Saturday, November 17, 2012

Recovering from Brain Injury

Anatomically correct Brain knitted by Dr. Karen Norberg

Last night we went to visit Dad after work. We brought along some junk food from McDonald's since the junk at the hospital is just as bad but doesn't taste nearly as good. When we arrived he was sitting in the hallway in his track pants and a grey t-shirt, wearing a blue stocking cap to cover the staples in his head. He brightened when we arrived and we wheeled him to the visiting room with the fish tank and fire place. 

We unpacked our McDonald's picnic and he thanked us for bringing him something edible. The theme of the conversation was how ready he was to go home. He said he was planning to make an announcement tomorrow to the Doctors and Nurses that he would be leaving. Eric patiently explained that he wouldn't be able to leave tomorrow. 
"What are they going to do," he said "tackle me?"
"Well, yeah." said Eric, "Except they won't even have to tackle you. The doors are locked on this floor." 

There is reason for his agitation. The bed he is sleeping in has a giant green and white net over the top- it looks a bit like a baby's play pen flipped upside down. When they zip it at night, his hands are put into mittens so that he cannot unzip the tent or remove the feeding tube still protruding from his stomach. He is trapped there until someone comes to let him out. 

The floor itself is an unsettling place. As you walk the halls, you can't help but overhear the strange, frustrated conversations leaking from each doorway. All the patients are wrestling with their minds, some are in a moment of relaxation, but many are confused, frightened and angry. The doors to the floor are all locked and you need a prominently displayed visitors badge and a nurse with a special key to accompany you to the elevator. The other day, someone gave Eric the once over and said with narrowed eyes "Where is your visitor's pass?" The reason for all these precautions is that people with head injuries become confused and want to wander off. (Who wouldn't want out of this situation? You'd be deranged to want to stay.) The trouble is they might not know where they meant to go or how to get there, and certainly not how to get back. 

As we talked, I felt again that he is mostly his old self, talking about the absurdity of his situation and the strangeness of life. He remembers so much- he can definitely feed himself without assistance but he seems to be struggling with locating himself in all of this. It can't help that the hospital is so strange and unfamiliar and so many strangers come in and out day after day, helping you with the most intimate details of working your physical body. 

He isn't sure where he is- sometimes it's a hospital, sometimes it's a hotel. He knows he's in St. Paul, but ask him which state St. Paul is and there is a range of answers- Wisconsin, Iowa, and Nebraska were all responses. He seems aware of these problems, but not necessarily the extent of what they mean for his brain.

For example, they were playing a game in the hallway. 
"Name ten movies" said the nurse. 
"Do they have to be movies I like?" he asked. 
"No, just name as many titles as you can." 
"Godfather I, Godfather II, I won't dignify the abomination of Godfather III by counting it,  Finding Nemo, When Harry Met Sally..." he trailed off. "Can you imagine...that anyone who has watched as many movies as I have... I should be able to name movies forever!" 

So he seems to know that there are things he was able to do once that he can't seem to do now. But what that means about his mental health is unclear to him. Perhaps it's unclear to me as well. I'm not sure what he will or won't be able to do, or what he would be like at home, with familiar faces around and a clearer routine. 

This injury is a lesson in learning to be at home with ambiguity, to live with uncertainty. It is yet another way to practice being in the moment, not letting the what ifs and fears intrude on what you have right now, even when it's difficult. 


The Robins Nest OCrowley said...

Love this brain!

Gwen Edwards said...

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