A family's journey of recovery from traumatic brain injury
Our walks back from the Boston Bean coffee house in Maynard always finish the same way, with Joanie pulling way ahead of me and then jogging around the corner and down the last few hundred yards to our house. But not today.
When I turn the corner, about three minutes behind her, I see my wife lying on her back on a neighbor’s lawn. The street is strangely silent and still — no wind, no traffic, no sound of birds.
It is unseasonably warm for early December, so I assume Joanie is relaxing and cooling off on the grass while she waits for me to catch up. She waves her arm languorously as if to call me over, confirming my assumption — or so it seems. Then:
“Larry, I’m hurt!”
I run full speed toward her, and as I close the distance between us, I see the blood. When I get to her, my heart is racing as much from the anxiety of seeing her lying there as from the exertion of running the fifty yards to get to her. I kneel beside her. Blood is dripping from a cut near her right eye and from heavy abrasions on her lower lip, the red seeping into her hair as she lies there, face up. The sleeve of her grey sweatshirt is red, too — from where she had used it to wipe her face and hair. My first thought is that she has been struck by a car and thrown onto the lawn as she jogged down Robert Road — that’s how torn and battered she appears to be. I ask her what happened.
The pain slowing her words, she answers: “My feet got caught in the laces of my sneakers, and I fell on my face onto the road. I crawled over here to get out of the road. I felt such a whack when I hit.” She adds, “This can’t be good.”
I take out my handkerchief, wipe more of the blood away from her lip and eye, and assess the situation. She has some bad cuts and bruises on her face, but having dealt with the occasional wounds our children acquired as they were growing up, I think that these, too, will pass eventually with the application of ice and a rest.
Suspecting nothing worse, I tell her, “Wait here. I’ll get the car and we’ll get you home.”
I run to our garage, get into my car, and reverse the two hundred yards down the street to where she is lying. Gently, gingerly, I help her into the car.
Once home, I clean her cuts and bruises. I put ice in a couple of Ziploc bags and hand them to her to put on her lip and eye, both of which are now beginning to swell. She sits at our kitchen desk as she tries to calm down.
“I’m going to look awful for Christmas,” she says.
Trying hard to work out a sensible plan of action, I suggest, “Well, we can wait and see what happens— see how you feel in a little while. Or we can call Acton Medical now and see what they have to say. If you feel really bad, we can go to the Emergency Room.”
Acton Medical Associates, our physicians’ office, is only a short ride away, but this being the weekend, there’s likely to be only a skeleton staff there. We kick around possible courses of action as she sits there, but before we reach a decision, she announces, “I’m going to take a shower first, Lar. If we’re going to go to Acton Medical or the ER, I’ll at least wash the blood out of my hair and get into some clean clothes. Let’s see how I feel after that.” A hopeful sign, I think, caring about her appearance. After a shower and a short rest, she returns to the kitchen.
“Larry, you better phone Acton Medical. My head feels much worse.”
The nurse on weekend duty there listens to my description of Joanie and her fall then tells me, “You should get her over to the Emergency Room at Emerson Hospital. They have equipment there we don’t have at our office that would be able to tell if there’s any hidden damage.”
I think that is possibly an over-reaction to what appears to me to be just cuts and abrasions on her face — bad cuts and abrasions, sure, but not anything that won’t heal with time. After all, as painful as her wounds are, Joanie is conscious, able to talk and walk, and does not seem to have any other grave injuries that I can see. We have had a few experiences in our family where a visit to the Emergency Room was called for — when our son, as a toddler, fell against a table and opened up a gash in his forehead, and when our daughter, as a teenager, injured her finger playing soccer — and the thought of spending hours waiting in the Emergency Room for my wife to be attended to doesn’t appeal to either me or her. But taking to heart the nurse’s comment about hidden damage, we conclude that the prudent thing to do is to go to the ER at Emerson Hospital in nearby Concord, Massachusetts. As the hospital closest to where Joanie and I live, it is the logical place for us to go in an emergency.
* * *
Joan sits in the dim, cramped office of the triage nurse in the Emergency Room as the nurse asks her to describe what happened so she can determine what to do with her next. I wait a few yards away in one of two chairs in the hallway outside the office while the nurse questions her and records the information she gives her. I manage to catch snippets of sentences as Joanie describes her symptoms: “achy all over from the fall,” “sore wrists,” “chest hurts,” and “my head aches badly.” The nurse records Joanie’s recitation and then directs us to wait in the hospital’s Urgent Care Unit across the hall.