A 47-year-old manager for the New York City government, Richard underwent emergency brain surgery and spent three weeks in a coma, followed by nearly two months in the hospital. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury that left him with permanent cognitive and speech problems and robbed him of his sense of smell and taste.
“They were preparing me for a lifetime of therapies,” recalled Rose of the weeks her husband spent at Kessler Institute for Rehabilitation in East Orange, N.J.
But no one prepared the Andersons for Richard’s unpredictable and uncontrollable weeping, which began weeks after the accident and seemed to worsen with time.
“He would cry with almost anyone,” his wife recalled. Thoughts of his dogs, his family or even happy occasions could trigger tears. His teenage daughters found the incidents, which occurred several times a week, almost unbearable.
“As things got better, this shined brighter,” said Richard Anderson, who describes himself as a “very chauvinistic kind of guy” who was mortified by his inability to control his emotions. “It was very upsetting to me to have tears just rolling down my face.”
Over time his longtime neurologist began to suspect that the crying was not a manifestation of sadness, grief or depression, but had a different cause.
‘Behavior I’d never seen’
Doctors first told Rose Anderson that her husband would not survive. Somehow he did, but the new Richard bore little resemblance to the man she had known for 27 years. Previously calm and stoic, he was initially combative and agitated, did not recognize his family and spoke only gibberish.
At Kessler, he regained his memory — although he still remembers nothing about the accident — and his speech improved.
“We could see what the new Richard was going to be,” his wife recalled. Outwardly he showed few signs of his injury, although his eyes seemed devoid of their previous expressiveness. The accident left him with aphasia, difficulty expressing ideas and communicating verbally, and subject to profane, angry outbursts. Returning to his job was out of the question.
For his wife, the loss of their previously easy intimacy was especially difficult. “He read me, I read him — that was gone,” she recalled.
Several months after the accident, when Richard was back at the family’s Staten Island home, Rose got a call from him while she was at work. He was sobbing uncontrollably, behavior she had never witnessed. “I thought he was just overwhelmed,” she recalled. “It just killed me because there was nothing I could do. This was behavior I’d never seen. Richard has always been so strong.” At the same time, she understood why he might be crying. In his situation, who wouldn’t?