Coping – An Energizer-Ostrich
by Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Coping? It’s an acquired skill, and it takes time and patience.
What do you get when you cross a hyperactive rabbit with a pink-feathered bird on a beach? That would be ME – in other words, an Energizer-Ostrich.
I guess that warrants an explanation of sorts. But, I will have to retrace my steps a bit – about eleven years worth – to the source of what has changed me into the equivalent of the Energizer Bunny with her head in the sand.
On January 13th eleven years ago, David, my husband, suffered a traumatic brain injury (TBI). You can learn the details and do a cram course by reading my blog, Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury (survivingtraumaticbraininjury.com).
Or, you can just read on to get the Cliff-Notes version.
It was just another day…
On the morning of January 13th, I awoke with a start at precisely 7:05 – the exact time eleven years ago that David and I began the journey
of our new and unexpected life. We did not know what was in store for us. We didn’t even know if there was going to be an “us.” I relived the moments of David’s TBI: his excruciating pain, the wild ambulance ride, my signing on the dotted line, the taking of a saw to my husband’s skull (I didn’t do that – the surgeon did), my talking incessantly on my cell phone arranging – and arranging and arranging – flights and accommodations, my squeezing David’s hand and promising him that he would get better – even though I wasn’t sure that he would, my “threatening” that I would never forgive him if he didn’t fight to stay with me, and my telling the story – over and over and over – of how David stumbled into our bedroom with his hand clutching his eye and his falling into a coma as the paramedics strapped an oxygen mask over his face.
I shuddered as I remembered the surgeon greeting me with the words, “Your husband is in good health. He will make a great organ donor.” I cringed when he told me that David had very little chance of surviving his brain surgery. Then after the surgery, his words, which should have encouraged me, plunged me to the depths. He said that, though the surgery went well and that David was on a respirator and in neurological intensive care (NICU), if by morning there was no improvement, we should “pull the plug.” He justified his statement by saying that David was a professor and he wouldn’t want to be a vegetable.
Time marches on, and we’re still growing together…
After eleven years, I would have expected these intense memories to fade somewhat, but they remain vivid – with maybe just a few blurred
edges. I remember many of the names of the nurses and caregivers. I remember the unwanted words of the doctor. I remember how family and friends converged on the hospital at all hours – both day and well into the night – from all corners of the United States. I remember the day was one of intense fog, both outdoors and inside my brain. The outdoor fog caused airline flights to be delayed. The “fog” inside my brain insulated me from the tragic reality around me.
Over the years, my “fog” has dulled the pain of watching David struggle to dress himself and learn to feed himself again, to walk again, and to talk again. My “fog” obscured the hurt of seeing David hunched over his keyboard painstakingly tapping each key as he prepared another paper for publication or worked on a book of international research he was editing for a scientific publisher or sent detailed instructions to the technicians in his lab about the next experiment to do. I also welcomed the “fog” as I not-so-patiently waited for David to recover from eye surgery.
I marvel at this man I call my husband. I’m proud of David’s accomplishments, both before and after his trauma. I admire his patience, his persistence, and his positive attitude, as I watch him tackle life in the “hard” lane. He does it with grace, with no complaint, and with gentle optimism.
So, there is an “us” after TBI, though it’s a different “us.”
We are not the same people we were before David’s trauma. I miss the pre-TBI “us.” A traumatic brain injury seriously changes the victim, but it also alters the spouse. It’s known that a TBI can rend marriages. A TBI can tear families apart. Or, in some fortunate cases like ours, a brain injury can make the marriage stronger. (See the New York Times article from January 9, 2012 – When Injuries to the Brain Tear at Hearts.)
David’s TBI tears my heart every day, but each day, my heart also gets glued back together with a kiss, a smile, a hug, or a laugh – and there are no tears.
I still have not had a good cry. Life is too busy for tears. Besides, “Tears would make this too real – and it’s not … is it?” asks the Energizer-Ostrich.
Meet Donna O’Donnell Figurski
Donna O’Donnell Figurski is a wife, mother, and granny. She is a teacher, playwright, actor, director, writer, picture-book reviewer … and,
on January 13, 2005, became the caregiver for her husband and best friend, David. Donna had never heard of “TBI” before David’s cerebellar hemorrhage. Now TBI invades her life. Donna spends each day writing a blog, called “Surviving Traumatic Brain Injury,” preparing her radio show, “Another Fork in the Road,” on the Brain Injury Radio Network, and searching for a publisher for her completed memoir, “Prisoners Without Bars: A Caregiver’s Story.”