Adam Taylor used to be an engineer. His life changed forever one winter’s night, ten years ago, when the car which he was driving, with his wife and their nine-year old daughter inside, was hit by an articulated lorry that had spun on black ice.
After smashing into their car, the impact caused them to leave the motorway and tumble into a near-by field, coming to rest on its roof after somersaulting three times.
Rachel, his wife, never regained consciousness and died at the scene. He and his young daughter where airlifted to hospital. They had both suffered serious impact injuries and were both rushed into operating theatres for life-saving surgery.
He had broken bones in his legs and arm, and had suffered a collapsed lung and some internal bleeding. He was heavily sedated and drifted in and out of consciousness for days. He was not sufficiently conscious to be told of his daughter’s injuries and his wife’s death.
It was four days before it was judged that he could be told. It was left to his parents to deliver the news about his wife and daughter, who was herself, still in a coma. He was, as expected, devastated, but immediately his thought turned to his daughter.
Her doctor came to talk to him and he explained how seriously ill she was and that she was in an induced coma. He listed all of her physical injuries, and explained that those would heal, in time. But it was the not so visible injuries that were given them the most concern. He listened in horror as the doctor explained that she had suffered a catastrophic head injury, and their major concern was her brain. Until she came out of the coma they had no idea just how extensive her injuries were.
He was in a trance as the doctor spoke to him, he stared straight ahead as he tried to tell him of the possibilities, and their most critical concerns.
“We had to operate Mr.Taylor. Her heart stopped three times in the ambulance and here at the hospital. She’s had a severe bleed on the brain, we’ve done what we can and she is critical but stable. We don’t know what the long-term affects will be, but you must prepare yourself. There is a high probability that she will have suffered some long-lasting brain damage, just now, we don’t know how much.”
He paused as tears fell from Adam’s eyes, yet he still stared straight ahead.
“There is a possibility too that she may have had a stroke, again, we wont know until we wake her up.”
Adam slowly turned his head to look at the doctor.
“A stroke? She’s only nine?”
The doctor explained that anyone can stroke, and the trauma that she has received could have caused a stroke at any time. All they could do was wait.
He asked if he could see her and arrangement were made for him to be taken to her in the intensive care unit. He was shocked when he saw her. Nurses seemed to be around her constantly. The machines that she was linked up to beeped and blinked. Meanwhile she lay on her back. Her eyes taped shut, a tube in her mouth to aide her breathing. He was devastated. His beautiful daughter lay helpless and he couldn’t do anything to help her.
A young nurse told him that he should hold her hand and talk to her. It is thought that patients are aware of loved ones talking to them. Not sure that it was true or not, he didn’t argue. If it gave him the opportunity to be with her then that’s what he’d do. So he was wheeled beside her and he took her hand and talked to her.
Over the next week he visited her as often as he could and he just talked and talked. He didn’t tell her about her mother, he felt that a conversation like that should be face to face, and not with other people around. Fortunately there were no other crises and she lay there, peacefully, as the medical staff waited for the swelling on her brain to go down.
He had to leave her for one day. The day of his wife’s funeral. He was taken there from hospital with two nurses who pushed his wheelchair with a drip attached. They made sure that he had his pain medication and was able to handle the emotion of the day. His wife’s parents had organised it and it was a lovely service.
When he got back to the hospital he insisted on seeing Katie before he went to his room. She was still unconscious, but holding her hand, just for a short while was enough to calm him down and he left her for the night.
They did tests on her everyday, sometimes multiple times a day. When eventually the time came to wake her she had been in a coma for eight days. He was there when they started to wake her up. He held her hand and called to her. It seemed that she would never wake up, and it took what seemed like a life-time when suddenly her eyes flickered. He called to her.
“Katie! Katie! Wake up darling. Daddy’s here. I’ve got you.”
When she first opened her eyes she looked at him. He stared, she hadn’t lost that sparkle, it may have been dimmed a little, but it was still there. He smiled.
Tears streamed down his cheeks as he squeezed her left hand. She licked her lips and tried to talk but her throat was too dry. A nurse gave her a sip of water. She rested her head back and looked at him again and opened her mouth to talk. He stopped. What came out wasn’t words, it was a noise, a garbled noise. He turned to the doctor. He could see his shoulders sink, this was not good.
He put his hand on his shoulder.
“Let’s not panic Mr. Taylor.”
He moved beside her bed and she turned to look at him as he explained where she was, and that she had been hurt in the car accident. Then he turned to the nurse and gave some instructions which meant a lot more tests for his daughter. He held her hand and squeezed it.
“You’re going to be fine honey. The main thing is that you are alive. I thought that I’d lost you.”
He brushed his fingers across her face and wiped her tears from her cheek.
They took her away for more tests and returned him to his room where he sat in his bed and sobbed. She was gone for tests, but he knew that it wasn’t going to be good news. She couldn’t talk. And when he squeezed her hand he felt nothing back, she couldn’t move her hand. What did it mean for her? For him?
A nurse came in and sat with him as he poured his heart out to her. She listened and told him that until they knew the full extent of her injuries then it wasn’t good for his health to guess. She said that it was far too early to speculate, they had no idea if any damage that they might find would be permanent or temporary.
“So. Let’s wait until we know Adam. Then we can deal with it. But the most important thing for you to do, is to let her see that you are there for her.”
He nodded. She was right. And he would be. For as long as is took.
They tested her for two days. Finally, two of her doctors and a nurse entered his room and closed the door behind them and began to give their assessment of her. He listened in shock as he was told that she did have some brain damage. It was isolated to specific areas of her brain, and the most important problem areas were, her speech and her movement.
“She has suffered a trauma to the area of the brain that controls speech.”
When he asked if it was permanent the doctors glanced at each other and nodded.
“We think so.”
He lowered his head.
“But Mr. Taylor. It is important for you to understand. Her cognitive behaviour is normal. She understands what is going on around her, she can think, reason. Inside that brave little girl is a bright, alert little girl. She just cant tell us how she’s feeling, yet. As for her movement. There is no break in her spinal cord, her back wasn’t broken. But their is damage in her brain. Put simply, the signals aren’t getting to where they should.”
Alan listened as they explained the limits of her movement, particularly in her legs, and left arm. They told him that she had some movement in her right arm, mostly from the elbow to her hand. Her fingers were weak, but they felt that with physiotherapy, that could be improved. He asked if she could walk? The consultant shook his head.
“I’m afraid not Mr. Taylor. And, I would be surprised if that changed. She has very limited movement in her lower body, and certainly no strength. But she does feel pain. She’s not paralysed.”
They talked to him at length, about her problems, her care, and, their expectations for her future. They said that she should live a near-normal lifespan, but she would need constant care.
They began to talk about the range of services and service providers that could give her the care that she needed, he stopped them.
“She’s my responsibility. She only has me now. You can take care of her medical needs, but I will take care of everything else. She’s my daughter.”
They tried to explain to him what was involved in providing constant care for someone, but whilst he listened, it didn’t change his mind. He was resolved to taking care of his little angel, for the rest of his life if need be.
Before they left him he asked if she was well enough to know about her mother. They looked solemn as they nodded.
“We can tell her if you want us to?”
He thanked them and shook his head.
“No. This is something that I have to do.”
He was wheeled into her room and they left the two of them alone. He sat on her right, and as he took her hand he felt her gently squeezed it and wrap her fingers around his, He fought back tears as he began to tell her about the accident and how they both ended up in her. He stared at her eyes as he did, he felt that she already knew what he was leading up to.
“Honey. I’m afraid that mummy didn’t make it. She died in the accident.”
He watched as his little girl closed her eyes and sobbed. She sobbed her heart out. He couldn’t get out of his chair to cuddle her so pressed the nurse call button and a nurse came in and went straight to her and hugged her. She held her, stroked her face as she cried. She held onto his hand throughout as the nurse comforted her and he told her that he was never going to leave her alone again, and he would take care of her when they got home.
So began her daily routine, and was involved right from the start.
They showed him everything that had to be done on a daily basis. And even though he wasn’t fully recovered himself, he was determined that he would be the one to take care of her. He soon realised the magnitude of his task, and the limitations of his daughter.
There were tears. They both cried a lot. But together they began to form a special bond that was even stronger than before the accident. Although she couldn’t raise her arms, she could move them from the elbow. So he would sit with her and hold her hand, and he’d constantly work her fingers, challenging her to grip his fingers, and if she got him to yelp. he’d reward her with a piece of her favourite chocolate. She had very little strength in her grip, but he yelped anyway, and she’d smile and giggle, and that would make it worthwhile.
There were other physical limitations. Her neck muscle was weak, and sometime she had difficulty keeping her head still, and upright. But the staff gave him encouragement that it would improve with physiotherapy.
But the most devastating thing for him was that she’d lost her speech. The sounds that she made were incoherent and garbled. But he was assured that she wasn’t retarded in any way. Inside, she was still his bright little girl, she just couldn’t express what she wanted to say. When he asked about improvements in that area they were less hopeful.
“I promise you Adam. You will learn to understand her over time. But the chances of her speech returning are low.” The consultant told him when he asked about her regaining her speech.
They were right, she grunted and made unintelligible sounds, which at first he thought that he’d never understand. But they were right, and very quickly be learned what her various grunts and sounds meant and she also learned that she had to talk in a different way to make herself understood. He took great comfort from knowing that despite appearances, she was still very aware of everything around her, and was still his clever little girl inside. They also learned to manage with the basic ‘blinking’ responses. They decided on ‘one blink for no’ and ‘two blinks for yes’. And it worked very well, as long as he asked yes or now questions.
He resolved to read to her every day, and to teach her everything that he could. He would do everything for her to give her the best, fullest, more interesting and fun life that he could.
Eventually it came time for her to leave hospital. He had prepared the house for her. He’d had the door’s widened, so that her wheelchair would fit in all of the rooms. He’d installed ramps where needed at the front and rear of the house. And, he’d organised a chair-lift, which would be arriving soon after they got home.
When they left hospital, he wasn’t so sure what the future faced for her. He knew only one thing, that he would dedicate his life to making his daughter’s life as good, and as normal and fulfilling as he possibly could.
Initially he had a lot of help from his parents, and his wife’s parents who having lost their only daughter, poured their love onto their grand-daughter. The house was constantly full of people. Both sets of grand-parents would alternate weeks to help him. But eventually he had to learn to do it on his own, and the visits gradually decreased as he took on more and more of the tasks by himself.
The consultant had been right, they did learn to communicate with each other. They even developed a basic technique for having quick conversations which involved her blinking her eyes in response to direct questions. It had began with basic eye blinks, one for no, and two for yes. They’d introduced a third, three for ‘what the hell are you talking about dad?’
She had regular physiotherapy sessions at the local hospital every week. And he continued them at home, and after a few months he began to notice small improvements, especially in her grip and mobility of her hands and fingers.
Life did return to a kind of normality, just not the normality that he had imagined for her, or for him.