When I got back to Florida, Susan and I spoke everyday on the phone. Allie continued to recover from the coma, and she was moved from the intensive care unit into a room in the pediatric wing. As Allie emerged from the coma, she cried for hours. Susan was able to hold her, but Allie was inconsolable. When Susan attempted to put Allie down in the hospital bed, she would howl. The nurses in the pediatric wing were assigned many more patients than the ones in the PICU. So Susan was more on her own than she was in the PICU. It’s difficult to imagine what Allie would have gone through if Susan weren’t there.
Allie was in constant pain. Due to coming back into the world with brain damage, she was disoriented, too. Her normal body functions no longer worked. She couldn’t eat or drink orally so the comfort that comes from eating was totally missing from Allie’s life. Severe injury to the brainstem caused quadriplegia. Lack of oxygen to the brain resulted in cerebral palsy. Allie’s renewed brain activity was severely limited. She was adapting to a new way of interpreting the world she lived in. The adjustments were difficult and Allie seemed constantly disoriented and afraid. Everything startled her. Pain in her body startled her and sudden activity of nurses in her room startled her.
Allie couldn’t be left alone long enough for Susan to shower or eat or even go the bathroom. Susan was in the hospital with Allie while I was over three thousand miles away in Florida. Susan and Allie were both miserable. I never felt so useless and helpless.
I called our friends at Calvary Chapel San Francisco, and another angel, Evelyn, stepped into our lives to bring Susan relief. Evelyn was amazing. She watched Allie while Susan took a shower or went to the self-service laundry or went to an appointment with a social worker. She sat and talked to Susan and massaged Susan’s back, arms, and legs. Susan was holding Allie around the clock, and Evelyn ministered to Susan both physically and emotionally.
My sister, Jennifer, drove to San Francisco from Eureka, where I lived during my middle and high school years with my father. Eureka was a six-hour drive north of San Francisco into California’s Redwood Coast. Ruth, Timmy’s mother, also arrived to pitch in, as did Charity. Having all these ladies to help shoulder the load was another angelic appearance. I was grateful to know that a support system was forming around Allie and Susan, supplementing the hospital staff at California Pacific Hospital. “Grateful” was an attitude I was going to build a new appreciation for in the season of life ahead of us.
Both of Allie’s eyes were almost fully open. For the first time since coming out of the coma, Allie started turning her head on her own, in small, cautious increments. She made continuous attempts to bring her thumb to her mouth to self-soothe, but her muscle tone was too rigid to complete the movements.
Allie is in there
Susan thoroughly learned the nurses’ routines for treating Allie. Susan administered Allie’s medicines, gave her baths, and worked through a therapeutic exercise routine. One day, while Susan played with Allie at bath time, Allie smiled for the first time. When Susan told a nurse, she didn’t believed her but humored Susan anyway. “Oh, that’s nice,” she said, nodding her head with a look on her face that said, “You, poor, pitiful, crazy grandmother.” But smiling and laughing was something Allie seemed to be working hard to do in spite of her pain and disorientation, and Susan was soon vindicated as Allie’s effervescent personality began to shine through and touch everyone that regularly worked with her from physical therapists, to technicians, to nurses and doctors. Allie and Susan were both tenacious and kept pushing past all expectations. For this, we were grateful.
At one point, Susan and Allie were moved into a large room with several beds and a shared bathroom and showers down the hall. Other families were put in the room with her and their visitors would come and go, turning lights on and off around the clock. One poor little girl that shared the room was given sleeping medicine that had the opposite effect on her and she stayed up all night talking to her dad while Susan tried to get Allie to sleep. Susan had a regular routine of walking the halls with Allie and singing to soothe her. That night, Susan walked the halls most of the night. The next day she was so exhausted, she went to the nurses’ station in tears and asked to be moved back to the room she had earlier by herself so they could sleep. Regretfully, the hospital was not able to accommodate.
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