"For now we see things as if in a mirror dimly, and are puzzled, but shall see them full faced when what I have known in part, I know fully, just as I am known by God." 1 Cor., 13:12
"You will always have the wretched among you, and you can help them whenever you want, but you will not always have me." Mark 14:7
"So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!" - 1 Cor, 10:13
Trying to scratch an itch just at the beginning (or end) of my big, fat bushy left eyebrow, I was frustrated by my inability to get at it just exactly right. Something was in the way blocking my ability to nail it squarely and, like a cat whose hind leg is too short to reach that itch just at the tip of its fuzzy little jaw, I just kept swinging away at it.
Looking down into my lap I realized I was sitting up in bed, but not my bed. It was too neat with crisp clean sheets for that certainly. Glancing up there was a TV droning on straight ahead with its mid-day news banners scrolling along the bottom of the screen echoing the anchorman's non-stop reportage nonsense. Just off to the side was a very nice pair of legs, however, belonging to someone I couldn't quite make out completely. Turning my head in her direction I realized it was my fiance, Deborah, who was clasping her face in both hands and returning my stare with puffy eyes now wide and incredulous.
"Deborah? What are you doing here? Where am I? What...., ugh, ...", suddenly I was feeling a little woozie and seeing stars, "Where am I?"
That's when Deborah reached for my hand telling me not to rub at my bandage (bandage?) and then hollered out loudly for a nurse.
"Nurse! Nurse! He's awake! He's sitting up... he's talking! Nurse!" Acting as my own neon sign she proclaimed to the world scrolling up and down the boulevard that I had risen and was born again from the deep, deep sleep of the innocent.
I really hadn't realized anything at all might have been wrong. To me I felt like the Connecticut Yankee must have when he awoke unsuspecting under a tree from his afternoon nap. The last thing I could remember was sitting at that final intersection to my mountainside home just waiting for on-coming traffic to pass so I could continue my journey back from work after getting sent home early because of the surprise blizzard. It seemed like just ten minutes before to me although I would later learn it had been eight days, a brief flight through a windshield and two nuero-surgeries earlier. No airbag saved my life, it was something else apparently.
It seems I had surprised my Dr.s even. Later that afternoon my surgeon had asked to speak with my friends and family gathered around my bedside. There he proceeded to deliver a lecture about the wondrous ability of the brain to recover while never directly addressing me and saying in all candor that no-one should get their hopes up too high unrealistically. In all likelihood, according to my Dr., I might very well go through the rest of my life with little more self awareness than a cucumber or like the hapless protagonist from Memento.
Then he asked everyone else (all stunned now as well) if there were any questions. An awkward silence fell over my peeps who all seemed preoccupied with something on the ground near their feet before I spoke up, surprising him one more time yet again.
"Ah, yeah," I butted in clearing my throat. "I have a question..." There was a moment of respectful attention to the cucumber in question from all gathered before I went on. "What's the capital of Somalia?"
Besides the nurse who broke out in a little half stifled giggle, all eyes were riveted silently on me.
"Ugh... well..." The Dr. diligently began his response. "Mogadishu... I believe Mogadishu is the capital of Somalia," The good Dr. (whom I shall remain forever indebted to regardless) informed me.
Looking at the nurse (who was still smiling) I ended the meeting by scoring a few points for our debating team. "Actually Somalia hasn't had a government in five years so technically there is no capital of Somalia." Deborah broke out laughing as the Dr. looked perturbed before finally conceding with a smile and leaving my worried little group behind.
The "fact" seems to be that I can still think pretty well on my feet or in a hospital bed. Still, the old noodle has been damaged and has had to re-wire itself in some interesting and not so interesting ways. Part of my rehabilitation included an extensive IQ Test which Dr.s were able to compare to one I had done while I was 17. My score in that most recent test was only two points lower than before though still up high enough above the norm for average intelligence to leave me blessed. Most interesting to me were indicators that while some of my sub-set scores were remarkably lower indeed, there were other sub-set scores which were just as remarkably higher. Now, the idea of brain damage actually increasing brain functioning and performance is pretty absurd on the face of it but such is the wondrous workings of this creature known as man.
Pathways often have to be re-routed in many cases wherever this is possible in order for the brain to process and transmit information from within and without. In some cases this is just not possible. For example in my case I still can not smell a thing. Nothing, (which is a bummer) but if I'd have to choose one of the five senses to have to live without, I must admit I'd give up smell before any other. I sometimes experience phantom smells though these are a rarity and include some funny stories. It's not so much that I'm actually smelling anything that's really there, it just seems like I am. These are more like phantoms, or shadows of some scents that I've stored somewhere deep in my memory that just won't stay locked away forever.
Numbers, however, are a different story altogether. It took over a year and a half for me to be able to remember my own phone number and even then I've had to cheat if I want to remember any number sequence beyond three digits. In order for me to remember a phone number I have to break it down to three sequences of three then two two digit numbers and then remember that they have some relationship to each other, that they go together and then in which order: 724 - 27 - 80 (this number is no longer in service... beep!).
Furthermore numbers really no longer even interest me any longer. Now, this makes mathematics a foregone exclusion in every case, which I've decided is actually a boon. I am freed from the bondage of numbers! This may seem wonderfully liberating though so far as balancing checkbooks or making realistic decisions on budgetary matters it can be a very real problem.
TBI effects every victim differently so that anything I might be able to say about my own condition would be very different for someone else depending as much on which hemisphere and the particular lobes impacted most severely. I seem to have suffered both some left and right hemisphere damage. The difficulty I have with numbers seems to be left brain damage while emotions seem more the product of right brain activity.
Many people with TBI suffer from severe emotional difficulties though in my case I seem to have come out on the more calmer side than I was before. Anger had always seemed to characterize my politics certainly from an early age which I'd always attributed to my Viking blood. Today instead of being angrily anti-war, for example, it might be more descriptive to say I am more frustratingly pro-peace. Instead of fearing Bin Laden I am overwhelmed with feelings of compassion for his victims when I see an image of his face and insistent that we not mirror his inhumanity in fighting that awful indignity. I suppose what I'm trying to say is that it's not uncommon for me to suddenly be surprised by a wheeling up of strong, difficult emotion triggered by some visual stimulus, a picture on the news say, that doesn't seem consistent with how most others might respond or even I ever had before though these quickly subside.
I knew that trying to take on TBI would be more than I could get away with in doing justice to this disorder, so let me just say that in considering how to approach people with TBI just remember there is an on-going struggle going on inside that person which includes having to say good-bye to the person they may have been before and the grief that accompanies that, some resolved, some unresolvable, but there's also an opening up to the possibilities of self just as one finds oneself combined with the wonder of unimaginable change.
In more extreme cases of trauma and recovery, Gabby Giffords, who has been struggling to piece together whole sentences beyond five words in talking with Dr.s, friends and family just recently was able to project her own sense of optimism, faith and hope when she announced she was going "to walk a mountain" again soon. With IEDs being the primary cause of casualties increasingly in use against our men and women in Afghanistan, too many already have come home (and continue to have to face coming home perhaps unnecessarily any longer) with these all too common destabilizing injuries.
Yes, we are among the numbers of the wretched: the poor, the disabled and the elderly before their time. Where once I was strong and strappingly fit for a man my age now I have little strength or energy in the flesh though my mind is still quite active and working overtime. I may get easily confused, true enough. Looking out on the world is like looking through a smudged glass and seeing murky reflections instead of a crisp clean picture, but how is that really that much different than for anyone else?
What's more important to me than the mind is the heart....
Were I to speak the language of all men and angels, were I to be absolutely clear, without having love, I would be like a banging gong or jangling cymbal. Were I to prophesize and know all secrets and every truth... were I to have faith strong enough to move mountains without having love, I would be as good as nothing. Were I to give away all my possessions or give my body to be burned without having love, it would avail me nothing and do no good.Paul the Apostle from Corinthians 13: 1-13 the way I read it (through a mirror dimly)
Love is patient, is kind. It does not envy others nor brag of itself. It is not swollen with self. It is not wayward nor grasping. It does not flare with anger nor harbor a grudge. It takes no joy in evil but delights in truth. It keeps all confidences, all trust, all hope, all endurance. Love will never go out of existence. Prophesy will fail in time, language too, and knowledge as well. For we know things only partially, and when the totality is known the parts will vanish. It's like what I spoke as a child, knew as a child, thought as a child, argued as a child -- which, now that I am grown, I put aside.
In the same way we see things in a murky reflection now, and are confused, but shall see them full faced when what I have known in part I know fully just as I am known by God.
For the present then, three things matter: Faith, Hope and Love... but among these three Love is supreme.
Death has lost and love has won. I am born again....
It was a soft, reposeful summer landscape, as lovely as a dream, and as lonesome as a Sunday. A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur's Court
Post Script - Eternal thanks, and my deepest, undying gratitude to Deborah for being there and for holding my hand through-out (even though that didn't really make much sense either). And THE NURSES, of course, God love 'em...
We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed. 2Cor. 4:8-9