Keep the lines of communication open


My son Christopher and his daughter Jaylah communicate with each other before his TBI.

This Led Zeppelin song “Communication Breakdown” is playing in my head as I write this post today. It’s hard to communicate or write anything when this catchy melody with screams by Robert Plant at the top of his lungs is explode in my brain. If only Zeppelin had written a smoother, melodic song called “Communication Rebuild” with Jimmy Paige playing his mandolin or twelve-string acoustic guitar. After all, that’s what happens with my son Christopher, as he is recovering very slowly from his traumatic brain injury. suffered in January 2021.

Christopher rebuilds itself step by step. How long will it take to communicate more, how far it will progress, I have no idea. But we are watching. We watch and listen to the ways my son communicates. We keep the lines of communication open and are available 24 hours a day.

Do not mistake yourself. Christopher communicates from the IWB. His pulse and blood pressure indicated he was alive. throughout the test. His ability to breathe on his own a few weeks after the injury told us that some level of healing had occurred at the base of the brain.

Always a a well-meaning but unresponsive nurse at the hospital was unimpressed. She told me at Christopher’s bedside just a few weeks after the injury: “Only the reptilian part of his brain works.” When I shared this disturbing account with Dr. Robert Potter (MD, Ph.D.), our family medicine consultant whose expertise is in palliative care and medical ethics, he replied, “Now is not the time to lecture on evolutionary biology. Moreover, healing has to start somewhere. And what good is high-level consciousness if Christopher can’t breathe on his own?!” Here’s a great example of breaking communication and rebuilding communication with the medical community.

Another example of communication dynamics at the start of the featureD fevers. Christopher’s autonomic nervous system communicated that it was out of whack when his temperature reached around 107 degrees. While he would have died if the very alert medical staff at the same hospital hadn’t brought those fevers under control quickly, nevertheless, at least my son’s body was telling us that parts of his system were working, but not well. Even now there are occasions when Christopher has a fever on one side of his head, but not the other. It varies from side to side, moment to moment. Dr. Potter explains that this is probably the result that the temperature gauge in the autonomic nervous system is not yet stable. It is still going through a process of reorganization since the TBI incident.

Recently, I wrote about other dynamics of communication. Christopher will blink in response to yes-no questions. The other day, one of his favorite nurses asked him if he wanted to stay where he was. He immediately responded with a feverish blink and repeated to communicate “Yes”. She reported the incident to me and imitated Christopher’s movements. The blink was so animated and emphatic that it reminded me of one of Kramer’s sudden, exaggerated facial reactions in the TV series. Seinfeld. Christopher’s nurse and her social worker standing nearby laughed when I mentioned Christopher doing a Kramer.

I also mentioned how a few CNAs might have sworn Christopher told them “no” when they repositioned him recently. But I didn’t tell you how one of Christopher’s favorite CNAs and I tried to teach him how to say “Hello” the other day. She’s from Hawaii and was also trying to teach him how to say “Aloha”. I filmed his facial expressions as he opened his mouth. It sounded like he was trying to form a word in response. There were other times when Christopher moved his lips as if trying to speak.

Christopher’s nurse at his rehab care facility also said one of the therapists stopped to talk to Christopher the other day when he was in his wheelchair in the hallway. The therapist encouraged Christopher to talk more, to which he smiled. I love how his care network encourages and encourages my son and the other residents. They keep the lines of communication open and the hope alive.

It was observations like these that led Dr. Potter to write to me last week: “These are good signs that Christopher is dealing with some level of communication. I keep remembering it the speech center is the left brain, and we have the best expectation from the left side of the brain” given the location and nature of the injury.

Speaking of communication level, I want to treat myself to a higher communication level. I watch how my wife interacts with Christopher. She understands more than me. She told me last night that she could feel his warmth and tenderness for her by his facial manners during their visit. However, I’m a bit dumb. You have to explain things to me most of the time. No wonder Mariko had to say to me at the dinner table when the kids were little and I would go out, lost in thought, “Honey, ____ is talking to you.” My state of forgetfulness was child neutral. How I want to get better at listening to my children! Communication blackouts will drive families crazy, to fit a line from Led Zeppelin’s air. I have to become a better listener.

It reminds me an exasperated father who told a counselor “I don’t understand my son. He won’t listen to me. The counselor replied, “If you want to understand your son, you had better listen to him. This advice applies to other relationships: If I want to understand people, I better listen to them. It is vitally important that we keep the lines of communication open at home, in hospitals and rehabilitation care facilities, and in society at large. Rather than going around the wagons and shutting up and yelling at people, we need to listen deeply to each other. Instead of communication breakdowns, let’s rebuild communication. It all starts with listening to understand.

Whether it’s with Christopher or anyone else, I want to communicate better by listening and observing more. I hope a medical expert like Dr. Potter will say to me one day, “These are good signs that you, Paul, are dealing with a higher level of communication.” These people like the nurse, the CNA and Mariko, who are curious and intuitive observers, have a lot to teach me. Christopher too. I just need to listen.


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