Yesterday was a day of many firsts. It was the first time TC has been outside in approximately a month. It was also his first reunion with Jack. Children under 13 are not allowed in TC’s wing of the hospital, so we arranged for their meeting to take place in the lovely garden adjacent to the building. TC was pleasantly surprised by the mild fall weather and seemed to enjoy the opportunity to spend some time outdoors.
The reunion itself was very nice, not a fairytale, but certainly not a disaster. With so many distractions around (including a fish pond!), it was difficult to get Jack to come and sit near TC. For the most part he seemed pretty oblivious to what was going on. TC, on the other hand, was overjoyed to be near Jack. The first words out of his mouth were, “Oh my gosh. He’s awesome.” I wheeled TC around the garden while Jack’s “uncles” (TC’s brother and two close friends from grad school) helped keep him from running wild and jumping in the pond. I quickly realized that I will need a lot of extra hands for these reunions. It’s not physically possible for me to control Jack while pushing TC around at the same time. For this reason, I was really grateful to have so much support yesterday. TC’s friends encouraged Jack to feel more comfortable by giving TC goodies like cookies and presents to hand to Jack himself. I think it will take several more visits before Jack recognizes what is going on. In the meantime, a doctor has recommended to me a children’s book about brain injury that I can read to Jack. What a brilliant idea.
Jack is TC’s heart and soul, and if this wasn’t clear before the assault, it is undeniable now. Many of our conversations throughout the day turn to Jack. TC is overwhelmed with love for his son and incredibly emotional about being so far away from him at the moment. It’s a beautiful sentiment to witness and it brings me to tears several times a day.
People have been asking me for more information about the part of TC’s brain that was affected by his injury. The bulk of bleeding took place on the left side of his brain, affecting the lobes that control language. Right now TC suffers from expressive aphasia, which basically means that although he knows what he’d like to say, he cannot find the words to do so either orally or in writing. His receptive language, the language he hears, seems to be mostly intact. Although it is difficult for him to follow long and complex conversations, he generally seems to understand what is being said to him. What he is able to say to us is very limited. His aphasia is most obvious in instances in which he is being asked a direct question. The other day his speech therapist held up a number of different objects and asked TC to name them. While he could show us what a pencil does or how to use a hammer, he was not able to say, “This is a pencil,” or “This is a hammer.” This skill will improve over time, but it will take a lot of therapy and practice.
Names are also difficult. Although he knows our names and will refer to us in conversation, he can’t always recall them when asked by a doctor. Sustaining a conversation requires patience by both TC and the listener. When he is well rested and alert, you may be able to understand more than half of what he says. When he’s tired or rushing, you may catch only 10%.
We don’t yet know what other cognitive deficits to expect. Brain injury survivors vary so greatly in their outcomes. Some experience major shifts in personality, trouble with planning or decision making, and issues with short term memory. It’s still too early to say whether these will come into play.
For now I am completely satisfied knowing that TC remains the most loving and humble man I’ve ever known. He has been shocked to slowly discover the many friends who have been at his side, the strangers who are caring for his family, and all the love he is receiving from colleagues and acquaintances. He has no idea that his assault is so publicly known, nor does he have an understanding of the full extent of people’s generosity. I will give him this information in doses as he becomes ready to embrace the enormity of the situation. Since I still struggle to comprehend all of these things myself, I can imagine they will come as a shock to T.
I am really looking forward to the next few weeks as TC’s therapy intensifies. I have a feeling his progress will continue to astonish and inspire us all.