Wednesday, December 10, 2008

Five

Okay, Cat,

I'm probably not the only one to say this, but I really, really want to know how the story with Scott ends! You just left it there, dangling, and when you resumed blogging, you were on to totally different things. So, finish it, dammit! Or at least make something up if you don't want to tell the truth.


--A Concerned Reader


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For those of you who have read my posts One, Two, Three and Four, and want to know what ended up happening between Scott and I, this (long ass) post is for you! Everybody else? Um...too bad, go away and come back tomorrow

And please forgive me if the details are a little off (those of you who were there through it all). It's been a long time now, and some of it I've tried to forget.

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The story truly began at the end of that fourth post, when I entered the hospital that terrible night in March, 2005. There are so many medical details, none of them particularly interesting, unless someone you love has a brain injury. And then, of course, no two brain injuries (or recoveries) are the same.


It took weeks to piece together something that resembled a reasonable explanation of what happened the night of Scott's accident. We got tidbits from people who overheard some state troopers discussing the scene at a gas station nearby. Doctors and nurses speculated on what may have happened, and how his body was impacted in the crash. Eventually, many agonizing weeks later, we got a copy of the police report - the only new information it had were the names and numbers of three witnesses. I almost called those three people, but decided against it in the end.


Basically, Scott was driving north on his way to work and his truck just...veered slowly to the right, off the shoulder and into the culvert. There didn't appear to be any reason, there were no deer, the roads were dry, it was still daylight outside. Friends and family all decided he must have dropped something - a spitter cup, his cell phone, maybe a spilled Coke - and was reaching to grab the dropped item. And just...drove right off the road.



The wheel well on the truck struck a cement culvert and the truck flipped several times. Scott, who wasn't buckled in, was thrown out either through the windshield or the side window, and was found laying near the tailgate of his totalled vehicle. He was unresponsive, and the had vomited and aspirated from the trauma (which fortunately didn't kill him, but did cause a wicked case of pneumonia in the days to come).


Traffic was halted in both directions so a helicopter could land and transport him to a hospital several suburbs away. His cell phone was lost in the crash, and it took them quite a while to figure out who to call with the news of his accident. Eventually, they simply called Domino's, a clue they must have noted before all his clothing was cut off and replaced by...well, tubes, really.



He spent 12 days in the trauma-neuro intensive care unit, during which time we were told that he wouldn't walk again, that he may or may not even wake up out of the comatose state, that he may be paralyzed on his left side, he might lose one of his eyes, on and on went the terrifying news. In the end, after many tests and scans and specialists, it was determined that he had at least two types of brain injuries: the first was bruising to his right parietal lobe, and the second was a shearing injury in his brain stem, and means basically that the force of the trauma caused some of his brain stem nerves to snap like rubber bands. The first damaged area controlled some cognitive functions like speech and memory. The second area controlled much of the movement on the left side of his body.


I tell you all this simply to convey how serious it was, how indescribably terrible. How helpless I felt (we all did) as we sat, day after day, in the lobbies and cafeterias in the hospital, discussing ways to build ramps all over our house so he could get around in a wheelchair. All the time spent wishing he would just open his damn eyes and wake up already. Scott's family and our friends were just amazing, helping in every conceivable way to make things easier. There were so many helping hands, and so very little to actually be done.
I spent about four months living alone in my empty house, with our dog Cola, drinking too much and trying to pay the bills on my own. He had insurance, thankfully, the hospital bills totalled over $150,000. He had several policies that paid out, and with that we were able to keep the house and buy a new truck for him when the time came. I filled out stacks - nay, REAMS - of insurance forms, social security applications, health paperwork, state funding forms. I was audited by State Farm at least once, for insurance fraud, but clearly was able to prove all of the charges submitted by the hospital were, in fact, valid.
I got very drunk one weekend night, about 2 months in. I pulled out the yellow pages and started calling escort services. They all have answering machines on which to leave your name and number, and they call you back (apparently) if they feel you're not "out to get them" or something. By the time they started calling back, I was seriously regretting having made the phone calls in the first place. Mostly I didn't answer the phone, and they left return messages for days. One time, I did answer the phone, and the poor guy on the other end of the line, after explaining the services and the related charges, sat and listened to me as I cried and told him that I was lonely and scared and didn't know what to do with myself. He listened for a very long time before finally asking if I wanted to set up a meeting or not. Unfortunately for him, I did not.
Scott's brother once stopped me as I was heading to my car in the parking ramp of the hospital (where we paid the daily parking charges in bulk to get a discount), and he said, "Be careful about the drinking, Catherine - it might be a crutch for now, but it won't take very long before it's something more." I tried to listed to his advice, and I suppose I did to a certain exent, but it was much easier to sleep through the night if I had at least a little to drink.



I remember the first time I saw Scott sitting up in bed, in his hospital room on a different floor. It took several people just to keep him upright, and his left eye lolled aimlessly around in it's socket, clearly not "with it", not seeing anything. That image still haunts me sometimes: him, looking like a skeleton, a tracheotomy tube sticking out of his throat, his eyes pointing in entirely different directions, unable to sit or stand unassisted.
He started calling me at work, at home, on my cell phone - over and over again. I'd get to work in the morning and find dozens of them waiting for me. Some of the voice mails he left were intelligible, but many were just the sound of him breathing and the hospital television in the background. There were messages left at 1:00 in the morning and 1:03 in the morning and 3:00 in the morning, asking me if I knew his sister and if I had her phone number, despite the laminated phone list I left for him by his hospital bed, despite reminding him it was there every day.



In the months that followed his accident, he learned how to talk again. How to swallow without choking. How to pee without help. How to stand, walk, sit. It was eerily akin to watching a young child go through all those phases of development. Only this was a fully-grown man who owned a landscaping company and liked to fish and hunt and play sports. He spent 12 days in the ICU, then another six or seven weeks in the hospital. After that was one month living at Courage Center, a sort of group home for people with brain and spinal cord injuries, where he learned to be an adult again: doing laundry, following a schedule, making his own bed. After Courage Center was a month in Arkansas, living with his parents and getting additional tutoring and physical therapy.


His personality was extremely different, at least during those first few months. We were fortunate not to experience the rage and anger that so many brain injury victims go through. There were glimpses of rage - the time he spit at me as I bent to talk to him as he sat in his wheelchair. Mostly he was sort of happily oblivious, sitting with his hands clasped in his lap and laughing at inappropriate times.
Once, in the hospital, they sent in a recreational therapist who had a long list of questions about his hobbies, interests, etc. She wanted to get an idea of what they could use from his personal life to speed his recovery along. Many of the questions I had to answer myself, as he was either totally unable to respond (couldn't find the words he wanted to say) or off in la-la land, spacing out. But when she asked him about his hobbies, he told her that he liked to go hunting. She looked to me for confirmation, and I nodded. She asked him what he liked to hunt, and he told her that he liked to hunt for lobsters and fish with his two hunting dogs. Lobsters and fish. He went on and on about hunting for lobsters and fish, to the point where it would have been comical had I not been so horrified. Another time, as his brother wheeled him around the hospital corridors, he had some sort of episode where he thought the two of them were actually out hunting pheasants. He'd turn around and call the dogs, told them to come on. He told his brother they needed to get of that trail because they'd already walked it and there were no birds.
Once he moved to Courage Center, and sometimes when he was still in the hospital, he was allowed to leave with his family for "day trips" and sometimes an "overnight trip". On these outings, I was always petrified that he would trip and fall, hit his head. Something that simple could easily have killed him in that stage of the recovery. He wasn't to be left unattended for any length of time, not to use the bathroom, and not while sleeping. Then, on the return drive to the hospital, sometimes he would cry and beg us not to take him back. He didn't understand why he couldn't just be at home with us all of the time.
In August, he moved back into the house with me. By that point, he was functioning pretty well on his own and had much better use of his reasoning and cognitive skills. He could be alone while I was at work. He would call me, sometimes as many as a dozen times during the day, to ask for phone numbers or to tell me about something that he'd done. But at least he was home, and for that I was grateful.
I took the month of September off from work so I could take him to additional physical therapy and occupational therapy appointments, as well as driver's ed (in order to get his license reinstated), and some counseling. I remember once, after I'd dropped his skinny, limping, neck-brace-wearing self off at the driving school for his first on-the-road training...I got about a quarter mile down the road and had to pull over, as a full-blown panic attack took over my body. I was petrified of leaving him alone with strangers - behind the wheel of a car! - and the guilt and fear and exhaustion just hit me in that moment.
At the end of September, we took a long weekend up north, and he proposed to me after dinner one night. I knew that none of the problems that existed in our relationship before the accident were gone. I knew he had a long recovery ahead of him yet, that he wasn't able to work or drive or stay alone for long periods of time. But I also knew that I just simply COULD NOT say no to that man who had been through so much, and who thanked me for standing by his side through it all. In that moment when he proposed, after the words had left his mouth and he looked expectantly at me for a reply, I could no sooner say no than I could have pushed him down a flight of stairs.
And so, we were engaged. I convinced myself that it would be okay. That marriage is a decision. I truly loved him, and I knew he loved me, and we would make it all work. I wasn't making a mistake, I was making a decision.
Over the year of our engagement, his old personality - the hot, fast temper, the alcohol, the irritability - all of those things returned, crept slowly back, so that I didn't notice many of them until long after they'd reappeared. Except now, they were compounded by his lagging cognitive functions and his frustration with his body that no longer cooperated all of the time. Loud noises, sudden movement, dogs barking, babies crying, the doorbell - all of those things were likely to put him into a rage. He never struck me, or laid a finger on me, but he did kick our dogs and throw them across the room sometimes. I realized over this time that I could never, EVER have children with him. I would never trust him alone with a child, especially a baby. This, more than anything I think, is the reason we didn't make it.
Episodes and incidents compiled, angry outbursts, drunken injuries, excuses. An online personal ad he placed just months before our wedding. The signs were all pointing to "HOLD THE FUCK ON AND DO NOT GET MARRIED", but the few times I broached the subject with him, he became inconsolable and, and times, made suicidal threats. And so I caved, time and time again.
We were married in September 2006, in Anchorage, Alaska. It was a beautiful wedding. I truly loved that man, and still do. We did a little counseling, both together and separately. But it took only 8 months before I told him I wanted a divorce. I put our house on the market, and it sold within 24 hours. In the bad housing market, I took that as a sign that I was doing the right thing.
Our divorce was finalized on November 21, 2007. I just realized now that the anniversary came and went last month without my noticing.
Of course, it wasn't only him that made mistakes. There were countless things I did to sabotage the relationship. It's just so much easier to forget my own faults and remember my justifications. But I sometimes wonder what he saw in me over the years, what it was about me that contributed to his unhappiness. What things I did to hurt him. I wonder how he's doing all of the time. I haven't heard from him in months, and that's probably for the best. Last I did hear, he finished his vocational program and got a good job. He quit drinking. He was happy. And I'm so glad for all of that. I don't believe either of us would have been truly happy had we stayed together.
There are times when I still get hit with a gut-wrenching guilt for leaving him, for sending him out on his own, for giving up. I miss his family, I lost them all. His mother mostly, who took me in and treated me as one of her own for so many years. But I've never, not even for a second, wondered if I made the right decision. We just weren't good for each other. We had no trust, no respect, no communication. Oil and water.
And so, I guess that's really the end of the story.