Day 3, 3:30 p.m.: Dorian’s family arrived from Colorado. To prevent further brain damage, doctors removed a four-by-five-inch piece of his skull to allow room for his brain to swell. Doctors said his skull will be taken to a UCSD tissue bank and kept there until he is ready to have it put back on. The brain has expanded, and the pressure has come down. We know that we have made the right decision.
Day 4: I asked the doctor to come and talk to us. He said that Dorian suffered major head trauma and patience from us is key to his recovery. He told us that we have to prepare for a new life, caring for Dorian. He said that Dorian will be different, but to what extent and for how long no one will know until he wakes up. He ended the discussion by telling us that Dorian is “not out of the woods yet.”
Day 5: I am having a hard time holding it together.
Day 6: He has contracted pneumonia. Now his body is fighting two things. They said they have to treat his pneumonia, but when they do, the pressure in his brain goes up.
Day 7: Dorian’s intracranial pressures are high today. I am so scared. Why aren’t they going down? Doctors say if the pressure doesn’t go down they will remove another portion of his skull. They also fear that the medicine might send him into renal failure. They took him off sedatives to check his responsiveness. No response.
Day 8: It’s official: I think Dorian’s family is falling apart.
Day 9: He’s developed another case of pneumonia…more ice baths.
Day 11: Dorian is doing better today. He is on lower sedation. His pressure is in the low 20s. The nurses are smiling at me. He opened his eyes.
Day 12: Dorian looks even better today. Sedation has also been taken down. In a sense, they are trying to waken him a bit. His intracranial pressure is way down, and the nurses have not had to do any medication. They decreased the morphine.
Day 13: Today, Dorian woke up. Yeah! He was responsive and breathing so they took his ventilator tube out. He asked for me. I came running, and he said, “I love you. Where’s Artie?” His voice sounded funny, and he was agitated. An hour later, his throat closed. They had to perform an emergency intubation. He almost died. He is back in the coma. My heart is broken. I think about all the things we won’t be able to do, and it makes me so sad. We were going to start a family. We just bought a Volkswagen camper van. We were going to travel, write, and I was going to take pictures. Why is this happening to us?
Day 14: Dorian was given a tracheotomy. When they wake him next time he won’t be agitated from the ventilator tube and his vocal cords won’t be damaged. He’s going to hate this. He’s always been so sensitive about his throat. They also started him on a psych drug that will ease the wake-up process. There is a student in here now and they are teaching her about neuro patients. That’s what they call Dorian, a neuro patient.
It was on day 15 that I started to have visions. The visions all were about my unquenchable thirst. After the tracheotomy I couldn’t talk for a couple of days. I remember pointing at a large glass of iced tea that was feet from my bed. I did everything to get to it. I tried to wave down the faceless people in the room to get them to pay attention to me. I tried to grab the glass of tea myself. Each time I tried, the wind would be taken from me. I imagined that one of the guys in the room punched me in the chest each time I tried to get up. I later was told that the tea I reached for was a cup full of my own urine.
On day 18, Aimee says that she brought me a dry-erase board and I wrote a whole paragraph. It was mostly illegible, but she could read one sentence: “Get me the f* out of here.”
Nineteen days after my fall, I awoke for good, 25 pounds lighter, missing the right side of my skull, and fitted with a blue plastic tube in my throat. Still requiring constant supervision and still on morphine, I was transferred to a “safe room” on the tenth floor. My mind and body felt numb. I had no strength. I had no clear thoughts. I felt drunker than I had ever been — everyone and everything seemed in an alternate reality.
Two older men shared the hospital room with me. My bed faced theirs. I stared at them, trying to process the surrounding environment. One man had a bandage wrapped around the top of his head. The other had dark lesions on his face. He shot strange expressions my way if I stared too long, like the ones an adult might give a baby that’s on the verge of tears. I remember him staring at me while pounding his head with a soft, axe-shaped toy. No one else saw this.
The second day on the tenth floor, a male nurse arrived holding what appeared to be a small metal crowbar. I felt the bar inch along the top of my head, and then I felt a pain rip through my skull. Another pain, half an inch from the first. I yelled as he pulled out large metal staples. The staples, 30 in all, had been used instead of sutures to hold my scalp together. After the doctor had removed the piece of skull to allow my swelling brain to expand, he’d laid Gore-tex over my brain and pulled my scalp back in place, reattaching it with the staples. As the staples scraped my skull and tore through my skin, I cried out so loud that the nurse stopped, and a doctor was called in the next day to finish the job. It was the only real feeling I had in 21 days.