People tell me to “Stay strong!”, and this means a lot to me. There a times when I draw on this encouragement… every day, as a matter of fact. Mostly I love hearing this because I know people are rooting for me, for Ryan’s sake.
I always considered myself a resilient sort. My wife calls it “stubborn” or “bull-headed”, but you get the idea, right? I suppose we’re both correct, at least in principle.
Hey, I do stay strong/resilient/stubborn/bull-headed. Well, most of the time.
But, I’m here to tell you, it is both easy and difficult to stay strong. The first reason (easy) is because I really have no other choice. It’s just the way it must be and there’s no respectable or honorable escape from that bleak reality. As for it being difficult, that takes more to explain.
Monumental Times of Strength
I only need to look back over the past four-plus years to remind myself that I am stronger than the circumstances. Hell, haven’t I proven this to myself enough already? No matter, there’s always doubt lingering in my mind that I can endure… and this scares me. After the first year I asked myself, “How will I ever do this another year? There is no way this will be possible!”
Dammit to hell-and-back, I did! Then I did it a second time… then a third. I cringe thinking that the fifth anniversary of Ryan’s brutal attack (by Austin Vantrease and Jonathan May, both of Newark, Delaware) will arrive later this year. I guarantee you when that date arrives that I will wonder if I can stay with it another five years. It seems impossible even though I know it’s within me to never give up.Yes, I “stayed strong” from the beginning. It all started when we received the call from Ruby Memorial Hospital that our son was found unresponsive in a parking lot and we should get there as soon as possible. Then through that next day when he was not expected to live. Or calling my daughter, Kari, to come say goodbye to her big brother. Or when his lung collapsed. Or when his body temperature skyrocketed to 109.8 degrees (yes, that’s one-hundred and nine) or plummeted below what the thermometer could register. Or the months of neurological storming, when he moaned in complete agony for 18 hours a day as his body contorted in unnatural position and his vital signs were critical. Yes, I was resilient when we learned his brain stem hemorrhage three weeks after the attack, and only time would tell if he would survive (it was inoperable). What about all the times when his heart rate would unexpectedly drop below 30 beats per minute and he would be defibulated?
Or the times I watched him die, and be brought back, right before my very eyes?
Neurological Storming, as I describe it: “It is the mind and body in chaos”. During this time Ryan’s heart rate would be up (150+), blood pressure sky-high, and temperatures frequently 105+ degrees (109.8 was his highest. I don’t know how he ever survived that). He would moan in pure agony. They were life-threatening events where Ryan was at risk of a heart attack (pulse), stroke (blood pressure), or catastrophic cellular protein breakdown (fever).
I am strong, but not just evident from what I went through. That simply doesn’t explain it entirely because there’s one more thing that I did throughout it all. I held it together for my wife. When I told her that “We got this”, I meant it. She knew I meant it because I am so flippin’ bull-headed, remember? This, my friends, is why I believe I am strong. Not just because I made it through it, but because I did so while seeing she did too.
Quiet Times of Strength
I told you in the opening paragraph that every day I call upon your encouragement to “stay strong” and this is where you might not even know your helping me. Sure, you probably understand that it is hard just to get the day started. Yet, it goes deeper. There is just so much that I don’t share that you might never imagine.
Unless someone has taken care of a person in Ryan’s condition there’s no reason they would.
Believe me, it takes a ton of strength to insert a plastic tube up Ryan’s nostrils and down his throat to suction out a mucus plug that is pulling down his oxygen saturation. It tears me apart to see him coughing so violently and doing everything he can to get away from it.
Here’s another one I bet people don’t know, but let me set it up first. It’s probably the one thing I do — every evening before taking Ryan in for a shower — that tests my strength no matter how many times I do it. I hate it for me and that some punk-ass thugs put me in this situation, yes, but I truly hate it for Ryan. It involves his bowel movements. Just so you know, it is vitally important for those in Ryan’s condition to purge regularly or they will become quickly constipated.
Picture yourself doing what I’m about to explain to another person. Then, if you really want the full effect, image doing this to your child or another you love so deeply.
So, like anyone else Ryan must move his bowels. It took nearly a year of “training” but I now have him on a schedule. I chose the evening because it occurs immediately before showering him and getting him into bed. By doing it at this time I can get him cleaned thoroughly and be reasonably comfortable that he won’t dirty the bed.
To get him to go to the bathroom takes some “persuasion”. Those in the medical field have a nice term for it… “digital insertion”. Allow me to bluntly translate this. Simply stated, it is sticking my finger in his anus and up his rectum. Wearing a latex glove is necessary but only makes it slightly better. The feces are mostly liquid because that’s how his nutrition is given (formula or liquified food). It literally just pours out at first, then drips. The odor is stifling.
Oh, sure, there are plenty of other things I could tell you about where I need to stay strong, but that’s probably enough crap for one day.
My point is, your encouragement carries me through so much more than you possibly realize… more often than you ever knew. Thank you for being by my side, rooting me on, and loving my son enough to want me to “stay strong” to make him strong.