After two months in the rehab hospital, I was discharged and sent home. I wasn’t doing great, but I could stand, sit, and walk a few steps around the house. I got used to the routine of being upright, but also had a number of limitations. I could walk across a room, but I would be glad a chair was waiting on the other side. I had a walker that I used, as well as hand rails for the bathroom. It wasn’t an ideal situation, but it was gold to be home.
The thing I was most grateful for was to be around my family every day. Even though I missed the start of school, I was awake when they went off to school, and got to welcome them when they got home. Being around them on a daily basis improved my mood considerably.
The cats even remembered who I was, especially when I took over feeding them. Being around the family and neighbors made me feel somewhat normal. The neighbors were very helpful, bringing over meals that we could quickly heat up, which took some of the workload that my wife had been shouldering for three months.
My sister even came to visit, which was very helpful. She was a stickler for order and cleanliness, and was good about taking on a surrogate parent role when the kids (or I) got too tired or grumpy.
I wasn’t allowed to go back to work, but my boss was busy doing end-of-year reviews…so he brought over all the staff performance plans, and we talked about should go in each one. Fortunately, I had taken good notes before the accident, and was able to handle some light administrative tasks, as long as I didn’t actually do ‘work’.
While I couldn’t go far, and couldn’t drive, I was able to go places, as long as someone else drove…and I was able to get a cheeseburger at McDonalds. It’s the little things that can make you feel more human, and I tried to focus on doing as many ‘normal’ things as possible, like going to the bathroom, shaving or just getting in and out of a chair.
In talking with other people who have gone through similar experiences, the big challenges were not physical, but adjusting mentally to how we felt internally, and how we dealt with other people. The longer I stayed in the hospital, the more dependent and less capable I felt. Even though I gained skills and strength in physical therapy, I was still dependent on others to prepare meals, provide assistance and give personal care.
At home, there was no 7X24 nursing team on duty, and no one to come running in the night if I needed help. I had to realize that my wife was doing the work of two parents, and that the best way for me to help was to take on whatever roles I could, and work on getting better as quickly as possible, because the kids needed both of us. Still, it was good to be home. It felt strange at first, and even smelled different than what I was used to from the hospital.
Home. Just the sound of the word makes me feel a sigh of relief. Every time I’ve gone on vacation or an extended business trip, returning home was the part of the trip where I finally got to relax and let down my defenses. It was mostly the same in this case, but I had to re-learn what the word ‘home’ meant for me.
My wife and kids had been on their own for nearly three months, and they had built their routines around what they had to do to get by. I was an extra ingredient in the mix, and had to figure out just where I fit in. Now, in addition to dealing with the job of school, pets, and running the household, everybody else had to deal with someone recovering from an injury, and barely able to keep up with everyone else.
So, in some ways, I felt like an outsider. It was my house – I lived there, and was part of the family, but I frequently felt like an intruder. My life had been changed pretty dramatically, and so had the rest of the family. I tried my best to fit in and contribute where I could, but still, it was a challenge.
I tried to make up duties where I could. If I couldn’t empty the trash or bend over to empty the dishwasher, I could read to the kids during the day or at bedtime. I could ask them about their school day and assist with homework. It may have ‘only’ been three months, but with the kids being age 5 and 9, they had both grown taller in that time, and both of them seemed older when I got home. I had to take time to get to know them again, and let them get used to me being home.
I thought about families who had to deal with that challenge all the time – soldiers get deployed for long periods away from their families, and their children learn to deal with their parent’s absence. I was sure that mine would eventually adjust, but I also had to deal with their fears that I might not come home. I was taken from them pretty suddenly, and I’m sure it was on their minds as a possibility. I tried to reassure them that I wasn’t planning on going away any time soon, and would certainly not be getting on a motorcycle again, but I could hear the uncertainty in their voice when they’d ask me about going away.
Still, I was home. While I might go away from time to time, I gained a new appreciation of what it meant to come home. Home is where things are safe. Home is where we’re protected. I knew that I needed to make sure that my kids knew that I wasn’t going to leave them, and that as I got better, I’d try to make it up to them as best I could.