Looking Back on My time with Tricia, 12/4/01, A Reiki Story
by Joanna Pinney Buell
I returned from seeing the Harry Potter movie with my 16 year-old friend Tricia, tonight, late. We enjoyed it–the suspense, the magic, the bravado of Harry and his friends. I cannot help but remember what Tricia and I were doing this time last year.
Last year at this time, Tricia was in a coma; home from a hospital stay that had begun October 26 when she suffered a brain aneurysm and resulting stroke. Her mother and aunt, both CNA’s had insisted that Tricia be cared for at home. This time last year, I was visiting Tricia almost daily in the role as her Reiki and massage therapist and I was praying for a Christmas miracle.
I met Tricia through her step-dad, who was plumbing our new house. He was absent from the job for a month and when he returned he told me about Tricia. Tricia had stayed home from school with a cold and her mother had found her in full blown seizure on the floor of her bedroom. Tricia had been air lifted to EMMC from Ellsworth and had emergency surgery to stop the bleeding and then another surgery to reduce the swelling. She had not regained consciousness. He did not reveal Tricia’s prognosis to me. I offered to visit Tricia at Eastern Maine Medical Center to do massage and Reiki with her, if her mother would agree to it. I didn’t make any promises, except to say that the touch and stimulus could prove helpful.
The next day, November 13th, I found my way to Tricia on the eighth floor of EMMC, pediatrics. Tricia was sitting upright in a wheel chair, eyes closed, lips parted, breathing loudly–she was recovering from pneumonia. She was dressed in a gray polo shirt, decorated with angel pins. Her long dark hair was pulled back in a little bun; a long scar showed staple marks over her left frontal bone and it was flat underneath the scar, where bone had been removed. There was swelling at her temple. Her head was positioned to one side and her ear was surrounded by a crude foam device meant to keep the pressure off a sore that had developed. Her painted fingernails rested upon two stuffed, fleece frogs.
Except for Tricia’s extreme thinness I could have been looking at my niece Darcy– the heavy eyebrows, the perfectly bowed lips, roundish face, so unexpected on a long lean torso. I remember asking myself, “what if this was Darcy?” I believe that the answer to that question set my intention for my relationship to Tricia. If this young woman were my sister’s daughter, I would do anything and everything I could to help her.
Tricia’s Mom, Patty, and her mother’s sister, Shirley and a close friend of Patty’s were present, along with Tim, the step-dad. It was a room full, but I was hardly aware of anyone, save Tricia. The room emptied out as family members went to get something to eat. Tim stayed and I told him a little bit about Reiki as I scanned and began to place my hands on Tricia.
I was encouraged by the energy scan; it gave me goose bumps. Her chakras all felt strong; she was in there, for sure. I laid my hands gently upon Tricia channeling Reiki energy to her and also did some light compression and stroking on her arms and legs and some foot massage.
When the women came back into the room from supper, Tricia moaned a little. It seemed that she responded to hearing their voices. I noticed that Tricia’s right shoulder was held forward. I told Tricia about a massage technique that I was going to do. I told her I was going to put her shoulder into various positions and told her that I didn’t want her to help me. I held her shoulder in it’s forward position and then eased it back a little and held. Then I brought it down and held. When I released, Tricia pulled her shoulder up towards her ear. She had anticipated my next move! This is typical and why I tell client’s “don’t help me; let me move it for you.” Next I massaged her shoulders and neck. When I stopped, she moaned and it sounded like, “don’t stop!” So I massaged some more.
I placed my hands on either side of Tricia’s head and whispered in low tones about her eagle wings, how she how she could fly above the river of pain and let it flow away from her, how the sun beat down own her eagle back and how the wind ruffled her feathers. When the meditation was over, Tricia began to cry. It was as if it was too painful to come back from her eagle self into this imprisoned body. The nurse came and Tricia was put back in bed.
I left the hospital still in the trance I’d been in throughout our time together. I felt grateful, totally, thoroughly grateful. I remembered a little conversation I had with God regarding my doing advertisement for my holistic practice. I had been advertising moderately heavy with no response. The conversation went something like this, “Okay God, if this is what I’m supposed to be doing, than you do the advertising for me. Put the people who need my help right on my front doorstep.” When Tim told me about Tricia we were standing at the front door of my new house.
I was back at the hospital the next day, my canvas bag stuffed with my boom box, native American music (Tricia is 75% MicMac), aromatherapy oils and massage oil for her feet. I had Tricia to myself for awhile before family arrived. I did much as I had the day before with a reflexology treatment to her feet. At some point, I believe when I was doing Reiki over her heart I began to tone, “MMMMMM–AAAAAAH”. It came out in a song. Nurses passing by gave me some interesting looks, some angry looking ones, some encouraging ones, too. I asked Tricia to try to make the “aaaah” sound with me. Very softly, very quietly, she did. I had never, up until that time, heard such a beautiful note!
The next day I was massaging Tricia’s feet and I heard her softly with effort, tone “aaaah”. She remembered! Not only did she remember, but she had the intelligence to do it on her own to show me that she remembered! She did it when her family arrived, too.
This toning of “aaah” was the most visible response from Tricia. She could not and did not move, except for moving her shoulder on the first visit. She didn’t open her eyes. She cried sometimes and made moaning sounds. That simple vowel sound was our thread of connection and her link to consciousness.
Tricia came home to Steuben, just before Thanksgiving. One eye was beginning to be a little open at times. She still had no voluntary movement. The insurance company would not acknowledge that Tricia was coming out of her coma and Tricia received no therapy services at home. I did ROM and muscle energy technique with Tricia, I played classical music and waved her arms around as if conducting an orchestra. I drummed over her. I used different aromatherapy oils on her forehead and under her nose. I talked through out the two hour session with her, ending with a guided visualization. Often she cried. Sometimes she toned. Sometimes she gave me a little resistance in her feet and arms when I exercised them. I was visiting with Tricia Monday through Friday at this stage.
On my last visit with Tricia before Christmas, I had my hands cupping her occiput as she sat in the living room in a recliner. Her head and neck went into a spontaneous unwind, moving from side to side with pauses. I felt an energetic rush, knowing that Tricia was back!
When I returned from being away a few days at Christmas, her mother and aunt were very excited to report to me that Tricia had moved her fingers a little bit over the presents they put on her lap. She could also move her head side-to-side on her own.
At this stage Tricia began to give more and consistent resistance during her exercises. We arm wrestled. She wiggled her toes to get my attention. Every visit held some wonderful new thing Tricia could do. I encouraged Tricia to talk and I toned vowel sounds to her. Now mostly conscious, she was self-conscious and not so willing to tone. I said, “It doesn’t matter how it sounds…just say it”. Starting from scratch, Tricia was able to mouth “Mama” and “Nana”.
As I was driving to Tricia’s, I saw her mother pass me going in the other direction. As I pulled in the driveway, Patty, pulled in behind me. She said, “Tricia is talking! Tricia said, “I want a lollipop!” Patty recounted how the family had grilled Tricia on birthdays, names, past events, math, relationships and how she had answered the questions correctly, though in the mode of someone recovering from a stroke.
When I walked into Tricia room, she said to me, “Hello, Joanna.” This was towards the end of January. By mid February Tricia was speaking well enough and had enough stamina to be interviewed by a local tv station. Two milestones followed shortly after: Tricia’s first food by mouth in months and her first steps.
In March I went with Tricia and her mother and aunt to do Reiki with Tricia before surgery to repair her frontal bone. We were all hoping beyond hope that when the swelling was relieved, that she would see again. Yes, Tricia was blind as a result of her stroke.
While we waited for Tricia to come out of surgery, Patty and Shirley talked to me about what it was like at the time of Tricia’s aneurysm and for the month before I became involved. I had never asked for or known any details, as I didn’t want to develop any prejudice regarding Tricia’s recovery. They told me how they’d been told that Tricia’s chance of survival was very slim. They were told if she survived she would be a vegetable, that her brain was irreversibly damaged. I was grateful not to have known this when I started working with Tricia.
Tricia’s surgery went smoothly. I was able to see her in recovery and do some more Reiki with her.
Tricia’s vision had not returned and the swelling at her temple had not abated. The surgeon decided on a shunt near her sacrum. When I did Reiki at the site of the shunt, it felt energetically very hot and I had a strong feeling of “not right”.
The next day I left for a craniosacral class in Toronto, worried about Tricia, especially the shunt. When I called to check on Tricia, I found she had undergone another surgery to remove the shunt from her spine and a new one had been placed opposite her recent head surgery. She was doing okay after this third round of surgery.
A couple weeks after surgery,Tricia began an intense rehab program at EMMC that lasted until May. For the first time, she had consistent speech, physical and occupational therapy. Audrey from Catholic Charities was teaching her Braille. I was unable to visit for a 3 week period while I had an upper respiratory infection.
Tricia’s family went away on vacation. Tricia was depressed and lonely. I visited Tricia 10 days in a row at EMMC to do Reiki and mostly to be company to her. I read to her from the first Harry Potter book. When she came home in May, I visited her frequently, filling in the gap left between the therapy she received at EMMC and when the local therapists would get it together to start their programs with Tricia.
Tricia came back, mentally and emotionally. In July she and her family came swimming at the quarry I live on. It was quite an event! Tricia had been a good swimmer before her incident. She showed no fear as she ducked her head under water. It was great to hear her laughing aloud!
At a visit to Tricia’s home in August, Patty told me of an upcoming meeting with the school district to decide how to address Tricia’s educational needs. She invited me to attend. I did. At the end of the meeting when the Director of Special Services and the Principal of the local high school concurred that neither of them had any idea of who they could call upon to tutor Tricia, I volunteered myself. And so I became Tricia’s home tutor, adapting a high school, sophomore level curriculum to fit Tricia’s needs. She was still blind and had weakness on her dominant right side.
The experience of being Tricia’s tutor is a whole other story…
My time with Tricia deepened my listening, my compassion, my patience, my faith, my ability to work hands-on and distantly ( I sent Tricia a Reiki treatment every day), my ability to focus and stay focused, more than any experience ever had before. I will always be grateful for the great gift of knowing and working so closely with her.
As I finish writing this account on February 27, 2003, Tricia is a Junior at Sumner High School. She enjoys the socialization that was missing from her life for a whole year. Her sight has not returned. She is stronger in her right side. Her speech is easily understandable. She is challenged to grasp what she knows and hold on to it, long enough to communicate it. This creates some frustration on her part. She attended a summer program at the Perkins School, but does not desire to go there full time. Her services through the school district remain inconsistent and do not address her needs relative to being blind (especially in regards to using a computer). Still, Tricia is alive with great potential to further her recovery.
My therapeutic work with Tricia continued over a year and seven months time. Why did it take me so long to finish this account? I was so close to the story, it was so near to my heart that I could never get through the telling of it, until now, when there’s been some time and distance since I worked closely with Tricia.
Update. Tricia went on to attend the same school for blind and deaf that Helen Keller attended, the Perkins School in Boston, Mass. While there she won a national prize to for her artwork. The piece that won was a beautifully sculpted elephant, life-like beyond belief. The last time we spoke, Tricia was doing wall climbing. She makes and sells some lovely handcrafted items. I cherish the stool and rocking chair whose seats are so miraculously woven by those precious hands.