A Day of Mourning, A Day of Thanks

It’s been five years since my husband was run over by a truck and nearly died. Five long years. That day is seared into my memory, and no matter how hard I try, I can’t forget.

It was, by far, the worst day of my life. For several hours, I had no idea if he was alive or dead. All I knew was that he had been hit by a truck and transported to a hospital. I didn’t know which hospital or the extent of his injuries. I didn’t know what I’d find when I finally got to him.

I remember stumbling down the stairs and banging on my mother-in-law’s door. I remember screaming and collapsing. I remember not knowing how to breathe.
I remember hoping with everything I had that he was not dead. That he’d be returned to me whole and perfect and just as he was.

He wasn’t.

The five years since that day have not been easy. Bug’s brain injury and PTSD consumed our family to the point of nearly ripping us apart. He became an alcoholic. He had an affair. He disappeared from us.

Still, my husband is alive.

I say this so often, I suppose it’s become my mantra: My husband is alive. He’s alive, and I should be thankful.

He’s alive even though a truck struck him, dragged his body twenty feet, and pinned him beneath a back wheel. He stayed under the truck, growing colder in the pouring rain, until paramedics removed him.

The doctors told me it was a miracle his injuries weren’t more extensive or life-threatening. Many people aren’t as lucky.

His very existence should be enough.

Perhaps I’m selfish, wanting more than I’ve been given. But five years ago – two days before Thanksgiving – this accident robbed me of the gentle, laid-back man I married and replaced him with someone fragile and erratic. In addition to two dislocated shoulders, a broken wrist, street burns down to the skin on his knee and ankle, and a deep, long gash requiring numerous stitches, Bug suffered a mild front brain injury – similar to football players who have had multiple concussions – and post-traumatic stress disorder. In a few awful seconds his personality shifted.

We’ve fought hard the past few years to get his old personality back and our life in order, only to have road block after road block thrown at us.

Still, life gets better daily.

Immediately after the accident, Bug couldn’t tie his shoes or get dressed or shower without help. He could barely walk, let alone carry his work gear. Yet he insisted on going on a two-week business trip to Europe just days after the accident. He convinced me he needed to get away and working took his mind off the accident. So I left our boys at home with family and tagged along on Bug’s business trips for two months.

“Bug needs me,” I’d explain to anyone who asked. “He can’t be alone. He has nightmares & freaks out when he sees motorcycles. He’s not functioning normally.” When we were home, I’d turn down social invitations. “I can’t leave him with the boys. He’s too angry. I don’t know what he’ll say to them.”

And while there was truth in that, it wasn’t  the real reason.

His accident scarred me too. To this day, I’m left me with panic attacks, the inability to sleep and so, so much fear. Even five years later, the thought of being away from Bug sends my heart racing and leaves me gasping for breath. Sometimes, I just sit on my bed and cry when he’s gone. And he’s gone a lot.

The truth is, I barely function now. It’s like I gave him all my strength, and there is none left for me. I have social anxiety. I cry easily. I have a hard time being left alone. I work too much to keep myself from ruminating over the coulda, woulda, shouldas of the past five years.

We have, in so many ways, changed positions. Like I once hovered over him, he’s now my caretaker, always checking to make sure I’m okay. That I haven’t hurt myself. That I don’t let bipolar depression get the best of me.

We – he and I – we put on smiles in public and pretended the past five years haven’t happened. We’re good like that. A team. That’s the one thing that hasn’t changed.

Yes, I still mourn the loss of the husband I had. But I’m also thankful, because slowly, a new, better version has taken his place.  The sweet, loving husband and caring, doting father has come back.

That man is here, holding my hand. Telling me we’ll get through this. Somehow. The two of us.

Yes, my husband is alive. And for that, I am thankful.

xoxo ~dawn

Paris: Making Progress

One of the things I adore about my boys is how they embrace everything with enthusiasm. Within minutes of arriving at the apartment – and despite having traveled for fifteen hours – Boy2, aka “The Fox,” asked if he could walk around the corner and buy macarons. By himself. In French.

This is what he changed into for the outing:

Where’s Waldo? Or as they say in French “Ou est Charlie?”

Bug and I are free-range parents so we tossed him a few bills, told him how to say “Framboise,” and sent him on his way. He returned victorious and very proud that he navigated the streets of Paris himself. And if you can’t tell, he’s in love with the red beret.

Having the boys with us has been good for Bug and me. We had both become so worn down by his illness and accident that sometimes I believed we’d never climb out of that miserable pit. But the past month and a half have been good. Bug has made huge improvements with his PTSD and most days he seems like his  pre-accident self. The boys have even commented that “Daddy’s brain seems better” because he’s smiling again and doing things with us. They love seeing us hold hands, and they giggle when Bug kisses me. In many ways, everything feels just like it should.

We spent yesterday touring the area around Notre Dame and the Luxembourg Gardens. Maybe because they have parents who love history, politics, and art, but the boys – even our 5-year old, The Colonel – stayed engaged for five hours while I rattled on about Rousseau, flying buttresses, and arches.

The Fox, The Colonel, and Pudge* in front of Notre Dame.

As a reward for putting up with all that, we let them loose in the Luxembourg Gardens. The playground charges an admittance fee, but it is a gem. Zip lines, climbing structures, tubes – basically everything that makes a kid happy. Oh, and then there are the pedal carts. For a euro, kids pick a cart, pedal it up a hill, and then fly down a slalom course.  After all that work, the boys were in need of crepes, so Bug and I took them to our favorite place – Creperie des Arts on Rue St. Andres des Arts.

The Colonel in Luxembourg Gardens
The Colonel and me in the Luxembourg Gardens. The amazing playground is behind my left shoulder.

Today, while I saw my therapist, Bug took the boys over to the Eiffel Tower. The Colonel is a bit obsessed with the monument and he later told me, “It was beautiful. I loved it.”

The boys at the Eiffel Tower

Not everything has been rosy. Like me, our boys have lived through nearly two years of Bug’s erratic behavior stemming from the accident, and unfortunately, they know about the affair. Bug and I have had to have some frank talks with them. For example, they wanted to know why I also have a therapist and if my “brain is broken like Daddy’s.” Our oldest, Pudge, wanted to know how much of Bug’s affair was PTSD and how much of it was him being a jerk (For the record, both of our therapists, our marriage therapist, and myself believe his affair is a result of his accident. However, the PTSD became worse during the affair partly because his mistress convinced him he didn’t need therapy – even after his breakdown in January). We’ve had to explain that Bug is on leave from work because his brain melted down and I was terrified he was about to commit suicide or suffer a breakdown he’d never recover from. We’ve had to answer these questions in a way that doesn’t frighten the boys, but still leaves them feeling they have an answer. It isn’t easy.

But even with all of that, having my family together after seven weeks apart is wonderful. Watching Bug interact with the boys, seeing the love between them, and knowing things are getting better every day, makes me tear up.

Our family has been through hell, but as long as we’re together, I know we can get through anything.

 

 

*John Green’s LOOKING FOR ALASKA is one of Bug’s and my favorite books. We poached our kids’ nicknames from it.

Paris day 14: Living with PTSD

Today hasn’t been the greatest day. It started off with me panicking because Bug wanted to fly to Budapest for the weekend and the thought of getting on an airplane sent me over the edge. I’m not afraid to fly, so this caught me off guard.

To calm me down, we went for an extremely long walk, got caught in a downpour, and on our way home witnessed a scooter accident not even ten feet from us.

In case you don’t know, my husband was involved in a serious scooter accident in November 2010. This is why he has PTSD and a TBI. I immediately turned him away from the accident and pushed him into the throng of people rushing forward, but I left him to go out and help the scooterist because NO ONE was helping her. She was lying in the intersection where she’d dumped her bike. Thankfully, she wasn’t hit by a car or another scooter. She was hurt badly – bleeding and I think maybe broke her arm – but she wasn’t knocked out. I believe she’ll be physically okay.

When I found Bug, he was crouched next to the bridge railing, balled in on himself and crying. It took everything I had to pull him to his feet and drag him in the opposite direction. I didn’t know what to do – we had at least a 15 minute walk back to our apartment. So I looped my arm around him and dragged him, crying, through the crowds of people shopping. On the way back, another scooter skidded out, but didn’t dump, and it set him off. The sound was overwhelming and he began his whole “I should have died” mantra he goes into when things become particularly bad.

We finally got home and he collapsed on the bed. After crying for ten minutes he fell asleep, but kept startling awake and having those scary PTSD “seizures” that terrify me. As luck would have it, he had scheduled a phone call with his therapist for 6pm and it was 5:30.

He’s sleeping now even though it’s only 7:30. I wish I could say this was an unusual event, but since November – the anniversary of his accident – they’ve become more frequent. Today wasn’t so much a trigger, but a complete reenactment of what he went through. Over the past eight months, he’s started drinking heavily to deal with the guilt, anger, and pain left from the accident. During this time, he channeled his anger at me, telling me one moment he didn’t love me and is incapable of loving our kids; and the next, that I’m the only thing that matters to him; that I can never, ever leave him; that he doesn’t deserve me. This has been my life for eight months and it’s been like living with Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde. As each coping mechanism works less, he bounces to something else and, to be honest, it scares me. There are days when I don’t know what will be enough for him.

But I can’t worry about that now. I need to put one foot in front of the other and help him through today.