Brilliantly bright

You know how on TV shows when someone is unconscious everyone else asks, “Can he hear us?” The answer, I can tell you, is most definitely maybe.

I have some vivid memories of those 13 days of complete oblivion. Mostly of oblivion, but I do have nearly word-for-word recall of two friends, one standing on either side of me, one holding each hand, telling me where I was, telling me things were going to be fine, telling me that I was going to get better. And they have confirmed that this conversation actually happened.

However, I do not recall one moment of another friend praying a Native chant over me. I wish I did.

But I do have a brilliantly bright memory of the best moment of those 13 days. I opened my eyes and standing not two feet away was my son, staring down at me worriedly. I know I immediately broke into a big grin because I was so happy to see him. And he, a typical 13-year-old who-needs-a-mother type kid, burst into a huge grin right back.

I will never forget that grin, that smile, that brilliantly bright smile breaking across his face at me. It is one of those memories that parents wrap up and tuck into their hearts forever.


Rip Van Winkle

Anything I tell you here I know only because CF (my partner) has told it to me repeated times after I got home. Repeatedly repeated times. I can’t remember or believe it. In fact, those days in the hospital are still Rip Van Winkle-ish. Except no beard.

Things didn’t go that well at the hospital, at least for the first 13 days. Those were the days I spent in intensive care, with a tube jammed down my throat breathing for me, with a Medusa-spider costume adorning the rest of my body.

The doctors tried three times over those 13 days to take that tube out, since a major goal of theirs was for me to breathe on my own. But every time they pulled it out, Medusa shrieked and the spider crawled up the water spout.

Puzzlement ensued. I had had seizures, you see, and, as I understand it, you seize and then it’s over. Intense, then done. If this was Gray’s Anatomy, Callie and Arizona would be poking each other and saying that I was kinda cute now that the spider suit was coming off, and I would be smiling back at them.

I wasn’t seizing anymore, but I was developing nasty infections and they weren’t “responding,” as good infections do. And they were shutting down my kidneys, which is a major faux pas if you’re trying to get out of intensive care, as I unconsciously was.

CF kept telling everyone about how I hadn’t been “myself” lately. In fact, she’d been so concerned that she had convinced me to make an appointment with my neurologist for an MRI, which was scheduled for a few days from now. I had started recently on a new disease-modifying therapy (as they’re called) for MS, and CF was convinced the drug was affecting me negatively.

This new drug—let’s call it BrainScar—was known to lower resistance to infection. That’s why I was falling victim to all sorts of weird stuff floating around the hospital and why the doctors had to keep giving me more and more antibiotics.

Fortunately they were also giving me pain killers and some drug that paralyzed me, because I really hated that tube and kept trying to rip it out, evidently, whenever it wore off.

The doctors kept preparing CF for the possibility that I might die. The infections were very severe, and I kept going into respiratory arrest. Our 13-year-old son went to stay with friends of his, and one of CF’s sisters flew in from out of town (giving her three out of her four sisters close by; my sister and mother would come later).

She hadn’t told any of our out-of-town friends, except for Amy, who found out when CF accidently sent her a text message, thinking she was texting our son. Amy was on the next flight out from Massachusetts.

Watch out for aneurysms

I don’t intend this blog just to tell the story of what happened to me and blah blah blah wonderful doctors blah blah blah miracle recovery blah blah blah devoted partner blah blah blah although all of that is true, especially the devoted partner part, especially the devoted partner part, which I should say from a much higher rooftop but as I mentioned previously, my sense of balance isn’t that great.

I hope this blog will add to the public knowledge of what brain trauma is like. I hope that any faithful readers I might attract will come to appreciate that brain trauma comes in all shapes and sizes, that every one carries its own identity, that, like snowflakes and fingerprints, every one is unique.

I hope this blog will make parents force their children to wear bicycle helmets every single time they kick back that stand. I hope it will make motorcyclists shudder at the thought of cruisin’ downhill. I hope it makes us all eat healthy diets and exercise an hour a day and look both ways twice—three times!—before crossing the street. I hope it will make car manufacturers pack extra padding and foam and cushioning everywhere they can, even though it adds $11.57 to the cost of the car, just to keep us safer.

I hope it makes brain trauma go away.

That’s too much to ask of one little blog, I know, especially since brains tend to go bump in the night (or on the football field) despite our best efforts. And our brains, scarily, tend to be born with these unknown unknowable things called aneurysms and malformations that tend to malform on us at unpredictable, inconvenient, expensive, aneurysmatic times, things about which this little blog cannot possibly know or anticipate or warn you against. Eat your Wheaties! I can beg, but Watch out for aneurysms! falls on, well, deaf ears.

If you know me, you understand that nomenclature figures in my life. Actually, you understand that it rules my life. And if you don’t know me, you will soon start to wonder about certain terms that I use. So that everyone may sleep soundly, please permit me to explain how I plan to use a few terms.

Stroke is internal physical damage to the brain that happens when an artery in the brain bursts or is blocked.

Brain injury is physical damage to the brain that happens because the skull got hit or smashed, and so the brain, which the skull is supposed to protect, got damaged.

Brain trauma is damage to the brain that happened because of a brain injury or a stroke.

My goal is to use the term brain trauma as often as I remember, since to me it is more inclusive.

Oh, yeah. I guess I’d better tell you—briefly, I promise—what I experienced.


Picking blackberries on a late summer afternoon at the beach with my sweetie. She loves them. I love to pick them because she loves to eat them. I love to feel the brambles brambling me because I know she will love to eat that juicy little orb just out of my reach. I love to find just the right one—just the right one—right over there—the one that thought it could escape me.

But you know, I think I’m done. My plastic bucket isn’t full, but I can hear the tide nibbling at the pebbly beach, and suddenly more than anything I want to sit in my little canvas chair and watch the water come and go. I mumble something towards my partner, about ten feet away, she mumbles something back, some cozy communication that we’ve perfected over nearly 30 years of sharing our lives, and I pick my way over the salty rocks and the drifted wood to our two chairs, set primly together in the afternoon sun.

My balance hasn’t been good for years, the result of multiple sclerosis that has its way with me as it pleases, but mostly I’ve been able to manage. My partner knows when to help, when to back off, so she stays in her own tangle of blackberries as I stumble just when I reach my chair.

Blackberries scatter between the chairs. I groan as I sink into mine and gather up nearly every one that has spilled. After all, I hadn’t even filled the bucket. I couldn’t shortchange my sweetheart any further.

She joins me a few minutes later.

“Did you drop your bucket?” she asks.

“Yes,” I tell her, “but I got most of them.”

She looks at me oddly.

It would be a month before I found out that in fact there were only a half dozen blackberries left in my bucket, that the rest were still scattered about, and that she sat next to me for a few minutes scooping the berries off the pebbles back into my basket without me noticing.

Much later that evening, she managed to get home and put them in the refrigerator. After she did, she turned the car around and drove right back to the hospital where she had left me, unconscious after a stroke and at least three seizures, after an ambulance crew had dragged me off the beach and, siren wailing, taken me to the local emergency room.

She would never eat a single one of those blackberries.