On to the Next Phase

So this is where we stand with Sherrin’s body.

When the accident happened, Sherrin hurt her head, but she broke her collar bone too. Obviously, there was extremely little attention paid to the collar bone because we were so concerned with her brain. There were times when we forgot about it altogether. Now that we are no longer in the ‘life or death stage,’ we can bring our focus to the collar/shoulder.

An XRay of Sherrin's collar bone.

An XRay of Sherrin’s collar bone.

An XRay of a normal collar bone that I found on Google

An XRay of a normal collar bone that I found on Google

Turns out the bone never healed. The bones actually healed on top of each other, which you can actually see when you look at Sherrin. She never really complains about it, so it’s easy to forget, but I can only assume it’s very uncomfortable and painful. The only way to correct this is to re-break the bone (aka surgery). It’s just something we keep putting off because there are so many other gophers to hit. Plus surgery will only cause a rippling effect of other problems and pause her therapy sessions for at least a few weeks. So at the moment, the cons outweigh the pros for the surgery.

Sherrin has been writing a lot, probably for the past month or so. Sherrin is right handed, but because her left side of her body is significantly stronger than her right, she’s had to teach herself to use her left hand as the dominant one. She writes all sorts of things. She dates every journal entry at the top and the body of each page ranges from what she did that day to what she wants to accomplish in therapy. It’s so amazing! And her handwriting has been improving substantially. At first her journal entries were illegible, but now I can read everything she writes. I ask her why she likes writing so much, and she just says, ‘So I don’t forget what happened.’ This is her essentially training her brain to hold short term memories again. Ah, she’s so great!

I try to take Sherrin out once a weekend. A few weeks ago, I was able to take her to her friends Amanda and Matt’s wedding. The wedding was luckily in the northern Virginia area so it wasn’t too much of a trek. My parents were a little nervous about me taking her just because she gets exhausted so easily, but I kept insisting that she needs to do more ‘normal’ things where she’s around groups of friends vs me taking her to the movies where there isn’t that much stimulation. So, we went, and I’m so glad we did. We could only stay for a few hours just because it was so hot for her. (Reminder: Sherrin’s body temperature is very sensitive. A combination of a heat injury from when she was 12 years old + a weak immune system makes her not able to stand wide ranges of temperatures. When you or me are warm, she’s hot. When you or me are a little cold, she’s freezing). But she had such a great time seeing something so special for such good friends of hers. As soon as we got home, she asked for her journal so that she could write down what just had happened. Thank you Matt and Amanda for inviting her and allowing me to tag along!

Switching gears:
I wanted to share something that I’ve come to be more open about in the last 6 months:
my emotional journey. I know a large audience of this blog is for those dealing with a TBI, whether it’s themselves or a loved one. So to create more of an understanding of the mindset of one caregiver, I’ll break up my emotions into 3 phases.
Phase 1: An Emotional Wreck. 0-6 Months after the Accident 
I remember there was this one day when I was at NRH with my family in July 2012, about 6 weeks after the accident. My vulnerability level was at a peak. It was an extremely hot summer day in DC and I came to the hospital after a long
Massaging Sher's foot

Massaging Sher’s foot

day of interning. I remember going to the hospital cafeteria with my mom. Being a vegetarian, I didn’t have a lot of options when it comes to dinners at the cafeteria. Not trying to eat the burnt pizza for the 3rd day in a row, I opted for the refrigerated veggie sushi. I remember taking one bite into the roll and was instantly grossed out. I thought to myself, “How dare the cafeteria people allow such nasty food in here? This is a hospital, the least they can do is provide half way decent food.” I started to tear up with how offended I was to have this disgusting sushi. I tossed it out and bolted out of the cafeteria. On the way out, there was this Coca Cola ad on the side of the ice cream freezer. It was a picture of young, happy looking people smiling with their drinks. I was instantly upset again. Why the hell would someone allow advertisement of people looking happy in a HOSPITAL cafeteria? This is the least happy place in the world. I completely lost it and bursted into tears while dashing for the next elevator so no one could see my puffed up face.

This is just one example of dozens of me being depressed and overly sensitive. I was dealing with the idea of losing my sister that I felt like my emotions were opened up like Pandora’s Box. I cried nearly every day. I cried moments after waking up every morning after being reminded of what hell I was living in. I cried when I went to bed because I didn’t know if the next day was the day my sister would die. Everything hurt all of the time. Every news I heard, good or bad, made me lose it. It was the weirdest experience going from a happy go lucky 20 year old to a deeply depressed woman in such a short period of time.
Phase 2: Not Having an Emotional Bone in My Body: 6 months – 2 years after the accident
My emotions did a 180 from being overly sensitive to feeling nothing. I went numb. I just felt that everyone’s news in 11174822_583927505043385_3760889450738200649_ntheir world wasn’t important and didn’t matter. A friend told me that her grandmother was diagnosed was breast cancer. I told her that I was sorry, but in my head all I could think was, “At least society gives a damn about cancer. At least your grandmother has a disease that is treatable. Do you know how many organizations there are to treat cancer? People don’t care about brain injuries. Hell, aren’t we all going to get cancer one day anyway? I can’t feel bad for your grandmother because its just inevitable that she was one day going to get cancer. Also, how dare you frame this situation as something that’s heart-wrenching to you. Do you not see what my sister has to deal with? You’re weak.”
I think the reason for my lack of empathy was that I was sucked dry from emotion. I felt every feeling a human can possibly have in one month. Deep depression, anger, pure joy, hope, despair, pain, more pain, humor, sympathy, aggression, and even more pain. It was a tornado of feelings followed by a serious ‘calm after the storm.’ And the thing was that I didn’t realize it was happening until it was over. I thought that this was my eternity. That this was the element of strength that everyone on the planet was telling me to find.
Phase 3: Content: 2 – 3 years after the accident 
I’ve had to accept a lot of things since the accident. I had to accept the idea that my sister will never be the same, that she will have lifelong disabilities, that I will never have nieces or nephews, and that I will be her primary caregiver in the next few years. They were tough pills to swallow, but I did it. Once I fully accepted reality, I realized I could find happiness. I’m no longer longing for a different outcome and wishing for all of this to go away, but now I’m making the best out of the situation (at least as best as this can get). And what I realized was that when I’m happy, Sherrin feeds off my energy. And when she’s happy, she’s stronger. I’ve had more happiness in the past year than I’ve had since the accident 3 brutal years ago, and guess what? So has Sherrin. I’ve mentioned on here several times that I’m crucial to Sherrin’s recovery, but I’ve slowly begun to understand that I am the most influential person on her. Again, it’s hard a weird idea to grasp how important I am to someone, but I’ve accepted it, and now we can look forward to having a happy life together.
I feel content. I’m as happy as I can be. Sheryl Sandberg put it in a good way while discussing her emotions on the death of her husband, Dave Goldberg. She says it’s more comforting to know that she will never be as happy as she was when her husband was alive, but things can get ‘better’ vs believing that everything will be ‘okay.’ It’s true. I know that my life will never be as happy as it was when my sister was an able-bodied person. But to accept the reality and coping with the situation bring me peace.
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