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Wang cruising hospital halls on ‘joy rounds’

David Chen and Theresa Wang, Valentine's Day 2011. (Photo courtesy of David Chen)

From David Chen, husband of Theresa Wang, who is recovering from injuries sustained in the Nov. 19 car crash that also injured Colt Brennan:

Aloha to our Ohana,

The past week has gone by so quickly it’s hard to decide where to begin. I’m writing this update from Theresa’s room, spending our final few hours together as I watch her sleep peacefully before I head out in the wee hours to catch a 6 a.m. flight back to Kona.

I don’t know when I’m returning to Denver but if Theresa’s healing continues at its current pace, it will be sooner rather than later. Until then, here’s a recap of the past week we spent together at Craig Hospital.

When in doubt, chronological order always works so let’s start with a week ago from Friday when the previous update was sent out just before boarding the plane in Kona. To say the flight to San Francisco was bumpy is an understatement — the seatbelt light stayed on most of the way and for good reason. I understand the basic concept of turbulence is that warm air rises and cold air descends, so where they meet there is instability and rough air is the result.

But for this trip, there must have been vast amounts of air rising and falling because even a flight attendant yelled out in surprise when it seemed the plane dropped a few feet mid-air. I’m pretty certain I wasn’t the only one saying a silent prayer on that flight and in the end, we made it safely to the mainland but probably not without a few overfilled bladders. I am most thankful to our Lord for the safe passage and that there was a plane change before continuing on to Denver.

Arriving at Craig Hospital on Saturday, the feeling of overpowering joy when setting eyes upon Theresa is one I shall not forget in this lifetime. She has made remarkable strides in her healing journey and just seeing her without her trach tube and cervical collar for the first time in over 10 weeks was a sight for tired eyes.

Our friend Jill, whose positive and detailed updates we shared last time, had taken the day off so Theresa and I could spend it together. Theresa had lots of stories to tell me about her adventures over the past three weeks, not so much about herself but more about the other patients and some of the staff.

It seems Theresa has started doing her “joy rounds” again, wheeling around and visiting with patients, their family members and the staff. But this time, Theresa has generously decided to sell prescriptions and discharge orders for $20 a piece, not that her Hawaii license would be valid here anyway.

These joy rounds serve a dual purpose. In addition to improving the overall mood on the unit, it is a good form of cognitive therapy for Theresa too. As she recovers from the post traumatic amnesia, Theresa is able to retain more details of her conversations and she incorporates these new memories into her existing ones. Sometimes her stories are amusing like believing that her childhood friend Debra is the same person as one of the staff here because they have the same first name and are about the right age.

In other instances, like with the speech therapy vocabulary testing, Theresa is the first patient in Craig Hospital history to get every word definition correct. I for one did not know what a balalaika or a finial is, do you?

On the physical and occupational therapy side, Theresa’s heel and ankle surgery from three weeks ago is healing well but will not be weight bearing for another five or more weeks. To exercise the joint without applying weight, a Dyna-splint has been prescribed. This high tech device (which actually costs 10X what I guessed it should) and looks like something out of a Terminator movie, applies resistance to the ball of the foot. This in turn strengthens the heel/ankle joint and tendons but does so without any pressure against the heel itself.

While the surgery sets back the timeline for standing and walking, the OT/PT therapists (whom Theresa has affectionately dubbed her twin mistresses of pain) continue to work on strength and flexibility exercises for her upper body and left leg. The improvements over the past three weeks are impressive and at the last session, Theresa leaned forward against a table and stood on her left leg for a minute!

This is all the more remarkable because the left side is her weak side and the therapists, doctors and I can all see she is just itching to use that right leg soon. And when she finally does get the go-ahead to do so, Lord help us because she will burn the wheels off that walker.

Last Sunday, Jill came by before her return flight and the three of us had a wonderful time together making Valentine chocolate hearts and roses in the therapeutic recreation class. As Jill prepared to depart, Theresa decided to give her most of the chocolates as a small token of our appreciation for the time Jill spent supporting us during the past week.

In addition to Jill, we are so grateful to our Lord to be blessed with other wonderful friends who make time in their busy lives to visit us at Craig Hospital on a regular basis. Chief among these are Kelly and Janelle, and the staff of Unit 2W are already asking when Kelly will return with her Up With People entourage of musicians, dancers and even a balloon sculpting clown.

On Valentine’s Day, in between the hours of therapy sessions, Theresa had planned to hand out during her joy rounds, the chocolates she’d made the previous day. But all we had left were 3 chocolate hearts and those went to Theresa’s former roommate here before they were assigned private rooms.

So I left Theresa to rest in the afternoon while I went out in search of Valentine chocolates and also to buy her some more underwear and tank tops (if I’d known she needed summer wear here, I’d have brought more from home.)

When I returned only partially successful (no chocolates were to be found), Theresa wasn’t in her room and no therapies were on the schedule so off in search I went. She wasn’t too hard to find, being located at the main intersection of the unit’s skywalk and elevator hallways, offering chocolates to anyone passing by.

It turns out that the roommate’s father gave Theresa a box of chocolates in appreciation for the kindness shown to his daughter so in a way, the gift of the 3 chocolate hearts multiplied into enough for all to share. While certainly not on a par with our Lord Jesus Christ feeding his entire flock with a few loaves of bread and fish, this small Valentine’s Day miracle is one that touched the hearts of many at Craig Hospital.

The pleasant surprises did not end yet on that holy day as the therapeutic recreation staff had planned a romantic dinner event for the patients and their loved ones.

Arriving at the T-Rec room, we were given the task of decorating our own place settings using art supplies to make elegant placemats, dinner napkin sculptures, etc.While it was difficult for Theresa to fold a dinner napkin into a pope’s hat with the limited use of her left hand, she gave it a good try and it ended up looking more like a rabbit with floppy ears.

Still, the T-Rec staff served us a wonderfully romantic meal of spaghetti and Theresa even taught their designated wine (sparkling apple cider) server how to pour without spilling a drop. The meal was perfectly topped off with some chocolate dipped strawberries (Theresa asked if they were from Waimea) and it turned out there were 3 extra for us to take out.

On the way back to the room, we ran into Theresa’s roommate and her dad on the skywalk so once again we were able to share our bounty. What a wonderful way to spend the best Valentine’s Day ever together! Thank you to our Lord for making this not-so-small miracle possible given all that has happened in our lives.

On Friday, a family conference was held to discuss Theresa’s progress during her first six weeks at Craig Hospital. The majority consensus among her doctors, nurses and therapists is that Theresa is progressing well despite the unplanned surgical setbacks, and we can begin planning for a preliminary
discharge date towards the end of March.

Whether it means Theresa is coming home at that time or if she will continue out-patient rehab therapies at Craig Hospital is yet to be determined. It does give us a target date to prepare for and either way, she will be leaving the hospital and may need a full-time care provider depending on her cognitive and physical condition.

I ask you to join me in praying for Theresa’s continued healing and that our Lord will show us the next step to follow on our healing journey of grace.


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