(Photo Contributed By Marlena Groomer)
“I will love the light for it shows me the way, yet I will endure the darkness because it shows me the stars.”
Please indulge me (as you always do) because this quotation made me smile because of its significance. I think the message might be worthwhile.
When I think back to the first months after my injury, a scene from the movie “Breaking Away” comes to mind. The father after surviving a heart attack is reminded at home that he should feel lucky to be alive. His cynical response was “lucky to be alive? I feel lucky I’m not dead! There’s a difference”.
That’s how I felt after I got home. Not much was really that good. I was physically dismantled with a battered face, a damaged brain, frequent headaches, a fractured rib, neck stiffness, and bilateral shoulder, arm, leg, and joint pain that just taunted me throughout every hour. There was a lot of neurologic damage to parts of my brain that controlled so many different functions that manifested itself in so many areas such as balance, walking, dizziness, watering of the eyes, nose drips, stomach issues, etc. Oh and of course the lack of a normal functioning brain. Other than a beating heart and the basic ability to perform the simplistic activities of daily living, it seemed like there was more wrong with me than right. I say this not for dramatic effect and sympathy but just to have it written somewhere to remind me if what an f’ing mess I was and just in case I get too cocky.
I felt humiliated to need rides to the therapy that I was “ordered” to undergo and hated to ask for someone to drive me anywhere else. Thank God Jason had his permit because he was able to sharpen his driving skills while being my reluctant chauffeur. That was a struggle of my patience because no matter what he maintains, he was a crappy new driver and when you’re worried about any further impacts to your head, you get a little testy when people take chances while I’m in the car. Still, he hardly complained about it and it was nice to have time with my oldest son.
The benefit was that because of my need to feel independent, I started walking to nearby places although initially, they really didn’t feel so close. Losing about 15-20 pounds and being fairly weak, every slight incline caused my legs and joints to burn and it felt my heart was going to burst. Every downhill slants were fraught with balancing my steps because of the fear of falling again and having more severe trauma that would send me to an early grave or worse, a lifetime in a hospital with no cognitive abilities. “One foot in the front of the other” was no longer a cliche but a requirement for further survival and progress. Still I slowly began to walk farther, stronger, and more alert, to the extent that I was able to walk farther and then run. I still remember the amazing solitary sense of achievement when I was able to walk/run to the gym and back on my own and I’m sad that being able to drive again took away that incentive! Again this has nothing to do with dramatic effect or acknowledgement. It’s just a reminder so I don’t get cocky and keep me grounded.
Being left home alone initially was not recommended by my doctors because of the chance of further seizures and taking naps to regain strength didn’t have the same assurance of waking up from them. Still that’s where my rebellious nature won out because I refused to have a housemaid. If I was going to check out eternally, it was going to be on my own terms so I demanded a level of control to work within my limitations and push through those barriers that limited me. If I was at my worst because of my own doing, I was going to approach my life’s revival on my own because I really still thought I shine best on my own. That approach seemed more practical anyways because I kept hearing what I couldn’t do more frequently than what I believed I could achieve. It worried Deb a bit but I compromised by setting up a schedule where I’d text her at pre-determined times to let her know I was okay. Funny but I recall I was more diligent in that agreement than she was, but the poor girl had enough on her mind managing work, the kids, and the medical demands of a disabled (hate that term) husband so she gets a pass since nothing bad happened and everything turned out pretty well. I’m no longer the burden (other than personality) and became quite the contributor after awhile.
Okay that’s the not-so-brief synopsis to get to some sort of point. I’ve come a long way and doing fairly remarkable by just about anyone’s standards except maybe mine at times but that’s worked out well for me up to this point. Most of the initial problems have resolved and I’m still working on the rest. I’m not sure how much of the residual issues have gotten improved, compared to how much I’ve learned to accept them as part of my routine. I really would like to throw a baseball again with my sons but still working on that.
The one thing I can’t shake are the indiscriminate dreams and/or nightmares I have almost every night that are either a product of the brain injury, seizure, medication or a combination of all of three. At first, they were intense, dramatic, and terrifying because they capitalized on my fears, insecurities, and frustration. Through time, I was able to modify my thinking before I went to sleep so that I could somewhat control them to the extent they became a source of entertainment. However they’ve come back again with similarly intensity but maybe not the same viciousness. They have little origin, sequence, or pattern, and the starring roles are filled by myself with the supporting players made up of the “usual suspects”, people I haven’t thought of in decades, and generic strangers. I can’t really control them anymore and even with the weening of the meds, they still continue without much control on my part. This nightly routine can still be entertaining as heck but it kind of screws up my sleep patterns as one could imagine. Still, something good has come out of it.
I wake up early before the sun rises to start my day. I go to the local Circle-k to get my morning caffeine and make my presence known with the employees much to their amusement or annoyance – I don’t care since if I’m up, they’re going to earn their salary when I’m around. I like it when I’m up before the sun comes over the eastern horizon because I know I’ve got an earlier start than that universal orb did. The morning has a different sound when I’m alert, although the rest of the family may not be, and aware of the organized chaos. It’s remarkable to bear witness to the first part of their day with a great deal more hope for them than they’re aware but this is part of my routine, not theirs. By the time they leave, that’s almost a three hour advantage that I used to ignore.
And the rest of the day? I have so much room to screw up or take for granted in the remaining hours (which I rarely do) and still correct it before the day ends. I also have enough time to deal with physical and mental “imperfections” that I’m still trying to make “perfect”, and continue to silence the demons who once spoke way too loudly. The gym is also part of my routine and not just for the workout and improvement of my health. In those couple of hours, I share enough smiles, hugs, conversations, and interactions to carry me through any day. I wish I could tell so many how much of an impact they have on me but again, it’s just my routine, not theirs. Oh yeah, I get to explore my deeper intellect to write this “dribble”!
I crash as the day evaporates into nighttime but I don’t lose sleep over what I failed to do or absorb. I figure there’s enough room for that with the upcoming distortion of my nightly brain activity. Then again, I get to start the routine of the presentation of the sun through the darkness followed by introduction to the stars. In some ways what I experience carries with it a measure of “controlled solitude” but from the end of 2013 to the present, my personal existence has depended on it, because there are still external distractions that need to be managed and demand my attention. Besides I never feel I ever have to “suffer in silence”, since I’m better equipped to “persevere in silence” because there are so many outlets to capitalize on, especially when my day starts so early.
Last story and then a quote. Jason starts earlier than others for school because he has a class at 7 a.m. One week I had to take him to school while his car was being fixed. J’s not a morning person so I was quite surprised when he said, “Dad, you know why I like going to school early? It’s because I get to listen to Anita Baker to start my day.” I thought that was a remarkable mindset for my teenager and I know there’s hope for that boy yet!
And now here’s the quote. “When the sun is shining I can do anything; no mountain is too high, no trouble too difficult to overcome.” — Wilma Rudolph. For me I like it when I’m already awake to keep that sun company, even if it’s only the two of us. Thanks for letting me share because someday I’m going to re-read this to stop me if I start getting too cocky and keep me grounded.