by Elaine Miller
I met Don one week before I was to bring Mary home from the hospital. She could not go back to school yet, and I needed to find someone to help me take care of her while we worked and Marie went to school. Karen volunteered. She lived in Sunnyland across the river and up the hill from E. Peoria. We reached an agreement. She would even keep Mary all night on the nights I worked the next day. I would take Mary to the tutor. Karen and I agreed on a price. Karen was not working. I was relieved and happy. I asked my ex to share in the expense of the sitting fees. He refused. He helped cause the wreck, but as usual he didnít feel that he needed to help with the unexpected added expenses. I hated him! He told me to take it out of the child support.
I went to work the following weekend and at the end of my shift, I brought Mary home. She could finally settle into a routine. I had taken some of her things that had piled up in her room at the hospital home beforehand. The whole time Mary had been in the hospital, her schoolmates and friends had brought her gifts of stuffed toys, an autograph dog that everyone signed, and things to sit around. I had run out and bought her a little wig close to the color her hair had been to put on her during the day in the hospital. She didnít like it and threw it on the floor most of the time. Her head had been totally shaved and I could tell her friends were uncomfortable around her. She would just smile at them and not converse much. She did not chatter and talk a lot the first few months.
Her friends and others gave us so much support that I was uneasy and overwhelmed. I had always done for everyone else and found it very difficult to be on the receiving end. I didnít know whom to thank. I finally called the principal of the school and composed a note thanking everyone in the school newspaper. They had even made posters to put in her room at the hospital. I really didnít want people to feel sorry for us. I knew that they did. It was a tragic thing to happen.
Mary had been at the prime of her schooling. She loved school. She was very brilliant. She made straight Aís. Her friends at the school called her over for parties and to spend the night. They called for her to help them with assignments. She was on the phone giggling and talking every day. She baby-sat with neighbor children and made a little spending money besides allowance. All of that was over.
I could tell that Mary had gotten used to the hospital and was somewhat apprehensive about going home. I tried to reassure her. I was keyed up with excitement and apprehension at the same time. We took her home and got her settled. She was walking well with the crutches. She could even navigate the steps pretty well. We got her unpacked and settled into a routine.
It was hard at first. I was apprehensive every time she got up from a chair and walked around. As time went on she constantly was walking and dragging those crutches behind her. Marie and I were always on her to use the crutches. She would say o.k. and next minute be doing it again. We found out that she had no recent recall or no short-term memory. She had blocked out everything involving the accident. When she talked in the hospital about going home, she kept referring to her father being there. I had to keep reminding her that her father and I were divorced. She would get tears in her eyes. I felt so badly that she had to keep going back and reliving us getting divorced. I didnít see how she was ever going to go back to school if she couldnít remember things.
My days revolved around working, hauling Mary back and forth to Karenís, the tutor, and the doctors. Finally the orthopedic doctor told me if she was walking without the crutches, then put them away. I had wished he had said that several weeks ago as weíd been fighting her for weeks. I relied a lot on Marie.
I did not realize at the time that my mind was constantly focused on Mary and her needs and my other children, especially Marie, were feeling agonizing pain from my inattention. I was there for Marie, but then I wasnít totally. She felt it. To this day she talks about it. Her childhood and being the baby of the family had been ripped away in a split second.
I realized later that the trauma of the accident put me into a state of partial "shock" where it seemed that I did everything in my life mechanically as far as duties and obligations went. I donít think I came out of that feeling for at least six months to a year. It didnít seem to effect their father that way. He went on to find a new wife. He married after a monthís courtship. I would find out that he had told girlfriends and his new wife that I never came in to spend any time with Mary at the hospital, when in essence he was the one who didnít. He would go visit her hot and heavy for awhile when he had a new girlfriend, then go back to his old ways of not seeing her very much. He could hardly stand to be around her the way she was.
As time went on we could see that we had a new and different person in Mary. It did not look as if she was ever going to be the same again. She got so that she talked better. The breathiness gradually cleared up and she could talk louder. Her attention span was improving every day. Her short-term memory was starting to improve. The tutor said that she was improving with her schoolwork. We opted for her to return to school the second semester.
To get her ready to return to school, I took her over there for a short time when they were having a basketball game in the gym. I took her several times to school. I took her to just sit in for half a day a couple times to get used to everything again. She seemed overwhelmed with it. The kids were uncomfortable and they didnít know how to react to the "new" Mary. My heart split in half. I felt so badly. I was helpless. I couldnít help her any more than I was doing and make everything better for her. I could tell the children thought she was "odd" and "different". The phone didnít ring for her any more. No one invited her to things any more. It was as if she was insignificant.
She went on the bus and started back to school as planned. She no longer got Aís. She got Bís and Cís. That was acceptable to us, but it wasnít really to her. I talked to the principal. I told him to tell the teachers not to just pass her along. I wanted to see if she was really comprehending what she was doing. He assured me they wouldnít. The teachers and the principal would converse and look at us with sadness and pity. I would lay in bed and cry. I would cry and cry when no one else was around to see me. I wanted my child back, and I knew I never ever would again. There was nothing I could do about it. I buried myself in work when I wasnít off so that I could quit thinking. I was always a good nurse.
There were days when I screamed at God. I asked him over and over why he saved her if she was going to be so different. I would be crying at the same time. If she canít be whole again, then why? Why me? What is her mission in life? What is mine? Will she always be an odd ball? Will she ever be able to have friends again and some day a man who loves her? There was no ready answer. The words would come back to me in the car,
"You are here to learn patience."