My fifth trip to Denver was October 1 to 6, and it was by far the scariest of them. The enormous shock and heartbreak of the first trips gave way this time to what Aaron has been describing about Kari's mental state. As extreme as her physical condition was in the first weeks following the accident, I remember Aaron saying that Kari was still Kari, and there was tremendous joy in that. Now many times she isn't herself, and that mind teetering on the brink of self and not-self has been truly frightening. Even the advances take on such ambivalence. For example, one night I was scratching her nose and forehead and said that I believed pretty soon she'd be doing that herself--that is, bringing her arm up and being able to rub her face against her wrist. Sure enough, that very afternoon in therapy she brought her left arm close to her mouth twice, and her right arm to it over and over. One of her therapists, Amanda, cried. But during the next several nights that ability to bring her hand up to her mouth also meant that in her mental state she could bite herself, and she tried several times to do that and we had to snatch her hand away from her face. If someone had not been with her every minute, the nurses and techs said, they would have had to transfer her to the psychiatric ward. That's how close we have come to an institutional acknowledgement that she's "gone crazy." She's asked the doctors, "Do you think I'm crazy?" Each time they have said a big NO. They see her a few minutes a day, however, and while we take some comfort in their emphatic NO's, those of us who have sat for hours and hours have felt great fear. "ICU psychosis," "Sleep deprivation psychosis," "Medicine induced psychosis"--the concepts help, but sometimes not much. I still believe strongly that she and Aaron are going to be OK, but that belief went through earthquake-like shaking this last time. You had to keep saying to yourself, "It's a stage she'll come out" even as you were pulling her arm away from her teeth the n-th time that night.
One morning, after a very bad night, it was plain she thought she was back in 1999, especially when she referred to her "boyfriend" Aaron. When I said she'd married him, she denied it again and again until she caught sight of the anniversary poster Aaron had made. "How long have we been married?" she asked. "Three years," I said. And suddenly she settled down. "I remember," she said. I left the room to get a drink, thinking she was OK, but she was already slipping back out of reality and didn't recognize Aaron when he came in a few minutes later. "I don't know who he is," she said to her Mom, "but he's sure good looking!" You can't help but crack up at some of her sayings. There are still moments of humor, and one reason she loves Aaron so much is that he makes her laugh so much. When she moved to her new room, I brought in a huge, white garbage bag to put her stuff in, and later that day Aaron had poked holes in it, thrown it over his head and was going around the floor making ghost sounds. "You're such a dork, Aaron," Kari said, but it was one of the moments of joy we all had during my six days there. I should say, though, that having Jan Yessa around is a mini riot in itself. Our stays overlapped, and I realized how much our family is forever indebted to her for her deep love and care of Kari and Aaron.
Those moments of laughter, the moments when there's a small physical advance do light up the pervading gloom we have felt pressing around us lately. We have to grab hold of them, and laugh and cry over them, and rejoice. But as I talked to Aaron I realized again that sometimes when we make too much out of these things it sometimes feels like we're forgetting how--minute by minute, hour by hour--this whole ordeal is just so hard and awful, and for hours and hours that's all there is. It is truly a dark night of the soul. We laugh at her saying, "I don't know who he is, but he's sure good looking," and forget how terrifying it is for a loved one to look at you and not know who you are--this after a whole night, hour after hour, of her being in pain and, scariest of all, out of her mind. Please stay with these two in this, their darkest hour. It is so dark that sometimes even telling them they'll be OK doesn't help, but seems to hurt.
Even when she's "in" her mind it's been very hard. "She's been getting a lot off her chest," her Mom said to me one midnight when I came on to take my shift. All the fears and anxieties caused by the accident have seemed to revive every fear, every anxiety, every hurt she's ever had--something completely understandable. I noticed that not all her arm spasms seemed totally involuntary. It seemed that at least half of them came on at the same time another fear came up, another anxiety attacked her. (The new meds she started on the day before I left were supposed to help her mind "rest" more.) One night we were talking about the verses she did her masters thesis on in Isaiah 43 when I said, "Kari, do you know the verses at the end of the chapter?" So many are about forgetting the former things, and about God blotting out our transgressions "for mine own sake," as it says in verse 25. I told her the story, out of Poland, about the archbishop who called in a man who'd been causing trouble because he'd been speaking to God. He wanted proof, so he asked the man to ask God the next time they talked what his (the archbishop's) principle sin was. The next time they met the archbishop said, "Have you been talking to God?" "Yes," the man replied. "And did you ask him about my principle sin?" "Yes, indeed." "And what did God say?" The man replied, "God said he'd forgotten." Of all God's miraculous powers, the power to forget transgressions completely must be among the greatest. It's a power rarely possessed by any human being.
On the other hand, there's things we forget but need to remember. One night her pain was so intense that she was screaming, "It's evil. This evil is going to kill me. Go away evil." We prayed for her. She gritted her teeth and got so tensed-up fighting off the evil she felt that I thought it was only making everything worse. "Here's another way to think about it, Kari," I said. "When evil comes around, don't fight it so hard. You don't have to. Remember, Jesus has already defeated it. The pain will hurt you, but evil can't." Her eyes shot open, and I think she would have bolted straight up if she could have. "You're right. I've told people that myself. I remember now." She relaxed. What to remember. What to forget. What a hard and ever-changing task that is. When you are also going in and out of your own mind, it must be nearly impossible.
--Richard R. Guzman