Thursday, February 2, 2012

Ross... Homecoming

Yesterday I had a visitor at the shop.
From my vantage point at counter, I saw someone lumber by the windows, en route to the door.

Confession: While it would seem that anyone coming in the shop is always a good thing, like just about any retailer, I admit that there are moments where I groan inwardly (and sometimes audibly) when the door opens.
Purposefully striding in with a notebook tucked under their arm...I'm instantly on the "creditcardprocessingsalesrepdouche" defensive.
...Or the "bestadvertisingopportunityever!skeezeball" defensive.
In the case of someone lumbering in, I tend to be on "endlesslyloopingconversationwitholdcoot" defensive.
And finally.... the "sympatheticbutvexedbecausethere'snowayi'mbuyinganotherpopsiclestickboxmadebythesweetbutextremelypushyspecialneedsguywhowon'ttakenoforanswerandhwohadafullblownseizureontheflooroftheshoponeday" defensive. (that was quite a day....)
But this time... as I was bracing myself for the worst.... I saw a face I didn't expect to see.
Ross limped in with his wife Tanya.
(and I apologize for not getting a picture)
"Holee crap!" I said. "Look at that!"

It's been awhile since I wrote about Ross and his progress... and I apologize. I couldn't. I would start, but would hit a wall... unable to continue. Unsure what to say... because it was such an overwhelming thing to write about... and I felt that I needed to do it justice.

On Friday of last week, Ross went home.
While it was something everyone had been anticipating and looking forward to, it was also heavily laden with anxiety and unknowns.
Ross had made tremendous progress. Over the course of more than a month, each visit was an improvement and I saw HUGE leaps forward. 
From comatose and seizing...
to concious but unable to do much more than flutter his eyes...
to responding to voices, but unable to open his eyes for more than a few seconds before drifting back into oblivion...
to dazedly looking around and flitting in and out of reality...
to laughing and joking, but still being unsettlingly disoriented...
to seeing the mannerisms and inflection of the Ross everyone knows... but saying things that didn't make any sense... at all..
to the Ross who walked in the other day. The Ross that is the Ross of old.

He has no memory of his accident. Not concious memories, anyway. In his early recovery, when he was drifting in and out of conciousness, he would verablize clearly vivid memories of flying through the air, or having his hand pinched in the brake lever, or his shoes still stuck to the clipless pedals.... still stuck in the moment. He'd reel off dialogue that clearly occurred while the EMT's were assessing him on site.
But now... when he turns his minds eye back... thinks about it....there's nothing. And in alot of ways, I suspect that's best. For the moment, at least.

When Tanya was first given Ross's release date of January 17th, instead of the relief of seeing the light at the end of a tunnel, she felt... panic. She was running out of steam. Exhausted... mentally, physically. And Ross, while making undeniably huge steps in his progress, was still out of it. And difficult to handle. And she didn't think she was ready to cope with it.  As it was Ross in the hospital was difficult. He was angry, moody, impulsive, sad, confused, agitated. At one point, they had to put a tent around his bed to seal him in, or else he'd wander around and tear his room apart.  Her phone would ring incessantly, and on the other end would be Ross... asking when the hell she was going to pick him up from the airport (his layover had taken longer than expected) or bail him and the kids out of jail.
And Ross was getting physically stronger every minute. But the brain doesn't heal as fast. In alot of ways, his broken ankle was a boon in that it put physical limitations on that impulsiveness (one of the most prevalent effects of Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI). But once he got home... that would all fall to Tanya. And she has no training in dealing with TBI. She already felt overwhelmed... this could be the breaking point.
After some assessments, the release date was pushed back. Ross needed more time.  Occupational therapy... physical therapy... speech therapy. Moses Cone was doing all of these things.. but the impression was that they were simply getting him well enough to discharge. A far cry from a recovery.
And let me clarify something.... Ross is expected to make a full recovery. And his progress already has been nothing short of incredible. But in the thick of it... when Ross was reeling off nonsensical word salads, it was hard not to let panicky fear overwhelm everything. "What if he's like this forever?"
But he's not. And won't be. And seeing him now... you know it. Because it's Ross. Joking about barely making the age cutoff for projected brain injury recovery (40). Laughing about how he's like an old man in the house with blankets and sweatshirts (a seeming result of the injury is that he can't regulate his body temperature... and is always cold). The primary effects he's dealing with right now are short term memory issues, some impulsiveness, and some coordination problems. He wants to do everything... just like before. But he can't. Ever have that moment where you're standing in the bathroom holding a fork and you say? "What in the hell am I doing?" That's about it. There's just a few more of those. And it gets worse toward the evening. When he gets tired. Or when his blood sugar is low.
But every day is another corner.
The anxiety about Ross coming home is understandable. Ross felt it too. What if I'm not right at home? What if I can't do the things I did before? At the hospital, after hard and frustrating days of therapy, where he would be made painfully aware that things weren't working right... his coordination wasn't what it should be.... he couldn't remember words or make some connections that should be easy.....Ross would be overwhelmed with it all. "I don't want the kids to see me like this. I feel broken... like my mind isn't working right. And I think I'm scaring them. I'm scared I already have."
But whatever anxiety and fear they all had.... And whatever challenges and frustrations they still face... it's been good. The hospital,despite the seeming benefits, was draining him. And everyone. It's depressing to be in the world's ugliest hotel room with no privacy. To be bedridden for over a month. To be away from everything familiar. To be constantly reminded that something is wrong, because otherwise you wouldn't be there. And ultimately, getting back to those things has been critically important.

Ross at home.... this has got to be better Occupational Therapy than building s*** with PVC pipe... right?

Ross and his niece, Emery, who they couldn't have done any of this without.

It's been extremely humbling to watch Ross's family through this process and to get to know them. The way Tanya has handled the curve balls that have been thrown at her... seeing her keep it together even when she was on the cusp of losing it completely. Seeing Ross's niece, Emery, step up in ways that make you question your own selfishness and direction. Seeing Ross's children deal with seeing the man who has always been their unbreakable rock get broken. 
There's alot more ground to cover... and alot more to the story. And to say that Tanya and her family can catch their breaths for at least a moment might be too much. But I know that its a step in the right direction... and that Ross is happy to be home. And that means everything.

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