In some respects, a person reacting to the words “she’s in a coma” necessitates a cautioned approach. Is he kidding or is he serious? It’s akin to that feeling of discomfort you get when you’re not entirely sure if a woman is pregnant or just large. But to me, the phrase represents more than this confusion – it represents a bookmark in my young family’s life; despite everything else, it marks an occasion where I think we all grew up.
A week before my daughter turned one, my mother-in-law was a victim of a serious car accident. The physics were horrendous: a large truck bearing down, neglecting the stop sign, and momentum transferred T-bone style onto her small sedan, the lack of side airbags a costly afterthought. In that instant, my wife’s mother suffered an injury that would pit her will against a crushed physiology.
And there really is no confusion with the words “traumatic brain injury.” Less still when one talks of bruising, swelling or tearing, all possible when an organ like your brain smacks hard against the wall of your cranium. It was also ironic that confusion, a common side effect of head injury, was really the least of everyone’s worries. Instead, we were intent on her survival, fearful of the worst, and grateful for the institution that is our medical community. We never saw a light, but we’re pretty sure she did.
Meriel was in a coma for three scary weeks, and furthermore remained in the hospital for an additional two months. To be honest, this is a period of time that I recollect with a strange and fitting sense of numbness.
I do remember a few things, though. Of course, the most important memory being that she did survive – a brilliant moment at the time. I also remember my daughter’s first birthday, which understandably was an outing of mute proportions – more so, when you consider that our child was oblivious to everything except the brave colours of some wrapping paper. But more than anything (and perhaps this illustrates the whole surrealness of it all), I remember all the driving – driving weekly from our house to my in-law’s home, four and a half hours each way; driving daily to the hospital, usually in multiples, back and forth, back and forth. I can tell you that the music mix, trapped in the car during this period, certainly got a lot of play.
Which was o.k., because at least it was a good mix. It was lucky that I go to a lot of effort with my mixes. In particular, the song Anytime by Neil Finn stood out. In fact, it still stands out, and in truth, most anything by Neil Finn does for me. It is as if his well tuned sense of melody is in sync with my own neuronal firings – that is, if we still want to talk about brains and the like.
In this case, however, the song also haunted me. Anytime. A clearer sentiment I couldn’t have imagined, especially in the aftermath of what had just happened. It was a sentiment so easy to dwell on, big enough to make you cry, and something that you tried desperately to not connect to your children. It was as if the song perfectly packaged a nugget of wisdom, a much needed warning if you will. And it was telling me in its own beautiful way that we are not invincible. No one is. Not even survivors.
Now, my daughter is almost four, we drive a mini-van, and Meriel is more or less still recovering. It’s odd, and I’m not sure how best to describe this, but it’s as if she is both present and absent. She is also a constant reminder of what all the doctors forewarned, a formidable challenge on how to deal with lesser expectations. And yes, it is a slow recovery, frustrating even, the kind where sadness chooses to sit and wait with you.
Perhaps this is why the song still rings true for me. It’s not as if it’s over – survival is relative after all. We are still constantly being reminded by the cruelty of that moment of happenstance, which we now see with double potency in both our past memories and our present eyes.
And yet, despite this, sometimes I think there is still a small fire in Meriel’s eyes. Despite the chronic pain, the fatigue, the grayness, I sense that there is, somewhere, the will to fight. Or at least I certainly hope so.
In truth, we could all do with a bit more of that fire, a bit more of that will, no matter how painful or frightening, to make us want to live and carry on. It’s like the song says:
“I could go anytime
There’s nothing safe about this life
I could go anytime”
No better excuse, really.