Wednesday, March 9, 2011

live life full throttle

working in a hospital i am usually aware when people are trying to bring awareness to a cause of some kind. they are passing out their respective color ribbons, posters are hung on the walls, emails are sent out or flowers being sold in the lobby. i can't keep straight what month honors what illness or disability or what color represents what. the one i always remember is april. it's autism awareness month and we wear blue. actually i wear 2 blue bracelets year round, i never take them off.  another month that i have recently started to pay attention to is march. march is brain injury awareness month. one of my very close high school friend's father passed away after suffering a brain injury during a motorcycle accident in may 2006.

ill never forget that night. i had just gotten out of a rehearsal and i had a missed call from alisha. i was busy humming the songs we had been working on when i called her back. it had been a few weeks since we had talked and i was looking forward to catching up with her.

"hey 'lish...."
"sarah! my dad, he's dead"
"sarah! what am i going to do, who is going to walk me down the aisle"

she was sobbing and i couldn't believe what she had to say. the next bunch of days were a blur. it was at the end of the semester at college and i couldn't leave to go be with her. i called her everyday. alish was a week or 2 away from graduating from nursing school and 3 months away from getting married. despite everything she graduated from the university of maine with a degree in nursing and danced the night away at her wedding reception, dedicating my humps to her dad. claude was a crazy man and he loved that song.

alisha and her mom dancing to my humps at her wedding
 2 years later i got married and alisha was one of my bridesmaids. i got married at the same church my parents were married in. at the beginning of the rehearsal alisha asked me what the big bird hanging from the ceiling of the church was. i had no idea and so we asked the minister. he said "oh, that's claude. the kids in the sunday school made it". he offered to take it down for the wedding but there was no way i was going to let him do that. i really felt like claude was watching over us. seriously? who names a bird claude? it was meant to be. so he stayed.

at my wedding, with claude the bird watching overhead.
 every spring i remember claude. i think of him when i see all the motorcycles out on the road. i think about what an amazing dad he was to one of my best friends. i know he would be so proud of her day.  live life full throttle. it was claudes motto on life and since may 2006, i've adapted that philosophy.

alisha wrote a guest post for her college roommate and i wanted to share that with you today....

It started out as a beautiful spring day. My mom picked me up at my apartment early that morning and we headed north for a bridal shower. The sun was shining and although my mom was happy to be spending time with me I knew she was also thinking about how much she would have liked to be with my dad. He was headed out for the day on his motorcycle with their closest friends. My mom usually joins them and rides on the back of his bike, something they enjoyed doing as often as possible. When the bridal shower was over my mom dropped me off and headed home. It had been not even an hour since my mom left when I received a phone call from a close friend of our family, Sherri. It was a phone call I will NEVER forget. I could tell from the minute she said “hello” that something was wrong. “You need to get to the hospital,” I heard, “it’s your dad.” At that moment I felt my body go numb. Tears were pouring from my eyes, and I couldn’t stop my body from shaking. I was sitting there alone in my apartment (my husband, which was my fiancĂ© at that time, was out golfing with his friends). Alone, at a time when I needed someone more than ever. I don’t know how I managed to make it there, but I grabbed my keys and ran out the front door. Tears still pouring from my eyes, I drove to the hospital. I ran into the Emergency Department, still dressed in my skirt from the bridal shower. I was the first one to the hospital, living only five minutes down the road. The lady in registration brought me to the “family room.” That was the moment when I knew it wasn’t good, because usually when you are visiting someone in the ED they allow you in to see him or her. Instead she brought me to a room where I was again, alone. It seemed like an eternity, although only ten minutes had gone by before my mom, my husband, and my close friend Emma arrived. I was so thankful at that moment to have them there. One of the doctors came into the room where we were sitting to tell us that my dad had sustained a traumatic brain injury and that the prognosis was not good. My dad had crashed his bike (thank God my mom was not with him), hitting his head with such force that it was causing his brain to swell. At that moment a million thoughts came rushing to my head. It was ironic because I was in my last semester of nursing school and in my class we were learning about brain injuries. Everything the doctor was telling us, I understood, probably more than I wanted at that time. I knew that we were either facing a long road of recovery, or death. We were brought into a procedure room where they had just implanted a monitor in my dad’s skull that would measure his intracranial pressure. We were allowed to see him for a brief moment before they took him into the Intensive care unit (ICU). He was unconscious, hooked up to a ventilator and laying there motionless. I stood there looking over him and told him that I loved him before we were brought to the ICU waiting room. It was a while before they let us in to see him again. He was hooked up to monitors, IV’s, tubes everywhere. I sat down in a chair beside his bed and laid my head on his chest. I could still hear his heart beating, but I knew that the only thing keeping him alive at that moment were the machines. We spent the most horrifying 26 hours in the ICU hanging on to any ounce of hope we could find. The doctors told us that my dad had so much swelling in his brain that it caused “brain death,” meaning that the brain ceases to function, he was unable to breathe on his own and the only thing keeping his heart pumping was the ventilator that was breathing for him. Without the ventilator he would die. My mom and I knew we had to say goodbye, as hard as it was. They asked us if he was an organ donor, and we said “yes.” We watched as they turned off the ventilator and pronounced the time of death. The man I knew to be my father was gone. My life would be forever changed from that moment on.

It will be five years this May since his death and not a day goes by where I don’t think about him. Things are definitely different without him in our lives. He was the joy that held our family so close together. He brought smiles to everyone he had contact with. Everyone knew and loved my dad. I am so thankful for the time that I got to spend with him and will forever cherish those memories.

Since the death of my dad, I have graduated from nursing school and have become a rehabilitation nurse. I work daily with patients who have sustained brain injuries, those who have been lucky enough to survive. I am reminded daily of what it could have been. Not all brain injuries result in death. In fact, of the 1.7 million brain injuries that occur each year 52,000 die, 275,000 are hospitalized and 1.365 million are treated and released. Those patients that are hospitalized usually end up needing rehab, where they re-learn basic skills, such as walking or talking. The goal of rehab is to improve their abilities so they can function at home and in the community as independently as possible. Even though I have lost someone so important to me, I thank God everyday that I get to help others who are going through such life changing events. I see the joy that family members have when their loved one walks or talks for the first time. The joy the patient has when they are able to eat their first meal and not have to be fed through a tube, when they can go to the bathroom and not be incontinent, when they take their first steps, and when they can finally return home. I am blessed!

R.I.P Daddy 5/1/06, forever in my heart!

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