Tuesday, December 23, 2014

After The Fall: Learning To Laugh Again

The following article appeared in the Fall 2014 issue of DIALOGUE, a magazine that deals with issues for people who are visually impaired — my first published work in thirty-four years!

Losses and Gifts

I have no memory of June 28, 2012. The calendar tells me it was a Thursday. Family members tell me that after I came home from work, my husband, my son, my daughter and I went to our friend Laura’s house to deliver “happy birthday” treats. We entered her house by the side door, and I don’t remember if I knew that. What I definitely did not know was that the stairs to the basement were right there.

I don’t recall what I was doing with my cane at that moment. What I do know is that when I catch my 17-year-old son—who is also blind—under-using his cane, I tell him, “The last time I didn’t use my cane properly, I ended up in the hospital for six weeks.”

I know that in some ways, it’s a blessing that I have no memory of the next several weeks. However, my youngest daughter, Sarah, gave me a treasure by keeping and sharing a journal which filled in many of the details of that night and the weeks that followed.

The ambulance arrived in four minutes. My husband, Murray, sat beside me on the basement floor, holding up my head to help me breathe more comfortably. Then he went with me in the ambulance to the hospital.

Laura, Sarah, and our oldest son, Ping-Hwei, dashed to the high school to get our youngest son, Benjamin, who was at band practice at the time. Afterward, a neighbor drove Laura and the kids to the hospital. Murray called our other son and daughter, Caleb and Rebecca, who were not at home that night, and told them they should probably come to the hospital, too.

Sarah says that the doctor told them that night that things could go either way for me. He asked for permission to drill a hole in my skull to put in a monitor for my brain pressure.

Murray says they became close to a lot of the other people in the ICU waiting room. Sarah says she spent much of that first night crying, and one of the other girls in the waiting room sat with her and Caleb and talked with them as they waited. I am told that I first spoke three days after I went into the hospital, saying that if they didn’t take the gloves off my hands, I would cry.

I understand that the kids, friends from work and friends from church paid me a lot of visits. Murray says that Caleb sat with him in my room many days. Murray remembers telling me once that he came early every morning, stayed until I fell asleep, then went home and came again the next morning. Apparently, my response was, “That seems like a raw deal for you.” Rebecca continued to work at her out of town internship during the week, but she took the bus home to see me every weekend.

The first thing I remember about being in the hospital was when Caleb brought his dog guide, Esther, to visit me. I remember hanging out of the bed, reaching for Esther. She kept coming to me, frantically licking, and Rebecca, laughing, kept pulling her back a little.

Moving Forward

Of course, I wish it had never happened. But I thank God for many things, mainly that I survived and that I recovered as well as I did. Mostly, I thank God for what has happened to the relationships in my family. Between my husband and me, my husband and the kids, the kids and me—they are all so much stronger. No, not perfect, but so much better.

What’s the fall-out? I lost a great deal of hearing. I have many problems with memory and much difficulty finding the correct word.

For several months after I came home from the hospital, I still had occasional falls — scary for me, and my family. Even now, I have trouble with balance, but I haven’t fallen in quite some time.

I never had expert orientation and mobility skills, but I used to take the city bus to work for many years, travel easily around my work building, and got around at home with no trouble. Now, I seem to frequently lose my place in my own house.

It often feels strange to find myself at home during the day instead of being at work, but it’s growing on me. My goals have changed. When I was a rehab teacher, my favorite part of the job was teaching Braille. Several years ago, I started a course to become certified in Braille Transcribing through the Library of Congress and received my certification last spring. I am now working on a course to become certified as a Braille Proofreader. It comforts me to still have Braille as part of my professional life.

And, I cranked up my writing career again. When I was a teenager, I had some short stories and poems published in several magazines. Then for more than 30 years, with college, work and raising a family, I found little time to write. I always said I would take it up again when I retired. After my accident, when I could not go back to work, I decided that it would be silly if I didn’t use this time for writing. Over the last year and a half, I’ve written four novellas, which I am still adding to and editing.

I’ve also joined a writing group, which provides monthly online writing classes, webinars and—my favorite—a critique group. We share our writing and offer each other suggestions, resources and encouragement. I am having a lovely time.

I have told my husband that unfortunately, he didn’t get the benefit of my personality changing a great deal. That often does happen to people who have brain injuries, but seemingly not to me, though I often feel I enjoy life more. A friend at work used to tell me that he loved stopping by my office, because I always made him laugh. These days, I’m doing a great deal of laughing again myself.

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