This is a commentary about the slow lane, about the slowing of time since I suffered a severe brain injury while skateboarding with my dog. This is a blog about recovery; about our '82 VW Westfalia. It's about writing, surfing, camping, married life, bleeding ulcers that make you feel old at 32; about family, friends, and my dog Artie; it's about cruising in fourth gear, getting passed by every car and learning to appreciate every second of it.
It was my 33rd birthday yesterday, by far, the most difficult birthday I've ever had. It's not the age that bothers me. Sure, I've told people I'm going to knock it back ten years and start telling people I'm 23, not 33.
I first thought of it while I was in the hospital; doctors and nurses were shocked when they discovered I was in my thirties. They told me I looked like I was still in my early twenties. And considering the brain injury shot my intellect back to my teens, I thought it would be funny to split the difference; a harmless joke from a victim of Traumatic Brain Injury.
The truth is, I've never felt older in my life. The day before, during rehab, I jogged for thirty feet, climbed five flights of stairs, and was on the stationary bike for fifteen minutes. When I woke up the next morning my calves felt like they had turned to stone. I shuffled my feet trying to avoid the pain in my legs. The pain didn't stop there, my lower back felt like it had bone lesions. I felt closer to 73 than I did 33.
That disappeared when my sister, two nieces, a nephew, and my niece's boyfriend showed up to wish me happy birthday. They brought thoughtful gifts and love. They were happy to see my progress since their last visit, when I was zapped of energy and unable to move. This visit, we laughed, and talked about our lives. After they left, I felt refreshed and, albeit a bit gingerly, I walked around my house, no longer shuffling from room to room. My posture returned. I felt like I was back in my twenties again.
Then evening came, besides morning, it's the hardest part of the day. By six o'clock, one hour before we were supposed to be at our friends house to celebrate my birthday, a piercing pain appeared in front of my right ear, just behind the bulge left from when they removed the top half of my skull to give room for my brain to swell. This pain is normal and is from fatigue, though it's something I can't get used to and can't forget about when it's there. Shortly after, my shuffle returned, my back, once again, seized up. By seven o'clock my condition hadn't changed, but Aimee and I got in the car and left anyway. Each bump in the road jarred my brain, like a basketball bouncing against the metal rim.
Ten minutes after arriving, after seeing my friends, opening gifts, laughing, and, of course, answering questions about my condition, I felt like my old my old self again. I've spent most of this past month in a coma, or thinking about my injury and about the pain and discomfort I feel. During that month, I forgot how it felt to be with friends.
For ninety minutes, that pain and discomfort no longer affected me. For ninety minutes, my injury wasn't the only thing to talk about. Instead, we talked about music, surfing, skateboarding, about the two beautiful baby boys at the party, four-month old Ollie B, and nine-day old Joey. It was a great time; that is, until my curtain dropped. Suddenly, I no longer had the energy to listen or talk. I did my best not to show it. The pain in my head returned. We left shortly after. The ride home was spent holding my head still, trying to keep my brain from bouncing against my disfigured skull as Aimee found every bump in the road.
The pain remained through the night. By bedtime, it had not dissipated. After some nervous thoughts, I fell asleep, my hands on top of my head. Today I awoke feeling refreshed. The pain and discomfort is still there, but there's another feeling, added appreciation for my wife, my friends, and my family. Without them, all I would have is pain.
In the weeks since my release from the hospital, I've heard some strange comments and seen some unusual behavior from those close to me. I understand. It's hard dealing with an injury like this, not only for the one injured, but for loved ones as well. Getting called vain, irritable, or someone you love telling you lies because they believe you might not understand a rational explanation is as much part of this injury as loss of balance, dizziness, fatigue, the list goes on and on. But through this entire experience I'm lucky enough to understand that my family and my wife are trying to protect me and are only looking out for my best interest. And I appreciate that.
What I don't appreciate is a supposed expert trying to manipulate me. That's what happened at a recent therapy session.
"So what are your hobbies?" She asked during my evaluation.
"I like to surf, write, play guitar, hang out with my wife," I said.
"Oh you write?"
"Well, you're off now."
"No, I'm actually back at work. I'm pretty..."
"No, you're off now."
I admit I'm a bit slower than I was before, that it takes a few seconds longer for me process information, but it was then that I started to realize that this "expert" was either telling me that I couldn't write about my experience in rehab or I shouldn't be letting others know of my weaknesses. Turns out she was doing both.
"Do you keep a journal?" She asked.
"Yeah, I have a journal. I also started a blog, just about this experience and how I'm dealing with it."
"Do not, do not release any information to the public. Write about it all you want but don't let anyone see it for at least two years, or you'll regret it. I promise you'll regret it later."
I couldn't believe what I was hearing. It took a few seconds to sink in before I responded.
"Well, I might regret it, but that's what I do. I'm a novelist, at least an aspiring novelist and writing about myself, my experience is what I do and what I'm going to do."
"Well don't do it. I'm telling you don't do it."
I was proud of myself, I didn't lose my temper, and I didn't start an argument. I ignored it and moved on to the next language test I was taking.
There was no further discussion during the rest of my therapy session. I finished my evaluation and left.
Later that same day as I was on my way out of the lobby, that same "expert" was sitting by the door.
"Remember what I said..."
"Yeah, I'll remember," I responded. "But a writer needs freedom."
I turned around and walked away.
I spent the rest of the day thinking about what had happened. It grew on me, like a grape vine grows on a lattice fence. I felt manipulated, I felt discredited. I felt like I was lumped into a large pool of brain injury victims who couldn't think for themselves and didn't understand what was happening. I felt like she didn't think I had the ability, the talent, to write about this. Most of all, I felt like my brain was damaged, that I couldn't trust myself. Granted, I only thought this for a few seconds before growing angry and beginning to think how wrong some people can be. How some people put their weaknesses and insecurities off on others. I became irate when I thought of a supposed expert trying to censor someone instead of focusing on their recovery and instead of accepting that person for who they are, not for what their condition has turned them into.
I find myself looking forward to my next therapy session. Another sign I am returning back to my ornery self.
Yesterday, by evening time, my curtain had not only fallen, but it wrapped around my entire body, paralyzing me, making my disfigured head throb. I had no energy to talk, to listen, to sit. I was a pile of nothing, a useless being with nothing to offer. This is what fatigue feels like, this is the effect that my first day of rehabilitation had on my fragile mind and weak body. And it didn't take long for that fatigue to set in. Only five minutes after I arrived, to what will be an eighteen hour per week obligation, did it set in and I hadn't yet left the lobby.
It was in that lobby where my fellow brain injury victims, "clients" as they are referred to in the program, arrived. They came in wheelchairs, used walkers, and limped in on uneasy legs with trembling arms. Some had experienced massive strokes, leaving half their bodies useless and still. Others wore helmets similar to mine, the only difference was their eyes went off in different directions; they were glassy and teary. One other client was young, maybe in his late teens or early twenties. He sat in his wheelchair while his dad flashed colored objects in front of his face. A scar ran halfway across that face. His eyes pointed up at the ceiling. He talked in a slow, deep voice and said he was hit on the head by a hatchet. He also said he was happy with his progress and how important it was to keep a positive and a confident mindset.
Seeing my fellow clients and their conditions weighed heavy on my mind. Lucky isn't the right word to use, but words don't come as easy as they did before my fall, so, lucky is my only option. I'm lucky because of my condition. It's been just under three weeks since waking from my coma and my condition is among the best of the group. And while I am thankful and confident a full recovery will be realized, meeting the other clients, seeing them working through their disability, not sure of which eye I should look into while speaking to them, or not sure if they will understand me when I speak , was something I didn't expect. Suddenly it turned in to more than just my injury. I vowed to try and help them through. I vowed to use my condition and experience as an example.
It wasn't long after that promise, while undergoing a physical therapy evaluation, when I learned my self-diagnosis was rash and foolhardy. I was asked to put one foot in front of the other and cross my arms against my chest while closing my eyes. Within five seconds my eyes had reopened and I struggled to ease my weak, wobbling legs. I was told a normal person could hold this pose for thirty seconds, that my Vestibular System, the part that manages balance and spatial orientation, had been compromised. Soon after, I learned my strength was low, that my ability to remember numbers and work puzzles had deteriorated. Not long into the day I realized my brain was truly damaged and that I needed not to focus on my fellow clients, or spend my time trying to impress the therapists, but to keep the focus on my recovery and to keep a positive and confident mindset. I realized I had more in common with the young man who was hit on the head with a hatchet than I do with anyone else. It's a hard pill to swallow but at least I can swallow.
Propofol, Zyprexa, throw in some drops of Morphine and there you have a fraction of the drugs administered to me while I was unconscious. The nurses told Aimee they were shocked by my body's tolerance for drug intake. When I first heard that, I wasn't sure if it should be taken as a compliment or an insult. Right now I'm leaning on the side of compliment.
In addition to those drugs, after I awoke from my induced slumber, they had me on sleeping pills, anti-psychotics, and anti-depressants. I was on these drugs when I began to piece details from the fall and the coma together. It was also when I made a promise to change the way I lived. For 32 years I've been quick to judge, quick to criticize, and ungrateful of those around me.
As I found out about my condition, after the many times doctors warned Aimee and my family that I might not make it through the night, I vowed to change; to take this experience and turn it into something positive. It was a new beginning for me, a chance for redemption, an opportunity to show those close to me how much I appreciate their presence in my life. I pledged not to use my brain injury as an excuse for poor behavior.
It's been two weeks since I made those promises and more than a week since I was taken off those drugs. In that week many characteristics of my old self have returned. Some say it's a good thing, that it shows signs of a full recovery. I disagree, and not for argument's sake. For me, it shows a lack of control, an inability to focus on the goals I was told were so important for me to set. I was told this might happen. They say that often times the injured brain is unable to process the present and I agree.
That's why when my Mom left for her home in Colorado yesterday, I fought tears and focused on getting rid of the lump in my throat more than I focused on all of the good and the support she showed over the past month.
During her stressful visit, as she tended to my every need, I found myself snapping at her after telling me what I should or shouldn't be doing. Like I was a child, fighting authority and trying hard to become an individual. Everyone was quick to discredit my behavior, that is was caused by my injury and didn't mean anything. I disagree, yet again.
I promised to not use this experience as an excuse. Too bad that's exactly what has come from it. Now, I can't seem to get Milli Vanilli's song, "Blame it on the Rain," out of my damaged mind. The only difference is the lyrics have been changed; "Rain" has now turned into "Brain." I guess something positive has come from this experience; my disdain for Milli Vanilli has turned to respect and admiration, and sadness that Milli is gone.
It's been a month since my fall, since my dog Artie turned into Buck from The Call Of The Wild and pulled me through the streets until my wheels stopped in a crack and I flew through the air while holding onto the leash, landing on my head. Of course, it didn't help that I quickly got up and got back on my board for another spill minutes later. And despite not remembering most of the previous month, I am beginning to deal with the ramifications of my fall, of my coma, of a damaged brain. Just as the doctor had informed me, with every new day will come a new symptom; that as my brain healed I would feel more pain. Unfortunately, for me he wasn't as inept as I had initially thought.
For example, when I was in the hospital, two days after waking from my coma, I had a dream that the staff wanted to amputate my right arm. I remember feeling an intense pain in that arm as I begged them to leave my arm where it was, as I fought my way through their restraints. Up until yesterday it was just a dream, albeit a scary one, but a dream nonetheless.
Fast forward to yesterday when I tried to lift something with that same arm. A shooting pain shot up to my bicep and jumped to my tricep, shooting back down to my wrist. I told Aimee and my brother about my pain. They told me that when I was under I had a blood clot in my right arm. The medical staff said it was "superficial" and despite the black and blue bruise nothing was wrong. My brother also said it was the same arm that he held down as I tried to free myself from the restraints one painful night. He said my strength surprised him. He said he had to use all of his 200 pounds to keep my arm from getting free. The news made me realize the amputation dream wasn't just a dream, it was real; left over pain from an injury incurred at the hospital.
Pain like this has turned mornings into reason to mourn. A contradiction from when I was recovering at the hospital, drugged up on anti-depressants and painkillers. Then mornings meant something more than they had before the accident. They meant a fresh start; a new beginning; they meant hot tea and an appreciation for life. And now that I'm back at home, as my brain heals, each new day is spent lying in my bed trying to remember the intricacies of my life, details from my injury, and cataloging the newest pain in my body. If it's not my arm, it's my knees, or my back. The pain, the confusion have turned waking into the hardest part of the day; the hardest part of my life.
I was back at the hospital yesterday, this time to visit my friends and their new baby boy, Joey. Despite the depression associated with brain damage and the fragility of the human condition I now understand a bit more than I had before my accident, it helped to see a new life, fresh eyes, and it helped to see the happiness it has brought my close friends.
The visit boosted my spirits, upped my depleted energy level. During our visit I joked about my injury, saying the infant and I had the same mental capacity. I talked about my brain, my reluctance of wearing a helmet in stores and in public, and how I now feel like I had before the accident, long before the accident, like I was back in sixth grade.
Ironically I have said that I wouldn't want to experience those days again, they were too difficult, disturbing; now I don't have much choice.
After our discussion about my helmet and the embarrassment that goes along with wearing it around town, someone close to me called me vain for my concerns about wearing it. The comment paralyzed me to the point that it convinced me that mentally I was back in elementary school, this time without the childhood love I had developed for a girl that gave student body president a whole new meaning.
Suddenly I was back on my grammar school soccer field, once again I felt like I was warding off wannabe bullies who sought after the smallest and weakest kid on the field.
"Vain?" I asked. "Do you realize I have fucking brain damage? Do you understand that I'm recovering from brain surgery, a three week coma? Do you remember when I told you I feel like I'm a kid again, that this experience sent me back decades?"
"Of course I do," they said in full defense mode. "But what other reason is there for caring so much about what other people think. You need to stop caring so much."
"Look, my brain is damaged and you know nothing about it."
Since returning from the hospital, it wasn't the first time a word sent my weakened mind spiraling back into time. As I've written in previous posts, most words meant to describe my condition; words such as irritability, depression, fatigue, aggravation, all are only terms for healthy minds to try and digest a feeling, a state of mind that they can never understand unless their brain is jarred, unless a tube is drilled into their throat, half of their skull is removed, and unless they now spend their days trying to forget the dreams they created while they were unconscious.
Vanity for me is a word for a healthy mind, a word for a person who is able to hold on to a thought for more than five minutes, or move their limbs without shaking, or talk to a friend without wanting to pass out. These words mean nothing to me, and all those around should understand I'm dealing with much more than textbook side effects. I'm dealing with brain damage and I'm dealing with childhood all over again, at the ripe age of 32. Unfortunately for me I'm not dealing with it much differently than I had the first time around, unfortunately for me I'm beginning to realize that change is just another word.
I take baths now. Standing, balancing, scrubbing, the slow-healing hole in my throat are my reasons for shying away from showers. As I prepared myself for my daily soapy stew, Aimee snatched the clothes from my hands. She told me they reeked of body odor. I reminded her that my injury had taken my sense of smell.
"I understand. That's why I'm telling you. Remember the doctors told you to use me as your frontal lobe," she said. "Oh, and you might want to wash your hair, it's starting to smell pretty bad. And why aren't you using your deodorant?"
"Do I have to tell you again? I can't smell anything anymore. Unfortunately for you there might be a few weeks where I'm not the most appealing to be around. Plus, along with my smell and taste I believe I lost the importance for strong personal hygiene. We'll have to wait and see if it comes back."
Losing my smell and taste didn't sink in until the other day. After all I was pleased with my condition considering the extent of my injuries. I focused on my improved eyesight and for not needing to wear glasses. I tuned into my music and my new found appreciation for melody. So losing my smell and taste didn't affect me, in fact, it seems to affect those around me much more than it does me.
For some reason, my family; my wife, many doctors and nurses, neighbors, view food as the ultimate remedy. Every time my curtain is set to drop I'm told I need to eat something, that I need nourishment. I tell them that without taste or smell food has now a become a chore, a necessary task, but not necessarily an enjoyable one.
I told them that Pineapple is the only thing that I can remotely taste. So now my refrigerator is filled with Pineapple. Every meal has a slice of Pineapple included. I know complaining isn't appropriate. I know I should consider myself lucky for my present condition and for having people that care for me. But there's only so much Pineapple a person can ingest before damaging their brain, or in my case, adding to the damage that's already there.
"Are you a musician?" Asked my doctor in thick Mexican drawl as he stood over me with Stethoscope in hand. "Music is very good for a damaged brain."
I told him I play guitar, though not as much as I had in years prior.
He told me music, specifically melodies, will affect me differently than it had before the accident. He said it will not only help the healing process but it will captivate me, capture me, and I'll have to fight for release. I told him music had always done that for me. Before he left he promised me it would be different.
Days went by. I was discharged from the hospital. Fatigue, the definition, the feeling, occupied my broken mind. All I could think about was how I would survive if I couldn't muster the energy to stay awake after I ate, or if I didn't have the strength to walk around the neighborhood.
Then depression took over. For days I confused depression with fatigue and still have a hard time distinguishing between the two.
I got into heated arguments about not wearing my helmet while I changed, or for not sitting down as I put my leg into the pant hole. My argument was that I needed to be the judge of my own abilities, that I needed to build confidence and putting on pants was something that didn't deserve any unneeded commentary or discussion. My wife and family said my brain damage was causing me to be argumentative and irritable. They dismissed my argument as nothing more than a side effect.
So today I woke up and focused on myself. I turned on music as I wrote. The first disc to play was Wilco's, Sky Blue Sky. I put it on song number 5, "Side With The Seeds" and within seconds my eyes closed, my permanently damaged voice from the tubes that were stuffed down my throat rivaled Tweedy's. For the first time in my life I sang from deep down in my gut. My eyes remained shut, when the guitar solo started I acted like I was holding a Telecaster and the solo was my responsibility.
When the song ended I blamed Tweedy. After all it was my favorite song, I was depressed, of course I was going to be moved. I scrolled down the ipod to find an album I hadn't heard for a while. I stopped at XO by Elliott Smith. At one time it was one of my favorites, but I hadn't listened to it for years.
Soon after putting it on my eyes shut, I sang every lyric the same as I had the night I saw Smith play live. Aimee ran in to check on me and see what was causing the loud raspy wail. My mom visiting from Colorado followed shortly after. I told them what was happening. They left the room and I found myself sitting in my room listening to music like I was I was a teenager again, after all I had the mental capacity of a teenager.In between songs I started thinking.
If this is the one thing that comes from my accident I'll take it, my voice might not last, but I'll take it.
Another day another post about me and my recent brain injury. Yesterday Aimee and I went back to the hospital where I spent three weeks in a coma, had brain surgery, caught Pneumonia, twice, and had a Tracheotomy. We passed a few nurses on our way to the clinic, they looked sideways at me through the corner of their eyes. I could tell they weren't looking at my helmet either.
"Uh, I forgot to tell you that some of these nurses might remember you."
"Me? Why would they remember me?" I asked.
"Uh, some probably think you were a pretty bad patient," she said."
Earlier in the day Aimee had told me I reminded her of Frankenstein after awaking from my induced slumber. I had slapped a few nurses, tried to rip the tubes from my throat, tried to free myself from the restraints. Frankenstein might be a hard comparison to swallow but she might have been right.
On the way through the clinic I tried to avoid all eye contact. I had enough with nurses anyway. They were know-it-alls with control issues.
When the checkup began it started off in a positive way. The person conducting the checkup said she remembered when they brought me in. She said most of the staff thought I wouldn't survive through the night. She told me I looked great that I was in "excellent condition" far surpassing any other case she had seen.
I returned home in a good mood. I thought I had a chance to overcome the injury. I called my dad who was said to have broken down while I was in the coma. The rest of my family was quick to tell me my condition had sent him to the brink of insanity. It's not hard to believe. While on the phone my mind shut down. All energy was zapped from my mind and body. My head began to pulsate. My legs and back grew sore. I told my dad my brain was drained of energy. He told me to feel better and hung up the phone.
Aimee went online and found an article that said that 98 percent of brain energy victims suffer from severe bouts of fatigue. The article compared brain injuries to a curtain falling. The description was right on.
I fell asleep for an hour and woke up, the bulge on the side of my head had grown two-fold. My energy was still gone, the curtain had not risen. It's been like that now for a full day. I'm beginning to wish that the doctors would have informed me about how long this healing process will be. I wish they would have informed me about the fatigue; I wish they would have told me what real fatigue was. They didn't. Maybe they didn't know. I wouldn't put it past Doctor Lance Stone at Alvarado Hospital. Fatigue for him probably meant the feeling when the Viagra wore off, ten minutes after the high-priced hooker left the building.
So now I grow dependent on the anti-depressants prescribed to me. I treat sleep like an antidote. I treat rest like recreation. I learn something new everyday.
When I was fifteen, tough to say what is now over eighteen years ago, I went to a small club in Cocoa Beach Florida for a secret, pre-Lollapalooza III show. The dudes from Tool, Alice In Chains, Rage Against The Machine, all staying at the nearby Hilton Hotel, met for a pre-show party. I'm not sure how we found out about the show and I'm not sure how we were allowed entrance considering we were fifteen, and guys like then Alice In Chains front man, Layne Staley, could be found in bathroom stalls shooting up Heroin.
Regardless of our methods we found our way in. We watched the show, some of the guys from Alice In Chains, Tool, and Rage Against The Machine went on stage, one roadie stripped down and danced naked to the music. It was the first time in my life I realized I wanted nothing to do with mainstream popular rock. It was the first time I knew that I was different than most of my close friends.
On the way out of the parking lot, my buddy Chris Newman stopped to let an older guy cross, the guy turned out to be Staley. He was so high he walked right into the truck.
"Hey sorry, man," Newman said. "Hey, I love your music. You guys are bad-ass."
"Bad as in good?" Staley mumbled as he stumbled off towards the hotel.
Not long after, at the same club, I spent the entire night dancing with an adorably thin thirteen year-old girl with big hair and braces. After the dance I spent hours trying to get a kiss in. She saw right through me and refused. Sixteen years later I asked that same girl to marry me. She saw right through me but said yes.
The reason I bring these memories up is two-fold. First, I'm proud to be able to pull them up. After a brain injury, memory loss is one of the consequences. Somehow I managed to avoid it.
The other reason is that after eighteen years, a month long coma, brain surgery Pneumonia and three close bouts with death, I remain friends with those from my childhood.
Chris Newman, the same buddy who ran into a high Layne Staley in his blue, Nissan pickup truck, contacted me and wished me a speedy recovery. He wasn't the only one. Friends I have known since childhood appeared out of the ether to wish me a fast and painless recovery.
Meanwhile my wife Aimee, the same brace-faced confident girl I spent so long trying to court was holding my hand, my head swollen, tubes stuffed down my throat.
The other day Cognitive Fatigue took control of my body. I was unable to reach my feet to remove my shoes after a painful walk. Aimee bent over and started to untie them.
"I wouldn't do that if I were you. My feet probably don't smell that great," I told her.
"Your foot odor doesn't scare me. Over this month I experienced a lot worse than foot odor," she responded.
"What do you mean?" I asked.
"Dorian, I thought you'd rather me take care of you than nurses you didn't know. So, I wiped you and cleaned you after you went to the bathroom."
"You wiped me?" I was baffled. She was so wrong. I would actually rather have a stranger clean my backside than my wife who is plagued with the memory of an Elephant.
"Of course. What did you think I'd do?"
"I don't know, leave my bedside for ten or fifteen minutes until all was taken care of."
"Dorian, you know I couldn't do that."
"Truthfully, I thought you couldn't wipe me, so I guess I don't know you as well as I thought."
This brain trauma has taken my life full circle and there's nothing like having to relearn the beauty of those that you've surrounded yourself with through the years.
The road to recovery from recent brain surgery continues, bumpy as ever. Yesterday, after a failed attempt at beginning Yoga which resulted in a throbbing, debilitating headache, I took a walk through the neighborhood and to the store to get my prescriptions filled. Along the way I felt great. Several neighbors stopped me and welcomed me back home. We laughed about my maroon, hospital-issued helmet I'm now forced to wear. While waiting for my prescriptions I went outside. Fatigue started to take over. I sat near the door and rubbed the side of my head.
"Helmet Head. Hey Helmet man." I looked up and noticed a young Asian guy putting his hand over his mouth and yelling as he looked in my direction.
"Yeah, get lost in a coma for a month and see what you come back wearing," I responded. He didn't say anything but went inside one of the stores and never came back outside.
When my prescription was filled I started the trek back to the house. A few steps into it my body started to seize up. Soreness stretched from my lower back to the tips of my toes. Each step felt like my bones were about to snap, like my legs were immovable tree trunks. Halfway home on my half mile journey I wanted to sit down and call someone to pick me up. I could barely move. I grew irritable, tired, and sick. Despite the pain, I trekked on.
A half-hour later I finally made it home. All night my body hurt, my head throbbed, I was asleep by 8pm.
Today I went to the doctor's office and asked about my walk. She called it "cognitive fatigue" and said it is something I'll feel during the length of my recovery. Apparently the brain gets so fatigued, the body begins to shut down. I looked at my doctor, her smile disappeared, her crooked yellow teeth fell behind her wrinkled mouth.
Now that I'm home the genius of those at Camp Alvarado Rehab is beginning to shine. At first Dr. Lance Stone and his battle with mid-life crisis -the one he appears to be losing to- ruled the day. His poor bedside manner, the way he ignored my demands for early discharge, the way he treated me like an unruly teenager, all pointed to a failing program.
Now, a day after coming home; when no nurse appeared at my bedside to give me applesauce with crushed anti-depressants I see something else; darkness; similar to the darkness I had seen throughout my life.
The weight of seeing the fragility of the human condition; the realization that a quick ride on the skateboard with the dog could result in a three and a half week nap on death's doorstep.
And during my hospital stay, friends, family, acquaintances all said they had saved their prayers for me. In the hospital, my new doctor asked if I was a Christian. I was grateful; appreciative, until now.
Now I see that a minor accident can nearly take my life; can drive my aging father crazy, terrify my mother, tear my wife away from her life, make my brother stop smoking weed.
My life, all of our lives are weak, feeble, delicate, and they dangle close to the brink of death. I realized when I was in hospice, under the poor supervision of Dr. Lance Stone, as he was busy trimming his overgrown nose hairs in hopes of impressing the Filipino nurses, that nothing can strenghten this fragility; that prayers, positive thinking does as much good as a beer, a smoke and a rip of weed.
As quick as I was to say this experience, the experience of brain surgery, a month-long coma, tracheotomy, Stridor, Craniectomy, would change my life in a positive manner, now I believe I'm as flimsy and shaky as I was before the accident, and so are my friends and loved ones.
So, now when you call, or, when you write, be prepared for a new darkness because the kind of thoughts that now come easy aren't the easiest to respond to.
Another day for a recent victim of a brain injury. Today, however, was unlike any other day since I woke up from my coma in early October after a skateboard accident. We met up with friends for a few hours at our house in University Heights. Being the first time since seeing them, naturally, we went through the experience- the fall, the vomit, the tracheotomy, the coma, the craniectomy, the brain surgery, and now this feeble attempt at rehab. They called me Rocky Dennis because of my mishaped head. We laughed- some cried. They asked for me to break my board in half.
One thing that came from the conversation was the fact that this health care system is lacking in so many ways and I am now a first hand witness of it. This isn't just about my middle aged doctor, Dr. Lance Stone, who seemed to be too busy battling his mid-life crisis by gelling his hair and looking for new slick black leather shoes, or about the speech therapist whose insecurity outweighs her patient's needs to learn about their injury. This is about being a number, a policy number. This is about being nothing more than a bed-filler at night. So for those of you out there that are fighting the supposed attempts at health care reform, come to the hospital, stay a night, get a tracheotomy tube ripped from your throat, and then start bitching about government inefficiency, socialism, and any other complaints you might have. And if you really want to test yourself, come to Alvarado Hospital, request Dr. Stone and just try and leave a better person.
For a person that has spent the last three and a half weeks in a coma, I awoke today feeling refreshed. I was quick witted and perceptive. The swelling in my brain had subsided.
The whole day was spent in this condition. During Speech Therapy, where I was told I had been given a 2 out of 7 on my level of "Insight," by an older volunteeer in a white lab coat, the news didn't have much impact.
During Physical therapy when I was unable to balance in beginning Yoga positiions, my mind didn't waiver.
Things did change, however, when Aimee called the hospital to request an overnight pass as I sat motionless in my home during a visit, watching the baseball playoffs with my older brother and mom. Aimee thought staying at home would be easier and more enjoyable for me. She was right.
Naturally, the Filipino nurse immediatley rejected our request.
"The docor will not issue an overnight pass," said the nurse in thick accent.
The same doctor that since becoming my doctor, four days prior, had visited me once briefly, for just over ten minutes. The same doctor that didn't know my name, my occupation, nor my medical condition.
The incident was further evidence of the bureaucracy at Alvarado Hospital. Since admittance, I have not been properly evaluated, nor have I been given instructions on my injury, a prognosis, nothing. Money and insurance rules this place. So much so, the patient is only an obstacle, and a nag. Well this patient is much more...
Today has been a trying day for this recent victim of a brain injury. After a full night's sleep, I went to a park to throw the balll for my puppy; was yelled at by my wife when I removed the plastic helmet from my head and yelled at my mom who constantly had her fist in my back as I walked from the car. I tried to explain to my family that this was my battle. That walking from the car; to the toilet, were things I needed to relearn and perform with confidence. They told me that I needed to remember that they went through this with me, that they spent the last three weeks crying by my bedside, hoping things would turn out. I told them I agreed, but the focus needs to stay on me, on my rehabilitation, on the fact that I was the one in the coma, with the skull missing and the mishapen head. IT was my rehabiliatation that matters most. They didn't seem to agree. My mom wouldn't listen; my brother repeated that he had spent sleepness nights at my bed wiating for my to wake up and my wife told me she went through the same thing. Throw this on top of Doctor Lance Stone's unkind bedside manner and this rehab is taking its toll.
The problems I'd been having with Doctor Stone culminated today. "What is it you want," he asked while searching through his front coat pocket for a sliver of paper. "I want some recognition, some evaluation about my progress. I want to to go home instead of spending my nights with "sitters" and idle nurses. Ever since my brain injury, these nurses and this doctor has been unwilling to rethink the arrangement.
"How do you propose doing such a thing," he asked.
"I think I can come in during the week, and the days I can spend my time writing and doing the things that I love doing."
"I can't do that," Doc Awck said. "It's not our policy."
"Well, I want out then," I said. I don't want to be a part of this anymore. I have a life I want to live."
I told the doctor I no longer wanted his services. The bureaucracy created by health care, from frontal head injuries is massive, swelling, and mind numbing. This is no longer a system set up for the patients. It's no longer a system I feel a willingness to fight for. After a brief discussion, Doc Awk, left the room, agreed to sign off as my doctor. I agreed to a departure date of October 20.
Coming up, a departure date of learning to live with a brain injury, luckily without the help of Doc Stone.
It had been three days since I had arrived at Camp Alvaradao Rehab, the three strangeset set of days in my 32 years of life. I had been in a coma, had a tracheotomoy performed. And now I was on resassignement, under the supervisionon of Dr. Lance Stone at Alvarado- a slick grey haired army docto with slenderer black leather shoese. I t didn't take long for Dr. Stone's disdaiin to culminate. By the beginninging of my third day at Camp Alvaradao, while his clinicincians would deliver priase for my prhysical prowess, Stone would questiuon my everery move. And two days later, when I asked whteher Stone would transfer me from Alvaradado, our relationship deteriorated even more.
"Why would I want to do that?" Asked Stone, in smug medical doctor dememanor.
"I FEEL LIKE I'M APART OF THE BEUERACRACY HERE, "I RESPONDEDED.
TWENTY MINUTES LATER, I RECEIVEED A CALL FROM MY FATHER.
"YOU BETTER STAY AND LISTEN TO DOC STONE," SAID MY DAD. "I F YOU DIDN't you d be responsible for the money. "YOU'D owe almost $400,000 if you didn't listeen to him. You'd better fucking listen to him, we don"t have that kind of moiney lying around."
The phone call to my father pissed me off. What is it about some older dudes that find joy out of calling out the younger geberation. I wasn'nt threateneed by Stone, though he was clearly threatened by me?
The next day Stone sent his spokesperson over to out hotel room asking if how our relationship had developed. I told her that a phone call to my father the day before bafled me. She appeared surprised.
I saw Stone the next next morning, he said nothing to me. Our relationship was officially over.