It’s funny how a date can be etched into our minds forever…the birth of a child…marriage to the love of your life...these are dates that are easy to celebrate. Unfortunately, some dates bring to mind tragic things, like the terrorist attack on September 11. For each of us, these memories are different, leaving permanent brush strokes forever painted in our minds.
For my family, one of those dates is September 12, 2010. It started out like any other Sunday…I got the family up…fed them breakfast…drove to church. But what we didn’t know, sitting in our pew at church, was that our life was about to change drastically.
My daughter Mindy, a soccer goalie, had been playing in a collegiate soccer game at Maine Maritime Academy that day. During the game, she was knocked unconscious when she collided with another player’s shoulder, and was quickly airlifted to Eastern Maine Medical Center. After receiving the phone call, that no parent ever wants to get, our lives went into hyper speed…within minutes my husband and I were packed and headed to the hospital to see Mindy.
Time seemed to stand still, while things began racing through my mind. All we knew was when she regained consciousness she was confused and couldn’t answer simple questions correctly. The medical team was concerned, Mindy’s brain could be bleeding and they needed to get her to a hospital as soon as possible. After a full check-up, it was determined that she was not bleeding. The next three days were spent in the hospital for observation; she was sent home with no direction and no plan of care.
Little did we know that our lives would be changed forever. Mindy tried to finish her last semester of school, but she quickly found that migraines, depression, and uncontrollable outbursts of anger made it impossible. She moved home, and what had once been our safe haven, now became a home where we were forced to walk on egg shells. Anything would set her off…the sound of the tv, the kids playing a game at the kitchen table, lights left on, the inability to complete independent tasks. These triggers would send Mindy into a downward spiral of confusion; therefore sending the rest of us into a scramble of trying to calm her down before someone got hurt. My other children began to feel scared of this “new Mindy”. I can remember when one of my daughters was worried about staying in the same room with her. That's when we knew something had to change.
We decided to set her up in an apartment in Fort Kent with a friend. We thought that getting her away from the noise of home would help her get better, and she'd be able to finish school. What looked great on paper ended up being a disaster for Mindy. Classes and schoolwork took all of her “brain energy.” Simple things like eating stopped and she dropped 30 pounds. As a concerned Mom, I began to bring her meals every other day, taking time to watch her eat them. During this time, Mindy had been prescribed many different medications for migraines, depression, and pills to calm her down…but these medications only added to the problem. I began to receive calls from her. Mindy’s "brain energy" was gone, and her emotions were spiraling out of control. Hospital runs were necessary to get her migraines under control and deflate her spiral of emotions.
One day while I was checking in on her, she commented on a migraine that was bothering her. She was going to go sleep it off, so I left to run some errands. While I was out, I got a frantic call. She was crying uncontrollably, saying she couldn't take it anymore. Being only a few minutes out I drove back, crying and asking the Lord to help me accept whatever I found when I got there. Although I didn't sense she was suicidal, I knew her brain wasn’t working right and anything was possible. When I entered the apartment, I remember not hearing anything, thinking my worst fears had already happened. It was a calculated slow walk up the stairs to her bedroom. I was straining to hear any kind of noise, asking the Lord the whole time to please help me. As I entered her room, I was able to breath, she was just whimpering softly and pounding her fist on the bed. I knew the drill...get her to the hospital, get something for the headache, and get her stable.
After many months with no improvement, we knew we had to look for more appropriate care. Many trips were made downstate to the Bangor and Portland areas. We diligently searched for doctors qualified to treat her head injury. We had no help financially for these trips, so between the gas, lodging and food, we began to fall behind on our regular monthly bills.
During those trips we would talk about the Lord and His purpose in all of this. We would meet people with brain injuries and our hearts would break for them, because we knew firsthand how difficult the journey was. We prayed for them, it was the only thing we could offer. Then one day we had an idea. What if we started a non-profit organization that could purchase a home within a half mile of New England Rehab of Portland Maine? People with brain injuries could stay there while receiving long term out-patient care. Two major financial barriers would be eliminated! Patients could receive appropriate care without the financial burden of lodging and transportation. In that moment, a weight was lifted off my shoulders, I knew someday in the near future, we would be of help to families in a way we could never have imagined.
Today, when Mindy and I are at our lowest, dealing with "life after brain injury" we smile at each other and say..."Let's get going with this project to be a blessing to other families." It gives her a purpose, and she has confessed she is happiest when she is helping someone. A verse that has been close to my heart is Romans 5:3-4 "...but we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope". So as I ponder the brush stroke of tragedy in my life personally, I must say, it was a blessing in disguise. It has truly made me more of who God wants me to be.