Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Our new normal

We're back in Indiana, safe and sound, from our visit to NJ. We had a lovely visit with lots of time with family and friends. Patty hosted a belated 50th birthday party for John:

John and Jackie with the cakes she made for his 50th birthday party

John, Nora, and I spent a few days at Ocean City with Mom & Dad and Jen & Andrew. The water was calm, the entry was gentle, and watching Nora frolic in the water was magical:
Back on the beach... Ocean City, 8/5/13
As of Monday morning, the 2013-14 school year has started (for John, at least), and we're firmly into our new normal. John is back in the classroom, teaching 2 classes of junior English. John's colleagues welcomed him back by inviting him to throw out the first pitch at the annual back-to-school student-faculty softball game:
John out on the mound (wearing the black t-shirt),
ready to throw the ceremonial first pitch
Tomorrow is the first teaching day for John, we're in the throes of sorting out Nora's clothes (and filling gaps), I'm finishing up the last few minor tasks on my summer to-do list. Last year is officially over -- and we're going to take a break from the blog. We're happy to chat via phone or email whenever you want an update; we're eternally grateful for your love, prayers and support over the past year. But we're into our new normal, and it's time to just live it, not record every moment of it.

Monday, August 12, 2013

John's angel

I've been thinking a lot recently about the one person I haven't been able to thank, the man who came up to us while we waited in front of the life guard stand for the paramedics to arrive. He came right over, said, "I'm a heart surgeon -- actually, I work in trauma" and reached for John's left wrist. He stayed with us the whole time we waited, moving back and forth from side to side, tracking the pulse in John's arms. When the paramedics came, he talked to them a bit, and then as they carried John off the beach, he told me that John had an injury in his spinal column, probably a herniated disk, and that an MRI would be taken at the hospital to confirm it. And he told me John would be OK. I remember asking him to repeat what he's said he thought was wrong with John, so that I could tell them at the hospital, and he told me not to worry -- the doctors there would know what to do.

When I went back to the island on Wednesday to see Nora and for a shower and clean clothes, I went down to the beach for a minute. I knew that if I didn't go then, I'd never be able to step foot on sand again, and I just wasn't ready to give up on that. And I found the nurse who'd been there with us (Nora had played with her little girl that weekend), I found the guys who pulled John out of the water, I found a cousin of one of the lifeguards who'd been on duty when John got hurt. And I got to thank them all for saving his life, a profoundly powerful moment. But I couldn't find the surgeon. And no one remembered ever seeing him before. Odd for that stretch of beach. Certainly he might have come down just for the day and happened to pick the 81st St. beach. But you don't usually see that -- people usually come for at least a whole weekend, and we recognize each other. And no one remembered him...

Maybe I'd just let him fade away in my memory, but for a crazy little detail: he spent his time going back and forth between John's wrists, holding his fingers on John's pulse. And he spent about twice as much time on John's left wrist (his non-dominant side). And throughout recovery and rehab, his left side has responded earlier and stronger. For while, it even looked like he'd be switching to left-handed. And now it's his right shoulder that troubles him.

What am I stumbling my way toward? I have thought about him a lot in the past year. And I always come back to the way he introduced himself: "I'm a heart surgeon -- actually, I work in trauma." He was John's angel sent to take care of him (and me), I believe. He took care of our hearts during this trauma. This was the beginning of the grace that has healed John and sustained me and Nora and the rest of our families throughout this ordeal. Thank you, our friend...

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

July 30, 2013

We've been in NJ for a few days and we're still processing thoughts and emotions. But for now, to mark the one-year anniversary, some thoughts....

We saw Dr. Radcliff, John's surgeon, who was THRILLED with his progress. Dr. Radcliff said it best: "John, you've had a miraculous recovery!" He noticed the neurological effects when he examined John, obviously, but was very pleased the amount of function that John has regained.

Here we are, to quote my husband, "back at the scene of the crime":

A year ago today, our lives were forever changed (to fall back on a cliche). But a year later, by the grace of God, John is here with us, and he was able to share in these other life-changing events with us:
  • Nora started school and had a fabulous kindergarten year.
  • I learned how to make carrot cake (dangerous!).
  • Nora learned how to pump herself on the swing.
  • We learned that laughter goes a long way toward helping you cope with the unthinkable.
  • Nora learned to read! In the past few days, she read her first 100+-page chapter book to herself.
And tonight we will have a quiet evening together, with dinner at Beau Monde (where we had our first date) and then we'll stay at a nearby B&B (a mini second honeymoon).

Friday, June 14, 2013

Random observations/notes...

  • Although he wasn't here for her first day of school, John was very much present for Nora's moving up ceremony and last day of school (a half day and we took her to a new cheese shop/deli in town for lunch):
    Our new 1st grader!
  • I never realized until after John's accident just how often the helicopter lands at Memorial Hospital (a Level II Trauma center, 3 blocks from our house). You can hear the chopper plain as day throughout my house and yard.
  • Wednesday night, the tornado sirens went off just. after. we. left Nora's room... but the good news is, we got to do a drill and we had our first time getting everyone to the basement since John's accident. We made it in 3 minutes (I think -- I wasn't actually timing us), Nora did everything we had outlined for her when we discussed it a few weeks ago, we remembered everything, and the cats let me catch them (a minor miracle!). The great news: no tornado, so just some extra reading time.
  • Nora is loving being home for the summer with Ma and Pa -- we're playing an extended game of Little House on the Prairie. And somehow, she still finds it exciting, 2 weeks in, when I take her to my office three times a week while John does his exercises at Rolfs.
  • John and I are catching up on movies we've missed. Two we've enjoyed so far are Butter and Lincoln (very different stories with intriguing thematic overlaps).
  • And with the blessing of John's doctor and PT, he's tried driving in a parking lot. He's able to maneuver from the brake to gas pedal (and more importantly, back again!) and he can control the wheel, so now he just has to adjust to new blind spots and get acclimated to driving in traffic.
Most importantly, Nora and I are planning to spoil him silly on Sunday...

Saturday, June 1, 2013

June 1, 2013

The 10-month mark came and went without fanfare on Thursday (I was caught up in a work deadline which I actually made, with half a day to spare!), but today we joined another celebration: our neighbor's son (the one we passed the Lourdes water on to) has been home from the hospital for the past month or so, and today they had a welcome home party for him. It was great to see him outside of a hospital setting and even better for Nora to meet him since she's been asking God to help him heal for the past five months. M. even graciously posed for a photo with us (and his mom's ok'ed me posting it):

John continues to do his exercise routine at the campus gym three times a week. Nora and I take him for an after-dinner walk a couple of times a week, as well, and he's built up enough stamina to make it around our block (which is actually half a mile).

I'll close with an update from Nora: "Daddy is doing good. He's walking faster and a lot better."

Monday, May 6, 2013

May 6, 2013

Today, on the invitation of one of the health teachers at St. Joe's, John visited some of the sophomore health classes who are currently studying the nervous system to talk about his experience with his SCI. Since I'm his chauffeur, I volunteered myself to join him, and we spent the morning talking to the young women about his accident and what the rehab was like for him, for me, and for our family.

What a wonderful experience this was! The students listened avidly and asked thoughtful questions of us. And in all of our years of teaching, this might have been the first time we saw each other in action in a classroom and got to "teach" together. For me, to see John before students, interacting with them in front of a classroom, made me very happy.

It was also a privilege to explain to them that John's recovery has been miraculous and to share how comforted we've been by our family and friends in NJ and our community here in South Bend. Knowing that our experience serves as a small model for them, a witness to the blessings that God has bestowed, offers us another small piece of healing.

Tuesday, April 30, 2013

April 30, 2013

Spring has sprung... We sent Nora to school in shorts today (well, really a skort, 'cause the girl's just got to have a skirt on). I wore a sundress to my last day of classes. And I had two important realizations as I left O'Shag for lunch: 1) I did it -- I managed to teach all my classes this year (and even find moments of joy and peace in my classroom) and this year's all over but the examinating and grading; and 2) today marks the 9-month anniversary of John's accident.

 He's been discharged from therapy, as they made all the progress they could there. He has a strict exercise routine that he has to follow to avoid regression of the function he's regained. There are physical limitations that we're all three of us learning to live with, each in our own way. Lots of questions about the future are wide open right now. But we know some definites. He is here with me and Nora, right where he belongs. And when I remember where he was 9 months ago -- paralyzed from the neck down, unable to swallow, and barely breathing on his own, I lose my breath. So tonight, as he eats the dinner I will cook later on and breathes in the fresh spring air, we will pause to thank God for the blessings embedded in the journey of the past 9 months.