Human Heal Thyself
What follows is a much-delayed report on my health journey following a traumatic head injury 30 months ago. But before you get to that (it was written two years ago and 6 months after the actual injury), I thought it best to share a more current update and add some perspective as well. It has been a real ride! Lock those lap bars as the train is about to climb that first dizzying hill.
Memory is fungible. It slips and slides away from us as we try to get a firm grasp on even our own recent histories. Memory morphs and molds our pasts and therefore informs our futures and, if we base our actions too much on what we think really happened, we can skew our now far from reality-based conception.
Case in print
Two and half years ago I had a fall, known affectionately to me as The Fall. It took a full six weeks before the neural deficits became so visible and acute that I went to the ER, again, and this time was immediately shuttled up to ICU and subsequent brain surgery where they drilled four burr holes in my skull and sucked out the offending blood clots, henceforth referred to as the Great Brain Drain.
I was discharged from ICU in two days, back to the streets, with very few restrictions or cautions. I did ask the requisite questions of my neurosurgeon; what was my prognosis? What were my limitations? Was I, as Dr. Google has intoned, been ordained to only live for five more years? Inquiring minds. To which my neurosurgeon replied as he showed me my most recent brain scans, “What do you see?” What he was driving at was the fact that I had no gaps in brain matter between my actual brain tissue and my skull. This was and is a very good thing. It means my brain retains an elasticity not normally found in humans my age. Bottom line…
Brain good, life good, personality intact
The real lessons of this adventure were not as readily apparent as the Xrays would suggest. While I resumed my normal frenetic lifestyle, thinking all was even better than before; my intellect seemed more than functional, my thinking was on fire, my energy felt even better but…..
then I got distracted
Distracted from my recovery, distracted from my life, distracted from the ordinary aspects of living as an almost 70-year-old in today’s world. Somewhere in that critical first few months of recovery, I was offered an opportunity that seemed tailor-made for me. Through a life connection, I was asked to be the manager of an estate nearby for a crazy, fun, engaged Irish Canadian couple who had a home that had been shuttered for two years due to Covid. It needed to be brought back to life and so I spent the next two years doing just that. I am still there two and a half years later, and it has been the single largest growth spurt for my body and brain I have ever experienced. But I now see the arc of my recovery. I, too, had been shuttered for two years.
From fallow to fertile
I now understand the personal, post-surgical limitations, I was operating under at first and how, as I discovered how to bring the house back to life, I also inadvertently figured out how to complete my personal journey back to life in its fullest and finest form. As my brain had to learn how to vet contractors to find the best team that would buff the perfect finish back onto much-abused travertine flooring, I simultaneously, and without my conscious awareness, had to learn to vet my own life and friends as well. I had to polish my own veneer and bring it back to life.
Covid was my co-conspirator in this final step towards wholeness. In truth, Covid laid the groundwork necessary for me to critically examine what was, and was not, working in my life. Being confined to home for a year and then contained further in my own brain for a long period before and after surgery served as a wakeup for me to train a critical eye on relationships and friendships, some decades in the making, and face the facts full on. Some of these formative and foundational friendships were no longer working for me. The seemingly small individual incidents that prompted this introspection are unimportant in the end. What really resonated in my core, and shook me to that core, was that I was better off without these certain few individuals in my life.
I was calmer. I was nicer. My relationship with my husband was kinder. My mental and physical house felt “in order” for the first time in memory. I was no longer a chaotic hot mess of a human but more a reasoned, linear, problem-solving adult. It felt as if I had solved that once-a-year, full doubled-fold, newspaper crossword puzzle. Alone. On my own.
Once the first few dramatic excisions were through, I fell most naturally into more critical examinations of all the relationships in my life. Take a real look at your address book, really look. How many people have you actually contacted lately? In a year? Two? More? Just looking at the accumulated detritus of those former friends and mostly acquaintances showed me, in print, how much crap I had collected along the way. I became ruthless in my editing out contacts; delete, delete, delete. My underlying assumption was that if I hadn’t had contact with them in years, and if I continued not to go into witness protection any time soon if they really needed to find me, they could.
So far, no one has
And so, here is an interesting snapshot into my mental machinations a few months after the Great Brain Drain.
This Was the Week That Was
That Was the Week That Was, informally known as TWTWTW or TW3, was a satirical television comedy program on BBC Television in 1962 and 1963. It was devised, produced, and directed by Ned Sherrin and presented by David Frost. It ran in the US in 1964 and 1965. Think a more erudite and wittier precursor to SNL, it was David Frost, after all.
So, while my first missive may have left an impression that I was completely unphased and upbeat at having had four holes drilled in my skull and that I was my usual, forge-ahead self, this is a little off the mark. I am not completely, or even nearly, “back to normal”, however one chooses to perceive normal in someone else, or themselves for that matter.
My Week That Was, has been more roller coaster than speedway; more peaks and real valleys and less a speedy, smooth, straight-a-way. I am on the cusp of 70 years old. How that happened is for others wiser and more sagely imbued than I to determine, but facts are indeed facts, and here we are.
Throughout my life up to now, I have plowed through way more than my share of serious health challenges, hip replacements, foot reconstructions, heart procedures, etc. I have approached each of them with a mindset than has enabled me to get up off the gurney, do the work of rehabbing myself with as little fuss and bother as I could muster. I need to get back to my life, at my pace (which is faster than a lot of others) and not look into the rear-view mirror too often or for too long. The mind and the body forget quite quickly the trauma, pain, and fear that accompany any of these crises and it literally blocks them from access, like a 404-error code of crisis management proportions for the psyche.
This has served me well in life, so far
This time, things are different. Age, without my knowledge or permission, has decided to insert itself with authority and has left me no choice in the matter. Unlike the Rolling Stones 1964 crooning anthem (hmm, I seem to be stuck in a mid 60’s time-warp), Time is on Your Side, it frankly is not any longer. It’s much more akin to Barry McGuire’s 1965 dirge on war, Eve of Destruction:
“Take a look around you boy, it’s bound to scare you, boy
But you tell me over and over and over again, my friend
Ah, you don’t believe we’re on the eve of destruction”
Once, a new generation of stalwart warriors heralding in a social shift of thought and action, we are now the doddering old codgers having joint replacements, searching out the best blood pressure meds, and desperately seeking a blood thinner that does not leave us looking like a CSI crime scene every time we brush past a rose thorn or a cactus.
When did we get this old?
Honestly, Garth Brooks had it spot-on in his debut single in 1989, “Much Too Young (To Feel This Damn Old)“,
“And the white line’s getting longer and the saddle’s getting cold
I’m much too young to feel this damn old
All my cards are on the table with no ace left in the hole
I’m much too young to feel this damn old
Lord, I’m much too young to feel this damn old”
Only he was wrong, or at least he is now.
We, me included, are exactly the correct age to feel this damned old. If not now when?
The holes they drilled in my head are emblematic of the holes in my head (the crazy, ill-conceived parts of my personality) that have been my trademark all of my life. They are the inconceivable bits of denial that have allowed me to rebound from every setback and rejoice in the life I am in at every moment.
This time I am different; older, more introspective, wearier of politics, tired of the aches and pains, less inclined to compassion and bending more to intolerance of stupidity and thoughtlessness. I am outright incensed at so much in the world that we all helped to create. It is completely illogical but my solace these past few days has been watching infomercials for 60’s and 70’s music anthologies! Gauche, right? Impossible to comprehend to a juvenile degree.
But don’t judge me, yet.
What they showed me in the 15-second snippets of the original bands performing their sets was myself; the me that was there, in their audiences live, many times! I got to reverse the time machine for blips of the me that used to be; the youngster full of hope and excitement for a future yet to unfold in front of my eyes with me in the center of the amazing technicolor circus that was the 60’s and 70’s. The tears that came were cathartic. They were cleansing and clarifying in the fact that I actually have had an amazing life! I have lived in extraordinary times and places, too many to count, but each one emblazoned on my heart in such a way that they are now the DNA of my soul. They are tears of gratitude in so many ways.
My dear friend said to me once when I was in my forties and having some sort of mid-life, existential, crisis, “Honey, you have to realize that up to now, we have looked at our lives with everything in the future. Now, we have a history of ourselves that we have already lived, and you need to refocus your lens, taking into account your past, and focus on the future through that new lens.”
As Emeril would intone, “BAM!”
She was exactly correct and in the ensuing thirty years, I have refocused often and acutely. Yet now there is less ahead to train my eyes upon that does not include infirmity and a shrinking of life’s experiences. There is more uncertainty, more stumbling stones to tumble over, and it is harder getting back up than ever before.
This is the long way of getting to that update on my recent adventures in the medical world of reality-based hospital dramas. Stay tuned for a future diatribe about healthcare overall and what we all have in store, but that is for another day.
I’m fine, if a bit frail.
It took a lot of my get-up-and-go reservoir this time and that takes longer to refill.
My gait is better and stronger bit by bit.
My thinking is devoid of the fog that beset it before. It is actually better in so many ways I have yet to quantify it completely!
I know better now that recovery, particularly from this type of injury and at this age, is a much more arduous and time-consuming endeavor but then what DO I have to spend my time on, anyway?
I sit on the Lido Deck and gaze out over the mountains that I was so ferociously hiking only weeks ago and wonder if I will ever get back up to that peak. In reality, much of that frantic energy was a denying of age, a push-back against a clock that cannot be stopped and never runs out of battery.
I am recharging my battery now. It will take longer this time.
I am eternally grateful for each of you and your concern and care. One of the unexpected, lovely, and frequent things I have heard from so many is, “I am not ready to live in a world without you in it. It’s inconceivable to me”
Those comments brought me true tears of joy and I thank you all. Know that I am working hard to get back on the track I need to be on; maybe not a racetrack any longer but a path through a wood, or a trail through the desert, that will be more rewarding now than ever.
Present day again.
I have done what I said I would do. I have fought back to an optimum of health I had no idea I could achieve for so many reasons. I work almost every day now running two homes and am filled with a peace and gratitude I had no idea I was missing before. The brain did, indeed, heal completely and as with most scars we get, it is stronger and more resilient in those places where it had to repair itself.
I have always been a fan of scars. To me, they are the roadmap of a life lived well. In my case a life writ large and full of unexpected detours along the way. My road map is not yet complete, I have miles to go but in the meantime…..
My scars are my story, so far