Over the past few months, I have written extensively about the impact my wife's burst brain aneurysm had on our lives. Although the physical disabilities resulting from her stroke have created many challenges, one of my greatest fascinations has been the evolution of my wife's consciousness over the past five years.
It is very clear to me that the woman I married forty-one years ago is not the same woman I am living with today, if you define who we are by the characters we project. The woman I married was shy, soft spoken, and had a relatively low self-esteem. At the same time, she was loving, loyal, smart, hard-working, and really cared about the health and happiness of others. She would never allow having her picture to be taken and would never sing out-loud.
After the brain surgery that tied the aneurysm and saved her life she literally had no concept of self. In those first few days and weeks after she awoke, she did not know who I was, or her son, as we visited her every day. She did not know who she was. She was just there, looking around the hospital room as if she was just born. Her attention turned to every sound, every motion and the look on her face was astonishment, surprise, innocence and curiosity.
A month or so after her surgery, they removed the trachea tube from her throat and we all waited patiently to see if she could speak. One morning, as the nurse and I roled my wife over to change her diaper, my face was just inches away from her face when I heard her say softly, “ouch.” I immediately began to cry. It took several more days before she spoke another word, which was “good morning,” when I showed up for my morning visit. As the weeks went on, she would add one or two words a week to her vocabulary.
As the days went on I began to bring pictures of her family to her to find out if she recognized anyone. At first, she did not. Hospital therapists would come in to test her cognitive abilities. In the beginning, she did not know the difference between yes and no, and could not remember what a ball was, a hamburger or dozens of other common items.
She spent three months in the hospital and over that time she slowly began to remember. Before we left the hospital, she did recognize the photos of her family, even distant family members, though she still had little memory of the details of her life. She also did not have short term memory, as she could not remember things that happened just seconds earlier. For a time I put her in a nursing home after leaving the hospital, which is a story itself. In short, our insurance company did not want to pay for that, and the director of the facility seemed to be aligned with the insurance company. The director, who wanted to prove to me that she did not belong there, gave my wife a test. He asked her what my name is … she did not know. He asked her to sing Happy Birthday … she could not. So he turned to me and said she has serious brain damage and there was nothing they could do. I mentioned to him that her surgeon told me she could continue to improve over time, but the director said the surgeon was only telling me something I wanted to here. It was his experience, he said, that she would not see much improvement in the months and years ahead. I was furious that he would say such a thing and wrote a complaint letter to the hospital.
Over the past five years, my wife's long term memory has nearly completely returned, as has her short term memory. Although she has her long term memory, she only uses it when asked to. Mostly she lives in the moment. She is still very child-like in her view of the world. She loves her life and is grateful for every moment in it. She can not only sing Happy Birthday, she sings all the great rock and roll songs of the 60s and 70s, and is not shy at all when she does. As the years have gone by, she continues to become more and more self-aware, but she does not have the typical ego. She is not trying to be someone special. She does not try to draw attention to herself. She speaks what is on her mind and notices the little things around her. As the old saying goes, we should stop and smell the roses. Well, she lives in the rose garden and is enjoying every minute of it. She is a constant reminder to me that life is lived in the now. There is really nothing more. She does not worry about money, about anything. She has complete faith that everything is going to be alright. She is living at a different level of consciousness. It's a simple place, an innocent place, a peaceful place, a happy place.
Admittedly, sometimes I miss having an “adult” conversation, or sharing some of the complicated issues I entertain from time to time. But she just brings me back to the moment. There are others in my life I can be a grown up with and allow my ego to do its dance. But I do not have to dance for my wife. She loves me just the way I am and loves her life even with her physical disabilities. One day I would like to take my wife back to that nursing home and ask her to sing the director a song. It probably will not change his demeanor much, but it would sure make me feel better.