April 2022 Alexandra Morrow
April 12, 2022
At some point in life, we all receive a call that changes everything. For me, that call came on September 27, 2019, from a hospital in Boise, Idaho.
My husband, partner, and best friend of over 10 years was in the ICU with severe head trauma from a mountain biking accident – a “traumatic brain injury” they called it.
I’d never heard the term TBI before that day nor did I have any bearing for what that would mean for the rest of our lives. By the time I flew across the country and made it to his ICU room, I was met with the harsh reality that our lives would never be the same. Intubated, wrapped in wires, and unconscious – it’s an image I’ll never forget, though I wish I could.
For two and a half weeks I waited for Chris to wake up from his coma. But as anyone with experience in brain injuries knows, sometimes it’s the waking up that’s the hardest part, and “once you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury.” No one could tell me what the future would hold.
When Chris “came to” he couldn’t speak, or move the right side of his body – the speech therapist asked him to point to yes on a sheet of paper and he pointed to “no.” When she asked him if I was his wife he pointed to “no.” He would point at the wall, he would stare at me blankly. In those moments it seemed the harder I tried to get through the more confused he would be. I was terrified this person I loved was never going to come back to me. That was a difficult reality to accept and in so many ways, this part of the process was even more difficult than the weeks when he was in a coma.
In the midst of all that was uncertain a therapist said to me, “Ask yourself what is enough today. Is it enough that his eyes are open? Is it enough that the nurse smiled? Is it enough that the sun is shining? Is it enough? What small thing can be enough today?” I held onto those words pretty closely in that time because sometimes looking at the entire reality we were facing was near impossible and inherently paralyzing.
Chris’ story has been shared widely so I’ll spare you the details, but he has recovered in ways I never could have imagined. After years working as a nuclear engineer, he is now pursuing a career in nursing and is enrolled at UNE in their Accelerated Bachelors in Nursing Program. This past Fall he ran the Boston Marathon and fundraised over $8,000 for Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, where he received in-patient therapy. We are fortunate on so many levels – in no small part due to the community of friends, health care professionals, family, and numerous others who came out of the woodworks to shower us with love, financial support, sit with us in moments of grief, and remain focused on small day to day goals rather than large ones. We will forever be grateful.
By sharing our story, Chris has found a way to transform his experience into a rallying cry to inspire others. In turn we’ve found ourselves fielding calls from across the state from people who are newly faced with the reality of brain injury. People ask us for resources, contacts, and advice. We’ve built care packages, and medical binders, and offered a listening ear because we know what it’s like to be in that place – to not have answers to questions, to need a story that offers hope, and to desperately need to know we’re not alone in this. At the same time, we understand that no two brain injuries are the same – and so we offer hope with caution and kindness. Every story is different.
As a caregiver I was fortunate to have an entire web of support – of people who made space for me to feel in the ways I needed to, even when those feelings were confusing. All the questions, the sadness, the anger, the confusion, the apathy, the grief, the connection, the joy – it was all valid.
As time goes on Chris and I continue to navigate our relationship to all that has happened as we chart a new story. One that encompasses all that has happened, honors each of our experiences through this ordeal, and also creates space for all that is to come, both the expected and unexpected.