By Lisa Becker, Founder: Secrets of Lemons, Positivity Enthusiast, Speaker, Health Advocate
Hope is one of those things that is hard to put into words. We know staying “hopeful” in tough times is essential, but how? And how do we remain grateful during the process? I wanted to share an inspiring story of hope that I was lucky to witness and be a part of this summer. I believe it will inspire you to stay hopeful and challenge you never to lose hope, no matter how dire a situation may become for you. I was inspired and reminded to be grateful for the little things many of us take for granted.
This is a story of how a person’s life can completely change in a split second. Unfortunately, that happened when a close friend was in a horrible accident. But it’s a story of hope, perspective, friendship, and unconditional love.
Kathy was the life of the party, the mover and shaker who got things done and a woman whose kindness had no boundaries—she helped anyone and everyone. She and her husband Richard moved to Cabo recently from Florida, where they recently started a beautiful life for their retirement. Unfortunately, 52 days after her husband “officially“ retired, Kathy was in a severe accident that landed her in a coma, on a ventilator, completely unresponsive, and fighting for her life. She had a massive brain bleed and severe brain stem damage. The prognosis was dim, less than 2% ever survived these types of injuries, and that’s not even considering the possibility of any recovery. No case of recovery with this type of injury has ever been recorded. Initially, all the specialists agreed she would not survive without going into too much detail, but she did!
How? Her husband refused to give up hope. From insisting that he saw the smallest responses while she was in those early days of her coma to moving her body until she could move it herself, he refused to give up. That persistent, never-ending hope (mixed with extreme patience) created a miracle. When Kathy finally opened her eyes (a month later), it would be the start of a long fight of learning how to do EVERYTHING again. Breathe, swallow, talk, move….all of it.
The day after the accident Richard called me and left a voicemail explaining what happened. In that voicemail, he also said, “you are the only friend we know who will be able to relate to her if she ever wakes up.” You see 2/3 of my life has been spent struggling with medical issues. I have always joked to friends that I am a “professional patient,” and I am not uncomfortable around lots of medical “stuff.” I’ve personally dealt with many surgeries and recovery from them, but on a whole different level than Kathy would be experiencing! So, this was a chance for me to give back and be on the other side now. I wanted to be the best type of friend I could and take my “patient’’ experience of being on the other side. To use my perspective and help her in ways others had helped me in the past.
I was lucky to have the opportunity to visit her several times this summer. Watching her work hard to do the simplest things was heartbreaking and inspiring. In between my visits, my daughter and I Facetimed her on her birthday. We sang, laughed, told her stories, and said how proud of her we were. We told her how much we loved her. She was slowly able to move her arms, and as we ended the call, pounded her heart with her hand. It took us a few seconds, but we realized she was trying to tell us she loved us too. Never again will I take for granted the simple act of saying I love you.
On one of my visits, I flew to Chicago, which was Richard’s birthday. Kathy struggled to work her airways to engage her voice box to speak. Singing can sometimes be more manageable than talking. After Richard took a much-needed break, he returned, and we SANG happy birthday to him together. The effort and the determination on her face to sing to her husband is something I will never forget. If you’re like me and sometimes do not sing because you feel you do not have a good voice, DO IT. Sing Happy Birthday as loud as you can because you CAN! I will forever sing Happy Birthday whenever the opportunity arises.
As someone who has grown up with medical issues and recovered from many surgeries, I am very aware of how it feels to depend on others. Not being able to take care of yourself in simple ways is VERY frustrating and humbling. So, when Kathy finally was able to feed herself, scratch an itch, brush her hair all by herself these were minor but significant milestones. On one of my hospital visits with Kathy, I noticed her nails grew out, and she ran the risk of poking herself. She had the type of nails that needed to be soaked off with a chemical, removed the tips, and cut them. I assure you I am no manicurist, but I was able to maneuver soaking them off (via bedside in the hospital) and making her nails look as lovely as I could without painting them. It took a while, so she fell asleep as I was doing it. When I finished, she woke up, and the smile she gave me was priceless! I will always consider the simple task of doing my own personal hygiene. When I do my nails, or if I get a manicure, I experience it differently. I am grateful for being able to do it myself or driving myself there and having the luxury of having someone do it for me.
All types of therapy, including physical therapy were and are a considerable part of Kathy’s recovery. Kathy used to be a fitness expert, and she used to compete as a female bodybuilder. During covid, she would motivate me to do HITT workouts outside with her, and we would go for daily walks together. Doing PT, I see the old parts of her resurface. That determination on her face returns as she works all her might to lift the lightest weight with her hand and lift her arm. Working out for me is not “fun,” and I am not good at self-motivating. However, after seeing her, I will not take for granted the fact that I CAN move my body; and will make sure I do it as much as possible. Kathy would give anything to go for a walk now, and I will never take the simple act of walking or lifting weights for granted.
Traumatic brain injuries are some of the most intense injuries to recover from, and there is still so much the medical community is learning about the brain. Kathy’s accident was four months ago, in June. After three hospital stays and an extraordinary amount of work, love, and patience, Richard’s steadfast drive of unrelenting hope was contagious for Kathy and for all who followed them on this journey. Kathy and Richard are back home in Cabo, where she continues to recover.
How daunting of a hill to climb. Over the past four months, every ounce of progress was due to Richard’s ability to stay hopeful. I also believe in the power of love, and anyone who knows them knows they belong together. The details of her story are for her to tell (hopefully one day soon!) But I felt moved to share with you my experience of what I have witnessed watching them on this journey. Their story reminded me of my own health struggle, living with my hidden disability for my entire life only to end up having several organs removed over the past sixteen years. It reminded me of how precious life can be and how I cannot take any moment or person for granted. It took my beautiful friend to bring it back into a clear perspective for me. The day-to-day hustle and bustle are meaningless without the key ingredients to life. True love has no limits, never lose hope no matter what, and be grateful for every little or big opportunity we are given.
Lisa Becker, Founder Secrets of Lemons, Positivity Enthusiast, Speaker, Health Advocate
I’m a positive-mindset enthusiast, with personal experience managing hidden chronic illnesses–my #lifewithlemons–and a vision to shift the perspective around the challenges that come our way. What does that look like? Empowering patients. Empowering providers. Empowering YOU. If you’re struggling with the burden of chronic illness, managing hidden obstacles in day-to-day life, and anything in between, I’m here to help. Learn how to be empowered when managing your healthcare. Go to Secrets of Lemons to learn more and register your email to continue to be inspired.