Then it hits me: My husband is very, very sick

By admin
18 October 2013

While Jackie is in a coma in intensive care and their savings are shrinking, his family somehow has to carry on with their lives. Michelle Fourie shares her second blog about life with her husband who has severe brain injuries.

It feels as if I’m on a seesaw: one day up, the next day down.

When you’re flailing about in darkness, that’s when you become aware of the rays of light: My mom, the rest of my family, my friends and the strangers who appear like angels to prop me up and bring calm to a stormy sea after my husband Jackie’s car accident.

His eyes are taped closed, his tongue has been secured to stop him from swallowing it, and there’s a pipe in his throat to help his lungs to work because breathing is a huge effort for him.

Machines tick . . . tick . . . bleep . . . bleep.

Visiting hours to the ICU are limited. And when the doors swing open to let visitors in, I’m too scared to go in.

When I stand next to Jackie’s bed, I don’t know what to do. He’s in a coma. Can I touch him? What do I say? I involuntarily think of every soap I’ve seen on TV where the characters often land up in a coma. What I can now say with absolute certainty is that it’s not like the movies at all.

The character doesn’t suddenly open his eyes and everything carries on as before. The Saturday after the accident my son Jacques’ Menlo Park High rugby team plays in the semis for the Beeld trophy. The team members play with black armbands to show their support for Jacques who’s going through a difficult time. And before the whistle blows a prayer is said for Jackie who was always on the sidelines when Jacques played.

Menlo Park wins and goes to the finals. Jacques has played the best rugby of his life.

I can drive from Pretoria to the hospital in Alberton with my eyes shut. Sometimes it takes me an hour to get there and other times three, what with roadworks, accidents, sleet and even one day snow.

Joy and disillusionment

Four weeks in intensive care!

Meanwhile our bank account has gone into overdraft and our credit cards are in the red as every cent is paid into the hospital account. My nerves are shot.

One day I arrive at the hospital to find Jackie sitting in a reclining chair. It’s the first sight of progress but for me the first of many new traumas.

I’d become used to him just lying there. With every bit of progress the reality hits me afresh: the man I’ve been married to for 20 years is severely injured.

It’s the day of the Beeld trophy final and Jacques’ team loses against Waterkloof High. After the match we drive to the hospital. When Jacques sees his dad, he puts his head in Jackie’s lap and cries his heart out.

But still there is now movement.

Going down on bended knee

The ventilator is disconnected, the pipe in his throat removed. Jackie is fed, but his eyes remain closed and very little else changes. The doctors talk about transferring him to a rehab hospital. I get quotes . . . and nearly choke when I see the astronomical costs. Can health care be that expensive? We need a miracle.

I start doing research and think of Pippie’s mom who also had to go down this road.

The Tshwane rehabilitation hospital in Pretoria is a state hospital with a neurology section that’s prepared to accept Jackie provided he responds well enough. He must for instance be able to perform simple actions, such as bending his knee. But until now he’s hardly moved at all. I arrange for an ambulance to take him to Pretoria. He lies there motionless. I pray like a demented woman – what if they don’t accept him?

They run various tests. The physiotherapist speaks to him quietly. “Mr Fourie, bend your knee.” And lo and behold! My husband bends his knee!

This is all the rehab hospital needs to admit him. Hallelujah!

That’s when it hits me. My husband has a brain injury. The road ahead won’t be easy.

* Michelle Fourie lives in Pretoria where she runs a thatch-roofing business. She’s blogging weekly for YOU about how her and her family’s life has changed after her husband sustained irreversible brain damage.

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