After the doctor left with the agreement that Mark’s update reports would take place in the conference room in the future, I returned to his bedside. I held his hand, hoping to feel his spirit. Where are you Mark? Are you trapped between two worlds? Am I going crazy and imagining movements just because I want to see them? A thought came to mind, or possibly his spirit answering me, all energy is going to fight the infection and blood clot. Maybe, a coma is the best place for me right now.
Intermixed with all the worries, the improving numbers in his red and white cell counts were triumphs in my mind, along with his temperature and heart rate going down. With each passing day I was getting more and more anxious to move Mark to a rehab hospital closer to home.
The therapists were getting Mark out of bed two or three times per day now. After several weeks of lying in bed it was refreshing to see him sitting in a reclining wheelchair. Sometimes when his eyes were open, there was a blank stare. Other times I could see he was focused on something. However, every time he was moved, his eyes grew wide and he looked terrified. I felt and understood his fear. He had no control over his body and where it would land. I knew he was aware of the movement; I saw it in his eyes. In a soothing voice, I tried to reassure him everything would be okay.
One day I walked from one area in his room to another and noticed his eyes followed my movement. I walked a little farther away and lost his focus. When I got closer to the bed, I knew he could see me again and as I moved from the left side of the bed to the right side, he lost focus again. As I watched him from his right side, it appeared to me he was searching the left side to find me. I tested this a few times, moving from one side of the bed to the other. I was positive he could see me on the left side, but for some reason could not focus on me when I was on his right side. Every day I read to him and we listened to his favorite music on cassette tapes.
Christopher and Katie were now out of school and my mother was with them most days, but on the morning of June 12, 1991 she came early to be with me for the doctor’s report. Quickly walking towards the conference room she said, “Hi Mark,” as she walked past his room. Mark turned his head towards the door, obviously recognizing his name and her voice. A nurse was following behind her and somehow missed seeing his reaction, or at least wouldn’t admit to seeing it. In the conference room Mom told the doctor she was sure he recognized his name and her voice and he responded. The doctor and nurse would not agree that Mark’s response was worthy of any progress notation.
I was anxious to move Mark to Western Rehab Hospital for several reasons. It had a wonderful reputation for specializing in spinal cord and traumatic brain injuries and it was close to home. They only had a few beds available at the time and I was worried they’d be full when the doctor released him from McKay-Dee Hospital. The sixty mile daily commute to and from the hospital became increasingly difficult with the kids out of school and the frustrations the doctor and I felt for each other were becoming intense.
“When will Mark be released to go to Western Rehab,” I asked again.
“I don’t feel he’s should be moved yet.”
I reiterated my reasons for being anxious to move Mark and recounted all the positive improvements we had seen in the past ten days, including the response my mom had just had.
Exasperated, he said, “Well, if you’re so smart, why don’t you take him out yourself?”
Surprised by his statement, I asked, “Can I do that?”
“Yes. I don’t recommend it and you’ll have to make the arrangements yourself, but you can do it.”
“I’ll do it,” I exclaimed.
I was elated when I called Western Rehab to verify they had a bed for Mark. They helped me arrange for an ambulance to transport him there and requested the medical records from the hospital. I hadn’t been this excited since the car accident. While Mark was sitting up in the reclining wheelchair, I trimmed his beard, shaved his cheeks and gave him his first haircut since they shaved half of his head for the shunt placement, which had now been removed. All trimmed and shaved he looked better than he had in seven weeks and I was confident he was ready to move on to this next stage of his recovery. That night Dad came by the hospital and I asked him to give Mark a special blessing that all would go well with the transfer.
Saying good-bye to the Call family, whom I had shared the McDonald House with and the Peek family, who were residents of Ogden made leaving the hospital hard. These two families had become my hospital family. We spent many worrisome hours together in the waiting room while our loved ones were in ICU. We ate meals together, attended church services at the hospital and shared tears over concern for our loved ones. I knew I’d miss their love and support.
I didn’t take my decision to move Mark from the hospital lightly. I wanted to make sure everything went as smoothly as possible and was hoping I could ride in the ambulance with Mark to Western Rehab. Mom knew of my desire and was supportive in every way, so the next morning she drove me to the hospital and waited with me for the ambulance to arrive. Two EMT’s came to the room and with a white sheet under Mark’s body, they pulled him from his hospital bed onto the stretcher. The IV bag was moved to a pole on the stretcher, while his trachea tube was attached to a portable ventilator, which was placed at his side.
“May I ride with him in the ambulance,” I asked.
“Yes,” said one of the EMT’s, “you can ride in the passenger seat.”
As excited as I was to get Mark out of this hospital and closer to home, I felt intense gratitude towards the team of doctors and nurses for saving his life. I thanked each one of them as we gathered his medical records and packed up the last few personal items before walking out the door. I was leaving the hospital a changed person, realizing Mark’s life and recovery was now my responsibility. I was confident in my decision, but the accountability weighed heavily on my mind.
You are so brave! This sounds so scary to me. I didn’t dare take Greg out of the hospital in Coeur d’Alene until I had their full blessing, which was odd because at first I fought them about staying there when they flew us to that location. Such a small town compared to Salt Lake City. I thought I was a “take control” sort of a gal, but I don’t even hold a candle to you, and you were so young! Isn’t is funny what we can accomplish when when our loved ones truly need and depend on us? I know at those times we are surrounded by loved ones who are there for us, but it really comes down to us stepping up and taking control. Reminds me of a song by Simon and Garfunkel . . . “I am a Rock, I am an Island”.
I loved your comment Laura. I think it’s hard to leave the hospital that gets you through the initial crisis. The appreciation for doctors and nurses along with the security of a hospital family that had seen me through worrisome times did make it hard, but having Mark so far away from home was even harder. I also had faith that a Rehab hospital that specializes in TBI would be a more positive atmosphere which I was sure could only help him come out of his coma. Those reasons far outweighed any reasons to stay. You are a “take control gal,” and you’re right , when our loved ones depend on us, we can do things we never imagined. Thanks for reminding me of the great Simon and Garfunkel song.