This blog is a continuation in a series I am writing about my husband’s brain injury. If you wish to read the story in order, go back in my archives and find Begin at the Beginning…all the ones in the category brain injury tell my story. Some are longer than others…they come in chunks of time…sometimes quickly and others much slower. Thanks for taking the time to read and being patient as I walk through the one of the toughest parts of my life again with new eyes to see how God used the broken pieces to create something beautiful.
We met in the fall. It was a welcome back dance at Berry and Bill asked me to dance. I agreed and we went out onto the dance floor…so he says. I remember being at the dance, but I do not remember dancing with him. He says I was preoccupied, waving at friends and generally checking out who was on the dance floor. He says I virtually ignored him. He says when the music stopped I fled the scene before he could ask me if I wanted some punch. He says I was rude and a snob and he disliked me immensely. I do not remember any of it, but I believe it is most likely true. I was young, fickle, and flighty. What he describes was very much in character for me before life knocked me on my butt.
We ended up running in the same circles and I guess he decided I wasn’t as bad as he thought because we became friends. Over time we became really good friends. We regularly took off hiking, always with his guitar in tow. We found out of the way eateries, and a video arcade. We played putt putt and went to the movies. We stayed up late talking about God and walked around campus to look at the stars. People assumed we were dating and asked us regularly if we were. The answer from both of us was no, absolutely not. We were content to be friends and enjoyed one another’s company. It was 8 months before we realized what everyone else had known and finally became a dating couple.
After that it was a matter of time before we were in love. We were immature, but who wasn’t? I found him charming. He was gregarious, witty, and compassionate. He never met a stranger and he drew people in, chatting with them for hours. He was funny and always had a one liner come back. He was up for adventure and liked to take off at a moment’s notice to drive or hike. He accepted people as they were and I wished I could do that. He knew God deeply, but did not push me to do so. I was caught up in doing the right things, more surface level…while he understood grace and demonstrated it towards others. Everybody loved Bill. I knew he played a little guitar, but when I heard him play the piano I was hooked. Something touched my heart deeply whenever he played…still does.
I tell you all this because some of you do not know my husband, and what I am about to share of his recovery will not paint a pretty picture, but it is the reality of brain injury. Unless you have lived with someone who has had a stroke, brain tumor, Alzheimer’s, or a head injury you cannot fully grasp the intricate complexities of personality changes. One minute your loved one is who you have always known them to be and the next they are a total stranger lashing out at the people they love the most. It is a most difficult place in which to find yourself at the age of 23.
Anesthesia causes the brain to swell. It is why you feel so groggy after surgery and have trouble remembering things for a while. After a life threatening brain injury where his brain was swelling to the point they considered drilling holes to relieve the pressure, Bill’s brain was already on tenuous ground. Putting him to sleep caused what little progress he had made to regress. Only this time instead of seeing him 10 minutes every two hours, I was with him all day every day as well as every other night. It was the day after his surgery before I got to see what exactly head injury looks like up close. Because his injury was to his frontal lobe, and that is where your emotions are located his emotional state was vacillating in extremes. He was volatile one minute and docile the next.
One night, Bill began to talk about death. He told me he was dead. I assured him that he was not. He told me he wanted to die. I assured him he did not. The whole conversation was frightening to me because of the wild look in his blackened eyes. When he turned them towards me, and stared me down with malice oozing out of them I got chill bumps. He said with venom, “You are trying to kill me. You aren’t doing anything to help. You don’t care at all…you want me to die! Just get out!! GET OUT! ” My tears were instant. I was taken aback. We had hardly ever had a fight, and he had NEVER talked to me with this tone. It was eerie. I clamored to leave the room and he called me back, saying in a small voice, “Don’t go…don’t leave me. Please come back.” I went back to him and he said, “What the hell are you doing here! I told you to get out! Just get a gun and shoot me and put in me in the grave! It’s what you want!! Just do it!!” This was the first outburst that was directed at me, and I did not know what to do. I couldn’t leave the room because he could not be left alone, it wasn’t safe. I checked and the nurses were busy at the moment. His voice was deep and it rattled, and it scared the poo out of me. It was as if I was talking to a demon…no joke. The rampage went on until I prayed…loudly. I commanded him to be silent in the name of Jesus. I don’t know what exactly was happening with that exchange, but the prayer lowered the intensity, until he finally wore himself out and fell asleep.
I had a sick feeling afterwards…a knot in my gut that kept growing bigger. This was not the man I loved. This was a scary man…and a little boy. And I was not equipped for this. My hands were shaking and I was trembling all over. He looked so peaceful while he was sleeping, even with the bandages. I just sat and watched him breathe and I wondered how in the world I was going to do this. The nausea burned in my throat, and the tears began to flow. I hugged my knees to my chest and rested my head on them…my trembling hands were over my face.
I was crumpled up when I heard a soft knock on the door. I looked up and in the doorway stood a shadow man. I could not make out who it was because he was backlit by the lights in the hallway, so I could only see his silhouette. Until he spoke I had no idea who it was. When I heard his gentle voice I knew it was our good friend and spiritual mentor Laverne Campbell. He came to give me a hug and I fell completely apart. Being the pastor he was, he ushered me out the door and told the nurse we were leaving for a bit. He was literally holding me up. He directed our steps to the chapel, where he let me sob and handed me tissue for what seemed like a very long time. He required no explanation and he allowed me my silence. He whispered a sweet, gentle, prayer as if anything louder would shatter what was left of me. I slowly opened my heart and shared the whole story, including the latest outburst that had shaken me so. He listened intently, saying nothing while holding my hands in his. When I was finished with the tale, he bowed his head and put his hands on my head for another whispered prayer. After that he had some words of wisdom which I cannot remember. I only remember thinking he was an angel, sent by God at the very moment I needed one. The feeling of being accepted in my pain was more significant than the words. He did not shrink back from the utter brokenness or my tears. He did not expect me to be a strong woman as I expected myself to be. He simply let me be. It was a true gift in that moment.
We made our way back to the room just as Bill was waking up. He smiled and said hello to Laverne, who told him the story of how he got word of the accident. He was at the religious broadcasters conference in Washington DC when he heard the news. How it made it up there I have no idea. When he heard it he felt a strong urge to leave the conference and come home…which he did. He had come straight from the airport with a sense of urgency not to stop until he made it to the hospital. He stepped into that room at the exact moment I was at my end. I have never had such a divine appointment as this one. I thank God that this man was a man who heard God’s voice and obeyed it. It saved me on one of the darkest nights of my life.