Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Happy Anniversary!

Every once in awhile amid some serious crap, God sends us an invitation to rethink our world. He invites us to be brave and embrace what's before us.
February 11, 2011 was the beginning of an invitation.
That day found me driving – chaplaining for the nursing home where I worked. Suddenly, I was hit from behind and propelled into the car in front of me. My head took the brunt of all this with a severe double whammy. Fortunately I was restrained but my old beater didn't have an air bag so I wasn't afforded the protection that wonderful invention would have provided. 
I was transported to the hospital and told the news that I had sustained a concussion and they were sure I'd be back to normal in no time. Didn't quite happen that way.
The following, days, weeks and months of pain and therapy were filled with an awakening to what it means if you are really hurt “on the job.”
The greed and blatant unconcern of the administrator of my nursing home astounded me. The zeal to bring me back to work, whether ready or not was unrelenting.
It was not a smooth transition when I did go back to work. My employer had done just about everything he could to sabotage the attempt. My office, right inside the chapel, was given away and I was placed in the activity office with four other people. The workman’s compensation doctor they forced me to go to ordered a calm and quiet atmosphere. One morning I attended a meeting in a charting room where the lights were literally a foot from my head. I went out of it reeling, I couldn't believe how disoriented I felt. All of a sudden I fell into a water fountain and suffered my second concussion just weeks after the first.
I was faced with the very stark reality that much of my life as I knew it was done. The cacophony of lights, sounds and constant stimulation found in a nursing home could no longer be a normal part of my day.
Always an extrovert, I found in the ensuing months that I was craving quiet – calm. This was such a far cry from my previous self that I was forced to examine the implications for my life as it went forward.
Common activities most of us take for granted – grocery shopping, going to the movies, attending a zumba class, are almost impossible for me. The nearby casino is off limits and it's no longer my lack of funds issuing that edict. Too much stimulation. My brain rebels against noise, lights – especially fluorescent ones, and lots to look at simultaneously.  Non-stop migraines if I don't pay attention to this.
Providers would, with amazing tactlessness, explain that 54 year-old brains don't heal nearly as well as when they were younger. “Well shit,” I thought, "I don't feel old." I did feel different.
So where was God in all of this?
What the heck kind of crazy invitation was this?
From the very onset of this entire experience, God sent me angels. 
My son, Peter, who would vociferously object to being called a messenger of God, still in my eyes, was one. He was at the scene of the accident within minutes. He stayed with me in the hospital making sure my bruised brain didn't embarrass me too much. 

He found a netbook computer for me which has been my constant companion ever since.  He even replaced it when I tripped on the cord and broke the screen.  Balance issues still rear their ugly head from time-to-time.

My other son, Daniel, took me to a much-feared MRI.  I was so medicated I am sure it was difficult for him to witness his mother stumbling but he stayed through it and got me safely home.

Grace, my daughter, actively helped me when I campaigned for mayor.  Retrospectively, that venture might have crossed the border of sanity in the midst of trying to negotiate a head injury. 
There were so many heroes to me in all of this. My friends and family who gave me rides for months when I was not able to drive. Then when I thought I could drive, the optho-neurologist disagreed. My peripheral vision was another victim of the concussion.

My attorney brother Doug patiently continues to help me navigate the legal process of all of this.

At one point when I was driving I became terrified of the open space. I could not seem to connect the car with the vastness of the horizon. Kristi, my next door neighbor, patiently and lovingly, talked to me until I was safely home.
Then there are the group of therapists. My physical therapists were really on top of the myriad of symptoms they were faced with treating. I did get much better since the beginning, much of that because of their kind attention.
My occupational therapist has become a friend. She knew how frightened I was by my loss of reading, my delayed speech, my sense of disorganization – always there – had now taken on epic proportions. It brought more chaos and confusion to my struggling brain.
Nancy quietly companioned me through each and every scary aspect. My speech improved dramatically, my vision, still screwed, improved drastically from the beginning when I could only read one word at a time with an index card with a hole in it floating over the words. All this under her careful ministrations.  She always assured me my cognition was intact and that it was processing that was the issue. Thank you God for that significant blessing!
When it became obvious that I could no longer work as a chaplain, it was Nancy that walked with me through the idea of writing. I had been a staff writer at the local Catholic newspaper. I use to be able to construct a sentence and write stories. I could control my environment. I could write in the dark. and stop when the overwhelming fatigue that plagued me couldn't be appeased. Since the accident, reading to any extent was problematic. I no longer enjoyed the tactile pleasure of holding a book and quickly racing through the pages. A computer allowed me to increase the font and more importantly the space between words.
Three books became my constant companions. One to write down daily tasks with a master list in the beginning containing chores for every day – drink water, nap, go to Mass, and more.
Another book was for any writing ideas I might have and finally a day timer completed the trio.
Nancy gave me an assignment to construct a paragraph.
I sat down to do it and then I couldn't stop. I wrote the earlier story in this blog “Full Love” about my relationship with my friend, Sister Rose. When I was finished my body was reeling. My head was pounding unrelentingly but I was excited that I could still write. 
Nancy was pleased that I found a way to write again but understanding that I couldn't continue to do it if I didn't find a way around the assault on my body. Breaks were added. She asked me everyday if I added the note to my computer encouraging me to take time away from what I was doing. She was right of course. I put a post-it there with the simple reminder, “BREAKS” alerting me not to let the symptoms get ahead of me.
Through all this I kept feeling like God was inviting me into the quiet, to not fear the lack of constant stimulation. To enter into the quiet is a dangerous activity for me. I am almost always confronted by memories so painful I have no wish to relive them. My television is nearly always on in the background keeping those recollections at bay.
The invitation has persisted. It has not yet been possible for me to joyfully jump into a pool of silence but still I feel God saying, “I'll be here. I will love you. Trust me,” so I've dipped my toe in cautiously. I have found a few more minutes to spend in adoration a few more deep breaths inviting my loving God to help. The rosary is once again becoming my familiar prayer companion.
Gaudete Sunday, the third Sunday of Advent brought a gift – well I think it's a gift. I woke up – without the television – and realized my beloved Fountain Hill doesn't have a media outlet – and that with my knowledge of the little borough and my involvement in its government, I could be just the person to remedy that gap.
The Fountain Hill Gazette” – soon to be published – was born. The fact that was the middle of December and we are not even in the middle of February and I am beating myself up for not having it done says much more about myself than I might want to know.
Recently I attended a yoga class with one of my best friends. I love the physical activity of yoga but I found the relaxation hard work. When the kind instructor invited people to concentrate on the color emerald as they meditated I thought, “Bullshit! I will concentrate on Jesus.” I did -- and for just that small amount of time I felt like I was saying “yes” to that beautiful invitation.

It is the end of July and I still cannot get it together to do the "Fountain Hill Gazette."  I realize that there are too many steps and too many things to learn for my brain to put it all together.  This makes me very sad.  I tried so many different ways to do it but I cannot seem to execute any of them, I am waiting to see whether I can get regain enough executive function of my brain to be able to complete this dream of mine.  If not, I know God will find a way to use the talents I still possess.