Austin**•.¸♥¸.•**not-Texas, Texas, USA
May 28
♪♫ ♥ Diva ♥ ♪♫♥
Mom, partner, listener, healer of wounds large and small, dog-petter, writer, pie baker, star shooter, wine appreciator, hungry muse, part-time pirate and pole dancer.


Editor’s Pick
FEBRUARY 4, 2010 6:22PM

Thawing out the body

Rate: 39 Flag

I posted earlier this week about my fantasy of what would happen when this procedure started. Here's what actually happened.


January 22, 2008

Today is BoyChild’s 16th birthday. Today begins his awakening from the medically induced coma he has been in for the last week.  We walk into his room feeling somewhat festive with hopefulness and our eager (if muted) anticipation. We come bearing gifts and cards.  We smile, appreciating the balloons and the poster hanging in the window. All the people involved in BoyChild’s care—his nurses, doctors, and various other specialists, have signed the poster that hangs in his ICU room.  


The medications that have kept him in his coma for the last week are stopped. Despite knowing that it can take up to 24 hours for the meds to work their way out of his system, we watch anxiously for the smallest movement.  For any movement.  BoyChild is concomitantly being warmed up as they raise his temperature to normal. They are thawing him.  (My son is being thawed out! He’s like a giant fish stick!)  


Occasionally, a body part twitches and we hold ourselves with anticipation. There is no way at this time to determine the extent of brain damage. We do not even know if BoyChild can breathe on his own. We do not know what will be awakened once the sedating drugs have worn off. All we can do at this point is wait and watch. 


Each muscle twitch is painful—is he going to make it? Does it spell something positive? Will he be able to: walk, make jokes, talk,  finish school, recognize us?  His body jerks and twitches; we lean forward, we cringe.  It is excruciating, this waiting, this hopefulness. It is also hard to contain the despair that lurks behind our hope. He jerks, we jerk in response… Sometimes we sing another round of Happy Birthday.  We are horribly off-key.


You have things to do in this life. You have girls to fall in love with, mountains to climb, books to read, cakes to eat. You have to come back. You have to, I whisper into his ear. One day we will laugh about how you came back to life on your birthday. I love you. Come back, little boy.


Doctors and nurses begin to do neurological tests. These early tests consist initially merely of grabbing a nipple and twisting.  The point of this twisting is to stimulate a very primitive response: if the brain is not too damaged, and the twist is on the left side, the hope is that the right arm will cross over the body’s midline to stop the pain and vice-versa. BoyChild’s unconscious reactions are both confounding and hopeful. Because the damage has been to his left temporal and frontal lobes, the expectation is that he will respond better with his left arm/hand to a twist on his right side. BoyChild responds more quickly to the twists on his left side. This is not the expected response.


“More quickly” is probably a misnomer. What actually happens is that a person will grab a piece of his chest flesh, twist, and then we all wait for a response. Moments may pass before there is a flutter of movement from his arm or hand or fingers. He does not quite connect his movement to the pain being inflicted. His face is placid as this happens. There is a distinct disconnect between his body and his body’s response. His left arm slowly crosses the midline, but the movement is uncertain and slow.  It’s as though some part of his reptilian brain is being stimulated, but not strongly enough to make the assertive response we so want.


To my horror, the medical response to BoyChild’s sluggish reactions is to increase the energy put into the twisting of his skin. One nurse seems particularly invested in twisting his nipples as hard as she can to get an effect. However, each time, his right side seems more responsive than his left side.  BoyChild responds in the unexpected, opposite way: rather than the left side of his body responding (corresponding to the unaffected part of his brain), his right side seems more responsive. It is hard to know which part of this upon which we need to focus.



January 24 (2 days later)

BoyChild has begun showing signs of responsiveness. His eyes open; he returns a slight pressure with his hand. However, these signs are sporadic and not consistent with our efforts to make contact with him. When I ask him if he wants his watch, he nods and holds his arm out. But when asked to open and close his hands, to give a thumbs up, he is not responsive. He stares out into a void. This stare un-nerves me. Nurses try in progressively louder voices to command him to do a ‘thumbs up’. Nothing happens. He seems to be awake but does not respond. Sometimes a finger or a thumb twitches in response to the command of ‘thumbs up!’.  We tense up each time someone yells, Thumbs up, BoyChild!  Can you give me a thumbs up? BoyChild! Do this, put your thumb up!  We wait to no avail many times.  When the nurses leave the room, we try it ourselves. We encourage him to make a motion. We catch his eye and pantomime and say, Come on, thumbs up! I suspect we each think that because we are using cheery, encouraging tones that he will be more responsive to us. 



BoyChild is sitting in an upright position.  He looks pitiful with half of his head shaved and covered by huge bandages.  Alone with him one evening, I move to the end of the bed and make sure I have his visual attention.  I mime opening and closing my fist. To my surprise, he copies the motion.  I make a thumbs up. He does this as well.  I am ecstatic, believing that this is the beginning of our communication.  Tears fill my eyes. 


I know that BoyChild may have language difficulties after the brain injury. There is the chance that he cannot hear, that he cannot process what he sees and make sense enough of it to translate it from thought to action.  Maybe he simply is no longer capable and will have to learn how to talk again and, worse, maybe he will not be able to talk again.  But, this, this copy-catting suggests there is some language-related functioning happening, that he can take in information, process it, and then move his hands in response. 


He gives me a lopsided grin and I want to yell to the heavens, I want to clasp him to me tightly. I want to break down into sobs of relief.  I settle for grinning back at him and we hold hands while looking in each other’s eyes.  It is perhaps the most intimate moment I have ever had with my teen-aged son. 

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Mom's know best.

I remember watching the nurses stick my grandson over and over again to test his blood. I finally threw a fit. It's so damn hard.

I know it's hard to relive this, but I really believe sharing this story will help lots of people. xoxoxox
I can barely stand to leave a comment. This is raw and real to me. I can feel it somehow your writing is so true.
Write more and keep doing it my psych. It is great!!
Your effort and power are most admirable.
This story had me on the edge. I was as happy as you were when he gave the thumbs up.
Holy mother of Boychild! This has got to be the sweetest thing I've read in a long long time.
I'm out of words. Sending love instead._r
This is brilliant in it's force and realness. It makes me cry and I am so honored to be a part of your sharing.
Thank YOu
Oh, that lopsided grin! You got him back, but God, what a torturous journey. You write it so well:)
Skel--I'm hoping it does help someone to read this. It's helping me to write it.

Mission--I appreciate your comments so much.

Thoth--thank you

Dr.Spudman 44--::grinning at you::

Joan--thank you, it was a sweet sweet moment

micalpeace--your words are most humbling, thank you
You had my heart in the palm of your hand as I followed this incredibly gripping narrative. Whee! The conclusion allowed me to take a needed breath. Hurrah! (r)
Clark--I think I took my first deep breath in a week on that day...
Eden--sometimes a lopsided grin is better than anything else in the world and it was that day!
Wow. I've been "waiting to exhale" with this too-true story of yours. I've finally exhaled, a little.
It is excruciating, this waiting, this hopefulness. It is also hard to contain the despair that lurks behind our hope
You told this so well. I was hanging on every word, waiting to see that "thumbs up".
One word comes to mind when I read this...

One word comes to mind when I read this...

Wow. This piece is filled with anticipation, bursting joyously in the end. Great work.
So hard but told so well.
Okay, this happened in 2008- I'm hoping against hope that he's fine and in college now....
It's the sweetest thing, to want him back so bad you'll take anything, accept him anyhow, as long as he is alive. I can't imagine. I don't want to imagine. I hope I never have to.
this gave me goosebumps all over. Thank you for letting me read it.
What Mission said...and love to you...xox
I'm glad you are writing about this...I think it really helps in understanding what an experience we've been through...perhaps seeing it from a different angle. Much love to you and your family, mypsyche.
i'm so glad we're getting to the good-news portion of the story, D. and i love the way you wrote this, with the pain and fear and things that don't make sense ending in a lovely, hopeful reunion with your son. so nice.
Eva--exhale, inhale deeply. thank you for reading.

trilogy--thumbs up, indeed!

Placebo--your word captures so much about this experience

Steve--so grateful the anticipation ended with a thumbs up

voicegal--nope, not yet. he went back to high school but his peers understood nothing about his experience/changes. working on his GED at this point and trying to grow up.

Bellwether--I hope you never have to either. I never wanted to.

fernsy--thanks for being here to read

Jill--::lopsided grin::

femme--good news helps us get thru, even if the good news is no bad news, right?
Chica, I am so glad you are writing this. I am learning a great deal through it, in part for people I know, and in part, for future reference. For your part, and for the book (and intermittant clarity) that I believe will result, bring it . . . rock on . . . we will continue to read.
(BTW, have you read Stroke of Insight? I just finished it, and damn . . . )
as a mom,i felt this...every single painful joyful word. boychild is lucky to have such a great mom.
So powerful and love your writing, also flecked with bits of humor that add flavor but do not diminish the heart that is here.
This has, indeed, been enlightening. So well done. Thank you.
Oh My God... This is just too difficult for me. My son is 16 1/2. I just don't want to imagine.... Blessings
oh this just moved me to tears. you had me all the way, first because it's the story of a wounded child and a prayerful mother, second because I know it's true, and third because you write so well. SO well.
I'm right along with you on this slow journey, where milestones are so tiny that they can barely be detected. And that moment, that grin, those tears. Oh, god... truly a moment of connection and joy. xo
you are just so Honest. I think that's what strikes me most.

It's horrible, a parent's nightmare, and you have us there, with you.

You're so unflinching, I guess is what I'm trying to say. Thank you for showing us this. It's helpful to know what's real.
Owl--I'm glad you are getting something from this. I did read that book--oh boy, right?

lorianne--thank you, I am lucky to have him

AtHome-the bits of humor save me

sophieh--thanks for coming by
Trig--I couldn't have imagined it. Don't.

foolish monkey--you flatter me (I like it) and I thank you for continuing to read and comment

CK--the tiny milestones were all we had at this time, I marked every one of them

Connie--I needed to know what was real. There's no other way for me to tell it. I appreciate your coming by.
I keep seeing my own boy! You have a Big Salon article here, you know . . .
"I want to yell to the heavens".....I don't know how you didn't.
Big, huge, thumbs up!!!! Heart swelling, maternal yearnings are with you, mypyche!!! I am there with you as sure as I am a mama!
God bless you all and back around again! xoxo
Oh, I'm so happy to see the coming-back-to-life! For you, too!

Joy to your family, joy to the story!

Love, Julie
The last paragraph says it all. Moments like this are excruciating. And precious.
I could feel it- all of you willing with everything that you possessed for him to lift his thumb in victory. And I could see you that night, sitting on the end of his bed, sucking in a big breath of air as he responds to you. I'm sure that lopsided smile is imprinted on your brain. You are helping me to realize that we can survive as parents what we dream in our worst dreams. As difficult as this must be to write, I know you are helping me and many other by sharing your story. thank you.
This is very powerful. rated.
WOW! Please tell us more!
This is brutal and hopeful in so many ways. His lopsided grin at the end of your post brought me my own. Great writing and a great post.
It is so wonderful to read your comments. Thank you for coming by.
Wow. How hard this must be. How brave you are.
Yahoo progress, praise be!
Your hope is always more vivid than your loss. Thank you.

I find myself coming here when my pain or happiness gets so great that I crave to connect or crave comfort from a dose of perspective.
Either way, your words deliver.

Thanks for the opportunity