With a title like this, I feel like I should be writing about Kraftwerk.
Or Neu! or Can. Maybe I should have called this post Motorik. Or Krautrock. But probably Motorik. Not familiar with the terms? Do yourself a favour. But this post ain’t about them things. Though it is about a German.
I’ve written before about the ills of 24-hour rolling news. Last week, Mrs Stroke Bloke and I watched as one of the countless reviews of the year (Have I Got News For You‘s take, I think) showed a clip of a BBC news reporter losing his shit a little at the indignity of being involved of the whole Hi, I’m standing in front of a thing bullshit.
There’s been a lot more standing outside a hospital this week, in the wake of Michael Schumacher’s skiing accident. For our American readers, Michael Schumacher suffered a head injury in an off-piste skiing accident in the French Alps just before new year. Michael Schumacher is the most successful Formula One driver of all time, winning the championship seven times. Formula One is like IndyCar racing, but where you have to turn the steering wheel occasionally. France is….
[Disclaimer: The most intelligent people I know are American. Some of the most interesting and provocative thought I’ve read, too. And most of the best literature I’ve read. Sorry, majorityofapoplectic.me’sreaders. But, you know, y’all are #1, so let the wee guy have his fun.]
So, Europe is awash with reporting on this accident. As they spoke of “pressure on the brain,” and Schumacher being “admitted in a state of high agitation,” I began to feel a little uncomfortable. (I had a haemorrhagic stroke once, y’see?) On it went.
- “A brain scan revealed multiple lesions….”
- “His condition is deemed very serious….”
- “Sometimes surgeons remove a large piece of the skull….”
- “So we put tubes in these patients’ tracheas and use respirators….”
It all came flooding back. Except I can’t actually remember any of it. Then, I looked across at Mrs Stroke Bloke. She looked positively traumatised.
“No news?!” she exclaimed. “Of course there’s no news. Why are they giving us hourly updates?” What she remembers is that, in the immediate aftermath of a serious brain injury, nobody really knows what’s going to happen. In Methodist Hospital, each of my ICU doctor, my neurosurgeon, and a cardiologist would pop by once a day to say that there was nothing much that could be said yet. Newsworthy events were few and far between, and most of their pastoral care extended to preparing her for the worst. Even if I did wake up, the range of possible outcomes was vast — from a total inability to perform my activities of daily living to a relatively complete recovery. Nobody really knew.
The message in Schumacher’s ward will be that no one will really know how he has been affected by his injury until he wakes up. He has spent the first days in a medically-induced coma in an attempt to damp down any brain activity that might exacerbate his cerebral swelling. Gary Hartstein, a former Formula One trackside doctor, has thrown in this nugget of wisdom:
“The brain’s plasticity makes prognosis impossible to pronounce definitively for quite some time. Weeks to months.”
Although my similar issue could be addressed by drilling holes in my head and siphoning sticky pink liquid into a bucket by the bed, I was sedated for the first days in an attempt to reduce my dangerously high blood pressure.
All the medical professionals could tell Mrs Stroke Bloke was that my relative youth and absence of other health issues was positive, notwithstanding the cataclysmic nature of my injury. Schumacher will have the same positives working for him. A Parisian brain surgeon and friend of Schumacher made this point to journalists:
“Someone of 70 is less likely to survive this sort of accident than someone who is 45, and someone like Michael who is in top condition is more likely to survive than someone else.”
The injured man and I also share the good fortune of a magnificent support system and excellent medical attention. While the little I know of Schumacher suggests he’s going to be a pissy handful when he wakes up (another thing we have in common), his history certainly suggests he’s going to be a bloody-mindedly motivated re-habber. Every morning and evening, Mrs Stroke Bloke would visit, and tamp down my agitation — Oh, hi Baby! —and provide the fuel for my cheery but bloody-minded motivation. Finding that I can stretch out both my left calf and atrophied left shoulder in the frame of the doorway today, I am reminded of the feeling of pain all along my left side, as Mrs Stroke Bloke is reminded of those terrible early days with no meaningful news.
I guess this week’s take away is a thought regarding caregivers. Like Michael Schumacher, the patient tends to be the lead item. Friends show concern for their loved ones, too, but it’s hard to know what to say. Asking if there’s anything you can do to help is a kind thought, and one that is helpful in providing the warming knowledge that one’s friends care. But it’s awfully open-ended, so hard to answer. It turns out the most helpful thing to do is make a specific offer of help to the caregiver. The most supportive questions can be things like
I’m coming round for a visit. Can I bring you something to eat?
I’m going to pick up some groceries. Can I take you along? Or get you some essentials?
Mrs Stroke Bloke’s brothers, sisters and successors will thank you and speak well of you for years to come.