Katie now resides in a nursing home. During the first half of 2013 she had surgery to have her skull reattached, and Botox injections to relax her limbs. Due to the traumatic brain injury (TBI) that caused the stroke, Katie’s left arm is tightly contracted; the left leg has dropped foot; and the right leg has become mysteriously contracted after her skull reattachment. Only her right arm functions normally. Katie has had some physical therapy, but it was discontinued due to her inability to tolerate the pain. Friends were trying to help out by stretching her limbs, but no one could stand to put her through the agony. So physically, there was very minimal improvement, at best.
Mentally, progress was more positive. Her vocabulary was good, and she was able to communicate fairly well. She did have a tendency to “confabulate” (giving fictitious accounts of past events, believing they are true, in order to cover a gap in the memory caused by a medical condition such as a brain injury). That characteristic, in addition to the extreme change in her personality, were possibly the most difficult for family and friends to adjust to.
Judene and I tried to visit Katie every week or two, and we would sometimes have get-togethers as couples for dinner and game night at the nursing home, with the hope that familiar activities would help restore some essence of her personality. And very gradually we began to see some progress—through a smile or a laugh or a demonstration of Katie’s keen wit.
Because I had been an Assessor at the Area Aging on Aging, and because I had experience with developing care plans, I began to talk to Sam about the possibility of caring for Katie at home. I told him that I had seen clients in similar conditions cared for at home. I acknowledged that providing total care is very difficult and a huge responsibility. I understood that Sam was completely over-whelmed by the concept, and basically scared silly by the idea.
But I had a plan—a real longshot—and it became a driving force for me to see if it could work…
In October 2012, we three couples took another trip to our fall getaway. My mother-in-law had passed away a year-and-a-half previously. I had had bilateral knee replacements and my rehabilitation was complete. David and I were feeling particularly carefree. The second night of our stay, Judene got up in the middle of the night, took a wrong turn on her way to the bathroom, fell down a flight of stairs and broke her wrist. (Thank God it wasn’t her neck!) She called out to Manny, who roused Katie (the nurse) and off they all went to the emergency room. While David I slept unaware of what had happened, Katie took care of the whole situation. The following day, Manny took Judene home so that she could be treated by an orthopedist.
Later in the week, Katie confided to me that she was in the midst of a medical situation of her own. She had been experiencing dizziness and had a scary episode while driving. Tests were run, and it was discovered that Katie had two brain aneurisms. The doctor suggested that they keep a watch on the aneurisms to determine whether they were stable or growing.
But Katie felt like she had a time bomb hanging overhead. A few weeks later she decided to get another opinion from a surgeon at a big research hospital. The surgeon described a relatively new procedure that he had performed 100 times with a 98% success rate. Katie could expect to have the surgery and be home in three days. Katie decided to undergo the procedure telling me, “Without surgery, I could have a stroke.”