Our daughter played in a regional level girls basketball game that reminded me of the importance of breathing, especially during stressful times. The game started out well, but soon took a turn for the worse as swinging elbows, fouls, and pushing increased. The referees did not seem to be able to reign the jungle ball behavior in and soon tempers were hot. After being bumped , hacked, and pushed several times, our daughter reached a stage of let's just say "not being very happy". She actually called it "furious basketball rage". In any case, an observant coach took a time-out and let Emilie step outside for a moment to cool off. She paced around the hallway trying to regain control. The thirty second time-out passed quickly and Emilie returned to the gym, but her coach quickly saw that she was still not in the right frame of mind to continue the game. This very wise coach called another thirty second time-out so Emilie could lean her arms and head against the wall and just breathe. Emilie has been taking a yoga class at school and told me that at that very moment, she started practicing the breathing techniques she had learned in class. With every breath she drew in serenity and breathed out the stress. She focused solely on her breathing until finally she knew she would be able to play without the rage and fury she had experienced earlier. And to her credit, she played the final last two or three minutes of the game without any fouls or injuries to other players. In fact, she was even calm enough that when a technical foul was called on the other team, she made one of the two foul shots at the line. Once again breathing was a factor. After the first missed foul shot, she focused on breathing and said that everything suddenly got quiet and it was as if everyone and everything around her was blocked out. She quietly breathed and then made the shot. It was not a critical point in the game, but it may be an important point in her life. Learning to overcome stressful situations by learning to breathe just may be an essential skill that can save her later in life.
Laurent had been in the Neuro Critical Care unit about 3 weeks when I remember really hitting the anger stage of the grieving process. At first the doctors had seen enough progress such as opening his eyes and responding to some commands that they thought he might be able to go from the ICU down to the rehabilitation unit within the University of Utah Hospital. You can guess how elated we were with the progress and looked forward to Laurent continuing to receive therapy services daily from this excellent facility. We were on the uphill side of the “Brain injury roller coaster” and thrilled.
I stood at the window of Laurent’s hospital room, which looked out to the north with the mountains on the right and the Salt Lake City valley on the west. I stared out in a state of shock, reflecting on the last month of events. The worries and pressure of “handling it all” pressed in on me. Questions raged through my mind. “Why did this have to happen? Why did the doctors tell me one thing, only to change their minds? At a nursing home my 29 year old husband would be surrounded with elderly people also recovering. How would he regain his vivaciousness and love for life in this environment?” As my anger and self-pity grew, I let myself feel the resentment of the whole situation. “Why did the woman have to cut Laurent off? Why did he have to be riding his motorcycle home from Jon & Anne’s house? Why couldn’t he have taken his car instead? Why did we decide to have me go with the children on vacation while he stayed home? If we hadn’t have gone, then he would have been in the car instead of on a motorcycle and would probably be safe. Maybe none of this would have happened.” My frustration and sorrow bubbled and churned inside me, like the sulfur pots at Yellowstone, the steam rising until I was sure I was going to blow. Normally, I’m a very calm person on the outside but a worrier on the inside. However, at that moment, I looked at the blinds covering the window and felt an intense desire to rip them off the wall and throw them across the room! I wondered what would happen if I did so? I could imagine my hands gripping the cold aluminum slats and yanking the blinds from the walls, pulling down chunks of plaster as they tore from their anchors. I pictured hurling the entire set of blinds across the room toward the other window that separated Laurent from the nurses’ station, clattering against the cold glass, and perhaps even cracking or shattering the smooth glass surface into tiny fragments and shards. My dreams and plans for our future together now seemed to be shattered like these shards. How could I pick them up and rebuild a life together? Contemplating further the idea of tearing down the blinds, I wondered if I would feel relieved to give in to my rage, or would I simply be embarrassed and humiliated that I didn’t “handle things well”? At this critical juncture, I breathed. My rational self drew strength from each breath in and battled my emotional self to blow out the anger and rage until finally the logical side won out. I relaxed my balled up fists, walked over to the other side of the room, sat down in the chair, and sobbed. All of the emotion and grief from the last month poured out through my soul into this sterile hospital room with its tubes and machines. I cried aloud, not caring at this point that the nurses could hear my desperate cries. I sobbed into a pillow on my lap for several minutes, allowing the disappointment and grief to completely envelope me and finally escape. I did not know what would happen in the future and how I would make it through the rest of my life. At that moment I did not care. I simply cried.
A couple of weeks later, Laurent did finally end up in the hospital's own rehabilitation center instead of a care facility. That story will have to be told another time. Suffice it to say that through a couple of tender mercies the team of therapists and nurses assigned to Laurent finally convinced the doctor that Laurent had made enough progress and to allow him to make the move. I will always be grateful to them for their courage and care for my husband during that stressful time.