Our story began more than fifteen years ago. I met my husband, Nicholas, in high school; we were just acquaintances in our junior year. Nich sat behind me in our history class; he usually slept, or doodled on his homework, and then asked to copy my notes. He was very outgoing, social, and flirtatious. We were complete opposites and after high school, we went our separate ways.
On Saturday July 24th, 1999, at age eighteen, Nicholas was involved in a horrific rollover car accident. After spending a week at the Sand Dunes, Nich, his friends and family, were driving home in three separate cars. Nich’s family was in front, followed by Nich and his two best friends Melissa and Sean, and bringing up the rear was Melissa’s family. Nich’s Mom, Dad, and sister, in the lead car, lost sight of Nich and his friends, so they pulled into a rest stop to wait for them to catch up. That unfortunately never happened.
At approximately 6:34 p.m. near Tremonton, Utah, the Highway Patrol received multiple phone calls from witnesses, saying that a white Jeep hit the center median, swerved, over corrected, and rolled two or three times end over end. Nich and his friends were thrown from the vehicle. The driver, Sean, had the least extensive injuries; he was awake and talking. Nich, unconscious, was taken by ambulance to the local hospital in Tremonton. Melissa, suffered the most serious injuries, and was life lighted to the University of Utah hospital. Tragically, she did not survive.
Nich was at the Tremonton hospital for a short time. He had difficulty breathing, because his lungs were filling with fluid. They transported him immediately by ambulance, to the McKay-Dee hospital in Ogden, Utah for two days, and then another transfer to Cottonwood hospital, for the next three days. Upon his release, he was referred to a neurologist (for the brain injury), and attended rehab three times a week for six weeks. He had to re-learn how to walk, talk, eat, and do all the everyday functions we take for granted. With the Traumatic Brain Injury, he began having multiple seizures.
In 2007, I stumbled upon Nich’s name online, through our high school’s web page on Myspace. We were both coming out of unhappy and unhealthy marriages. I sent him a message saying “Hello do you remember me?” Surprisingly he did! We started talking a lot; learning everything about each other since our junior year of high school. We dated for a year and were married, February 17, 2008. Nich had a wonderful son, and I had two of my own beautiful children, to bring to our family.
I knew, about Nich’s horrible accident before we got married, but I couldn’t have fully known what my responsibilities would be as the wife of a TBI survivor. You can’t prepare for things you’re going to have to deal with until you’re actually living with that person on a daily basis.
Nich has had multiple grand mall seizures since the accident, but he suffers from petite mal seizures almost daily. He’s currently on multiple different seizure medications, all at maximum dosages, which try to keep the seizures at bay some days. Unfortunately, his seizure activity has increased. His driver’s license was taken away, and he’s had some major setbacks. He has had multiple concussions, due to seizing, falling, and hitting his head. He has fallen down our stairs numerous times, and can't remember what happened, or how he got from point A to point B.
From the time of the car accident in 1999, Nich went from one job to another. Having a brain injury, makes it extremely difficult to do even the most mundane jobs. He can “land” the job, but keeping it is a whole different story. For the last 6 years, he has been our stay at home parent, while I work full time outside the home. There are days he struggles with the fact that he can’t work. He’d love to be able to provide for his family, and he goes through ups and downs of feeling helpless. As often as I tell him that being a stay at home parent is more demanding than most jobs, he still has a hard time realizing he can’t hold down a normal job, or work a regular 40 hours a week job – it’s not physically or mentally possible. Having him stay home with the kids has its definite advantages! One of the side effects of his brain injury is OCD; it comes in handy when he does the cleaning! To me, his “job” is priceless.
Emotional insecurities are another struggle. Almost everyone that Nich was close to at the time of the accident, are now gone. People have a difficult time understanding what he goes through, and deals with, on a daily basis. When you look at my husband, you see a “normal” looking person; nothing stands out, or screams “I have a brain injury!” They are quick to judge, quick to think that he is lazy or unproductive, quick to think that he is ‘normal’ and should be doing everything a ‘normal’ person is doing. Many think his brain injury miraculously healed because they can’t see it. It’s hard for people to remember what he went through, and what he will be dealing with for the rest of his life. Since the accident, Nich sometimes doesn’t know how to feel, and has a hard time expressing grief or sadness. There are times when he knows he should be sad, or cry, but he can’t. There isn’t a day that goes by, that he doesn’t think about the accident, or about his best friend Mel
issa. It’s taken Nich years, to try and learn how to deal with his emotions of grief, sadness, loss, guilt, anger, and resentment. It’s still a work in progress, but he’s making improvements.
Life feels lonely and secluded at times. So many people have refused to take the time to understand what happened to Nich, or care about what is currently going on with his brain injury. Sadly, most of the people in our life have failed to remember the trauma that Nich’s brain and body went through; that it is something he will be dealing with for the rest of his life. We have ourselves, our three amazing children, and Nich’s fantastic neuropsychologist (who has been a true lifesaver time and time again). We don’t have outside help. It’s very exhausting at times, both emotionally and physically. I wish I could quit my full time job, stay home with the kids, and be a full time caregiver for my husband. Then I wouldn’t worry and stress so much when I’m away, and could be more helpful around the house. I also wish I could help him realize we will never abandon him, and he will not be alone. My goal is to help others realize what he deals with every single day, and understand that his brain injury won’t just magically go away.
Our kids have had to grow up a little faster than we wanted. They know their Dad’s brain isn’t like everyone else’s, and he struggles with things most people don’t. They have to be patient, and explain things more than once. They can’t always go outside and play, when Dad has an “off” day. If I’m at work, they have to stay home and play inside, so they can keep an eye on Dad. Because he can’t drive, they have to walk a lot in the summertime (a good thing!). They know that Dad doesn’t remember things (no short term memory), and has A LOT of doctor appointments! Sometime they wonder why Dad isn’t laughing with them when they watch movies and something funny happens. When we go on vacation, they feel bad, because Dad can’t always participate in everything (like ride all the rides at Disneyland); he has to sit on the ‘sidelines’ watching. The kids know their Dad loves them, and would do anything for them. They have him wrapped around their little fingers! If they ever want something, they ask their Dad first; if they have any problems they deal with Dad, rather than wait for me to come home. Dad is the fun parent. When he’s feeling okay, he’s the one who will play basketball, video games, walk to the store to buy treats with them. Dad is the one who begs and pleads with me to let them stay up late, and go to school late on occasion.
I could’ve never expected many of the things we’ve had to deal with the past 8+ years, but I don’t regret a single second of it. It’s definitely taken a lot of patience and understanding. I’ve had to learn how my husband’s brain works. I’ve had to change my expectations, and how I do and say things to him. Nich is one of the strongest people I’ve ever known. He is loving, kind and compassionate. He says what he’s thinking, when he is thinking it. He is romantic, sensitive, and takes great care of me and our three kids. He constantly puts our needs before his own, and is always seeking ways to make others happy. I feel so lucky to have my husband at home with our kids every day; he’s a tremendous father. I feel so blessed to be married to my best friend who helps me appreciate the little things in life. I try to be thankful for what we have, and try not to stress about the things we don’t. My husband and I look forward to every day we get to spend together.
It’s true, I wouldn’t have married that “boy” I knew back in High School, but the man I know now (post TBI, and post accident), is the love of my life. Having a brain injury has completely changed my husband. I can’t honestly say that the struggles we deal with have gotten any easier over the years—they’re just different struggles now. Even with his injury, he is an amazing, wonderful, astonishing husband and father; I couldn’t hope or want for anything more. Knowing all that I know now, I’d still marry Nich in a heartbeat.