I’ve kept in touch with a handful of healthcare professionals I had met in the early days of Taylor’s ordeal. These people not only taught me about the physical effects of brain injury and ways to participate in Taylor’s care, but they also taught me another invaluable lesson: the art of letting go.
When Taylor was in the hospital that treated him right after his fall, things were chaotic to say the least. Our days were comprised of PICC lines, feeding tubes, collapsed lungs, beginning therapies, and countless urgent medical scenarios. Taylor remained in a coma. I was like a nervous butterfly, flitting in the wind. I knew some of the doctors and nurses, but our interactions were fast-paced and to the point. Our interactions yielded important results, but not lasting connections.
When Taylor transferred to the rehabilitation hospital, the mood shifted from shock and despair to curious optimism. We became part of a larger team. Part of the shift in the mood was the fact that we were hours from home. The rehab allowed people who were travelling long distances to stay on campus. Over the next five months the hotel-like room would become my home.
I spent my days with Taylor, and early on, it was unlikely that I was going to leave his side. On Taylor’s first night in rehab, I met two of the most important people on his team. They were his nurses, and they would become our friends. Taylor’s first room was for patients requiring constant observance. He came in with a trachea tube and was functioning at an extremely low level, putting him at increased risk.
Kristine was the dayshift nurse. She worked with Taylor’s team to prepare and assimilate him into his new routine. Interacting with someone who is in a coma, administering medications, and knowing how to check in with them when they are non-communicative is a huge responsibility. Those things were just the tip of the iceberg.
Kristine showed me how to safely tend to Taylor. She assigned small tasks that put me in touch with him again. Taylor had gone from being fragile to the point of almost dying, to being less so, but still needing detailed care. Kristine also taught me to withstand the painful moments I would observe with Taylor, while not allowing them to consume me. Rehab was not the place for a nervous butterfly; I needed to tap into my mother bear instincts instead. I had to be strong, but to be strong I needed to understand what was taking place.
One therapist had a demeanor that I didn’t appreciate. She was not unkind; she was simply more standoffish than I preferred. I opened up to Kristine about my feelings, and she assured me that the therapist was gifted and trustworthy. With wisdom, she didn’t react and say, “Deal with it.” Instead, she helped me grasp that much of this journey was going to be about trusting the process and the people involved.
Dina worked second shift. While the days were hustle and bustle, at night things slowed down. Friends and family filled the rehab rooms. Being far from home, many of our nighttime moments were spent with Dina. I felt safe with her, and in return, I felt that Taylor was safe too. Dina loved Taylor when I could not be there. She took things in stride, but yet knew when to be alarmed. She was the last person to see Taylor every night.
Both Dina and Kristine were protective of their patients and families. They may have never had a loved one with a brain injury, but they actively worked to explore how it might feel if they did. Their occupation was not just a job; it was something they performed with thoughtful intention.
As time progressed, Taylor graduated to needing less intense observation. As he entered his third month of recovery, he was hospitalized for another surgery at a different location. Kristine called to let me know that when we returned, Taylor would be moved to a new area.
This move was a good thing, representing forward motion. Taylor was going to be in capable hands and would experience growth, but my heart could not receive that. Instead, I felt devastated, frightened and angry. I did not want Taylor to leave the people we trusted. I did not want to welcome strangers I had merely seen in the hallways into my heart, my pain, and our family’s suffering. I wanted to stay where we were. I wanted Kristine and Dina.
Upon returning, Taylor was assigned a new room. New nurses. New aides. And a new routine. The sadness that I felt was harsh. I was so consumed by it, that I could barely speak with Kristine. She had stood with me through many tough moments. Her wisdom calmed my anxious heart. Her knowledge helped me grow. And now I felt like a small child, left out in the cold. Moving forward meant letting her go.
I worked through the situation the best way I knew how. Taylor and I visited the area where Kristine and Dina worked ensuring that Taylor saw them often. But we also had to release them. We had to embrace the new team. Within a short time, we discovered that the new team was exceptional too. In fact, the new male nurse now assigned to Taylor bonded with our whole family.
Little did I know in those first months that there would be countless goodbyes to come. Doctors, therapists, and nurses would change. Caregivers and even close friends would drift away.
Part of living with brain injury is letting go of people we’ve come to love and those we’ve let into our world and our pain. While saying goodbye isn’t easy, it is necessary for the long haul associated with our journey. Learning to say goodbye in healthy ways opens up places for new beginnings to unfold and perhaps for more healing to occur in both our loved one and ourselves.