I'm writing today from the Shepherd Center in Atlanta, where I've been with Joe and Ginny for the last few days. The visit has been a powerful experience, on many different levels.
So many thoughts are jumbling around in my mind, it's difficult to sort them out and pass them on in a coherent way, but all of you friends and family want --and deserve -- to know how things are going, so here are few of my impressions:
1.) First, at the risk of sounding overly gloomy, I've been strongly reminded of the severity of Joe's injuries, and the long and difficult road that lies ahead for him, Ginny, and the boys. So too, I'm moved to urge all of you dear friends, neighbors, colleagues, and family members who have been supporting them in such remarkably generous ways, to understand the need to continue that assistance, including most importantly your prayers of support, for the long term as well.
I hope you won't misunderstand me -- there is ample reason for optimism. We continue to believe that Joe can and will make a full or nearly-full recovery. He has made truly impressive strides, in countless ways, in just these five weeks that have passed since the shooting. He can stand with support; he can verbalize and interact -- usually in a coherent manner -- with family and caretakers; on many occasions, we get to see and hear flashes of his brilliant intellectual abilities, his strong and uniquely positive personality, and his great sense of humor. All of these achievements seemed almost unimaginable five weeks ago, and we have every reason to believe that the progress will continue.
But despite what he has already accomplished, Joe is literally having to relearn hundreds of mental and physical skills and behaviors that we take for granted -- from how to swallow his food to how to control the movement of his legs and arms, and everything in between. Perhaps one of the best metaphors for the process, which someone suggested to Lisa, is to think of Joe's mind and body as a deck of cards that have been scattered, and now he is working to collect all the cards and restack them in the correct order. It is a long and painstaking process, and the bottom line is that we are still a long way from having the Joe that we all know and love "back" with us in the fullest sense of that term. I guess I wanted to convey that fundamental (and perhaps obvious) observation to all of you as gently, but firmly, as I can.
2.) I have been so impressed by the efforts of the staff of professionals here at Shepherd, and their dedication to Joe's recovery. Every hospital stay brings its share of uncertainties, frustrations, and anxieties for patients and their families, but the personnel here -- like the doctors, nurses, and EMTs who saved Joe's life in Huntsville -- have shown truly astonishing levels of skill, dedication, perseverance, and patience in their work with Joe. It has been both humbling and inspiring to watch.
3.) I've been blown away by Joe's attitude and strength. As mentioned before, he is being asked to do things, and to relearn basic bodily functions and behaviors, that would be difficult for anyone to accept and put up with even under the best of circumstances, and yet he has been unfailingly cooperative and congenial in all of the interactions I've observed. He has not given in to pity or frustration but rather, whenever he's awake and responsive, he truly is "charging on" and working extremely hard at all of his rehabilitation tasks.
4.) Finally, and perhaps most significantly, it's almost impossible for me to express how proud and impressed I've been by Ginny. She is the very epitome of a "steel magnolia" -- gentle, gracious, and kind to all, but fiercely protective of Joe's interests and uniquely competent in dealing with the overwhelming medical, family, financial, and bureaucratic details that confront her 24/7. Her interactions with Joe are a beautiful thing to watch -- loving, patient, determined -- she always seems to know what to say and how to say it so as to encourage him and help him move forward. It's been a remarkable and inspiring privilege to see her in operation, and I've learned lessons from her that I hope I'll never forget about facing adversity with grace.
On the purely medical front, yesterday (Thursday) was a really good day, full of lots of activity and progress -- Joe ate the most "solid" food (actually pureed) he had ever taken in and did well in his therapy sessions. He was mentally sharp for the most part, and quite talkative during some of the day -- he was "on point" with me on several different topics, including the NCAA basketball tournament games, and he stayed awake and alert well into the early evening, which was a improvement from the prior days, when he got sleepy and inactive from late afternnon on.
Today, frankly, has been not so good. Joe was heavily congested and distressingly "wheezy" this morning, which was alarming for us, and then there was a malfunction of his call button that compounded the problem. The nurses and technicians have suctioned his trach tube several times, and he has been a good deal more lethargic than usual. His primary doctor ordered a new chest X-ray, which came back "OK but not great" -- his lungs were not as clear as they had been a few days earlier, so she ordered no more therapy for the rest of the day, opting for bed rest to allow him to get his wind back. His blood labs were fine, showing no signs of infection, but pneumonia is still an outside risk so they are taking precautions against that. He's to be seen by a respiratory specialist this afternoon for further analysis. It's possible that they might put him back on the respirator for awhile to help clear his lungs.
That's it for now. Thanks for putting up with the length of this message and, on behalf of the entire family, as always, thanks so much for all the continuing support.
I'm proudly wearing my UAH shirt today so, to all of you .... Charge On,