Almost A Year Later…

May 11, 2012

Brain Injury Rehab, Health, Mike

We are well past the 1 year mark when Mike had his cardiac arrest.  We are coming up on the 1 year anniversary of the day he was finally discharged from inpatient care for the cardiac arrest and its complications.  Like that old Virginia Slims commercial used to say…We’ve come a long way Baby!  It’s really hard to believe that on May 25 it will be exactly one year since I brought home a guy who didn’t really know who his wife and kids were, who he was…or even that he was home since he kept getting ready to pack up and go home.

Today we have settled into our new normal…and it’s not all that bad, really.  It’s a far cry from what I was warned to expect almost 16 months ago when he first arrested.  Ultimately, it could be much, much worse.

Today Mike recognizes me as his wife, he recognizes our kids.  He thinks they are still kids…and can’t fathom they are grown adults.  He can’t believe and can’t consistently remember we are married 32 years.  He doesn’t know who the President is (most Republicans would like to be able to forget!) and can’t remember who it is when he is told.  Yesterday I discovered he doesn’t remember the 911 terrorist attacks or the war in the Middle East.  I had to stop the Smithsonian Channel documentary he was watching to show him the original CNN video clips of the Tower and Pentagon attacks.  Over and over he asked when that happened.  By last night he didn’t remember watching them or that it had ever occurred.

He doesn’t remember the day or date.  Seasons normally elude him so when choosing his own clothing to wear he invariably chooses inappropriate clothing.  Though I’ve sorted out almost everything to ensure success, he finds my hiding places.  If he has in his mind it is Fall, he seeks warm clothing.  Forget that it’s 80 degrees.  It’s Fall in Mike’s mind.  He doesn’t recall our wedding or the kids births…but he knows I am his Mrs. and they are his kids.  His memory is pretty reliable up through 6th or 7th grade.  He has little ability to move new information from short to long term memory though little is better than no.

He initiates his own self care and I’ve ensured that the bathroom is set up for success…he can find there only what he needs and can no longer mistake tubes of ointments, salves, balms for toothpaste.  He forgets to wash certain parts of his body…and sometimes forgets he has already washed them and he washes them over and over (perseveration but not really…). The dogs plague him to go out when I do not jump to their command.  If I am not in the same room with him when this happens he puts them out and forgets them.

His attention is still seriously impacted. He will hyperfocus on things…and not be able to simultaneously monitor his bodily functions like balance or the need to use the bathroom.  Thus, there are frequent “accidents”.  He uses very short sentences in his speech…and still has trouble finding words for things.  He does still have a huge issue with names and naming objects.  Plus he whispers.  His voice is pretty much gone.  I can’t say why.

He cannot drive…there’s not enough short term memory or processing ability…and he’d get lost.  He can’t be unaccompanied outside of the house and cannot go further than our front porch or back deck…and only then if one of us is “supervising” the outing. His sister brought him one from a walk in the park and I saw him peering out the door for a long time after his return one day last week.  Suddenly he headed out the door and down to our car parked at the curb.  He didn’t remember it was our car…he thought it was his sister’s and that she was still sitting at the curb and he didn’t know why.  We must take him to the bathroom and back in restaurants or other functions outside of the home because he won’t be able to find his way to the bathroom or back on his own.

Any form of normal marital relationship is out of the question.  Any suggestion of intimacy causes him great embarrassment, as do public displays of affection like holding hands or kissing.  He acts like a 10 or 12 year old boy when he hears discussions of sex or intimacy and is completely incapable of contemplating an adult relationship.

Yet his life is not completely desolate.  He fishes, goes walking in the park with his sister, watches his favorite TV shows (which he no longer can really remember seeing from time to time), helps me around the house with dishwasher emptying (and then I hunt for the hiding places he has put things), laundry folding, dusting etc.  He expresses a strong desire to be self sufficient.

Physically, the docs seem very pleased.  His latest blood work is excellent.  He is in sinus rhythm.  Today a nuclear exercise stress test is scheduled as a purely precautionary measure since the artery involved last year that is now stented was a left main.  I dread the test…I am filled with fear.  Will he functionally be able to manage the treadmill or will he get injured since his balance is messed up?  Will his heart be able to withstand the stress?  Will he be capable of telling the technician if it is getting to be too much for him?   Will he survive it?  Frankly, I am terrified and wish we could avoid the whole thing.  But, it’s the responsible thing to do…so do it we shall.  (Please keep us in your prayers this afternoon!)

I am getting over the horrible flashbacks and fear and depression of last year.  Spring and the sunshine seem to have banished them, and other than today I almost forget the events of last year.  Lord knows I try!   Bottom line…I think we’ll get through this.  Maybe we have gotten through the worst of it and now we just settle down and enjoy our lives as they are.

Last night Mike told me we were lucky because we have each other.  Well, we are lucky for that and for so much more.  And grateful.  I am so very grateful to still have my husband and to have had the fabulous outcome we have had.  We have been truly blessed.


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One Comment on “Almost A Year Later…”

  1. Norman Figg Says:

    Dear mrs. Smallen I am Norman Figg from Dugger In. I served with mike abbored the U.S.S. Vancover LPD-2 in 1973. Mike and I were good friend’s I am Glad to receive Your up date on how things are going Be assured that we will keep you all in our prayers. Please send me any E-Mail you like . even If you have nothing important to say you, may use me as a vent.

    Sencerly Norman and Vicki Figg


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