FAITH AND PATIENCE
COMMUNITY STORIES | 4.14.18 | By Laura Abel
Hunter: Son, brother, uncle, friend, confidant, colleague, comedian, DJ, hunting buddy, and all around fantastic human being who is struggling with something nobody should have to go through - especially at only 30 years old.
Laura: Mom, wife, grandmother, caregiver, caterer, woman of faith, and all around nurturing woman, who is also adjusting to an unexpected trauma.
My name is Laura and I am writing to share my story and experience of supporting my son, Hunter, following his brain injury.
Early Saturday morning, January 28, 2017 Hunter was driving near his home in North Austin when his vehicle crashed into the side of the highway. He was alone in his car and no one else was impacted in the accident. He was found approximately an hour and half after the accident and taken to St. David's Round Rock Medical Center, the premier trauma facility in Central Texas. He was attended by trauma doctors and an amazing cadre of nurses, nurse practitioners, technicians, specialists, and generally stellar human beings. It was determined immediately that Hunter had sustained a left brain hemorrhage that caused his accident to happen. Doctors had to drain a hole in the trauma room to reduce the brain swelling from the bleeding hemorrhage in order to save his life.
We were not contacted for twelve hours due to lack of personal information on Hunter. It took a tenacious nurse to find my cell phone number. The call went as follows: “Your son is in an induced paralytic coma at St. David’s Round Rock Hospital”. We arrived and were told he had a 50/50 chance of survival, and I went into state of emotional shock. After standing there looking at the doctor, I walked away, took three deep breaths and thought “ok, let’s look at the positive.” I started making phone calls and focused solely on what I had the power to do to help Hunter.
During one of our first mornings in the hospital, we met with an amazing doctor who had some sage words of wisdom for impatient beings like us. He said something that really resonated, like he knew what we needed to hear. “If I were you," he said, "I would think about comparing progress week to week vs. day to day." This was helpful advice because it helped us set realistic expectations. Initially, we were looking for daily improvement. He helped us realize that any daily changes may not be noticeable to us, but that more visible changes would occur over longer periods of time.
In the second week, we had tremendous hope as the physicians started Hunter’s wake-up process. Hunter turned his head to the sound of my voice. My heart just cried out to God, “thank you, thank you”. Then suddenly, he experienced respiratory complications, and his doctors had to slow the process of waking him up. That day was very difficult. By that time, I was getting really tired, and it started to feel like we were only hearing bad news. I had spent two weeks being strong for Hunter, for my family and our community. I kept up my “game-face”, greeting everyone that came to the hospital to visit and not really taking time for myself. It was at that point that I realized that I needed to reached out for help from others.
Like other families, we spent a lot of time at the hospital and rehab. There were many challenges, including inevitable fatigue and having to learn to ride the roller coaster of recovery. Healing is a long process and caution is the name of the game. But for all of the challenges, there were many positives. Our community of friends and family have been amazing. People supported Hunter with visits, prayers and family support. I believe this is a testament to how much Hunter gave and loved people his entire life. His support has been a reflection of his heart. We've also had compassionate care. In fact, one night a nurse came in and sat with me...and cried with me. She is a also a mom and commented that she was seeing and learning about what it takes to handle this situation. In my mind there is no alternative, “you do what you have to do for your child.”
Hunter’s healing has been marked by incredible improvements. I appreciate them all, though some stick out more than others. About 2-3 weeks into his healing, he did something I’ll never forget. He squeezed my hand like he’s never done before. It was like something in him woke, something sparked like he knew who I was- it was such a hopeful sign that he was starting to wake up. Later on, about 3 months into his recovery, his speech therapist called me and said that someone wanted to say hi. Hunter’s first words spoken to me were “Hi Mom, love you.” My heart melted and I was overcome with joy. I was stuck in traffic. I wanted to pull over and shout from the mountain top!
Hunter’s recovery has continued to be amazing. After rehab, Hunter started out by living at our house, but is now living in his own home with his therapy dog. He is walking, jogging on occasion, cooking and doing most of the things at home he was doing before. Hunter’s last hurdle to climb is working on his communication. Though he knows exactly what he wants to communicate his brain injury inhibits his ability to find the right words to convey what he is thinking and feeling. This means his conversations are often limited, which can be frustrating for someone who has a knack words. Fortunately, it is possible for other parts of Hunter’s brain to take over his speaking ability. His focus in therapy is to coax these other parts into taking over. It also helps for him to get together with friends, coworkers and family. His speech improves when he is talking and bonding with others.
I am just now beginning to process many of the emotions that have come along with this trauma. I am an act now- feel later kind of person, so am just now starting to feel the impact of this injury. For other parents and family members going through a similar experience, I would advise you to make efforts for self-care from the very beginning. Though you may feel the need to host or entertain every person that is interested in visiting or hearing updates on your loved one’s progress, it is important to set limits and boundaries to allow time to take care of yourself. I would also say to stay patient, as healing is a long journey...and my advice for everyone...don’t ever take anything for granted.