The hardest question is the one I am asked everyday, “How is TC doing?”
There is no short answer to this question, so I struggle in determining what to say and how much to elaborate. Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one of the most complex injuries the body can sustain. The brain is a fascinating organ with incredible potential, but the road to recovery is unpredictable and certainly long. I find myself conducting late night research on the plasticity of the brain, hoping to find a shred of research or evidence that might point to TC’s ability to make a full recovery. The reality is that neuroscience still has much to uncover about the brain and its capacity. I do believe it is possible for TC to continue on the miraculous path he is on, but there are many outcomes possible and the reality ahead often feels scary and uncertain.
Then I remember how far we have come. Eight weeks ago TC laid motionless in the ICU, hooked up to more machines than I can remember. I would sit by his side in that freezing room, covered in prayer shawls, trying to decode the numbers, beeping sounds, and blinking lights that surrounded me. I would pray for a hand squeeze, a blink, anything to assure me that TC was still in there. I attempted many silent negotiations with God.
“God, just let TC live. I will take him in whatever condition you give him to me. I don’t care.”
“God, if you give me my husband back, I promise not to ask for anything ever again.”
“God, please, please don’t leave me alone. Please.”
My prayers were answered and now I find myself becoming increasingly demanding. I don’t just want my husband to live. I want him to live well. I want me to live well. I want our family back. But the rehabilitation process continues to challenge my previous definition of patience. Eight weeks feels like an eternity and yet I know we have months and years ahead before I may see my prayers fully granted.
TC is hanging strong. He’s thinner and paler than the TC I once knew. His language is jumbled and his speech is soft and slurred, but he has moments of great clarity and recognition. He talks excitedly about Jack. He showers me with love and compliments every time I walk in the door. He is caring and thoughtful and curious, just as he has always been. So far I see no indication of the major personality shifts I was warned of. TC seems a little sillier and more childlike than before, but he has plenty of time to grasp the enormity of his situation and I see no need to burden him with the gravity of it all.
And then there are the challenging aspects of his recovery, most notably, the headaches. Because TC is still waiting for his final surgery, the cranioplasty in which his skull will be replaced, he is often in extreme physical pain. I’m hoping the headaches will lessen in severity after his surgery, but I expect that debilitating headaches may be part of our new regime. TC is also easily fatigued. He participates in more than 3 hours of therapy a day at the rehab hospital, which include physical, occupational, and speech therapy. He’s relearning to walk, trying to rebuild strength on the right side of his body, and working on correcting the aphasia that affects his speech. It’s a long day and it often leaves him frustrated, tired, and plain grumpy.
As someone who is there most every day for his recovery, I don’t always see the markers of progress that are easier to observe for folks who step in and step out of the situation. I know he’s made tremendous progress. I know he’s working hard. And I try to keep a strong exterior when I witness him struggle to count to ten or remember what month it is or do any of the things that used to come so easily. I know these things will come in time.
But it’s a very isolating situation to be in, feeling like I’m married to myself much of the time. TC is here and he’s getting better, but it will be a long time before he is able to carry the load he once carried. I could never have appreciated all of the things he did to make our household run smoothly before this incident. Each day I struggle not to sink under the monumental load of responsibility I have inherited.
So the short answer to that challenging question? TC is making progress and we’re getting through it. Each day is a small victory and an answer to another prayer.