The Beautiful Brain

I don’t even know what to say.  I am humbled and amazed.  My friend Ruby* attempted suicide twice before Christmas.  Everyone thought she would die.  He doctors thought her brain damage would be fatal, that she could not survive off life support.  She hung on with help from a breathing machine, but then we were told she’d never regain consciousness.  Sometimes she’d breath on her own, sometimes the trach would have to take up the slack.

At first I was getting all my info second and third hand, from a friend of the family.  That’s how  I heard that she had “woken up.”  But I couldn’t get enough details second-hand to be sure if she was actually cognizant or if her family was seeing autonomic responses.  I am extremely skeptical in medical miracles involving brain injury.  I had to see for myself.

I drove an hour and got lost twice going to see her and I was not encouraged by what I saw.  She had been sedated but still she moved constantly, tossing a leg over a bed rail, sliding down in her bed.  She coughed and gagged constantly, she was out of it.  Her mother told me she had developed a fever.  I sat with her for several hours, talking to her (whether she could hear me or not), to her mother, to her father, but when I left, I was not convinced she would ever come out of it.  I felt like I didn’t know much more when I left the hospital than when I had arrived. And then the next day her mother confirmed what we had feared; Ruby had pneumonia.   I thought, That hospital won’t be happy until they kill her.  It was their fault the second suicide attempt even happened.

I have not been able to go see her again yet.  The antibiotics had managed to help her pneumonia and I wanted to go back and sit with her some more.  But it is one thing after another here, as usual.  No one said life is easy, right? First a snowstorm had us housebound, then our furnace went out right after the storm, while there was still half a foot of snow all around.  We had to call emergency HVAC to come out at 2am.  We were losing about a degree of heat an hour, and our house got down to 50 degrees before a temporary  fix.  The permanent would end up costing us over $400 dollars.
And then our car started misfiring left and right and throwing codes.  We haven’t got to fix it yet, but you can bet it will cost more money.

And through all of this, Ruby’s mother would post on Facebook from time to time.  She said Ruby looked at her…but her eye contact wasn’t direct (I didn’t read that as a good sign).  She said Ruby sometimes cried.  (I thought it was autonomic.)  She said that Ruby smirked at her once when she said she’d shut up if only Ruby would smile.  (I wasn’t convinced).

I have never been so happy to be wrong about something.  Today Ruby’s mother posted that she heard her daughter’s voice.  

I got more secondhand details from a friend that Ruby told her sister she loved her.  Her trach will be removed soon.  She has a long road of rehabilitation ahead of her, in addition to still needing to conquer the depression and anxiety that laid her so low.

After my visit with her, I had Googled  “recovery from brain death,” already knowing there was not supposed to be such a thing.  Of course there were the usual smattering of “miracle stories,” but ever the skeptic, I wondered if the loved ones of those people misunderstood the diagnosis of their loved on. I think the terms “brain death” and “vegetative state” probably get thrown around a lot, and not everyone may understand the different types of brain injury.  Without talking to a doctor myself, I’d never be certain of what they were told. I only know my experiences with brain injuries in my family.  To me brain death is my cousin after he shot himself in the head and pieces of his brain were on the floor but a machine kept him alive.  I think of Terry Schiavo.

I don’t pray to a god for miracles; I don’t believe in those kind of miracles.

But I also know the human body and brain is an amazing, fragile, resilient thing.  How could something be fragile AND resilient?  I don’t know, but it is, and now I get to see first hand, and I also get to hear my friend Ruby’s voice again. ❤

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Saying Goodbye

I just called the University of Maryland hospital to speak to my grandmother for what will likely be the last time.  She was not awake.  I don’t know if she heard me or not, but I had to try.

Approximately two years ago, as I lay in the hospital in labor with my child, she lay in a hospital 12 hours away, after having passed out and fallen in her bathroom the night before and having lain there all night.  Despite our concerns, she largely recovered from that episode.  She even eventually went back to her own home, despite my family’s concerns for her being alone.  Then last week or so,  she fell again and hit her head.  Come to find out she had something wrong with her carotid that when she turned her head a certain way, she would pass out.  While she was in the hospital this time as the family and doctors decided what course of action to take, her health began to decline.  She has gone from lucid, although understandably depressed, to what basically amounts to comatose.  She has a cyst and fluid on her brain.  Now she is having difficulty breathing.  She will likely not live out the weekend.

And I really have no feasible way to get there to see her.  Even if my mother bought me a plane ticket (because my husband and I can certainly not afford one much less two right now,) the last experience I had taking my toddler through airport security without the benefit of my husband’s help was harrowing and stressful enough that I swore I’d never do it again.  The thought of it makes my stomach feel icky.  Nevertheless, my mother really wants me and the baby there for the funeral…needs us there.  She is emotionally incapable of handling the impending  loss of her mother.  Even if my grandmom lived to be 100 and died peacefully in her sleep, I think my mom would be incapable of handling it.

Lately I have been thinking a lot about the people I have known and loved, the “old days,” when I was a child.  As a child, I suffered from an undiagnosed anxiety disorder, so I was almost never completely carefree, but those days were probably the closest to carefree I’ll likely ever be.  And when I think about those old days and how they are over for good, it’s something I am not completely at peace with.  Everything changes.  That’s life.  Nothing can stay the same.  It’s just the way of things, and the old adage “youth is wasted on the young” is fairly accurate, in that children generally do not have the emotional or mental maturity to be fully present, “in the moment” so to speak, as they grow and experience life.  I mean, they definitely live life in the moment in many regards, but do they stop while they run, while they play, or even while they sit bored in church, to appreciate the moment and realize how fleeting it is?  I doubt it.  That was something I myself first discovered around the age of twelve, and my anxiety over the passage of time and the retrospect way we experience life in general has been a source of anxiety for me ever since.

Well, I feel I have digressed from the original subject.  But then again, maybe not.  This is all related in one way or another, and as I got off the phone with the nurse who held the phone to my grandmother’s ear, and the tears pricked at the back of my throat, I just felt like I had to write.  And there is so much more I could write.  Like how my grandma will never get to see my daughter, her great-granddaughter, again.  Like how my mom’s health is not good either or how my cat is dying.  About my cousin who died tragically six years ago or my uncle who we lost in ’99, and how it’s still hard to believe he’s gone sometimes.

I’ll just say one more thing.  Right after Christmas, only days after my daughter and I returned, my husband’s grandmother succumbed to a stroke brought on by hip surgery she had right before Christmas.  I am very thankful that I made it a point to take the baby to see her on the night before her surgery.  That was the last time I saw her as well.  My husband and I could not make it back to Maryland in time for her funeral either.

Both his grandmother and mine were (are) wonderful ladies who were, in many ways, the heart of the family.  In the case of my mother’s side of the family, my grandmom is likely one of the only things still keeping a strained family together.

But like I said before, resistance to change is futile and will only end in anxiety and fear.

I don’t know what beliefs I subscribe to at this point in my life.  That’s been another source of confusion and anxiety for me for a long time.  But I do hope that peace will somehow find my grandmother and the rest of my family during this difficult time…and maybe there will be some peace left over for me.