It has been a long standing joke in our family that everything is ‘all about Nathan’ but nothing drove that point home better than the catastrophic car accident he had eight years ago, when he was just twenty-two years old. Nate is the youngest, the baby in our family and so as the older sister it has always seemed that so many things naturally just revolved around him. At three years old I can remember being told, “No, we can’t go to the park, Nathan’s having his nap.” At ten it was, “Sure you can go to the park, take your brother with you.” And at seventeen, “Go get Nate from the park it’s time for his baseball game.” Never once do I remember resenting him for this or for the fact that he consumed my parent’s time and energy with his funny yet devilish ways, oftentimes finding himself in little bits of trouble for being silly in school. He was the kind of kid who would eat a toad on a dare or get hopping mad as someone teased him for his over sized ears that he eventually grew into.
No, Nate might have been a pain in the behind and short-tempered but he was a great kid brother and I grew up with him being one of my closest friends. He ended up as a groomsman at my wedding. He was one of the first at the hospital when my children were born. And when he hit that age after graduating high school where he was tired of living at home with our parents but couldn’t quite make it out on his own yet, he came and stayed with me and my family putting in his fair share of sleepless nights with a colicky niece on his shoulder along the way.
So when the call came that we needed to get to the hospital because he might not survive the car accident he was in, my world of work, kids, house and every other thing, big or little, came to a screeching stop and it became ‘all about Nathan’ in a way no one could have ever anticipated. The policeman who met us in the Emergency Room said Nate, who thankfully had been driving alone, had collided with a tandem trailer and the car, as well as him, were so badly damaged that they needed to extricate him from it and airlift him to the closest hospital. What followed was long waits in the ER while he was in and out of multiple surgeries. Shift after shift in the ICU as we waited to see if he would wake up, breathe on his own and even recognize us. Endless nights spent at his bedside while he was in the step-down ward learning to talk, walk and eat again. Our family made a conscious decision from the beginning that he would never be without an immediate relative or close friend for more than a couple of hours and we took over his care in every way possible. The nurses loved us, we made their job easy after we had learned the ropes. We understood and stayed out of their way for the necessities such as taking blood and giving medication but provided round the clock assistance so that Nate would get the best care possible, the most attention and love that we could pour out in order to get him back. At that moment it really needed to be ‘all about Nathan.’
But it comes at a cost, lives forever altered in a split second. My children learned hospital lingo and were bounced around to friends and relatives, my other brother changed Universities and moved back home to help out, and my parents retro fitted their house for an interim ramp until he no longer needed the wheelchair. Eventually they sold their house and purchased one with a basement apartment so Nate could live on his own but with the assistance he needed. We watched him struggle with additional surgeries and learning to walk again. By far though, the hardest thing to see, along with the hardest thing to measure, is what it did to his brain. The prognosis for that was uncertain, his brain had suffered a massive blow and he would have permanent frontal lobe damage. Despite all the advances in medicine in the last hundred years the brain is still a phenomenon that we know virtually nothing about and doctors could promise us nothing. After he initially woke up we watched him physically struggle to remember things, watched him break out in anger over the slightest frustration and watched how at first this intelligent, young man could not manage many day to day tasks such as cooking or cleaning.
It has been eight years and with the obvious help of doctors, therapists and trainers Nate has come so far in his recovery since this accident with his acquired brain injury. He participates in triathlons, belongs to a brain injury support group and encourages others with brain injury that life, while it is different, can and does go on. Doctors predicted he would not make it through the night and have even accredited his amazing recovery in some part due to the fact that our family was so supportive. Now we are at a place where he never forgets our birthdays, he has way more patience with my children than I do and while he may never drive or find traditional work he will give you the shirt off his back, while unloading your moving truck, after making you a home cooked meal. And shows us everyday, how it’s ‘all about family’ now, because at one point we made it all about him.