friends, I said "Burt" instead of "Burke." Although Jody couldn't make actual sounds because the trach balloon rests on his vocal cords, he mouths the correction for Burke, not Burt. He repeatedly does this with other things I say. That was a few days ago.
One day he barely lifts his hand, but he can "flip the bird" at another brother - arguably a very good sign! Next day he can lift his hand to reach his chin. Next day he bends his legs and attempts to get out of bed to go see his beloved golden retriever who is in a car in the hospital parking lot. Of course, Jody is restrained from doing this, but the fact that he tries delights his family. Motivation is key, and his motivation tells us that Jody's on his way to recovery.
Still, I carefully read your stories about subsequent after-effects of brain trauma and surgery. While no two patients are exactly alike, your narratives help pave the way for important understandings and insights that he and the family MIGHT face. His vision is blurred, for example. I'm hearing Depression, and this is an important issue. I'm hearing a change in attitude. I'm hearing impacts to small motor skills. My brother is a musician and regaining his ability to play music will be important to his recovery attitudes.
The nursing staff, btw, is most encouraging and supportive. His sons were allowed to bring in a music machine even while Jody was unconscious, to play Jody's favorite CDs - Alison Krause, Eric Clapton, Van Morrison, Jackson Browne, Bonnie Raitt... I can't know for sure, but I think this music was an important part of his awakening. We threatened to play Barry Manalo if he didn't wake up. Surely in that case we'd get an alert, "Shut that thang off!"
And while no flowers are allowed in ccu, I bring in one of those irritating little stuffed dogs that moves and sings, "You ain't nuthin but a hound dog..." We bring in chocolates and breakfast Danishes for the nursing staff. I read him headlines from the newspapers, noting the day's dates. I read him the funny papers. He smiles at some. He groans at others. Same thing we all do every Sunday.
At another brother's urging, I bring in a calendar, marking the days for when the incident happened, the brain surgery, the asleep weeks, the awakenings, and noting milestones such as "2x2" which means he's breathed on his own for 2 hrs twice that day. It's important to note improvements not day to day, but week to week. We've been counselled that this will be a long, slow recovery process, so we've adopted a family mantra: PROGRESS NOT PERFECTION.
Did I get that from one of you? If so, a special thank you.
So that's our story, so far. Thanks again for your's. You have been so helpful to our understandings of the nature of this condition.
Be well all, and be hopeful.
Update: 11 March 2007
Joyfully I report good, good, good news: Jody's getting well! It was just over two months ago that my brother was stricken with a ruptured brain aneurysm followed by surgery to his right frontal lobe. If you're reading this, you've read the narrative above, and likely you personally know how terrifying this medical crisis hits the patient and his or her family and friends. To say it's a life-changing incident is to understate the condition. There were times we didn't think that my brother would come back "the same Jody," but happily he has, even better! All of has a certain increased appreciation for life.
After 5 to 6 weeks of hospitalization, Jody's home now. He's got some vision issues - dried blood in his good eye, and a pre-existing condition in his bad eye, so the poor guy says it's like looking through a sandwich baggie, but he's able to get around. He's been to an eye doc, and is scheduled to have corrective surgery as soon as his blood thinner levels are suitable. For now he's enjoying books-on-tape, especially the new Sidney Poitier autobiography given him by brother Jeff! And his music CDs - Bonnie, Jackson, Allison, Neil - of course.
Jody's strengthened his muscles, has good motor skills and a great attitude. The family always called him "Mellow Jody," so in some ways I think his easy-going personality helps him cope with this phase of his recovery. Jody realizes that this is now an ongoing condition. Former behaviors such as excessive smoking and drinking are things of the past - "monkies off his back," he says. Wellness depends upon living clean and sober, and Jody's liking that "condition" a lot. He says he feels good.
His brothers, especially Greg and Jeff, sons, and friends such as Nancy have been vital to Jody's recovery. As any brain trauma patient knows, there are mounds of hospital paper work to attend to, and bills, bills, bills. Then there are the on-going home situations - weather to cope with (frozen pipes?!), mortgage payments to keep current, and all the rest. My heart goes out to all of you who firmly stand by your loved ones in their time of crisis. I can't emphasize how important help and assistance from family and friends in times like these is to the recovering patient. You likely will be unsung soldiers functioning in the background, but having watched it among my family members, I recognize how necessary teamwork is to the patient's ultimate survival and recovery.
Be never too proud to ask for help from family and friends. Come together in ways that will benefit the patient, and remember, it's about him or her surviving, not about petty family squabbles.
Crisis like this tends to bring out the best and worst in people, doesn't it? I've seen it up front and personal. Fortunately, Jody and his family and friends have done a pretty good job of keeping their eyes on what matters: Jody and his ultimate recovery.
So, my message is to all of you caregivers out there... pat yourselves on the backs today. Tell yourselves, "Well done." You're doing a phenominal job, and hopefully your stories will be like mine... the recovery of your loved one.
Thank you for all your healing thoughts and prayers; I send you back mine for you.
Discussion, comments, or questions: Sharen Heath
© Copyright 2006 Sharen Heath
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