Dealing with my husband’s brain injury

By Kirstin Buick
09 October 2013

Our new blogger, Michelle Fourie, shares with us how dramatically her and her family’s lives changed after her husband sustained serious brain injuries in a car accident, resulting in personality changes and impaired abilities.

The Fourie family on a farm visit a few years ago. From left: Michelle, Ruan, Jacques and Jackie.

I can divide my life into two periods: befóre the accident and after the accident. There are no longer specific dates that stand out in either period; everything that’s happened in our lives just belongs in one of these periods.

We had the tiles laid before the accident . . . we last were on holiday before the accident . . . Ruben’s fifth birthday was after the accident . . .

This picture of Jackie, the kids and their grandmother, Let, was taken two weeks before the accident.

The accident

Jackie, my high school beau, and I have been married for 20 years. Twenty years is a long time and we’ve had our share of tough times. We have two sons, our gifts from Above, Jacques (15) and Ruben (7).

I remember the night before the accident as a good one. I’d snuggled up close to Jack that night, realising that I would, after all, be missing my old man. He’d be away for four nights, travelling to Durban with his two sisters and his brother for the funeral of their uncle and spending the weekend in Ballito.

They left Pretoria just after 3 o’clock on a cold winter’s morning. Shortly after 4.30 the phone rang.

A cow on the N3? Medical details? Unconscious?

I remember the sick feeling, the cold sweat, the anxiety. I woke up the children: Dad’s been in an accident. He’s being taken to hospital in Alberton and we have to get there immediately. It was dark and everything was happening quickly. There was no time to drop off the children anywhere. There was no time to think.

The ICU 

We arrived in Alberton at the same time as my sister-in-law and her husband. At the same time too a helicopter landed with a patient on board. Jackie.

The boys and I looked as if we were from an orphanage. Only when we were at the hopsital did I realise that Ruben was wearing his old slippers and that I hadn’t brushed my hair.

Hospitals are terrifying places as it is. And the casualty ward, just before sunrise, is the loneliest, coldest place on Earth. We waited. And prayed. Eventually a trauma counsellor told us what was going on.

Jackie had to be stabilised. Then they would take him to the radiography department to do X-rays and scans.

I felt as if I was about to faint, but my sons needed me. I couldn’t lose it.

The other three patients arrived at the hospital. After they were cleaned up they, mercifully, appeared to have only cuts and bruises.

Thank you, Lord!

Jackie was admitted to the intensive care unit. When I met the physician on duty, I knew my husband was in the best possible hands. The doctor explained Jackie had sustained serious head injuries and with the impact of the accident he didn’t lose only consciousness but went into a deep coma. This is called traumatic brain jury.

I was too terrified to see him. When I finally stood next to his bed, it was quite different from what I’d imagined.

Yes, there was severe swelling and he had tubes inserted in various parts of his body, but otherwise you wouldn’t have thought it was too bad. If Jackie would only open his eyes, I thought, everything would be fine.

And suddenly there was no money . . . 

Shock upon shock. An admin clerk looking not a day older than 18 came rushing towards me. There was a problem with the medical aid. Jackie’s bank details had changed and the medical aid debit payments hadn’t come off. All the other payments were fine and we hadn’t noticed the problem with the medical aid payment. Now I would have to pay R120 000 upfront immediately.

I kicked into survival mode. My uncle would know what to do. At the end of the day, after I’d been treated like a criminal by the hospital, the money was paid in. I’d decide what to do in four days’ time. Now we just had to survive the first 48 hours.

Michelle Fourie lives in Pretoria where she owns a thatching business. She is blogging weekly for YOU about how her family’s life changed after her husband, Jackie, sustained irreversible brain damage.

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