I've tried to think of a less cliche way of putting this, but perhaps I'm just too close to it to be creative. If there's one word to describe my nephew Connor (and his fraternal twin, Nathan), it's "survivor."
Connor and Nathan were born at 28 weeks. We were told that they wouldn't make it through the week. And yet they did.
Not long after Connor turned 1, he was diagnosed with liver cancer. He had surgery to remove the tumor and went through chemo. The surgery went great and chemo seemed to do the trick, but you just never know when you're pumping that much poison into someone that small.
At some point, Connor was diagnosed with autism, which is a pretty general thing to say. People like to think of autism as some kind of blanket condition, but every case is unique. I don't know the technical details of Connor's diagnosis. I can tell you that his world is different than ours, and the interaction between those two worlds isn't as frequent as we'd always like. I don't know if I can honestly say that our world is any better than his.
I suppose Connor's autism might play some part in what happened a week ago. His parents and his brother have all made guesses -- anyone who's seen his room and seen the window has made guesses. But no one but Connor knows exactly what happened, exactly how he fell through the screen on the window of his second story bedroom. We think he was standing on a chair and lost his balance, which would explain how he had the momentum to tear through the screen. He's a ten year old boy, though, and screens aren't really made to hold anything out, so much as let air in.
All we know for sure is that he fell from his second story window and landed on his head on the concrete below. We've estimated that it was 25-30 feet.
When the paramedics took Connor to the hospital, they told my brother and his wife that they would have to drive separately. We later learned that this is something they tell family members of people they don't think are going to make it. Understandable, I suppose, that you would need hysterical family members out of the truck as you try to save someone. Kind of wish I didn't know that information now.
My brother didn't just fear the worst at that point, he expected it. Everyone did.
Not only did Connor make it to the hospital, he made it through the night. He had no broken bones, although the bones around his eyes were fractured, but they're still in place, so it's entirely possible that he won't need plastic surgery for that. But I'm getting way ahead of myself.
The scans of his head indicated that there was a blood clot and bone shards in his brain. Tuesday morning they performed brain surgery. They told my brother that Connor wouldn't be the same after the surgery.
Turns out, the bone shards weren't bone shards, but blood that was sitting on the brain and was "easily" cleaned up. The clot wasn't in the brain so much as on the surface. They still had to remove a part of Connor's brain to get the clot, though. It was the uncus, which the doctor said is more or less useless, anyway, so removing it wasn't a big deal. Still -- they removed a part of his brain.
They did another scan of his brain the next day and the clot was still gone, which was a good sign.
When I finally got to see Connor on Friday morning, they were preparing to take him to get a CT scan. They had reduced his sedatives and, while he was responsive, he wasn't as responsive as they would have liked. So they wanted to look at his brain again to make sure everything was as it was supposed to be.
This is the hardest part -- the fact that they have to keep checking things over and over again because even if something is okay one day, that could change the next. I keep waiting for someone to say to me that, on a certain date, he'll be fine, that nothing will suddenly appear. But if that date it exists, it's pretty far down the line.
The CT scan came back fine, although they had to raise Connor's sedation level so he wouldn't move around during the scan.
Here's the thing about Connor being sedated: the doctors want him to be unconscious so that he can heal. On Friday that wasn't clear. He moved a little bit, but it still felt like he was unconscious because of what happened. That changed on Saturday. On Saturday, he was moving around a lot. He squeezed my hand a few times, he moved his legs around and, the kicker, whenever the nurses would do something he didn't like, he would stick his arms out at them to stop them. He was in there and he'd be awake if the doctors weren't keeping him sedated.
Connor's eyes are both purple and puffy, to the point where he can't really see. His tongue is swollen and he's on a respirator, not to mention feeding tubes, IVs, catheter, tubes in his head, and a "bolt." The "bolt" is a device that measures his inter-cranial pressure, which fluctuates depending upon how he's feeling, but that's the case for most of us.
Yesterday, they took the "bolt" out. This morning they took him down for another MRI and everything looked like it should. They've reduced his sedatives to 50%, with the plan being to bring him all the way back around sometime tomorrow. That's going to be a big test.
Imagine being a 10 year old who may or may not remember the last thing that happened to you. Your eyes are too swollen for you to see, you have a respirator stuck down your throat, and you're in a strange place filled with strange people and strange noises. A kid without autism would probably freak out a bit. We just don't know how Connor will react. Even Saturday, when he was still heavily sedated, he stuck his hands out to grab the tubes they were removing from his head.
If you're looking at the big picture, these are the things that we know so far: his spine wasn't hurt, his skull is intact aside from the fractures around his eyes, his eyes are okay, he didn't lose any teeth, he didn't break any bones, his lungs are fine, and his brain looks okay. None of those things should really be true, given how far he fell.
But there are so many questions still. It could be months before we really know how this has affected him. I haven't even gotten to the psychological impact of all of this.
It's impossible for me to put myself into my brother's position or in the shoes of his wife. As it stands, I was near tears when I saw Connor for the first time, and I've been in near tears whenever I think about it. I try not to, at least I try not to think about what happened. It just lays me out.
Before I left, I told Connor that I loved him and that I'd be back when he was better. I hope that's soon.