Drew Stong(er) #2 — Finding Courage Again

Jan. 14th, 2018

I am frequently asked how Drew is doing, and this past week, with Drew surpassing the 3-month anniversary of his discharge from the hospital, it seemed only appropriate to provide an update on his progress. Needless to say, I have struggled to find the right words to convey our journey these past three months in a manner that doesn’t sound like complaining, or whining, or ingratitude, for we are grateful for the many blessings we have received along the way. Further, I know everyone has their own tailor-made trials and tribulations, unique to their situations and challenges, and the last thing I want to do is imply that our difficulties these past few months would eclipse the pain or suffering of others who may not be as fortunate as our family. For although we continue to daily summon the courage and fortitude to move forward into an unknown future, other families have struggles and challenges far greater than our own.

With that being said, let me just begin by explaining that the first few weeks after we left the hospital were extremely difficult, dark days. Granted, we were so grateful to be out of the hospital for the holiday season, and we tried hard to be happy and remember our blessings, but most days were filled with many, many tears and frustrations. We tried to continue family traditions and celebrations of the holidays, although much more limited than in years past, but deep down inside, we struggled to find much happiness on Thanksgiving and our Christmas was not nearly as merry as in years gone by because in every thought and word and deed, it seemed as though we were constantly being reminded that the memories of Drew from holidays past would not be repeated this year, and possibly never be repeated again.

Sunday, December 10th, 2017 — Drew becoming reacquainted with his newest cousin who grew a lot while he was sick.

Thursday, December 14th, 2017

“Drew, you better hurry, the concert starts in 25 minutes. Are you sure you want to wear your tuxedo?” I asked Drew as he dried off following a 30-minute shower (which was an improvement from the 60-minute showers when he first arrived home from the hospital).

”Of course, Dad. I’m a Madrigal,” Drew explained.

We were actually a little surprised that Drew wanted to attend the Copper Hills High School Choirs’ Christmas Concert, but he insisted. We weren’t entirely sure what Drew was thinking, but at the very least, we had been practicing Carol of the Bells as one of his Home School choir assignments and knew that this was always the closing number of the Christmas concert with alumni invited to join the choir on the stage.

Twenty-five minutes later, we glided into the Copper Hills High School parking lot. The concert was already starting and all of the handicapped stalls were taken, so I dropped Drew and his mother off near the doors and then proceeded to park the car near the middle of the parking lot. I jogged through the crisp, winter air to catch up with Dawn and Drew.

I caught them just as they were entering the doors at the rear of the darkened auditorium. The place was packed, and the performance had already started, so we quickly moved to sit in the first empty seats we could find — third row from the back on the end. Too my surprise, however, Drew wouldn’t sit down.

“Drew, sit down,” I whispered as loudly as I dared.

”No, Dad,” he shook his head.

”Come on, Drew, sit down.”

”Dad, I need to go sit with the choir,” he pointed to the chairs on the opposite side of the auditorium near the front.

”No, Drew,” I tried to guide him gently by the elbow to sit next to his mother. “You need to sit by us.”

”Dad, I need to sit with the choir,” he repeated.

”No,” I repeated as we sat down. “Drew, you have not practiced with the choir, and the performance has already started, so you need to stay with me and Mom.”

Drew was upset and folded his arms in defiance, but then his focus shifted to the madrigals who were already up on the stage performing.

They sounded great, but as I watched, a tremendous sadness filled my mind as I remembered Drew performing with the madrigals last Christmas. With each passing moment, it felt as though my heart was being ripped out of my chest. I tried to hide the tears that coursed down my face.

When the madrigals finished their first set and started to exit the stage, I glanced over to see that Drew had buried his face into his hands and he leaned against his mother’s arm. His shoulders were shaking and he was moaning softly. Dawn had put her arms around him to try and comfort him, and as the house lights came up, I could see the streaks of mascara down both of her cheeks. She looked at me and shook her head. I could see the pain in her face, which was an all too familiar look the last several weeks.

At the end of the concert, I assisted Drew up to the stage to sing “Carol of the Bells” with the rest of the choir and alumni. Unfortunately, he struggled to remember the lyrics and he could not keep up with the brisk tempo. Still, he enjoyed the opportunity to stand shoulder to shoulder with his friends, and he lingered after the concert for quite some time to visit and reconnect.

While driving home after the concert, I said, “Drew, I am sure proud of you.”

”What for?” He asked. “I didn’t really sing.”

”For supporting your school and your friends,” I answered. “You know, if you were on the basketball team and sprained your ankle, the coach would expect you to still be on the bench cheering your teammates on even if you couldn’t play. Tonight, you may not have been able to sing, but you were right there cheering and supporting your classmates, and that matters just as much.”

December 23rd, 2017 — Father and sons outing back to Topgolf. Drew had a hard time hitting the ball and ran out of gas halfway through the hour. Still, I loved seeing him just be able to swing a golf club again, but I was a nervous wreck with him so close to the edge of the second-story tee box.

Tuesday, December 26th, 2017

”Drew, what are you looking at?” I asked.

“The chap stick,” he said. Drew was sitting at the kitchen island, turning his head slowly side to side while alterantely squinting his eyes shut and staring intently at the only item on the counter — a small tube of chap stick standing on its end.

”How many chap sticks do you see?” I asked. Although he will still frequently have double vision, he stopped wearing his eye patch after his first week at home. There are long stretches during the day where his vision would be nearly normal, or double, or sometimes just blurry, but it seems to depend more on his level of fatigue.

”I see two chap sticks,” he said. “There…” he pointed his finger at the chap stick. “…And there,” he then pointed about 2 inches to the right of the chap stick.

”But,” he pointed back to the chap stick, “I know that is the real chap stick.”

”How do you know that?” I asked.

”Because the one on the right is stuck halfway into the table,” he explained.

Unfortunately, the phantom images are not always so easy for him to detect. Sometimes as he plays basketball, he will shoot the ball pretty wide to the right. He’ll often turn his head sideways and squint his eyes as he tries to eliminate the double vision. However, his eyes have improved since the hospital and he seems to have better vision for longer periods of time, which is why he no longer wears his eye patch.

fullsizeoutput_ca57

December 29th, 2017 — Family trip to the Oquirrh Mountain Temple to perform baptisms for the dead.

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

”Drew, can you turn the movie off and come up for prayer?” I asked him. “It’s time for bed.”

”Hold on, Dad, the movie’s almost over.”

The last two weeks, Drew was finally able to start getting his home school work and therapy finished in time to have a little free time in the evenings just before bed. He loved to watch movies before he got sick, and every chance he can get, he loves to watch movies now. He started watching the Harry Potter movies with his sisters over the Christmas break, and tonight he was watching the fourth Harry Potter movie.

”Are you sure, Drew?” I asked because the movie did not look like it was near the end.

”Yes, Dad, there’s only about a minute left.”

Again, I was not so sure it was almost over, but I thought I could at least give him one more minute. To my surprise, the movie ended about a minute later.

That is the strange thing — when he first came out of his coma, he couldn’t remember much of anything, including movies, TV, math, reading, and people (especially names). One example, even up through Christmas Day, he struggled to remember any Christmas songs. At first, he couldn’t even sing “Happy Birthday” or any nursery rhymes. Yet as we have practiced with him, after a few repetitions, he has slowly started to remember songs and other memories. So I was shocked that he could remember the ending of this Harry Potter movie even though he hadn’t watched it since before his illness. As he has weaned off his seizure medications and continued to recover from his injury, he continues to slowly remember different things from before his illness, and we are hoping that one day in the near future, he will fully remember all that was lost.

fullsizeoutput_ca6e

Christmas Eve 2018 — family piñata fun

Wednesday, January 3rd, 2018

”Drew, how many baskets do you see?”

“What?” Drew stopped dribbling his basketball and turned to look at me. It was halftime of the first church basketball game of the season, and although we were a little worried about his safety (it is church ball after all), he convinced us to let him play.

“How many baskets do you see right now?” I repeated. During warm-ups and the first half of the game, Drew was way off on his shooting.

“What?” Drew asked again.

I leaned in closer and talked louder, “How many baskets do you see?”

Even though the gym was full of youth dribbling and shooting basketballs, I was standing right next to him.

“Why are you yelling?” he asked. “Are you mad?”

“No, Drew,” I said. “I was just wondering if you could see OK?”

He squinted one eye, and then the other, looking intentlly toward the basket before he replied, “Right now, I just see one basket, but it’s blurry.”

I often forget that his ears work just fine, but it can be difficult for him to process the sound. Still, he has started to be able to listen to some of his music on his phone. He can differentiate better with slower, acoustic-style arrangements, but at least he no longer believes that all of the songs are the same song over and over again. He also can’t remember many artists or songs, but with time he will eventually become reacquainted with them.

Wednesday, January 10th, 2018 -- working hard on his game.

Sunday, January 7th, 2018

Drew sat with the rest of the Priests behind the Sacrament table waiting for church to begin. Last Sunday, he had helped the other Priests with the Sacrament for the first time in over 6 months and he did fairly well. We weren’t so much worried about him physically, but more so whether he would act appropriately during the sacred ordinance (he did fine).

This week, however, he was asked to bless the Sacrament and he had two obstacles to overcome. First, we were worried with his vision whether he could read the small print on the prayer card. Dawn took him to the church during the week before and had him practice reading the card a few times, and the small print was no problem.

The second obstacle was that with the new year, the start time for our church service moved from 12:30 PM to 8:30 AM, and in order to help with the Sacrament, Drew needed to be to church by 8:15 AM. With his seizure medicines, he normally gets to bed by 10:30 PM and sleeps until 8:00 or 8:15 AM. Getting up earlier is quite challenging because the medicines are so sedating. Let me just say it was truly a miracle that he was able to get up at 7:00 AM, and with a lot of help from his mother and sisters, he made it to church on time.

As Drew read the Sacrament prayer, I couldn’t help but cry. I vividly recalled that just a few months ago, I was not sure when I would ever see the day come again that he could kneel and fulfill one of his priesthood duties.

Wednesday, January 17th, 2018

”Did you wake Drew up?” His mother asked me.

We had heard his alarm go off and I went into his room to shut it off because it kept beeping. Most every morning, we still have to wake him because he sleeps through the alarm. He takes his most sedating seizure medicines at bedtime, so he has a very hard time waking in the morning. Additionally, he is still so sedated that he does not move all night long, so we have to wake up about every two hours to roll him and keep him from getting another bedsore.

”No, he must have woke up before the alarm went off because he was already getting into the shower,” I said. “He must be pretty excited to go back to school.”

Drew returned to school for the first time today, which we were happy to celebrate. Granted, he will only attend one class to start with the other 7 classes still through home school, but as he continues to improve, the plan is to gradually transition from home school and add more classes at the high school, but a lot will just depend on his progress. Naturally, he was so excited because his first class back at the high school: Concert Choir.

8D409926-A6F5-4429-BADD-78B794218CD8

January 17th, 2018 — Even if for only one class, Drew was so excited to begin the transition from home school and return to his high school today.

I appreciate the words of Elder Jeffrey R. Holland As he counseled, “… we must never, in any age or circumstance, let fear and the father of fear (Satan himself) divert us from our faith and faithful living. There have always been questions about the future. Every young person or every young couple in every era has had to walk by faith into what has always been some uncertainty—starting with Adam and Eve in those first tremulous steps out of the Garden of Eden. But that is all right. This is the plan. It will be okay. Just be faithful. God is in charge. He knows your name and He knows your need…. God expects you to have enough faith and determination and enough trust in Him to keep moving, keep living, keep rejoicing.”

Saturday, January 20th, 2018 — Family card game. Nice to see some smiles, but it took a lot of work to get here.

January 21st, 2018

We are very grateful for all the extremely kind acts of service on behalf of Drew and our family. His recovery and progress are miraculous indeed, which we recognize, but we still worry about his future. From my experience working in rehab, I figured he would require speech therapy longer than physical therapy, and that appears to be true to form. Granted, we still have work to do with physical therapy, especially with his jumping, running, balance, and agility, but we have farther to go with speech therapy at this point. However, occupational and speech therapy continue to work on his vision, auditory processing, diction, comprehension, helping Drew to unlock his memories, and even practicing on the driving simulator. The doctors haven’t cleared him to drive yet until he weans off more medicines, but his seizures remain controlled and he has not had a seizure since September 10th.

Although the doctors have repeated several times that his recovery has far surpassed initial expectations and bodes very well for further recovery, questions still arise in our minds about whether his seizures will return or if he will regain all that he has lost. Sometimes our fear rises and our patience wanes, especially while many of his classmates are applying for college or missions, driving to work, studying for AP tests, or many of the normal things that teenagers do. In the end, we press forward one day at a time, knowing we are not alone, and holding out hope that all will be well in the end, for that is really all we can do.

 

© Copyright 2018 Jeff, All rights Reserved. Written For: Jeffrey Olsen
family, FIRES

6 comments


  1. Bobbi

    Thank you for taking the time to update us and also give us hope. I am amazed at the progress he is making. Please know my family will continue to pray for your family. I know I am a stranger but feel very connected to your family.
    My sister went thru a similar situation and I know how hard this can be. I am so happy for his progress. Xoxox

  2. Melanie Eckman

    Thank you, thank you for posting this update! I have been thinking of Drew and family for weeks. Godspeed, good people!

    • I liked the update. I can identify with your story a lot. I have commented once before. If you ever need anyone to complain to I can relate. My daughter doesn’t have the same thing but similar challenges. Look back occasionally just so you can celebrate the gains some are so gradual they can pass you by before you realize they happened. Don’t dwell on it though. I have had to move forward and realize that my daughter will never be as she was but that that was fine. She surprises me all the time with what she can do with her limitations that when applied the right way can make her stronger.

  3. Selene

    Thank you for sharing this. I feel like i understand some of what you are experiencing. My daughter has been struggling with serious mental health issues for the past two years and my vision for what her life would have been has had to be thrown out. In my strong days, I know that God has a plan for her and is leading and guiding and supporting us all but in my weak days I weep for all the things she’s has lost and fear the future.

  4. Anna Beth Mecham

    Thank you for posting about Drew’s progress….I have to admit, he is doing way better than I imagined. He and you have all gone through so much, and it warms my heart that you are all going forward. May God continue to be with you, and bless your family. Drew is always in our prayers.

  5. So very glad to see how far Drew has come. He’s a miracle.

Leave a Reply