My father has anoxic brain injuries from being unconscious so long and from his heart being unable to pump enough oxygen to his brain. The main artery…aka the widow-maker.. was completely calcified, and the doctor was unable to do anything at all with that part of Dad‘s heart. Out of 5 possible bypasses, only three were successful. Since his surgery in early October, Dad has struggled with waking up from anesthesia, pulmonary distresses including pneumonia, ICU psychosis, hallucinations, infections, bed sores, and a trachea. To say he’s one strong man is an understatement. He’s strong, but he is still human, and these traumas to his body have produced some sad consequences.
One of the things that really freaked me out while he was unconscious was how he kept moving his limbs constantly. Even though he was asleep, he seemed unable to get comfortable. When my mother had a stroke years ago, one of the things that we dealt with was her inability to get comfortable. When I saw this with my dad, I had a sinking feeling something had gone wrong with his brain. It would seem that I was right.
For all of the symptoms of anoxic brain injuries, you can click here. Below, I’ve outlined what I’m dealing with specifically with my father.
Cognitive Problems with Anoxia
- Short-term memory loss. – Constantly, I have to answer questions repeatedly because Dad doesn’t remember asking me two minutes before.
- Poorer performance in executive functions. – Little things like which eating utensil to use for pudding seems to be hard for him to process.
- Anomia. This term means having difficulty using words or processing what words mean. There seemed to be a lot of this in the beginning, but I have noticed a marked improvement in Dad’s ability to communicate effectively lately. When he first woke up, even though he was speaking English, I couldn’t understand what he was trying to say.
- Visual disturbances. The person with HAI may have trouble processing visual information. They may find it difficult to focus or they may reach for an object, but not be able to touch it because they are reaching in the wrong place. This seems to be rather severe.
Physical Problems with Anoxia
- A lack of coordination.The person’s gait may be wobbly; they may weave or stagger like someone who has had too much alcohol. Dad simply can’t walk right now at all.
- An inability to do common tasks. The person may be unable to remember the sequence of common tasks like brushing the hair or drinking from a cup.
- Movement disorders. The person may experience spasticity, rigidity, and myoclonus (muscle spasms). The patient may have involuntary movements, jerky movements, or trembling. This side of my family has a lot of instances of Huntington’s Disease, and Dad’s trembling is so severe, I had been really afraid he might have this disease. However, the trembling is most likely from the brain damage. He trembles a lot, even when he’s sleeping.
- Quadriparesis. The person may experience weakness in all four limbs. Dad is weak as a day old kitten. Though still a strong man, his strength is markedly decreased.
- Headaches. Anoxic brain injury can also cause confusion, depression, hallucinations, delusions, personality changes (such as increased irritability), and the inability to concentrate. This is the symptom that causes me so much sadness. The change in personality.
Years ago, my mother had a series of severe strokes that left her completely incapacitated. I could handle almost any aspect of the trauma except the change in her personality. I’ve worked in nursing homes, and I’m fully aware that strokes and brain injuries can change a personality so completely, even the physical appearance of a person can become unrecognizable. It took a little while for me to realize that my mother from childhood was essentially gone, and this different personality had taken her place. Luckily, my mother is sweet and gentle, and even with the changes, it wasn’t a great hardship to be around her. I’ve been around some people who become so violent and agitated, it was no pleasure to visit with them at all.
Since my father woke up, I can see clearly that his personality is a bit altered. He is more agitated, easily frustrated, and quicker to lash out verbally. Please don’t get me wrong. I’m very happy my father has awakened, but there is a seed of dread in the pit of my stomach that this version of him may become the norm. Unlike my mother, the damage isn’t nearly as great, but it is definitely there.
It’s been two months now on a roller-coaster ride for Dad, and to say we are all exhausted would just be a true statement. Dad is ready to get out of the hospital and get on with his life, and he constantly plies me with that desire whether I’m physically there in his room, or by telephone, day and night. The hospital has a person, called a sitter, that stays by his bedside constantly 24/7 because the damage in his brain causes him to be unable to get comfortable, and he sits, stands, lies down constantly, except when given sleeping medication. Because of the weakness in his limbs and the continual trembling, he needs someone there to keep him from falling. The sitters are always exhausted when I visit, and I can’t do it very long either. I just want to weep at the thought of never being able to be comfortable in my own body.
When I went through all of this with my mother, I was traumatized constantly with some of the awful side problems that would arise. I had to care for my mother
physically like she was a small baby, and on numerous occasions, the frustration and anger she felt would be taken out on me. I would have my feelings hurt by something she said, or physically hurt when she would strike out at me. Yet, knowing that she simply was not able to control any of these reactions, there was no way I could be mad at her. When I was in the motorcycle accident, and she was put in a nursing home, I felt an overwhelming guilt when I returned home because I felt relieved that others were taking over her care. This is an emotional hell I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.
It took a while for me to accept that I’m not able to care for someone in this kind of manner, especially a parent. There are people, like a fellow blogger named Terry, who seem to be the stuff angels are made from. She has taken care of a sick brother for years and years and years. I, on the other hand, am faced with the sad truth that I’m not emotionally, physically, or spiritually equipped to do this for either of my parents.
It is starting to become sadly clear that if Dad is not able to be rehabilitated, he will need 24 hour care. Unlike my tiny mother, my father is much bigger and much stronger than her. He’s lived a life of such complete independence, he simply has no idea how to rely on anyone else, and he has no intention of starting to now. His temperament is more like mine, and we both have a long way to go before anyone can describe us as patient and long-suffering. We both can be snarky when irritated, and this doesn’t bode well for either of us.
It has become rather hard to want to visit him lately, not just for me but for other family members as well. It is hard to tell him no, he can’t leave right this minute. it is hard to hear him rage about secret conspiracies to kill him. It is hard to help him sit, stand, and lie down over and over and over. It is hard to hear him say we are disappointments to him, or that he hates us. I’ve done this with Mom. I know not to take it personally. Somehow, though, it still really hurts.
Yesterday was Thanksgiving, and though I really enjoyed spending time with Aunt Debbie and my cousin Matthew, in the back of my mind, I was sort of dreading going to the hospital. Of everyone, I’m the one who seems to be able to curb Dad’s meanness and general irritability, but it does wear on me. I have to be rather short with him right back when he starts to head down a troubled, angry road. I have to threaten to go home if he can’t be nicer, and that always works. Still, I feel horrible doing it. Somehow, it feels so disrespectful and insensitive. However, I can’t have him saying hateful things to Debbie and Rebekkah. They take it way too personal. After one or two verbal skirmishes, he settled down, and we had an enjoyable few hours together. His sense of humor is in tact, and he made me and his sitter, whom he calls Giles, laugh. When I got up to leave, he didn’t give me the hard time he usually does, and it made me feel a little ray of hope that maybe all of this isn’t so permanent.
So, all in all, yes. Dad is improving, but how much will he regain of himself is still to be determined. I pray for a complete recovery, and for God’s guidance in what I should do for him. I am a firm believer that the quality of one’s life far outweighs the quantity, and I just am unable to see my dad being in a nursing home. I am thankful that he’s able to remember me, and that his sense of humor is still intact. I just hope the rest of him will follow suit.
Thank you all for your prayers!