Sunday, June 2, 2013 is a day I will never forget. I received a call from my mother at 4:00 am. I immediately knew something was wrong. Through tears, she tried to speak. After what seemed an eternity, she told me that my brother, Wayne, had been in an accident. I asked if he was ok and she again said “No.” My heart hit the floor as I imagined a world without the man who called me “Chicken Charlie”. She relayed that he was in University Hospital in the Surgical Technical Intensive Care Unit. He had been there since late Friday night, May 31, 2013. No one had known where he was during that time as it was not unusual to go several days without talking to family.
Nothing could have prepared me for the sight of my big brother, the funniest, liveliest man I know laying on that hospital bed almost unrecognizable. My mind immediately flashed to a picture of my older sister Katie lying in a similar bed several years earlier before her death. As I stood in the room at the end of his hospital bed, everything else in the world vanished. I prayed like never before. I knew God could bring my brother back, but sitting in that room, I didn’t know how.
Wayne is my big brother, the only one of my siblings that was around when I was a young child. There is a 12 year gap between us. When I was in Kindergarten, we rode the school bus together. My favorite game was begging Wayne to bang my head on the back of the seat. He would always start with, “No, if I do you will tell Mom!” However, I would beg and promise not to tell Mom. He always eventually gave in. Later, I would get home and complain about a headache. Mom didn’t ask me any questions. She would just look at Wayne and say, “Wayne, go to your room!” Wayne was my hero as a young boy. Once I got sick on my way to school. Wayne had driven the family car to school that day. He was released from school to come pick me up. Rather than just taking me home, he took me for some ice cream. I felt better instantly.
As a grown up, Wayne and I often would go long periods of time without seeing each other. We grew apart and life often got in the way. After Wayne’s father passed away, he called me and told me…” He needed his brother. My heart melted at those words. We began scheduling regular golf dates. He always enjoyed getting a beating on the golf course. Well, not always, he would win about once every two years.
Now, I was sitting in a hospital looking at the brother I loved, the brother I needed. I sat with him and told him stories about what he meant to me. His wife, Laura, our sister, Nancy, my dad, Jerry, and our mom would trade off sitting at the hospital with him every day. I met some of his good friends, Rob and Gloria. They were rocks for Laura. Everything else in the world stopped.
His wife, Laura, was a rock during that time. In the 11 years that she had been married to Wayne, we never really talked much. I could not believe the care and dedication she showed to Wayne and I am forever grateful for her.
Even though his little brother did Estate Planning for a living, Wayne had not planned for this situation. Laura struggled to obtain access to finances and deal with insurance companies to make medical decisions. Wayne and Laura had always kept their finances separate. She now faced a mountain of bills with no access to Wayne’s accounts. Laura was forced to obtain Temporary Guardianship so she could work towards paying the bills. This required her to take additional time away from work and from Wayne as we had to go to court and show the judge that Wayne was unable to care for himself and that Laura should be allowed to do so. We were fortunate in that guardianship is part of my legal practice. For many, guardianship is a process that can bankrupt a family (It can be avoided with a few simple estate planning documents).
After several weeks in a coma, 2 months in University Hospital, 2 months at the V.A. Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, and 2 months at the V.A. Polytrauma Transitional Rehabilitation Center, Wayne returned home on December 12, 2013. This Saturday will be one year since his accident. Wayne continues to recover from his Traumatic Brain Injury and make little improvements every day. This past week Wayne called me out of the blue just to talk for a while. It brightened my day to talk with him and hear his still ever present sense of humor.
Our family holds the deepest gratitude for the nurses and doctor’s on the 10th Floor at University Hospital in the Surgical Technical ICU, the nurses, doctors and other medical professionals at the V.A. Polytrauma Rehabilitation Center, and the V.A. Polytrauma Transitional Rehabiliation Program. I wish I could remember all the names of the professionals that helped not only Wayne recover, but helped our family hold it together.
Wayne is still my hero. When I flash back to him lying in that bed, I am amazed at the progress that he has made and continues to make. He is and always has been stronger than any of the circumstances he has been placed in. I thank God for my big brother, my hero.