Caregiving equals tunnel vision. Every moment, for fifteen months after a car hit my husband, Hugh, I was laser focused on his survival, health, and wellbeing.
I clearly remember one specific afternoon a few weeks after his accident. It was a sunny spring day. I was sitting on my front porch because I had locked myself out of the house after returning home from the hospital, and I stared at the flowers and bushes by my front steps. As I daydreamed, I dazed out. Colors grew fuzzy, and flower edges blurred as I marveled at the beauty of the landscape for a few seconds. Maybe I should add a few tulips next year. The thought jarred me back into the present.
My husband lay a few miles from me in a hospital bed unaware of who he was and what was wrong with him. He was out of it. He was deeply impaired. He was radically changed. And so was I.
How did I get lost in the flowers? Will we still own this house next year—the one we bought a year ago when he had a good job? Will he ever come around? Will his words ever make sense? Will he love me like he once did? Will he ever work again?
I now find it interesting that I would remember this one incident when I was not completely focused on some deficit, treatment, or decision regarding Hugh’s recovery. I remembered this one moment because those moments were so rare. Eighteen months later, many more of those moments were occurring. And now, I relish my everyday woes.
Rain again? Who cares. It could be much worse.
A traffic jam? Better than waiting in another surgical waiting room.
A string of bad luck? Eventually, things will even out, and all will be well.
As much as I hate to admit it, Hugh’s accident multiplied my appreciation for the mundane. Any day that passes with my family and friends in good health is a good day. Being able to tie your own shoes, think and speak a meaningful sentence, and understand the world around you is priceless. One family member who struggles with the simple activities of daily living year after year can tie a family up in physical and emotional knots. It’s the mundane activities of daily life that keep us going in the world. (Thank you surgeons, rehab doctors, occupational therapists, physical therapists and speech therapists! And thank you, fellow caregivers, who gave me as many tips as these therapists did!)
I remember a time when I rolled my eyes at the adage, “If you have your health, you have everything.” I’d add that if you have your health, and you have love, you have everything. Health gives you the ability to pursue your purpose and raise a roof over your head, and love gives you a reason to seek that purpose. So bad weather and bouts of bad luck be damned. Families who have survived traumatic brain injury know when life is really hard and when it’s not, and this is wisdom worth achieving.