I was talking to a nurse friend today….really just using her as a sounding board for some of the mysteries surrounding Vernon’s medical journey. Its been so easy lately for to look back and wonder where things went wrong. What if he’d been placed on another coma-medication instead of the one that damaged his kidneys? What if the first nursing home he’d gone to hadn’t been so lazy in their approach to physical therapy? What if we’d had better insurance? What if he hadn’t been put on so much crazy-making Ativan? What if? What if? But then…what if he hadn’t been wearing a helmet? What if he hadn’t survived the night of the crash? I don’t have anything at all to offer those kinds of questions. It feels like a helpful exercise to dig back through some of this history, but what am I looking for really? Something to blame? Even if I found something, what are the chances I’ll be in this exact situation again…and what good would that secret knowledge do me? Even if I want to help another person, what are the chances this person will be in exactly the same situation with a brain injured in exactly the same place? Sometimes they are worse injuries, sometimes they are less, but that will clear before my inconsequential advice is asked of.
My nurse friend, who has seen quite a lot in her ICU job, suggested to me that one of the main reasons that Vernon didn’t get better, beyond all of the different variables of his journey, was because he was older. He was only 47 when he was injured, but she thought it was likely that had he been twenty years younger, his kidneys might not have been attacked in the same way. His body was older. I had never thought about that, since I’ve heard of younger people with brain stem injuries who didn’t make it past a week. “That’s the brain stem,” she told me. “That’s different. In my experience, from what I’ve seen, the body swings back a lot easier under 30.”
Now this isn’t to say that another man injured in the same way at the same age or older can’t recover. But it had never struck me till today to consider his age in my list of “what ifs.” I’d been looking for faults in the system, little hidden pathways that might have changed the outcome. But to think of his age as a major variable in the puzzle never occurred to me. In the care homes we’d been in, he’d been a spring chicken. Everyone was shocked to see him living among the elderly and commented on his youth. But perhaps they were commenting on the unfairness of his being there, of seeing his young children and wife around him, when most of the visiting families were in their 60s-70s and the patients were their parents. I’d come to think of him as “too young”…but perhaps for his particular set of traumas, he was actually ‘too old.”
Again, I can’t know the answers. But this shock of an idea does make me feel like perhaps I don’t need to look for more medical answers. I could, just as a trivial pursuit, if not useful knowledge. But this new idea blows the importance of the others away for the time being. He was too old to survive that kind of injury. Perhaps he did survive longer than expected. It was just that at the time, my expectations were so high.
In looking for a quote to add to this post, I came across this one. It stood out to me only because the meme is in Vernon’s free Amatic font. And by now you know how I feel about his font messages. I read them no matter what. 🙂
But this is not meant to give anyone else answers…or more questions, for that matter. People live healthy, vibrant lives into their 100s sometimes. And babies die too. Age really does have nothing to do with how you live your life. But the thing is, when you lose a loved one, you don’t necessarily have answers. No matter how we obsess over them. As Vernon used to say: “Most often the questions are more important than the answers.” Not having answers is a way of life…maybe THE way of life. But it’s still ok to wonder.