Flowers weren’t allowed in the Intensive Care Unit, for the risk of contamination was too great for such fragile patients. So the floral arrangements were instead delivered to my home when I was finally discharged from the hospital.
Still, I knew the joy they brought would be short-lived, as they would start to wither after a week: an unfortunately apt reflection of my wellness state at that time.
I had been released from a neurological ICU after spending nearly three weeks recovering from an aneurysm at age 39. The traumatic brain injury struck without warning (as these occurrences do). With no prior family history and holding none of the risk factors, I was simply told this was a case of bad luck. Three surgeries behind me, my life was spared, but the hard work of recovery was just beginning at home.
Kind friends and neighbors wanted to show their concern, so I received flowers. The gestures were lovely, and I was glad for the beauty they brought. I was an otherwise healthy individual working full-time, exercising regularly, and tending to my home and yard when, one morning before work, the worst headache of my life woke me from sleep and resulted in a terrifying emergency room visit.
I left the hospital with a walker and a partially shaved head, still heavily medicated to keep constant pain at bay. I couldn’t drive, couldn’t cook, couldn’t bathe: I needed assistance for it all.
Brian, my husband — whose name, coincidentally, is rather like “brain” — became an extension of myself post-aneurysm. He was light and life, a bright spot in the dimness that was my recovery.
But I also had flowers.
I understood this practice of showing concern through the gift of something living. Having been on the brink of death, it made sense to me that others would want to surround me with items that were a symbol of life. Unfortunately, all the arrangements were cut flowers that drooped after several days, molded shortly thereafter, and had to be tossed out.
No one chose a potted plant. That could have been tended to and could thrive, the very route I hoped I would have.
But before I could thrive, I simply needed to survive. That meant nursing my surgery scars, taking my medication, eating, and trying to sleep amid lingering headaches. There were things I wanted to do; my front yard Japanese boxwoods, for instance, needed their seasonal trimming. I had planned to do that the week I had the aneurysm, but I would not be wielding hedge clippers any time soon.
So the boxwoods did what plants do. They grew as they wanted, slowly showing their bright green leaves of new life amid stately, darker leaves of established growth. I could see them from my front windows, and as I continued in my recovery process, it was with pleasure that I saw them continuing to flourish in spite of my neglect.
When spring came, I had grown stronger and was finally ready to tackle the trimming. The boxwoods were there, waiting for me. They seemed to smile with their rich new growth, and I was feeling similarly full. After following doctors’ orders, weaning myself off medication, and with two rounds of physical therapy behind me, I was feeling more like myself. It was far from a full recovery, but time would help with that.
Brian brought me a surprise one afternoon. He arrived home from work with flowers. Not cut floral arrangements placed into a vase as I had previously enjoyed; instead, he brought potted tulips, their tender buds just beginning to unfurl. Their symbolism wasn’t lost, for the flowers were like me.
Those tulips were more vibrant, more expressive in their blooms than any I had seen. They took center stage on the dining room table, their very presence a constant source of joy, for looking at them filled me with a sense of hope that I had been fighting to pursue for months.
Living things are resilient.
Still, nature takes its course. Eventually, the tulips drooped and withered, but they didn’t get thrown out. Instead, the bulbs were saved and will be placed next to my Japanese boxwoods, for all three of us are symbols of strength.
Audrey Wick is a writer and English professor at Blinn College in Texas. Her women’s fiction novels have been published by Tule Publishing, and shorter pieces have been included in college textbooks publishing by Cengage Learning and W.W. Norton. She is also a traumatic brain injury survivor.