We had known hardship. At first it came in the form of a picket line. I’d take coffee in the middle of the night to my husband and his fellow United Steel Workers. In front of the Goodyear plant, they held their signs and walked. There had been rumors of the plant closing for a long time. We were just waiting on the company to decide if they were going to close our plant or the Gadsen, Alabama plant. It was cheaper to build some production lines of tires outside the USA. It was part of the mass exodus of jobs leaving our country. The strike ended much sooner than we predicted. A meeting at the union hall told everyone of their fate. The Tyler plant would close.
It was during the holidays and plans had to be made for the long haul. Some of us volunteered to work at the Food Bank to fill boxes of groceries at Christmas. After all the work was done, we joined the seemingly endless line of employee’s vehicles while others loaded each one with boxes and bags. The next time we needed groceries we relied on church pantries or PATH (people attempting to help) in our community. Since the plant employed so many people, the county expedited funds available to those affected to pay utility bills for the month. In the end we held on to our vehicle and our home. The only thing we had to give up entirely was our Harley Davidson Soft Tail Springer.
It was a difficult but we never dreamed, at the time, it would turn out to be a blessing financially. The old saying is: ” When one door closes, another opens.” And so it was. After working for Goodyear over 20 years, Ronny was making $18 an hour. He found his next job with Halliburton which turned out to be a six figure income in just the first year.
Three years later we would learn that money is far from everything. It was September 25, 2011 just after midnight. That moment changed our lives forever. We were catapulted into another dimension. There was no longer space or time. Everything stopped existing as it had before. We became suspended in an unrecognizable world between yesterday and tomorrow for weeks and months to come.
I was asleep that Saturday night when my stepdaughter called frantically and breathlessly crying. I heard clips of what she was saying, but could not fully understand until I calmly talked her into speaking clearly.
I understood, “Dad is unconscious!”
I jumped up grabbing a pair of jeans and a shirt I had laid across a chest of drawers earlier. “Where are you?” I was breathless now.
“Around the corner where all the music was playing earlier! You’ve got to hurry! They’ve called an ambulance!” She started screaming again, but I was suddenly in a heightened state of alertness and there was no problem understanding what she was saying.
I wanted to know more, but it could wait. My clothes were on in a flash and I was in the truck and around the corner, less than a football field from the house, in a matter of seconds. An ambulance was there. My husband was on the ground unconscious and unresponsive to pain or anything else. We followed the ambulance the 18-mile trip to Tyler to Trinity Mother Frances Hospital. He had suffered blunt force trauma to his head from an assault.
Every moment was agonizing for me and for all of his family. Soon after I had called they began to show up in the ICU waiting area. His daughter, Veronica, and I had been directed there after we saw them take him into a room in ICU. The doctors had to place a shunt to pull fluid off the brain and insert an ICP (intracranial pressure) monitor. They had drugged him into a medically induced coma. I would never see my husband again as I’d known him before midnight.
We had been married in the Methodist church we attended irregularly. The hospital was Catholic and there was a chapel just off the waiting room. I made my way to it and knelt down to pray at the alter. A nun came in as I was kneeling. She prayed with me. I haven’t stopped praying daily since. I soon was on Facebook asking for prayers. Friends and family in Texas and across the country added us to their prayer list.
Those first days became complicated. He began to have an unrelenting fever which nothing treatment-wise could squelch. One of the doctors decided there might be an infection from the insertion of the ICP monitor, so it was removed and sent to the lab for testing. The mattress he was on was replaced by a cooling mattress and the fever continued.
Without the ICP monitor, there was no way to know how much pressure was on his brain. On October 6th they decided to try to wean him off the ventilator and slowly bring him out of the coma. I sat with him and watched the readings on the ventilator. When his respirations were 44/min I was getting panicked. I told the nurses to let respiratory therapy know they needed to get there as soon as possible. When they arrived I knew I had to leave the hospital and go home for awhile in order to keep from screaming and possibly being banned from coming back to the ICU.
At 6 pm his neurosurgeon called me on my cell phone. By that time I had returned to the hospital and was outside smoking.
“Mrs. Rogers, I just got results of another CT scan and I’m afraid if we don’t do surgery to relieve the pressure on his brain now your husband will not live through the night. He has suffered an even more massive stroke.” He informed me with tones of regret.
My silence seemed to puzzle him. “Mrs. Rogers?”
Suddenly I knew he was asking for my permission. My husband’s life was in my hands as well as Dr. Redmond’s. “Of course! Of course!” is all I could reply.
The surgery involved removing a bone flap from the right side of his skull about the size of his palm. They put it in a freezer until they would replace it again in four months. Measurements were taken of his head and a special helmet was made to protect him.
I had seen the trauma physician in the hall outside the ICU. He told me with the amount of brain damage my husband had sustained he most likely would remain in a vegetative state for the rest of his life. My hopes after a successful surgery were suddenly bashed. Exhaustion was taking hold and I was sinking into a well of depression. I had to get some sleep and more importantly talk to God.
In a few days, he was weaned off the ventilator. His eyes were opening but he was not responding to pain and his eyes weren’t tracking my movements. I had to believe it would happen. They got him up to a neuro chair, strapped in, looking like a rag doll. I begged him to look at me, but with no results.
Arrangements were made to move him to a long term facility on the fourth floor of the hospital. The facility was not operated by the hospital. I was keen to every move they made. He had a tracheotomy he was still receiving oxygen through. I begin to work with him constantly to track my movements around the bed. After about a week, he began to track. For a few days, he wouldn’t do it while Dr. Redmond was there. I know he was thinking I was imagining it when I told him, but he would soon find out it wasn’t my imagination.
The Los Rancho Amigos Levels of Cognitive Functioning after a traumatic brain injury are as follows:
The Rancho Los Amigos Levels of Cognitive Functioning
Level 1– No Response: Person appears to be in a deep sleep.
Level 2– Generalized Response: Person reacts inconsistently and not directly in response to stimuli.
Level 3– Localized Response: Person reacts inconsistently and directly to stimuli.
Level 4– Confused/Agitated: Person is extremely agitated and confused.
Level 5– Confused-Inappropriate/Non-agitated: Person is confused and responses to commands are inaccurate.
Level 6– Confused-Appropriate: Person is confused and responds accurately to commands.
Level 7– Automatic-Appropriate: Person can go through daily routine with minimal to no confusion.
Level 8– Purposeful-Appropriate: Person has functioning memory, and is aware of and responsive to their environment.
Level 9– Purposeful-Appropriate: Person can go through daily routine while aware of need for stand by assistance.
Level 10– Purposeful-Appropriate/Modified Independent: Person can go through daily routine but may require more time or compensatory strategies.
My husband quickly went from stage 2 to stage 4. His agitation caused staff to restrain him by all 4 limbs to the bed. This was unacceptable to me. I had him transferred to HealthSouth rehabilitation where they had the appropriate “veil” beds which were basically beds with netted tents that zipped up for keeping a person safe. His stay there was 6 weeks and he advanced to stage 6. His continuance of care was transferred to Neuro Restorative Behavioral Health at the University of Texas at Tyler Health Care Center. He remained there until March of 2012 when I felt he would recover better at home.
I kept a journal throughout his recovery once he was at HealthSouth. The journal is recorded in several books which span the first couple of years of his recovery. He is somewhat of a celebrity in the medical community here. He defied all reasonable explanations of his overcoming the worst prognosis of his severe traumatic brain injury.
We live a structured life. I learned over the past 5 years and 8 months happiness for him means a minimum of distractions and overstimulation. We eat at the same times and pray every morning and every night. Our prayers are often just honest conversations with our Lord and Savior asking for guidance, and the eyes and ears to see and hear his answers.
There are abilities he may likely not regain. He lost his executive functioning due to extreme frontal lobe injury. So he needs help in planning and carrying out plans, managing a day to day budget, short term memory loss, and occasional mood issues such as anxiety and impulsivity. But he is a far cry from a vegetative state.
My pride in watching him struggle to talk and walk again and deal with the death of both his parents during his recovery was and is overflowing. He is amazing to me. He tells me everyday how much he loves me and I tell him the same. We see things we never saw before because we move so much slower than we ever did. We soak life in and he thanks the Lord everyday for the beauty of His universe. It’s a different life sitting in a swing under an arbor, feeling the wind, walking out in the rain, and just loving being alive.
The doctors prognosis had condemned Ronny to a purgatorial existence. As his wife my life would hold the same fate. I am sure the prayers of the hundreds who prayed for him, and for me, convinced the Lord to grant us a reprieve.