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Wang’s final days in California and the trip home

(Editor’s Note: Although Theresa Wang arrived back on the Big Island July 30, her husband has shared this account of her last days at a rehabilitation center in California and her trip home.)

Aloha to our Ohana,

Continuing with Theresa’s last week in California, the final few days turned out to be more hectic than I expected.

On Wednesday, the original therapy schedule called for more PT, OT, cognitive rehab, education and counseling however this was replaced by a last-minute appointment with the neuro-optometrist in Santa Clarita.

At the previous visit, not all of the visual assessments were finished so this trip would complete the testing. Theresa also needed to pick up and be fitted for her new reading glasses with built-in prisms to keep her eyes tracking on the same line. Anticipating another two hour crossing of the Tejon Pass to reach the Greater Los Angeles area, we started out early by fueling up at Chick-Fil-A, taking advantage of their “chicken for breakfast” promotion.

Properly supplied, we dropped by the hotel to pick up Nancy, one of the home care providers that was here to train with Theresa. Traffic was steady but we took advantage of some openings and the brave little Escape threaded its way between the big rigs with surprising vigor.

About halfway there, a white Mini with a black roof zoomed past on one of the downhills so that became our rabbit for the chase, getting us to Valencia in record time (at least a new record for me.)

Arriving at the clinic earlier than planned, Theresa sat down in the waiting room to work on her favorite Sudoku puzzle in the Bakersfield paper. It’s a good thing we did get there quickly because the doctor was just finishing up with the current patient and could take Theresa in a few minutes.

This final series of tests measured the eye to brain connection and there is definitely some noticeable deficit. For example, when instructed to draw circles on a whiteboard using both hands at the same time, the left side always lags behind the right.

Also, it was previously noted that Theresa’s left eye does not converge with the right eye when staring at a pen brought closer and closer to the nose, so that was another reason for the specialized reading glasses.

Once fitted properly, Theresa’s eyes opened wide as she passed the reading test with flying colors, able to track sentences without wavering. An assortment of other eye/brain coordination exercises were taught to us for home practice and then we said our farewell to Dr. Garbus and his wife. They are a dedicated pair and we are truly thankful to our Lord for placing these healing angels along Theresa’s healing journey.

In addition to the specialist appointment and picking up her glasses, Theresa’s other agenda was to have lunch at Dink’s, a Jewish deli with a reputation for the best matzo ball soup and piled-high pastrami sandwiches in the valley.

Sure enough, the food was delicious and even the half-soup/sandwich specials were sufficient to feed most of the lunchtime crowd. My mistake was to try the BLT that in no fault of Dink’s (with such a name, I had to use it more than once) was just as it should be, a bacon-lettuce-tomato sandwich. A take-out pastrami on rye order quickly rectified the error and kept the Escape smelling of Schwartz’s deli in Montreal (another favorite of Theresa’s) for the return run to Bakersfield.

One more errand to complete before returning to the CNS residence was pick up a new cane of her own. The one that Theresa used in PT has seen better days so we dropped by the home healthcare supply shop to select one. Who would believe that there are several styles of walking canes and they come in a multitude of colors and patterns?

After trying out a few, Theresa chose a plain black one with an ergonomic palm grip that fit her hand well. To think, just a short few months ago in Denver, we were flipping through a wheelchair catalogue and now Theresa is graduating to a cane, it truly is another sign of the incredible healing powers of God.

Thursday was Theresa’s graduation day from the Center for Neuro Skills, after being admitted almost four months ago on March 30. In all of that day’s therapy sessions, Theresa received lots of homework, training tips, hugs and congratulations. In some cases, tears flowed freely from Theresa, her therapists and the other patients — one CNS staffer even described Theresa’s spirit as angel-like, saying her presence would be sorely missed.

In place of the final PT session that afternoon, we were shown the results of Theresa’s recent brain MRI and the interpretation of those findings. The images clearly showed the damage to certain regions of the brain, including those responsible for coordination & balance, short term memory, attention, problem solving, and the sending of visual cues from the eyes to the brain.

In spite of these tremendous deficits, Theresa’s outward appearance is that of someone perhaps suffering from a mild case of jetlag. We know that the brain is elastic and it is constantly repairing and rewiring itself. In that way, Theresa is improving daily and with her conscientious efforts to challenge herself, I know that our prayers are being answered.

Not to miss out due to the MRI presentation, Sara the PT found Theresa for the final 15 minutes and made her do one more series of stair step and getting up off the floor maneuvers. When the end of the day finally came, we said our farewells to the CNS Clinic and Theresa walked out to the cheers and applause of the staff and patients.

Our heartfelt thanks go to Zenobia, Kathy, Sara, Marty, Paul, Katie, Alison, Stephanie, Megan, Robin, Patricia, Darlene, Lynda, Candy, Maria, Violetta, Drs. Ashley, Helvie, Newbrough, Edwards and a host of others for their caring efforts to make Theresa’s stay at CNS a success.

While the day was over as far as the CNS Clinic was concerned, we still had to return to the residence and finish packing before the 3-hr drive to Riverside County that evening.

Being away from home for over eight months, Theresa has collected a huge amount of clothing and accessories, not surprising considering this healing journey took her from Honolulu to -20F Denver in January to +108F in Bakersfield. And this doesn’t even account for all of the get-well cards, gifts, household items and other such things accumulated over this timespan.

In all, it took us almost three hours to whittle it down to four pieces of checked baggage but that included several breaks for farewell visits from rehab aides, staff and other patients wishing Theresa their best. Both Theresa and I found it touching that these people working through their own challenges (a lifetime’s worth in some cases) could care for and bond with someone that was only here for four months.

Theresa tells me that she has had dreams of St. Michael, the arch angel, being there to rescue her at the accident scene, and to watch over her during this healing journey. Perhaps Theresa’s positive attitude and spirit have done the same for those whose lives she has touched at CNS. For this, we are again in awe and praise of our Lord, Jesus Christ.

With all of Theresa’s worldly belongings safely tucked into the Escape, we left behind a few shopping bags worth of Trader Joe’s groceries and clothing that the rehab aides will no doubt appreciate, although I’m not sure if anyone is brave enough to try the pesto-encrusted halibut. The mini ice-cream cones were no doubt a hit and probably disappeared before we pulled out of the complex one last time.

Venturing into unfamiliar territory, it was assuring to program the GPS to prudently avoid the heart of central L.A. on the way to the Holiday Inn Express in Temecula. Truck traffic was surprisingly heavy on Interstate 5 and remained that way for the first hour as the GPS regularly updated the estimated time of arrival, adding minutes to the clock. Leaving behind the 97F heat of the Central Valley at 8 p.m., we climbed once again through the mountain pass but at this late hour, there were no rabbits to chase so it was a slow and steady course the GPS charted.

Finally breaking from the I-5 and heading east on the 210, there was room to stretch the Escape’s legs, which was rewarded with a reduced time on arrival. I don’t know what the record is between Bakersfield and Temecula but it took only 2 hours, 40 minutes until we checked in that evening.

With the late arrival, I asked for but didn’t expect a handicap-accessible room and sure enough, all were occupied. The apologetic front desk agent tried to explain that a firefighter convention was in town so they took all of the handicap rooms — if someone can see the connection between the two, please let us know?

In any case, our room was well equipped with grab bars in the tub/shower and suited our needs just fine. A raised toilet would have been nice but that just gave Theresa the opportunity to further practice her squat & stands.

The day of the wedding, we awoke early and enjoyed the HIE complimentary breakfast that included eggs, sausage, make-it-yourself waffles and the regular continental assortment. A phone call to Rylie Ai-Lin’s family let us know that Mom along with all six of the daughters were out for hair, make-up and whatever else girls do to prepare for the wedding day.

So we dropped by their house with the wedding gift plus a special little one for Rylie Ai-Lin, and spent a couple of hours visiting with the “men of the household” that comprised of Dad and his seven sons. When we arrived, everyone was lounging around in casual clothes and it was nice to visit and catch up with all of them.

Still I can’t help thinking it’s somewhat unfair that guys can prepare for a wedding in under an hour while it takes the gals much of the day; but then the guys probably pay that back over the remainder of their lives — I plan to offer no further explanation for that comment.

When we called the nearby Chinese restaurant for take-out, the pause on the other end of the line was clearly evident. Who orders dinner for 10 at 11 a.m.?

It was no surprise that they made us pay in advance and true to their word, the food was mostly ready and packed by the time we got there. Theresa insisted on coming into the restaurant to assist and sure enough, with cane in one hand, she carried out some of the food in the other.

After lunch, Theresa and I returned to the hotel for a much needed rest before the evening’s festivities. I’d planned on our napping for a couple of hours but Theresa was so exhausted from the previous day (if not the past two years) that she fell asleep without even removing her shoes.

Gently awakening her in time for the ceremony, I watched as Theresa dolled up and put on the lovely dress she’d picked up on a shopping outing the previous week. Her original plan called for me to bring her favorite Taryn Rose ballet shoes to complement the outfit but her still-healing ankle couldn’t support even the 1-inch heel without wobbling so we went to the wedding with her “dress Asics” runners instead, and I don’t think anyone even noticed.

There are two Douglas streets near Temecula and the up-until-now trusty GPS directed us to the wrong one, a new gated community with no way to enter and no sign of a wedding anywhere. After fruitlessly trying to figure out a solution and with the ceremony scheduled to start shortly, Theresa and I said a prayer to our Lord and within a few minutes, an answer arrived in the form of an online search.

While the various mapping programs, Yahoo, Google, Mapquest, all offered the same wrong directions as the GPS, I found an obscure reference to a second Douglass street with two “s” and sure enough, this led us to the right location. Finding parking was another issue but suffice to say, we arrived in time for the most important part of the ceremony and are thankful to our Lord for guiding us there safely and on His schedule.

It was a wonderful ceremony and reception and we made some new friends as well as met old acquaintances. Occasionally, we would get fleeting glimpses of Ai-Lin and I sometimes caught her looking at us from a distance.

I knew she would be initially shy and as the night wore on, might come over to visit. We were willing to wait and if it didn’t happen, then it was not meant to be.

In the meantime, one guest sharing our table listened to Theresa intently as she described her healing journey from the aneurysm to the accident to now. It turns out this guest’s sister very recently suffered a brain aneurysm and is currently back home after checking herself out of the hospital.

Theresa impressed upon this new friend how important it is for her sister to get proper rehab therapy right now and we will pray that she does. The friend thanked Theresa profusely and said it was an act of providence that the Lord allowed them to share the table and our experiences.

Following dinner, Ai-Lin came to our table accompanied by her Mom. After updating us on Ai-Lin’s promising progress in the past year, Mom went off to attend to “Mother of the Bride” duties and Ai-Lin moved onto Theresa’s lap.

There was silence for a few moments and then Ai-Lin noticed the surgical scars on Theresa’s legs and commented “you have an ouwee?” Theresa tried to explain but it was probably beyond a 5 year old’s understanding so Ai-Lin’s next comment was “do you want a bandage?”

That simple offer of compassion warmed my heart and I’m sure it did the same for Theresa. Thank you, Lord for giving us this sign that we made the right decision to place Ai-Lin in the family that she was meant for. While we love her dearly, she is where she needs to be and for that we will always be grateful for His guidance and wisdom.

Ai-Lin stayed with us for the remainder of our time there, transferring over to my lap once Theresa’s legs became too sore to hold her weight. Ai-Lin didn’t say too much and just held on tightly, wrapping her little legs around my calf to keep from sliding off.

When Theresa became fatigued and needed to rest, we let Ai-Lin know that we would be going soon. She asked if we’re returning to Hawaii, and then if she could come along too. I explained that one day when she was older, maybe she could come visit Hawaii with her family. Perhaps that was not the answer she was looking for so when we finally stood up, she ran off to be held by another guest.

Ai-Lin has her own healing journey and we continue to pray that she is guided in the footsteps of our Heavenly Father. We then offered our congratulations to the bride & groom and bid farewell to Pastor Al and Lynda before heading back to the HIE for a few hours rest before the early morning drive to LAX.

The 4 a.m. wake-up call jarred me to attention while Theresa continued her blissful rest. Consolidating our belongings into four checked bags while doing my best circus weight guesser impression, I hoped none were over the dreaded 50 lb limit.

By the time I was back from loading the Escape, Theresa was up and getting ready. I continue to marvel at her improving planning skills and flexibility, this morning demonstrated by the TED anti-embolism stockings she was putting on in preparation for the 2-hour drive and 6-hour flight. The Saturday morning traffic to the airport was light by L.A. standards until arriving at LAX itself. Then it became an uncoordinated dance to cross five lanes of traffic and get to the curbside check-in location.

Assistance arrived in the form of a friendly & helpful porter who took our bags, weighed them (one was at 50.7 lbs, whew!), got our boarding passes, and even offered to keep an eye on Theresa while I returned the rental car.

Due to my unfamiliarity with the rental car return lot and delays on the shuttle, it took almost 30 minutes to return to the airport. Theresa did amazingly well by herself, even phoning me from inside the terminal when it became too hectic for her to continue waiting at the curbside.

Upon rejoining my beautiful bride in her wheelchair, we were directed to the priority access security line, another blessing compared to the 45-min wait otherwise.

As a bonus, the TSA’s cancer scanner (backscatter radiation imaging — known to cause cellular defects with prolonged exposure) was down, not that Theresa needed any more nuking after the dozens of CT scans and x-rays in the recent past.

Arriving at the gate, I noticed that our seats were no longer together as originally booked. It turns out that seats 8D & 8E are considered exit row even though that row ends in a window, so Theresa was moved back to 12D. Because the flight was almost full, the gate agent couldn’t swap me to 12E without the approval of the current passenger who wasn’t in the gate area yet.

But after pre-boarding, the nice flight attendant made it her mission to seat me beside Theresa and she eventually was able to do so with a 4-way seat swap involving 8E to 8A to 13C to 12E. Being able to sit next to my wife on her flight home is yet another miracle and a small prayer of thanks was offered.

The surprises did not end there for when the food cart came around and Theresa chose the turkey bagel sandwich, the flight attendant said “Welcome home, your meal is being covered by the agent in Kona.”

The remainder of the flight went smoothly and Theresa slept through, only waking when the lap baby in front peeked over his father and made noise.

It still confounds me that all carry-on baggage needs to be stowed for take-off and landing in case it becomes a projectile during an emergency, but a 15-30 lb lap baby is somehow exempt from the laws of physics. Fortunately, no such emergency occurred and the landing was safe if rather bumpy.

After everyone else deplaned, the service person and I strapped Theresa into the narrow aisle wheelchair and took the lift down to the tarmac. There, I set up our own wheelchair and Theresa happily transferred over.

A quick restroom break later, we went through the exit door to a greeting of cheers and applause from over a dozen well wishers including family, friends, co-workers, hula sisters, church members and several print & media reporters. In spite of the long travel day that began at 1 a.m. Hawaii time, Theresa felt alive so close to the ocean and had the energy to interview with some of the reporters.

Cousin Darien, her husband Darrin and their three keiki accompanied us home. Theresa was lively and talkative on the drive to Waikoloa, taking in the broad vistas of sea to summits and talking up a storm with Darien.

Upon arriving home, my first thought was to get the wheelchair set up since Theresa must be exhausted after the combined 12 hours of traveling. Instead, she got up out of the van holding her cane and proceeded to walk through the garage and into the house all by herself.

Once inside, I followed her all the way to our bedroom where she put her hand on the fresh sheets that Darien had arranged for.

Theresa then turned to me and said “I’m taking a nap!” following which she got into bed and slept for the next four hours. After almost 8 1/2 months away, Theresa was finally home; thanks to the prayers and support of our Ohana near and far; to the skilled healers in Hawaii, Colorado and California; and most of all to our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ.


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