What do I do Next

I saw Annette today. I left early from work so I could go with her to a neurology appointment. Today was just another reminder that in spite of everything I have and everything and everyone I know, there is nothing I can do to make my daughter better.

I can be there for her, and help her exercise, or spend the day with her, or whatever. She is the one that has to make her body work. I am a bystander. It breaks my heart a little every time I see her in her wheelchair, trying to make the best of it.

I treat her just like I would if she weren’t injured. I spend time lecturing her every time I see her these days. I tell her this is on her and she has to give her best effort if she wants to walk again. I try to remind her that the world doesn’t owe her anything just because some fucking idiot got drunk one night and ran her over.

Now I know she is going to live. It feels like things are getting harder. It is a struggle to do things with her, like put her in a car or get her into a house. I know that this will just become the new normal over time.

I don’t want to have to accept this, but like many other things in life, there isn’t much else I can do but take it. I have been told by people that they admire my strength through all of this, but I feel like they are just glad that it isn’t happening to them. I keep remembering being comforted about my daughter by people whose children were home, safe in bed.

I can’t do anything for her. It is truly a feeling of powerlessness. How does a public administrator help his daughter heal her broken body. I guess this is finally getting to me.

I have to do something. Campaigning against drunk driving is already taken by MADD. As you can tell, they didn’t do anything that was of any use to Annette. Besides, it only takes a little research to realize that people are run down by cars all the time and very little is done about it. Perhaps that needs to change.

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Spending the day with Annette


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Crossroad Blues

Demons they are on my trail
I’m standing at the crossroads of the hell
I look to the left I look to the right
There’re hands that grab me on every side

Tracy Chapman

It has been just over six months since Annette was run over. It was explained to me that night that she was in a coma and they were not sure she would live through the night. I was told that it would be prudent to visit with her quickly to say goodbye in case she expired. The evening replays in my head like a nightmare that doesn’t fade.

It is funny how those nightmares come back to haunt you. I was watching a movie a week ago which had a scene with people spending an entire night in a hospital waiting room. I almost broke down and cried watching people sleeping in a fucking hospital waiting room. It reminded me of all the waiting I had to do.

We waited for weeks while Annette slumbered in a coma. We were told there was no way to know if she would ever come out of that coma. We were told that, if we were lucky, Annette might regain enough faculties to walk to a nearby store and return with the right items and correct change. Whether or not she would walk again, or talk again, or recognize or remember anyone in her family was a mystery.

My relationship with Annette has been troubled at best for the last few years. She wasn’t talking to me at the time of the incident. When I saw her lying there, just this side of death, hooked to mysterious machines with numerous tubes and needles invading her body, it was the first time I had seen her in months. None of this made seeing her in a coma any easier.

Anyone who knows Annette knows that she is full of life. She loves to dance and sing, she loves to talk and is opinionated about things whether she knows what she is talking about or not. She possesses a joie de vivre that can be at once both a miracle to behold and a pain in the ass.

From what we were told we were not likely to get her back. I didn’t want to see her spend years in a coma. I wanted her to recognize her family and not have to depend on others to take care of her every need. I wanted my daughter back. I decided that the best thing to do would be to let her go.

I love my daughter with my entire heart and soul. She was the first thing in the world I truly cared about; the first thing in my life that was worth living for. Had she not been born I am convinced that I would have been long since dead.

While I watched over the broken body of my child I found no comfort from God or angels or heaven or miracles. Seeing her like that was hell. Deciding that letting her go would be better than watching her live a debilitated life was hell. I didn’t make that decision because I gave up or because I had a moment of weakness. I didn’t decide it would be better if I gave her up to God. I did not make that decision because I thought it would make things easier for me.

As parents, we are forced to make numerous decisions about our children. Some of them are easy. Many of them are difficult. Using our best judgement, based on the knowledge and experience we possess, we try to make the best decision we can for a child who doesn’t possess the necessary faculties to make that decision on their own.

I lucked out. Things got better. Annette started making improvements. The doctors started giving us a happier prognosis. That decision never had to be made. I still have to live with the decision I did make.

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On Revenge and Regret

Villager: An eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth.
Tevye: Very good. That way the whole world will be blind and toothless.

Revenge has come up a few times in the six months since Annette was hit by a car. There have been people who mentioned that they knew somebody they could talk to or write to who could do something to the guy in prison. My answer has been that to stoop to criminal behavior would make me and my family no better than the man who did this to us. Besides, it is not my place to try and exact revenge; my daughter is an adult and when she is able she will decide about whether or not she wants revenge.

I have been giving the idea of retribution a lot of thought this week. What is a fair and just punishment in a case like this? There is no fairness in a hit and run incident where a two thousand pound car hits a human body. Add to that the further loss of any kind of equity when the driver leaves the scene hoping to get away with their crime. Had this man who ran over Annette had his way, he would have gotten away with his transgression and left my daughter to bleed to death in the street.

The idea of justice has been important lately because this was the week that the man who ran over Annette got sentenced. After all these months of waiting and delay and stress and disappointment, I finally got to watch this man meet his fate. Despite the fact that this was something I have been waiting for, the day was neither pleasant nor comforting.

The District Attorney told us that the Department of Corrections and the Probation Department had both recommended that he do probation, with the caveat that neither of them considered punishment or deterrence in their recommendations; this meant that these were left to the judge’s discretion. At some point in the morning (we had already been in court for hours) the judge got the DA and defense attorney together to discuss the case. The defense attorney presented 16 letters to the judge that testified to the character of the defendant. The judge wanted to read through the letters so he ordered that the sentencing would take place right after lunch. So we waited some more.

The sentencing started immediately after lunch. The judge started by stating that the 16 letters he read all spoke to the kindness and responsible nature of the defendant, citing the incident which brought us to court as an aberration. He then gave the family of the victim the opportunity to speak. Annette’s mother spoke first; I cannot recall what she said but the speech was notable for its histrionics. Then Annette’s two sisters each spoke; both of them halting and nervous as you would expect of any teenager in such a situation.

I spoke last. I had not prepared anything. I hardly remember what I said. I did tell the judge that though I could not discount what the letters said about this man’s character, the fact that he ran over my daughter while she pushed a baby carriage and then tried to speed away is also a testament to this man’s character. I said that while the defendant is trying to walk away from all of this, we are praying that my daughter will walk again.

I also said that whatever sins my daughter may have committed, she did not deserve this to happen to her. Even as I said these words it felt like a strange thing for me to have said; it wasn’t Annette who was on trial. I think that I said those words not for the judge, but for myself. I think I still might be trying to get over the issues that have taken place between Annette and me.

In the end, with consideration of the extent and severity of Annette’s injuries as well as the fact that the defendant’s blood alcohol content was over twice the legal limit, the judge sentenced him to two years in prison. This is what we were told to expect. My intent was to see that this man did his time, regardless of my feelings about the fairness or appropriateness of the sentence. I got what I wanted.

Immediately, I felt horrible that in some way, however small, I had helped to send a man to prison. He may have deserved it, but that didn’t assuage my uneasiness. His uncle and a young lady whom I suspect was his cousin were there at the sentencing. They were sad for him and sorry for us. One terrible indiscretion caused great damage to two families; Annette’s and his own. I realized that there are no winners in this situation, only degrees of loss.

When the time comes I hope Annette will decide that she doesn’t need revenge. I hope she can let go of all of this and move on with her life. She will have enough reminders of what she has gone through without constantly reliving them in her own head and heart.  If I have been any kind of decent father to her, I hope I have taught her about kindness and compassion and forgiveness in the face of trial and tribulation.

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What do you say to the man who ran over your daughter?

That is a question that has been causing me stress and sleepless nights since November, ever since he pled guilty. I knew this day was coming, the sentencing. I was told that I would be given the opportunity to speak. So, what do you say to the man who ran over your daughter?

The answer is I don’t know. How does one approach this? I have some ideas that sound good in my head. Do I go the angry father route and indignantly explain the damage he did to my daughter, my family and me? Do I try to get the sympathy of the judge by illustrating the pain and struggles my daughter is going through? Cold and analytical also came to mind. It occurred to me that I might be most impactful if I just explained the facts calmly.

I figured I could wing it when the time came. So I went to court today, essentially not knowing what I was going to say. I thought about the things I might say as I watched the proceedings.

This was a good day as far as court goes. The judge had the courtroom under control. The cases were going quickly. The Detective from the Sheriff’s Department who worked our case was present. However, the District Attorney handling our case was not there.

The District Attorney did show about an hour later. He then informed us that there would be no sentencing today. Apparently, he who ran over my daughter has the right to be sentenced by the same judge he pled with.

Since we were in another court room, with another judge, he could not legally be sentenced. Now when we were last in court, back in November, when all of this was scheduled, and they knew the proceedings would take place in another court room, one would think that they could have thought of this. They didn’t.

All my fears and worries were for naught, at least for now. All of the wondering and grasping for what to say will continue. My fear and stress has been building for months with the expectation that today I would have some respite. Now I have to wait some more.

I know the judges and lawyers are just doing their job. Though I could easily rant about the courts and lawyers, I won’t, not now anyway. But it is a reminder that sometimes people who are just doing their jobs can make your life a living hell.

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Hopes in the New Year

I didn’t go see Annette today. Not that I didn’t want to, but I am coming to the realization that the young woman in the hospital bed is no longer my baby. She has to get through this on her own.

This is not to say that I don’t want to help her out, but my options are limited. I cannot take the pain for her. The hospital staff are taking good care of her and she is making small improvements on a daily basis. Though I would like to be there with her all the time I am finding that if I am there during the day I tend to feel like a distraction.

The excellent care she is currently receiving is dependent upon her having health insurance. The only health insurance that Annette has comes from my work. Therefore circumstances dictate that my time is best spent working so that I can guarantee she continues to have health insurance.

Annette is now exactly four weeks away from being 19 years old. I know she is old enough to deal with what she is going through on her own. At that age I was at Fort Benning, Georgia attending jump school. I was thrown together with a bunch of people I did not know in a challenging situation. Though not an exact analog, Annette’s situation is similar enough for me to understand that I have to let go as much as I can.

She has many painful challenges in front of her. Her medical condition makes her challenges harder than those of a typical young lady of her age. Like other people her age she has to learn to overcome these challenges without depending too much on other people.

No matter how much I love her or try to take care of her, I cannot make her walk again. She will walk again, or not, based on her own efforts. In learning to walk again she should learn much about self-determination and independence. And in learning these things she will hopefully begin to grow into adulthood.

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Life goes on

I took R and her boyfriend to her first formal dance last night. It was touching to watch her and her boyfriend walk together towards the entrance of the dance. The Winter Ball. She looked beautiful.

During this milestone in my daughter’s life, when I should be thinking only of R, in the back of my mind there is Annette. She does not detract from the pride I have in R. Nor does it cast a pall over a happy time for everyone. But knowing she is in the hospital overshadows so many things.

Annette and R’s mother came to my house this evening. She and my wife worked together to help R get ready for the dance. There was no drama or trouble. That is one of the ways the incident affected things. Cooperation, squabbles cast aside, togetherness; all it took was for one of my daughters to be run down by a drunk driver.

Annette is now this irresistible force imposing its power on my life. Things that might take precedence under any other circumstances, are affected by Annette. She sucks up my time and energy. This is not a complaint, just the new normal in my life.

This past Monday I went to see Annette as usual, but after the funeral of my step-sister. My wife and R and I went to the funeral and left to the hospital immediately. We missed the gathering afterwards.

Not that it wasn’t important. I have known my step-sister for over 30 years, since we were both kids. Her death came as quite a shock to me, to everybody. At any other time it might have come as a slap in the face, a sharp and cold reminder of my own, and everybody else’s, mortality.

When my step-sister died two weeks ago, it was a shock. It was a minor shock, however, compared to what I am already dealing with; just another piece of bad news to deal with in an already difficult time.

I am no longer in circumstances which allow me to ignore the rest of the world and cater to Annette. R, my baby, is becoming a woman. In a little over a month she will be 18 years old and I don’t want this important time in her life overshadowed by what happened to her sister. Nor do I want belittle what Annette is going through. Then there is my wife, and work, and everything else.

Life goes on.

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Making Progress

So we are almost 14 weeks removed from the incident. In many ways Annette is doing very well. She is talking, constantly. She is perceptive and logical in her thinking. Her memory of the things that happened before the incident is pretty good.

Other things are coming along more slowly. The use of the right side of her body is just beginning to come back; she can now willfully move two or three of the fingers on her right hand, though this consists mainly of small twitches. She is sitting for longer periods of time. She is feeding herself. This is all good progress.

Another area where she is doing quite well is her mental faculties. Her perceptions are excellent. She is very observant and makes connections very quickly. She has gotten into the habit of pretending to be in pain so she can manipulate the hospital staff. During a meeting with hospital staff we found out that she has been teaching other patients how to pretend they are in pain.

This is still good news, to a point. It does speak to the fact that she is still creative and maintains her problem solving faculties. The other side of the coin is that we cannot tell whether she is being honest about what is going on. I had to explain to her that they will discharge her from the hospital if she is not making adequate progress. I also explained that how hard she pushes herself to deal with the pain and cooperate with her therapy will make the difference between her walking out of the hospital or leaving in a wheelchair.

Annette, like many teenagers, had a problem with impulsivity and self-control before the incident. One of the well-known symptoms of a traumatic brain injury is the loss of self-control and increased impulsivity. At times it feels like her self-control issues were magnified by an order of magnitude. At other times I feel I can almost see the calculation in her actions.

Before the incident she was also very manipulative. Since she is doing so well cognitively, I oftentimes feel like she is manipulating things. The problem for me is that I don’t know where to draw the line between the sympathy she righteously deserves and the discipline she needs. How harsh can you be with a young lady trapped in a hospital bed, even when you know she is playing games with you?

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I am a minor bureaucrat in a smallish department of a large local government organization. I am not particularly fond of my job. It is not exciting. I show up each day, do what I can, and leave at the end of the day without a thought or worry about what tomorrow may bring. Nothing will change.

However, at this point in time I am happy to have my job. I make a decent salary, though I would make more if I were to do a similar job in the private sector. I am happy about my job because of the excellent benefits that are offered as a tradeoff for lower pay. I have very good health insurance.

Annette is currently in a small, clean rehabilitative hospital in a private room. She is receiving excellent around the clock care. This is all because of my health insurance. I shudder to think where Annette might be if I didn’t have this insurance.

Of course, because I work for government,  I am subject to the problems of bureaucracy. When I originally submitted my Family Medical Leave Act paperwork to the Human Resources Division, it was rejected because the doctor who signed my forms dated it incorrectly. I was instructed to resubmit a new set of forms. The date could not be corrected.

This led to me having to deal with the bureaucracy of the hospital, which itself is another headache. Dealing with these things might be a simple annoyance under normal circumstances; under the circumstances I was dealing with it was a nightmare. I did eventually get it all straightened out. All it took was for me to set up an appointment with the doctor who had originally signed my paperwork. It took me several weeks and many lost copies of the forms to figure this out.

My coworkers have been very supportive. One day I realized that all of the people in my division were gathered behind me. It took me a minute to notice this. Turns out that they wanted to present me with a card signed by everyone in my division, a flower arrangement for Annette, a couple of gift certificates and some cash. I was overwhelmed, very surprised, and deeply appreciative.

Mercifully, people at work don’t ask too many questions. Some ask more than others, depending either on how long I have known them or their own gregariousness and/or curiosity. They know my daughter is seriously hurt and they know I am navigating a stressful situations. That, it seems, is enough for them to know to leave me to my work. Another thing for which I am thankful.

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Not all progress is good…

I went to visit Annette this evening, along with my wife and R. She has been recognizing people. Now she is nodding to answer yes and turning her head to say no. She hasn’t done this before and I was really happy with her progress.

We fed her dinner. She ate most of a plate of pasta alfredo with broccoli. She drank some coke. Then she ate ice cream. Things seemed to be going well.

After she ate her heart rate rose and she seemed agitated. My wife was talking to her and she said in the low whisper she uses to speak that she wants to go home. My wife and I both assured her that she would get to go home after she gets better. This didn’t do the trick.

My wife and I left the room for a while hoping this would help. When we returned to the room about 15 minutes later she was still agitated. Annette asked us to leave a few minutes later.

The three of us left. We went to a restaurant for dinner. None of us was really upset, we were just trying not to burden Annette.

I can’t imagine what this is like for her. From what I can see the closest analogy I can think of is a really bad hangover.You wake up and someone is there, fall asleep and when you wake up again they aren’t there, and you have to wonder if you imagined them being there in the first place.

The problem is I don’t really know what it is like for her. The doctors and nurses tell me what they think she might be feeling, but until she can tell us it is all a guess. I imagine she is frustrated, frustrated beyond belief.

We know she is in some amount of pain. Her body doesn’t work the same way it used to. We don’t know what she remembers. What we do know is that she wants to go home. We just don’t know when that can happen.

Yes she is doing much better today than she was nine weeks ago. She is steadily improving. It is great to see the improvements she has made. It is also painful to watch the pain and confusion that all of this is causing her.

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