The Almighty Sprite

Last week CF and I went to the annual brain injury conference hosted by the Washington State Traumatic Brain Injury Council. We went to workshops, talks, lectures, and luncheons, and came away with the same conclusion:

We were pooped.

It was too many people in too small a space trying to do too much in too short a time and having too much fun doing it, but it was worth it. We knew only one other person, and were surprised to see her there, having had no idea that she had suffered a brain injury, and were happy to make several new friends, we hope. I came home and slept for two days, I think, at least according to the calendar I did, although it felt like about 45 minutes.

There’s something disorienting about being in a room with several hundred people all talking about brain injury. For one thing, you can’t tell who has a brain injury and who doesn’t, for the most part.

Sometimes the wheelchair is a giveaway, sometimes it’s not. Does that person use a cane because of a brain injury or because of an old football injury? Does that person stutter because she’s nervous or because of a brain injury?

Should I help that person pick up all those papers or is that an insult to his self-respect? Can I sit next to the person in the power wheelchair or is it reserved for her attendant? Is the front table in this workshop reserved for the deaf or can anyone sit there? Would it be rude to wear sunglasses, considering how bright the lights are in this room? If someone attends only the yoga and massage workouts during every class session, can he still apply for continuing education credit? If I have a brain injury, can I go to a workshop designed for caregivers?

You can see how confusing everything was.

What was also confusing was the topic of the conference: “Who am I now?” The subtitle was “Celebrating the journey to the new me.” I gotta tell you, I thought the conference did a pretty good job of asking the question, but just an OK job of celebrating the subtitle.

My memory’s a bit fuzzy, but I’m pretty sure my high school biology teacher was named Mr. Korn, and my high school horn teacher was named Mr. Koren, but the biology teacher did a pretty good job of teaching me basic anatomy, so I was comfortable following the discussions of what happens When Brains Go Bad in the workshops I attended. No, wait, Mr. Korn was chemistry. Mr. Berisso was bio. Never mind.

My point is, and for once I’ll get right to it, I did well enough with science in high school that I understand intellectually what happened to me with the stroke. It’s the cognitive synaptic disruptive non-happening part that has me stumped.

Celebrating the new me would be fine if the old me didn’t keep wondering where it went. Celebrating the new me would be dandy if the new me would just stop wobbling around and forgetting everything and staring into space all the time.

Celebrating the new me would be good if food didn’t taste so bizarre and if my skin didn’t exude this oily sweat and if my blood sugar would go back to normal and if music would stop hurting my ears and if I could talk without stumbling over my words or losing my voice or forgetting what numbers are or where roads go or what day it is.

To illustrate the “journey to the new me,” the conference had two inspirational speakers: Jason Crigler, a musician who had recovered from a devastating brain hemorrhage, and Ginny Ruffner, a conceptual artist who was in a serious car accident. Both told spellbinding stories of disaster and recovery.

But here’s the thing: Their new “me”s are essentially the same as their old “me”s.

Jason is still a singer and songwriter. Ginny is still a conceptual artist. Sure, it took them years to get back. Sure, Ginny has lots of trouble talking and walking. Sure, Jason has a shorter fuse (says his sister). Sure, they both paid a terrible price. Sure, they wish the whole thing never happened.

So what’s the message here? That eventually my new me will be as good as the old me? That some people luck out and get back everything they once had? That all of this fuss and muss and foot dragging and ball tossing and diaper wearing is just a round trip diversionary exercise foisted on us by some felicitous Almighty Sprite?

Well, Almighty Sprite, if that’s your game, your diaper is no match for me. I got you beat.

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