A topic that seems to be somewhat neglected here at Associated Content, and on similar portals, is what life is like after someone survives a significant brain injury. Since “first person” narratives on this topic are not exactly commonplace; here is how one survivor (your humble correspondent) has learned, and is still learning, to navigate in the “undiscovered country.”
Personally, I think that the greatest challenge in surviving brain injury is learning to deal with the constant sense of frustration that comes from knowing that what you can do now is radically different from what you could do before the injury. Do you remember how big a hassle it was when you first learned to tie your shoes? Now imagine going through all that again but, at the same time, fully realizing that your brain has forgotten how to perform what only a few months earlier was a simple task. An acquaintance, a young man who was stricken with cerebral palsy after being born almost three months prematurely, helped me put it into perspective.
“I have no idea what it’s like to walk, to run, to do anything that you used to take for granted” he once told me. “You can remember when you could do everything that I can’t even dream about. That has got to be one Hell of a bummer.”
After you begin to get a handle on the fact that you must now make an effort to accomplish what you gave no conscious thought to only a few months earlier comes the realization that others, as well, see you as being “different.” This new “perception” of you can at times be humorous, as is the case when someone will ask whoever is with me at the moment to “ask him if he needs anything else.” More than once I have seen what can best be described as a look of shock on someone’s face when I answer for myself, thus disproving what appears to be the misconception that people in wheelchairs are either deaf or require translation into some unknown language. That’s merely an annoyance compared to something else that I’ve experienced on more than just a few occasions.
Let’s try a little “thought experiment,” as Herr Einstein described them. Let us imagine that a retail establishment in your hometown has a policy which states that all black males wearing tennis shoes and baggy pants are to be closely watched because they were potential shoplifters. How long do you think that store would remain in business once that policy became known? I have been told several times, and by different employees of the firm, a national retail chain whose name begins with the letter “K” has such a policy involving people in wheelchairs because we are “known” shoplifters.
And people wonder why I will do everything possible to avoid having to go shopping by myself.
Some have asked if I’m “bitter” or perhaps “angry at God” over what has happened over the past five years. To the latter suggestion I usually reply, in my pre-existing flippant manner, that “God and I have an understanding. He doesn’t write and I don’t send ten plagues over to Egypt.” That little remark also goes a long way at explaining why I’m not “bitter.” Here’s how I tend to look at things.
You see, I’m one of those people who still has this odd idea that I am personally responsible for a lot of what happened to me. I knew the risks involved in smoking, but I could usually be found with a cigarette in one hand and a can of Bud close by the other, even knowing that I was a genetic time bomb looking for a place to explode. I knew that not taking the beta-blockers and other stuff was not a particularly smart thing to do, as was not exercising. Again, those were my decisions and no one held a gun to my head forcing me to act stupid. I made the decisions and I’m paying the price.
Finally, some will ask if I’m now a “different” person. The answer, of course, is yes. Obviously I’m physically different, and I have about a dozen CT and MRI scans to prove it. But there is another difference, one that I have so far refused to discuss except with only a few, trusted people. Let’s just say that it is of a very personal nature and involves an experience that I am simply unable to adequately describe, much less to explain. But that, as the old saying goes, is another story.