Coming home with Danny has proven to be both a heart warming and heart wrenching experience for me; heart warming because he has grown ever closer to me and has begun to fulfill a small void in my heart with his tenderness; heart wrenching because he still begs to go home, to get better an I can’t help him anymore than I already am. Home is not what he remembers it to be. He asks me to take him home to our house everyday or expresses a desire to have our own place again. I too long for our own home, but realize that it is not time yet. However, since Danny’s been home, I’ve been ever encouraged by his progress.
We brought Danny back home on Thursday. He wanted Steak ‘n Shake for lunch and we were finally all able to eat together at the table, as a family. He rested for a bit, but then asked me to get him out of bed; he wanted to go somewhere. So, Loida and I took him to the grocery store with us to get stuff for dinner that night. He did great and even remained calm and patient while it poured down rain preventing us to leave. Thursday night, Danny had planned the menu and the whole family ate together to celebrate Danny’s homecoming.
It is amazing to see the change in Danny since he came out of Shepherd this last time. He doesn’t want to be in bed or in his chair; he doesn’t want to sit around the house all day. He wants out; out of the wheelchair, out of the house, out on our own and I’m sure out of the confusion he lives in moment by moment. Last night, he told me that he felt like he’d been gone for 30 years and that he was out of the loop. I can only imagine how he feels. He seems to be getting better with his short term memory, but still isn’t holding onto new memories.
Saturday proved to be the brightest day in a long time. After taking Danny to his nephew’s soccer game, we all came back to the house for lunch outside by the pool. I was sitting next to Danny and he suddenly kicked his left foot off the foot rest of his wheelchair; not once, not even twice, but several times. I asked him what he was doing and he replied with the obvious “kicking my foot.” The greatest thing is that he hasn’t stopped doing it. He kicks on command and with little response time. We’ve also seen some added strength in his torso. While we get him dressed now, instead of having to turn him on his side to pull down his shirt in the back, he will almost sit up with our assistance so we can pull his shirt down the back. All of these physical improvements are encouraging to say the very least.
Monday morning we took Danny to his first day at Pathways, the outpatient program by Shepherd. It was incredible to watch him. His mother and I kept catching eyes at each other all day. He had an hour with his new case manager, hour long lunch, one hour each of speech and physical therapies and then 30 minutes with his new occupational therapist. Overall, he was in his chair for over six hours and rarely complained.
He interacted with everyone perfectly even answering questions correctly as I held my breath with hope that he’d be right. Specifically, there were a few things that pop out for me. First of all, he identified goals that he wants to accomplish with each therapist. He kept everyone laughing all day with his sense of humor. With his speech therapist, she asked if he spoke any other languages. With the straightest face, he told her that he spoke Spanish and French. Hello? He doesn’t speak French! I called him out on it and he just laughed and laughed. He said that he did speak French saying “parle vous francis?” We all laughed again when he also told us that he knew “Oui!”
Danny also identified some changes in his life. He told his speech therapist that his friends don’t come to visit him anymore. This broke my heart. I’ve been speaking for Danny for the past eight months and it’s great to hear him expressing his own feelings, but so hard because I want to protect him too. He is angry at the driver of the vehicle that hit him, frustrated that he can’t think clearly, and annoyed that he can’t do things for himself. I suppose it is very much like a parent-child relationship in that you want to do things for him to help, but also know that he has to do things for himself to learn even if he fails along the way.
On Monday, during lunch, he kept asking me to take him home. He doesn’t like being around the other patients. I suppose that it’s because many of them are progressing faster than he is and this frustrates him, but also because it reminds him of his limitations. Again, back to the parent-child analogy; we drop him off at the designated time and then pick him up at the end of his sessions. What if he gets lost in the building and can’t find his way? What if he needs help with his lunch? What if? What if? What if?
Of course, we could play that game all day long, couldn’t we? What if Danny was wearing a DOT approved helmet? What if he’d taken a few more minutes at the post office? What if that van in the right lane hadn’t stopped to motion out the van that Danny hit? What if? What if? What if? But, those are questions that can never be answered. I’m sure that Danny will find his way to his therapy sessions and I’m sure that someone will help him with his lunch if he needs it, but it can’t be me and that is a hard pill to swallow. I have to let him go in a sense; give him back to the Lord yet again entrusting Danny into His care.
Speaking of lunch, Danny wants to eat all the time. Food! Food! And more food! Actually, he wants chocolate milk all the time. It’s hard too because you want to give him whatever he asks for since he wasn’t able to eat or drink for so long, but because he isn’t as active as he once was, we can’t have him gain too much weight. Not only for his health, but for our ability to help him too, it would be difficult if he was overweight. We’re careful not to have food become his comfort, his feel good fix while he is recovering. Depression is very common with brain injury patients and I’m sure Danny would be all the more depressed if he was too heavy. Not only that, but he’d be upset that we let him get that way. So, as difficult as it is, we have to carefully monitor his eating habits. This also makes him feel childlike and frustrates him. He even expressed to me that he wants his own house so that he can do whatever and eat whatever he wants.
I’m glad that Danny is so frustrated and annoyed. I know that must sound cruel, but I’m hoping it will serve him as great motivation to get better. Yet, while that makes sense to us who are not suffering from a brain injury, the reality is that it isn’t necessarily a lack of motivation that is preventing Danny from progressing; it’s his brain. Sometimes, I have to remind myself of that. He doesn’t know how to filter his thoughts and they come spilling out. You can’t take it personally. He can’t always problem solve or do daily tasks in the appropriate order. However, I know that the Lord is the one that created his brain and can reshape and reorder whatever He wills. I pray that my heart and His will is the same.
We talk about our dream house, his dream truck and all the normal things we hope to have again. Conversations; it’s good to have them again. While helping my parents pack up the last of their things, I found my box of high school memories. If you’ll recall, Danny and I went to school together for years. In Danny’s Senior Will, he left me “conversations.” In my yearbook, he called me “Baby Girl” and told me he’d be honored to come back to take me to my Senior Prom. I wish I’d have remembered that offer. I wish we’d have had more time together and not wasted years on dead end relationships, but God’s timing was and is perfect. I hope that God grants us more conversations and many more years; happy ones. I wish I could black out 2005 just like Danny has, but I can’t and it’s hard.
Okay, happy thoughts! Sorry, I jumped on the emotional rollercoaster. Anyway, Danny is doing much better than he was five weeks ago and that is the progress we celebrate. Thank you for your support. I know that probably sounds like a broken record, but I truly mean it. It is easier knowing that you are helping carry all these burdens.
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