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Gary Horton: Don’t know what we’ve got ‘till it’s gone

Posted: March 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 26, 2014 2:00 a.m.
 

The background to this column is that our family traveled to India three weeks ago for a 14-day wedding tour with good friends our son Jon had made from UC Berkeley.

After months of planning and with great expectations, we headed off for what was to be the family adventure of a lifetime.

And great adventure it was, until the third day, when my daughter was struck by a fast-moving motorcycle and suffered a severe traumatic brain injury requiring emergency surgery for treatment of brain hematomas and swelling.

During the 16 days that followed, Katie recovered from coma to full consciousness and mobility.

As of this writing, the wedding party has long since moved on back to the United States while our family has stayed on through week three, providing 24/7 assistance, care, and language translation to Katie and to hospital workers in this very foreign land.

A cloistered cadence enveloped our lives. We were no longer tourists; instead, we were dedicated caregivers with lives only at Katie’s hospital and our hotel.

In ICU, Katie was allowed visitors twice a day. We’d wake up at our Marriott, quietly dress, eat a quick breakfast, then take the hired car to the hospital, elevator up two floors to the gray marble waiting room.

We would then put on masks, hats, and booties and sanitize our hands. Walk down the dark stone floor hallway and open the door, turning right.

Walk down a second hall to the door leading in. Pause at the door. Cross fingers, breathe deeply, and hope and pray she’s better today, not worse.

Open the door to a large room full of Indians recovering to life or passing on to what’s after it.

Find Katie in the corner. Early on, see her comatose, tongue out, eyes slit, head shaved, expressionless and motionless. Tubes all over.

Rub her legs, hold her hand, hope and pray. Turn around, thank ICU nurses, shuffle quietly past beds of other afflicted, open the door, sigh walking the hall, take off the ICU garb, and wait at the hospital for the second visit.

At night, the same, but leave the hospital, exhausted and drained, driver returning us past the cows and dogs and horses and motorscooters, three-wheel Tuk-Tuks, and too many cars and too many close calls resembling those that injured our daughter, back to our respite at the Jaipur Marriott.

Eventually, Katie first stirred, blinked, slurred a few words, and fazed back out; no memory from any prior session.

Each day was some new revelation, and blessedly, no steps backward.

Katie eventually recovered strong enough for a private room where our ritual morphed to greater intensity. Family members working bedside shifts, supplementing nursing care and to help on language.

Ten hours day shift with never ending, never remembered zombie walks back and forth hospital halls as Katie had become mobile without fully developing consciousness.

Wondering if things would ever improve. Days turned to weeks of two-mile trips back from hotel to hospital and back, fully drained and minds reeling from what might come.

Over 16 days we first carried Katie, near death on a Jaipur street, to an Indian emergency room.

We’ve waited as she passed from coma, strapped to ICU bed, to zombie-walking, to eventually holding virtually normal conversation.

Such emotional gauntlets are likely understandable only to those who’ve experienced similar suspended tragedy.

Day 15 was when “Katie” finally re-emerged. Voice inflection, hand gestures, recollection of past and present, and even humor.

They say recovery is a marathon and not a sprint, but already Katie has come an impressive distance. We have hope for a complete Katie back once the marathon is run.

Our Indian doctors have a unique outlook. Life is whatever comes, because what is is God’s will and therefore our fate.

Most Amerians prefer the idea we create our own fate, but in everyday real life our Indian doctors are proven more right than wrong.

We all wish for only good things, but we know in life we will eventually experience the entire range of good and bad in our human condition.

We’ve heard, “You don’t know what you’ve got ‘til it’s gone.” It’s a shame that for most it’s true on so many counts.

Doctors here tell us the greatest request of family members with dying relatives is to “wake them up so we can just say we love them and say goodbye.”

But second chances rarely come and “goodbyes” are often never spoken.

For us, it now seems apparent we’ll return to the U.S. sooner or later with our healthy daughter in tow.

We lost an anticipated vacation, experienced 16 days of frightful unknowns, but regained our daughter. We’ll have work to do, but this burden is a joyous thing.

Yesterday, a friend of mine posted on Facebook that his sister’s daughter unexpectedly died Monday at age 24.

He’d traveled to their town to console the broken mother but that consoling isn’t coming easy when the loss is final.

Our human suffering is relative. There’s always richer, poorer, healthier, sicker, smarter, dumber, happier, sadder.

Our challenge and our joy is to love our lives so we appreciate all we have, when we have it.

Jon’s girlfriend, Amber, commented, “It’s been a pleasure working this past 16 days at Katie’s side.” Amber understands our lives are fully “now.”

There’s no grand summary to this column. Perhaps it will cause some beneficial introspection.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.

 

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