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. ❤