Mom has M.S.,Dad leaves due to fear, son Patrick is hit by a car and is in a coma.
They sat in a neurologist's office, Dorothy Fineman was watching her husband's reactions even as she gripped the chair. He did listen intently. Dr. Vann emphasized how much an understanding spouse helped. The physician discussed the care she would eventually require. Russ' face become pale and the lines on his forehead deepened. Dorothy wasn't surprised, although she had hoped and prayed.
Reality is what it is and Dorothy knew it wasn't that her husband didn't care for her at all. They had been married sixteen years. Russ was scared to death.
Dorothy knew that Russ had an Achille's heel when it came to illness.
When his Dad was dying from cancer, he went to his boyhood home twice that last month. He watched his Dad from the doorway, crocodile tears in his eyes but when Big Russ held out his hand, Russ turned his head and walked away.
Dorothy would give Russ time to deal with this change in their lives. She put information pamphlets about her condition around the house. Maybe that would drive him away but she really had to know how he was going to deal with this. Her very life and Patrick's, depended on it.
Dorothy has Multiple Sclerosis. She never knew what her day would be like until she put her feet on the floor. Symptoms vary widely, depending on the amount of damage and which particular nerves are affected. People with severe cases of Multiple Sclerosis may lose the ability to walk or speak. Multiple Sclerosis can be difficult to diagnose early in the course of the disease, because symptoms often come and go — sometimes disappearing for months.
Dorothy read all she could about M.S. and it's progression. She took some time to let it sink in. Then she joined a support group and saw what other people were dealing with. They were mostly positive people that were coping by reaching out to their fellow sufferers.
She had done all of this without mentioning it to her own husband.
She had no plans to let this rule her life. She truly believed a positive outlook was the key.
Then, perhaps the hardest thing she had to do so far, she explained the disease to their son, Patrick.
She told Patrick how devastating President Roosevelt's Polio was at age thirty-nine but he became a Senator and then a President for three terms. They talked about how he guided us through a war and also helped many people that needed government services badly. Patrick didn't know the President was never shown in his wheelchair because he wanted a nation to see he was strong in body as well as in heart and mind.
True to form, Russ packed his bags several weeks after they had gone to the neurologist's office and he had found out.
Before he left, his offer; "I'ill hire a full time nurse. Patrick can live with me."
"I don't need a nurse but when if I do, I'll hire her. It's up to Patrick who he wants to live with."
Patrick walked in as Russ was walking out.
"I'm staying here to help Mom. I can't believe you are leaving her," fierce tears were behind that ten year old voice.
Russ simply walked out the door.
Patrick looked at his Mom with steel resolve in his eyes, "He is a lousy coward. Don't worry, Mom. I'll be more help to you then he could be."
Dorothy had noticed Russ was a "good" guy when things were smooth in the boat. It was the storms he had no control over that sunk him. He had changed diapers, taken turns with two a.m. feedings. He played with Patrick, coached flag football.
As a husband, he was pretty good; responsible, romantic and caring at times.
Her own father had only been a quarter of that.
This had been a good day, her leg muscles weren't severely spastic, and everything was functioning. On good days, she could dress in casual clothes rather than a robe, cook a simple dinner and even do some housework. The best days include family time and a spasm free long nap.
She heard the front door open. Patrick had a key.
"How's my handsome son?"
"Cool, Mom, you had a good day?"
"Just fine. How about a kiss?"
He softly touched her cheek. He was always gentle with her.
"I smell meatloaf. That's dope!".
Patrick's smiling freckled face was all she needed to feel blessed. He looked just like his Dad.
Her feelings about Russ were like a roller coaster ride. When those thoughts hit, she'd retreat to her bedroom, perhaps beat on a pillow, crying hot angry tears until she was empty. You can not make a man love you when he feels you are a burden.
Everyone said she had such a good attitude about her condition. No one could understand how she could be so cool when her husband left because of the Multiple Sclerosis.
She simply put it, "What choice do I have? You do what you have to with a child to raise."
Russ helped her out financially, paid the mortgage, and tried to spend time with a very angry son.
He had his own apartment. He hadn't mentioned divorce. As far as Dorothy knew, he didn't date.
As a matter of fact, for the last three months, he had called weekly her to see what she needed. Sometimes he would try to explain his feelings.
She said, "hush, it is what it is."
Excuses angered her and she needed positive energy. Damn his feelings!
As a matter of fact, there was a man named Scott Channing that belonged to her support group. They had gone out for dinner a couple of times after group. He had never been married. He was newly diagnosed and needed someone. His attempt at a kiss had been nice but didn't stir anything.
One problem with M.S. is reduced sexual feelings due to nerve endings. They hadn't opened up that sensitive subject yet.
He had a R rated sense of humor and she needed to laugh. They went to a 3D movie, a symphony and play.
Now he suggested a weekend for the two of them. The tall long haired attorney was well built, kind, and a whole lot more she liked. But she wasn't divorced and wasn't even sure of her feelings.
She used Patrick as an excuse. Some of that was true.
Patrick was proud to be "the man of the house." He unloaded groceries and put them in their proper place. He cooked if she wasn't up to it. Dorothy knew her boy would be a loving partner for someone in his future.
The following week, Dorothy was shopping and without warning, her legs wouldn't carry her to the car. She fell in the parking lot and bruised herself. A white haired man was close by and offered to drive her to the hospital . She just wanted to go home, nothing appeared to be broken except her spirit.
Dorothy collapsed into her recliner. Patrick, home from school, brought in a cup of mint tea, her favorite. She called Russ to pick up her car.
He brought the subject up, "Maybe it is time you had a live in nursing assistant and someone to help clean. Just for right now."
"I am so afraid. What if this is the beginning of the end?"
He looked into her lovely brown eyes and said, "One day at a time, okay?"
Later, she discussed the subject of help with Patrick. He seemed relieved.
"Mom, I'd be able to concentrate better if I knew someone was here with you."
He was reading that M.S. can change suddenly. She had no idea he worried so. She started crying and he hugged her tightly.
They had reversed roles. When he was little she had kissed his "boo-boos".
"You know, babe, this is how it goes with life. I 'd hoped that you wouldn't have to worry about taking care of me for many years."
They changed subjects to school. Patrick had an "awesome" idea for building a volcano for his Science project. He even wanted his Dad's help.
Saturday, Russ came over with Chinese and it was a friendly evening.
The next Monday, as Dorothy was escaping into the audio 4th Harry Potter novel, al life changing phone call came at three thirty in the afternoon.
With shaking hands, she called Russ at the car dealership. They both arrived at the hospital at the same time.
Holding hands, they were taken into the trauma room. Their boy looked so little with all the tubes.
A ventilator was breathing for him. He was covered in bandages. Tubes were everywhere.
One of the ER Physicians told them what had happened. Patrick had been riding his bike from school when a car was speeding around the corner of Whitlock Drive and hit him.
Patrick had spoken to the paramedics and could move. Then at the hospital his intracranial pressure had gone up, so there was bleeding in the brain.
The physician also said they placed a chest tube due to a collapsed lung. Patrick wasn't responding to any kind of stimulus right now, not even deep pain when his sternum was pressed on. The answer was surgery, to go in and relieve the pressure on the brain. Hopefully this would change his mental condition.
Dorothy's eyes met Russ's and he knew she was counting on him now. Stress has a very negative effect on Multiple Sclerosis. She was so exhausted, her voice was only a whisper and Russ had to put her in a wheelchair. She felt like a wilting flower.
She whispered, "He's my everything. What if he doesn't make it? Do you think he's hurting?"
Russ was actually sobbing: he shook his head. This had touched him deeply and he knew it was time to step up. Having a child is like wearing a part of your heart outside of your body. You could only protect them to a point.
After speaking with the neurosurgeon and kissing their boy goodbye, a hospital volunteer took them up to a family room outside the Pediatric ICU.
They waited together anxiously for eight hours. Thank goodness for the updates they got from the Operating room. It was going well and Patrick was stable.
Russ treated Dorothy like precious china. He got food from outside the hospital, ordered a cot, found blankets and pillows. His hands shook. She knew he was terrified but he kept moving.
Dorothy didn't mean to but she laid down and gave in to blissful, dreamless sleep despite all the noise in the hospital corridors.
When Patrick came out of surgery, he was pale and looked extremely ill. They both sat by his bedside for hours. Although he was hooked up to a ventilator and couldn't speak they talked to him about future adventures and getting a puppy.
His eyes fluttered open.
They were ecstatic but the nurses said not to get too excited. He was sedated to keep him from fighting the ventilator. It is a "wait and see" process, requiring patience.
He had to show more purposeful brain activity first. Dorothy had read enough to know if he survived, there would be months of physical therapy, possibly speech, hearing and sight.
In the evenings, Russ and Dorothy left together when the RN pushed them out. After all she would call immediately if there was a change. They stopped somewhere to eat and then exhausted, they fell into their bed hugging. They needed each other to share this tragedy.
Days went by and Patrick came off the ventilator, then he began to speak slowly, mixing words. Therapists worked with Patrick for weeks and his parents took turns at home. The two discussed everything which created a family closeness.
Patrick's rapid progress surprised everyone. The Rehab Specialists; physicians, registered nurses, physical and vocational therapists agreed children do seem to make progress much faster. A follow-up MRI showed the brain injury on the right side of his brain didn't leave as much damage as they anticipated. Everyone was thrilled. It appeared almost all would resolve.
Since the damage was not as severe, he was back to school in six months. It was only for four hours a day. He had a vocal defect that caused an occasional slurring of words. His left arm and leg had about a twenty-five percent reduction in function. He used a crutch and wore the rubber tip out in one week.
"Must--t-t be-e Mom-m gene-s-s-s!" Patrick's smiled wide.
Dorothy was warming up to Russ' way with Patrick, his patience was wonderful and the two laughed about many things.
She felt herself falling in love again as they bonded as a family. Russ let her lead the way when it came to helping her. They shared showers so she wouldn't slip and they were a reason to play and she loved it.
They spoke about the "what if's?" Then began to make plans for future outings.
One day, Dorothy blindfolded Patrick and the three went to the Humane Society.
With all the dogs barking he had already guessed where they where. He picked out a German Shepard that had been abused by a previous owner burning it with scalding water but the dog could run slowly with him. Of course, the dog was named "Major" (after President Franklin Roosevelt's German Shepard).
It was six months after Patrick's accident when Russ proposed again. He had asked Patrick's permission and then had to wait a week.
When Russ and Dorothy had married, they wrote their own vows. Now they were reaffirming their marriage with vows that meant more with all they had experienced.
As each spoke, they joined hands with Patrick making a circle, small freckled hands, strong hands with slightly rough skin, and feminine ones with red nail polish and a plain wedding ring. Dorothy could feel Russ' powerful heartbeat and Patrick's more rapid one.
All three hearts were open now, to give and receive love and cast out fears. They were nourished like a tree with healing tears, and in doing so, they can grow together and independently sharing strength and happiness.
By Kathie Stehr