Monday, May 21, 2012

It's Been 20 Years

Twenty years ago life changed at The Howell House.  It was the last day of kindergarten for our daughter, Brandie, and she was dressed and ready for “water day” at McFeat Laboratory Schools.  The phone rang shortly after breakfast with the news of my husband’s emergency trip to the hospital after having fallen at work.  I was given no information as to the extent of his injuries.  I was only advised to meet him at University Memorial Hospital in Charlotte, North Carolina.  A few hours later, I began to realize Michael, my husband, had sustained a closed-head injury due to negligence of a fellow employee.  He had fallen on a spill of chemicals, damaged the brain stem and cerebellum regions of his brain, and was unconscious.  After regaining consciousness, I soon discovered Michael had lost four years of his memory.  He thought our 5 year old daughter was 18 months old.  He thought we lived on Ferndale Drive, but we lived on Crestdale Drive.  He thought we had an Irish Setter named Thor, but we had a cat named K.C.  He thought he was an engineer, but he was a programmer.  These were only a few of the changes with which he had to deal.  The physical damage to his brain caused amnesia, severe headaches (that lasted for 18 months non-stop), miscommunication between the brain and the eyes, severe lethargy, and depression.  After 18 months of physical therapy for his brain and 6 months of physical therapy for his eyes, Michael was allowed to return to his job.  Upon his return, he was placed in a position his employer was well aware he was no longer capable of doing.  This gave them the right to let him go because he was not “performing up to standard”!  Life was turned upside down for The Howells, so it would seem, but life was really just beginning to get good!  We have come through this tragedy as stronger and happier people.  While 95% of couples enduring a brain injury end in divorce, our marriage got stronger.  We are still happy and loving each other today.  As I am known to say, “My husband is the best thing on the planet, and he is too CUTE!” 

When I work with families traveling the journey of dementia, I can approach it from several angles.  I understand dementia.  I understand Alzheimer’s.  I understand brain injury.  I understand the need for support.  Don’t travel the journey alone.  It is much easier having someone as your guide.  Remember – Knowledge brings POWER.  Power brings HOPE.  Hope brings SMILES.  We all need more SMILES.

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