Yesterday's Magazette

14 – White Roses With Love

White Roses With Love

By Linda L. Lattin

People had been praying for weeks, and on Christmas day in 1984 their prayers were answered. That day I opened my eyes for the first time in five weeks. My eyes were hollow and blank; as I looked at my sons, Phil 14, Matt 12, and Drew, 7. They were spending this special day with me at the hospital. I had been comatose since a car accident on November 14th and this was the first sign of life that anyone had seen. Many thought it was a miracle. My confused and disorientated look was short-lived; after a few minutes I closed my eyes and slipped back into unconsciousness.

By late February: I was more conscious, and I was frightened. I was confused to find myself lying in a hospital bed encircled by several monitors; each having colored lights blinking and beeping to a rhythm of their own. Tubes and needles were stuck in my head, throat, hands, arms and seemingly everywhere on my body. My eyes frantically searched the room looking for my Mom and Dad. As my care was negligent, loved ones took turns staying with me. My parents were there every other day. Mom spent many hours quietly talking to me about my family and my life, as she massaged lotion onto my feet and legs. The personal care and touch my parents dedicated to me is priceless. I shudder when I think of what may have happened to me in those critical days without them.

A dear friend made me a unique communication board which enabled me to “talk” to people. Marge put Velcro over a game board; and glued it to the back of the letter tiles too. I could spell-out what I wanted to say. If I couldn’t move the tile myself, I pointed to the letter and it was lined up for me. I was soon “talking” to my family and visitors.

Early in March of 1985 I began to go in-and-out of consciousness. I was aware of the psychological changes, but was unable to tell anyone that I was awake. The staff in the medical nursing home said I was “going through an angry stage,” and pretty much ignored me. By March 15th, I was 100% coherent, but no one would “listen to me.” I felt frantic, and wondered if I was on the right planet?! I finally convinced my mom that I was awake. I could not communicate normally, but hey … I was out of practice!

I was sent back to Ramsey hospital for tests to determine my level of coherency. I was awake indeed. Many doctors were actually stunned by my recovery. They did not expect me to survive that fateful night; let alone go home to live a normal life. In a sense they were right: I’ve never been “normal.” They would be amazed if they could see me today. A brain injured woman who wrote a book all by herself.

The medical staff caring for me at the hospital and nursing home did not know that I caught Polio in my left leg during the 1952 epidemic when I was only two years old. They had no idea that I was not expected to walk without a brace or crutches but I was determined to walk independently before I went to high school. They did not know that determination and independence are so ingrained in my personality that it is unwise to limit me. Never say “never” to Linda!

I went “home” with the man they said was my husband and the boys they told me were mine. I did not remember them or the home I was returning to either. Before I could leave the nursing home I learned to talk and articulate as best I could with my raspy voice. I also learned to sit up, how to eat, brush my teeth, wash my face, and other tricky daily living skills. I was also wearing a diaper. They did not foresee me recovering and becoming independent enough to leave medical care in the first place, so there were many things they neglected to do or “fix.”

The boys were happy to have me home. They had balloons and party favors for my surprise “Welcome home party.” Their eyes sparkled with joy as each brought me stacks of cards and pictures made by their classmates. We snacked on treats dropped off by friends, neighbors and members of our church. It felt right: I knew this is where I belonged. It was a tragic time in all our lives, and I still can’t think of it without shedding a few tears. We were unsure and frightened, as we emotionally clung to each other with hope for better tomorrows.

As we relaxed; they shared stories about different ways they managed the months I was in a coma. With a look of pride Phil said, “They kept saying you were going to die, but I knew you wouldn’t. You’re tough and everyone we knew were praying for you. We knew God was listening,” he added with the confidence of youth.

That first year was busy and full of change. We struggled to stay afloat through the many facets of recovery. I had chronic pain from nerve damage, and we were each scarred in our own way. We learned to exist within the pain and confusion of our personal psyche. My tracheotomy tube wasn’t removed when it should have been, so my speech is dysarthric. There were many misunderstandings about what someone thought I said. The relearning was so painful at times: I do not know where we found the strength to endure.

As I became reacquainted with the boys, we shared pictures and stories and giggles over memories past. I will always cherish the time we spent together in that first year of my recovery. We shared laughter and silly ideas and talked about their favorites. We also shared hopes and dreams in the times we spent together. I learned so much about the Mom they knew and loved. I am so proud of my sons: I desperately wish I could be that woman again. I miss her. I tried so hard to be like her. I cherish the times I spent with my sons, and I pray I never survive my own death again.

The boys showed me a beautiful porcelain clown that I owned and apparently collected. I was told I “absolutely love white roses,” and they told me about a beautiful oil painting of white roses that was hanging in the hair salon I owned and worked in.

As the holidays were coming up and the expected snow fell; the boys were out shoveling sidewalks and driveways around the neighborhood to earn money. It was Christmas of 1985 … my first Christmas. I was told we’d put up a big tree each year and we had a lot of decorations. It was hard to remember past Christmases.

The boys were excited about me opening the gifts from them. Phil was proud because he used all of his own money for the gift and he had found the gift himself. Matt and Drew went together on a gift, and they were excited and stayed close while I opened it. It was a beautiful clown, with a dainty satin and lace collar that added charm to the sweet mannequin clown’s face. I cried as I thanked them and we exchanged hugs and kisses.

Phil eagerly handed me a package and waited for me to open it. The gift was facing out and Matt was the first to see it. He said “Wow Phil, where’d you get that?” I did not hear Phil’s answer because I was looking at a beautiful picture of white roses in a gold satin frame. Phil pointed out the crack in the glass on the picture and said “It was on sale because of the crack and I paid for it out of my own money!” He was so proud of his treasure, and I was proud of him. Over the years many people, including Phil, said they would replace the glass, but it was never done. I will not let them ruin my treasure!

On that special first Christmas over 20 years ago, I was given gifts from the heart. Today, I value my picture with a crack in the glass, and my clown with slightly wilted satin & lace. Both gifts from their hearts are symbolic of my life. I’m a little wilted and cracked myself; but I was given a second chance and a new beginning.

*Linda L. Lattin has lived a challenged life. She caught Polio in 1952 at the age of two, and has learned strength and independence from the beginning. In 1984, Linda suffered brain injuries in a car accident and was comatose for over four months. She awoke from the coma with no memory of herself, or of her life. She literally survived her own death; and later made an amazing recovery.

After learning military personnel are returning home from war with brain Injuries, Linda wanted to help them and their families recover. So she wrote a book: “Brain Injured: How I deal with it.”


1 Comment »

  1. We need more stories of people overcoming adversity, instead of “It’s all about me.” which seems to permeate our society.

    Comment by Jim — November 1, 2008 @ 12:37 am | Reply

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