We are defined not only by what we do, day to day, but also by how we react and utilize our seemingly random hand of cards in life. I’ve found over 33 years of life, the mark of character that differentiates those who excel and succeed from those who do not is resilience. I can point to former students as examples: The college graduate who grew up with an absent mother and a drug addicted father? Resilience. The home-care nurse whose parents didn’t value an education past high school? Resilience. The successful plumber whose best friend committed suicide his sophomore year of high school? Resilience.
It seems fitting to give a Webster’s definition of resilience here, however, I think that we all can picture individuals who personify our meaning of the word. For me, above all, those people are my brother, Matthew, and my sister-in-law Danielle. This story isn’t about me, or my reaction to this event. It’s about them and what they have taught the world about resilience and the power of hope. I hope my intentions come across as I recap their story.
One year ago, January 30th, 2013, Danielle, while finishing up a nursing clinical suffered a massive hemorrhage resulting from a burst aneurysm on the right side of her brain. She was rushed to the local hospital where she was taken into surgery and given a very bleak prognosis. The sobbing ER doctor explained to my brother that his wife was probably going to die. My younger brother, who I’d always joked as being “30 going on 19” now was faced with an incomprehensible, life-altering situation. He captures his emotion poignantly on a Caring Bridge post about the account of the moment when he told that doctor, as well as the hospital chaplain to F-ing get his wife to Iowa City! I think those words have defined his attitude on the situation that it does not matter what has plagued us in the past. He knew she had much more to give this world, so let’s get out of her way so she can fight to give it.
Reflecting during anniversaries of events seems to be a cultural norm and a time to remind ourselves of where we came from and how much further we have to go. A year ago today, we watched in udder horror and shock as Danielle lay motionless, lifeless, with small tubes ushering blood from her brain. Furthermore, we observed silently as every half an hour, a nurse would shine a light in her eyes and ask for a reaction that never came. “No change,” became the most chilling words I’ve ever heard. I didn’t say it at the time, but I went to bed that night believing our precious Danielle was most likely gone.
The next day brought new light, and a miracle. The overnight nurse said she had never seen anything like it. When prompted to wiggle her toes, Danielle obliged. “Thumbs up if you hear me, Danielle?” And it was the most beautiful thumb I’ve ever seen. She began her recovery that day and has not stopped since. In one year, Danielle has gone from “probably going to die” to thriving and living. Her personality, again, lights up the room as it always had. She walks with less and less assistance each day and remains poised and confident that she will walk in the Bix 7 this summer. Every day my brother is there by her side, emotionally and physically. From the hospital ICU to a rehabilitation center in Ankeny, Iowa. And now back home, where he’d turn their house upside down if he had to in order to ensure her comfort.
One of Danielle’s doctors said, “When you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen…one brain injury.” I believe these words are not necessarily a testament to the brain alone but the person in control of it. Danielle proved that her fate was not finalized and her husband stood by her side believing the same. These two incredible people inspire me every day to be a better person and to remember that all people fight a battle, in their bodies and their minds. And I am so thankful for their presence in my life, and the opportunity to learn from them.