*NB: This post is about my brother, and it is real. Though i may occasionally make light of the situation, this is my coping mechanism for my own personal grief. My tone is in no way meant to mock the reality of my brother's injury or future prospects, or the suffering of others in similar situations.
When someone has suffered a traumatic brain injury and has been heavily medicated for several weeks following, you don't talk about their cognitive function in terms of days. They don't have good days or bad days. They have moments.
This weekend, John and i went to Maryland to see Adam in the hospital. Physically, Adam's recovery continues at miraculous rates. Mentally and emotionally, it goes in fits and starts. It's hard to say with any confidence whether he is improving or not.
There were moments when he knew exactly who we all were and what was happening. There were moments when he was able to calmly discuss his medications, his pain, and his future plans. There were moments when he would do his PT exercises, or practice swallowing, or work on his breathing tests. There were moments when he would simply sleep.
There was also a moment when he began to speak Chinese into an imaginary telephone. He interrupted the conversation from time to time to ask my dad questions in Chinese; he would then say, "Wait. Let me ask them." Eventually, he ended the conversation and told us, "They're on their way in the car. They'll be here in a few minutes." And then he fell asleep. None of us speaks Chinese, but my dad knows a few words and was able to confirm that Adam was indeed drawing on the memories of the Chinese he'd studied in college.
There was a moment when he announced that the TV had told him that he would be giving birth soon. It also gave him a list of names. He became distressed about his pains and medications, afraid that the baby might be injured. He was soothed only when we told him that we'd consult with the doctor about it. He never made reference to the baby again.
There was a moment when he spoke Chinese to me, insistently repeating the same phrase over and over until i finally repeated it back to him. He told me to remember it (i forgot it almost instantly), and then began to consult with me about some issue.
"Who in your family speaks Chinese?"
"Just you, buddy," i told him.
"Well, who writes?"
"Who writes . . . Chinese?"
"None of us do."
"Really. Well, okay."
At this point, my dad interrupted to ask Adam if he knew who he was talking to.
"No, not really."
My heart stopped.
Dad continued, "Okay, can you see her? Turn and look at her. Does she look familiar?"
Adam turned. "Yeah, kind of. I know I've seen her before. Is it . . . Ashley?"
"No, i'm Diana."
"Diana," he repeated. He didn't recognize our youngest sister, Ruth, either, but knew Lizzie, the middle girl. He knew my dad and remembered his name, and our mom's name as well.
"Okay, Soldier," my dad said calmly, "How many sisters do you have?"
"Do you know their names?"
"Ruth, Diana, Lizzie," he said obediently.
It was several minutes before i could speak again.
There was a moment when he woke up and tried to leave, and we had to tell him -- again -- where he was and what had happened to him.