At the beginning of my caregiving journey, right after Hugh was hit by a car and endured two emergency brain surgeries in three days, he slept in a coma. I remember everyone telling me there was no prognosis, things looked very bad, I might want to say good-bye. Everyone said some version of this to me except one person, Hugh’s surgeon, Dr. John D. Ward.
At a time when all I had were questions — questions with no answers — he gave me hope with one simple sentence. “Your husband is a strong man in good shape, Mrs. Rawlins. I think he’ll make it, but I can’t promise anything.”
This was the sentence I could take back to my daughters, back to the waiting room full of frantic family and friends, back to my bed at night where I felt most alone and afraid. This was the sentence I repeated to myself over and over and over again until I finally believed it.
If I could tell all doctors just one thing, it would be that hope should never be completely obliterated. Hope is sometimes the only thing we have to cling to. It’s that fragile branch above the rapids, bent and on the verge of breaking, and yet we grasp for it and hold on tightly no matter what.
I understand that in medicine, there is often bad news, sometimes there is nothing that can be done, but nothing is ever over until it’s actually over.
Dr. Ward lived in the moment with me. He admitted that the situation was dire, but he gave me a sliver of good news and didn’t make any promises. I believe his sentence should be in medical text books.
A woman I knew whose husband is a doctor visited me about a month after Hugh’s crash. I remember she shook her head sadly and said, “My husband has seen a lot of brain injuries and Hugh will never be the same again. It’s so sad. He’ll never get better. I’m so sorry, Rosemary.” Instinctively, my heart blocked her words. I didn’t respond to her because she was sincere, but I was angry inside. How dare she strip away my hope? Without hope, why would I continue killing myself to help Hugh recover, to get him to rehab, to encourage our kids to engage their Dad because it would help him? Hope was all I had. It was everything.
I’m happy to say that she was wrong. And her husband, the doctor, was wrong. Hugh made incredible strides and continues to thrive today. I’m so thankful I did not listen to people who said, “He’ll never get better than this.”
One thing we all now know is that every brain injury is unique. Every person will respond and recover differently and at his or her own pace. We also know that the brain takes a very long time to heal. Dr. Ward told me that he believes the human brain has an unlimited capacity for healing over the lifespan when people live a healthy lifestyle.
If you are a caregiver, never give up hope. Hold tightly to it every minute, hour, and year. Our hopes create our vision for a better tomorrow, and visions pave the path to positive actions and outcomes.