Shifting Focus

by Anita Rothman

Giving birth to our son, Jarrett, changed my life. I was in the pushing phase of labor when I became nauseated. My wonderful husband, Gary, turned to get the plastic  basin, but when he turned back, I was gone.  I’d experienced an amniotic fluid embolism, which is a rare event in childbirth that is most often diagnosed in autopsy. The amniotic fluid somehow enters the mother’s bloodstream. It stopped my heart, and the room flooded with people. They did CPR and after three jolts from a defibrillator, my heart started to beat again.  I’d been dead for a total of six minutes before they brought me back. While this was going on, I’d gone into DIC (disseminated intravascular coagulopathy) and I was bleeding out. They rushed me into emergency surgery to deliver our son. Six minutes without oxygen was damaging to my brain, but it was devastating to his, and Jarrett lived on life support for only 17 days.

I was in a coma for a month and started to come out of it only after they’d made plans to ship me off to hospice.  When I woke up, I didn’t know anything. I didn’t know who or even what I was.  I had complete amnesia. I couldn’t walk or talk, and I’d lost the left field of vision in both my eyes.  Again, my wonderful husband was at my bedside.  I had no idea who he was, but I knew that somehow, I belonged to him and he belonged to me, and that was enormously comforting.  He reintroduced me to our daughters, Shayla, who was four, and Alex, who was two.  I stayed in the hospital for another month, learning to walk and talk again. In addition to visual deficits, I’d lost my sense of smell, which means I’d also lost my sense of taste. My short-term memory was shot. I had to learn to use the stairs again… up was not a problem, but I couldn’t figure out how to go down. Gary had to drape me across his back and carry me.  It took a couple of years before I could navigate the stairs.  I’m telling you, as far as husbands go, he is simply wonderful!

The first time they took me outside to practice walking I was AMAZED!  I’d forgotten the OUTSIDE and the trees were beautiful, and the leaves crunching under my feet were simply ENCHATING!  They let me visit our home several times, which was helpful in reorienting me to my life. On one of my first nights at home, I told Gary that I didn’t know much about this Anita person everyone kept telling me I was, but I knew one thing for sure…she had REALLY married well!!

As time passed, my memory came back in pieces.  I remembered that I’d been a proud pessimist…not only did I see the glass as half empty, I saw it as too darn small!  When these types of thoughts came back into my completely uncluttered brain, I realized that they felt AWFUL.  I had a long talk with myself and decided that I would dedicate myself to living the life that Jarrett had lost, and that I would become someone who would make our son proud. Amnesia, for me was a lucky thing, because I actually got to consciously pick and choose my personality, and I like myself much better than I did before.  I feel like I had 38 years of seriously negative thinking and look where that got me… scrambled brains and a dead son.  Now, anytime I catch myself with negative thoughts, I tell myself to knock it off! I’ve trained my brain to associate Jarrett with good things.  When I make it through a yellow light before it turns red I say, Thanks J!  Keepsakes honoring his memory fill our home and I’m always touching them and thinking of him. When I successfully navigate the stairs, I think, did you see that J? I’m doing great today! What my son taught me is that what we see depends mainly on what we are looking for and I have the ability to shift my focus from what I don’t have to what I do. The possibilities are endless.

I’m now 14 years into my Susie Sunshine phase, and I’m having a lot more fun than I ever had in my Debbie Downer days.  Now I see my glass is exactly the right size and it’s basically overflowing!

Most of the issues from my brain injury have resolved.  I can walk and talk.  Enough of my vision came back that I can even drive a car! The deficits that remain unresolved, like my senses of smell and taste, the fact that I have limited use of hands, and my brain’s a lot slower to process, are just basically part of who I am now.  And I hope that Jarrett would be proud.  Any day that I can wake up and know who I am is a GOOD day!

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