Monday, February 6, 2017

Behind Us

I admit, I take health for granted. When health issues come up, they become fault lines. When someone I love is sick, it quickly becomes a focal point. Everything becomes framed by concerns of treatments, recovery, prognosis, causes, "what ifs?" and fear.

Today is the first day in over six months that Rich has been able to work. Last summer, he was injured on a course and suffered a concussion, his second in his career. I did what I knew to do: I helped him rest, bought him supplements, fed him nourishing foods, kept the kids busy so he could recover. I took his health for granted, and figured he would be better in a week or two, like the last time.

Weeks passed. He saw several doctors. No one could tell us why this one was lasting so long. He had headaches all the time. He would become exhausted by the efforts of waking up and eating breakfast. He couldn't exercise, participate in any activities, or go to work. He couldn't use any of the coping mechanisms he knew to deal with the frustration of being so sick. He just had to wait.

We all waited. The girls started school and our autumn routine settled in. He began to feel the fog lifting a bit, so he started working out a little. Then attending social events, like family dinners and get-togethers. He could read and watch short shows or movies. It seemed like after a couple of months, things were getting better, and they were. We got excited too soon and he jumped back into life, but his brain wasn't ready. After our anniversary weekend, which involved a dinner at a restaurant, doing an escape room, and taking the kids for a hike in the woods, he was laid up in bed for four days recovering.

His headaches were with him every morning when he woke up, and lasted all day. He worked with his doctors to come up with exercises he could do to strengthen his eyes (which were affected by his initial injury), and a system to track and limit how much he could handle doing in a day. This helped him avoid burning himself out, but it also meant a great reduction to his role in our family.

Every morning while the girls and I got dressed to walk to school, he could only watch as I worked to get four defiant girls in their snowsuits. He could sit with us to eat dinner, but only if we kept the noise level down. He was always home with us, which was nice, but he was there as an observer and occasional helper. I admit, there were times I was so resentful of having another adult in the house who could not/should not have helped me with things. Me! The healthy one! I pushed him too far sometimes, and he suffered for it.
In sickness and in health. 

In all of this, there was a lot for which we were grateful:
- The girls knew he was hurt, but didn't seem affected by it, and didn't know how much he suffered. He always made time to read them stories, cuddle with them, and make them feel special.
- The injury could have been a lot worse. It turns out there are varying degrees of concussion recovery. Rich was spared the pain of sitting in a dark room all day every day, or from a recovery lasting years, not months.
- His work has been so supportive. They have helped boost his morale when he felt despondent and left behind. They have also continued to pay his salary, as per his benefits. This is huge, for a single-income family. I learned so many people have to return to work with these headaches and symptoms or else they don't get paid.

I have been gut-wrenchingly worried about him. I didn't know if this would change who he is as a person. I didn't know if he'd ever get better. I wondered if his reserves of inner strength and courage would dry up and leave him severely depressed. In dealing with these worries, I have thankfully been able to become distracted with our full lives. I honestly had to put a lot of these thoughts away and ignore them, becoming distracted with running this family's ship. That has helped me keep our lives moving forward, but also prevented me from collapsing in worry and despair about a situation I knew I could not fix.

And here we are today, hopefully on the other side of this. He has been symptom-free for nearly two weeks. He has been able to start exercising again (it's a big part of his life and one he lamented losing the most), attending social functions without being exhausted for days afterwards, and his headaches haven't come back. (Knock on wood).

Feeling more like himself at a birthday party last weekend
I think we're both extremely aware of and grateful for our health. It put self-care and our responsibilities to ourselves at the forefront of our priorities. Our friends and families were all so helpful in supporting us through this with extra help, meals, listening ears, and fun activities to distract the girls and I while we trudged on through this. Moving back home was definitely a good decision.

We all smiled wide and breathed a big sigh of relief seeing him get dressed in his work clothes this morning.

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