On July 22nd of this year, my Mom celebrated five years having quit smoking. I refer to that day as the day she almost died. (If you’ve never read that entry, please do. It’s one of the ones I’m proudest of.) That day and the months that followed have been on my mind a lot since Senator Johnson made his first public appearance after his aneurysm in December. Although his aneurysm was not the same as my Mom’s – the comments from him and his family indicate the recovery process has been similar. One of his son’s said something about how in the beginning, they weren’t thinking about whether or not he’d recover, they just wanted him to make it through the night. And, my god, do I remember that.
When I first saw my Mom in ICU after her aneurysm, she called me by her sister’s name. I remember immediately fearing the worse. Thinking that small mistake meant all was lost. Little did I realize – that mistake would be the high point over the next few weeks. My brother was living in Seattle and didn’t make it to see her until several hours after I did. By the time he got to her, she was no longer aware or awake enough to speak. She was on a ventilator and was unconscious. I remember feeling awful he didn’t get to hear her talk to him one last time. I began to cherish the memory of her calling me, “Sarah” – because at least it was something.
Four weeks after my Mom’s aneurysm, she was still in ICU at Vanderbilt, and her case worker was helping me find an assisted living facility here in Huntsville to place her in. She was going to need constant medical attention for the rest of her life. The were still talking partial paralysis and possible brain damage. I put a deposit down on a lovely place near my home. It was all very surreal.
Then, within a few days she was awake and talking. Even trying to walk, although her muscles weren’t cooperating after 5 weeks of being in bed. She was recovering. The deposit check was torn up and we, instead, put her in a rehab hospital where they could help speed her physical and mental recovery. It was then – five weeks after her aneurysm – that I actually started thinking about the things the Senator’s son spoke of: Would she recover?
She came to live with me for 4 weeks after getting out of the rehab hospital, that was the most consecutive time we had spent together since I was six. My brother was living there too – helping take care of things during the day while MrZ and I were at work. It was a very full apartment and we were bursting at the seems. But I cried the day they went back to Knoxville.
I cried because I loved being so close to her – something I didn’t really experience growing up. I cried because I was amazed by the miracle that was her recovery. I cried because we had survived. We all had. We had lived together: She, my brother and I, for four weeks and no one killed themselves or anyone else. My Mom was “better” – she had danced with death and then simply moved onto dance with life again. Simple as that.
As the years pass, I still feel like I’m taking it all in. My Mom is at her office, doing her job today. The same job she was doing the day before the aneurysm. With most of the same people. People who essentially saved her life because the sent someone to her apartment when she still wasn’t at work by 9am. She’s living in the same apartment, with the same dog. Other than two shunts from her skull that no one can see now with her full head of hair – she is essentially the same person she was before that day in July, five years ago.
Except she’s no longer smoking. So she smells a lot nicer.
If I could tell Senator Johnson’s family anything – it would be to simply hang in there. The language is the slowest to return. My Mom depended on the word “Sears” for weeks. If the word she needed wouldn’t come to her, she’d substitute it with the word “Sears” for no reason anyone can understand. We joke with her that she must have and a deeper shopping addiction than anyone realized. But – If the Johnson’s as blessed as we were – the language will return.
And I’d tell them not to forget this time. The recovery process. I sent daily emails out to friends and family throughout the ordeal with my Mom. Updating everyone on her status. I would kill to have copies of those emails today. None of us took any pictures during those weeks at Vanderbilt either. At the time, I guess, it seemed too morbid. But I wish I had some now. To remind us how far she has come. You’ll just have to trust me since I don’t have the pictures to show you. It was rough. There were two cranial surgeries – one to block the bleed and one to put in the shunts to drain the excess CS fluid. And four solid weeks on a ventilator. It was not pretty. But knowing she’s sitting in her office, at her desk, less than 300 miles away, working like nothing had ever happened? That is a beautiful thing.