Editor’s note: The following is an unconventional valentine to thank my friends for their kindness and generosity.
I have often said “God didn’t bless me with a husband, but he blessed me with the best friends and the best pets.”
That has been especially true as I have been healing from a debilitating head injury for most of the past year.
Throughout this scary and frustrating time, friends have helped in numerous ways. Having no family nearby, it fell on a few close friends to help me hold my life together.
I don’t have a glory story to tell: I smashed my face on a hardwood floor when I blacked out after becoming ill from my second COVID-19 vaccination.
I didn’t know at the time that I had suffered a bad concussion. I came to severely disoriented in a room I don’t recall entering. I was alone and felt so oddly and profoundly ill that I couldn’t care about anything, even surviving; I just pressed the sections of my bleeding face together and passed out for several more hours.
The obvious physical injuries healed quickly — only a small scar above my lip is still evident — but my brain still has some healing to do.
BLESSED WITH THE BEST FRIENDS
Throughout this ordeal, friends have been delivering groceries, helping run errands, giving me rides to appointments and work, helping tackle additional Lamp responsibilities, making repairs to my house, dropping off feed for my chickens, shuttling my cat to the emergency vet, and more. Moments of reprieve with my friends — laughing, decorating my Christmas tree, walking dogs and sharing coffee ice cream — have been as important as the life-sustaining basics.
WHY SO LONG
I kept pushing myself after the injury, thinking I’d surely get better — I mean, I’ve gone to work with pneumonia, painful injuries, severe headaches; there isn’t much I’d take a sick day for — but everything continued to get worse.
My decision-making skills and coping abilities were severely impaired, screentime was absolute agony, reading and handwriting were difficult and often impossible, my head vibrated and felt like it was imploding and exploding simultaneously, I had terrible nightmares combined with incessant earworms that interrupted brief and unsatisfactory sleep, I didn’t have enough energy to lift my feet more than an inch off of the ground and had trouble walking without leaning on a wall, pain was greatly amplified and didn’t dissipate readily, I was dizzy and nauseated all the time, and more …
Several weeks into this ordeal, I was “diagnosed” by a friend who experienced similar symptoms after being injured by multiple explosions while deployed to Iraq. She told me I had a TBI: (mild) traumatic brain injury.
Only after my friend’s observation was I finally seen by a doctor and brain scans scheduled.
Later, I’d find validation in Diane Roberts Stoler’s book “Coping with Concussion and Mild Traumatic Brain Injury” and learn what I’ve been experiencing is generically called post-concussion syndrome.
I’ve had several concussions before — the worst resulting in hospitalization and alarming but quickly resolved issues — but none were anything like this.
WHAT IT WAS LIKE
Since the injury, lights, sounds, multiple people talking, etc., all overwhelm me. I have been appalled by my post-injury potty mouth, but most of my friends have told me they don’t mind that part! The uncharacteristic angry outbursts and crying bouts have been (censored word here) infuriating and embarrassing. Just trying to decide what to wear or eat is draining.
Stress has been monumental and minor emergencies catastrophic. Having to adopt new computer or organizational systems, as was required by a recent company change, has not just been overwhelming but physically and emotionally depleting, and sometimes not trackable.
Even though I can logically tell the severity of something, panic spiked during the worst of this whenever I tried to push past the “brain squeeze,” and it continued to torture me, with heart-surging panic repeatedly for days.
Through trial and error, and confirmed by that book, I discovered that my brain no longer had “reserve” — there was no getting from point A to point B once my brain was out of energy. Even since I’ve started to see some improvements, if I try to push through, I pay for it with extreme fatigue, slurred speech and worse.
This definitely hasn’t been a pleasant experience for my friends, either, and it has put a lot of strain on our relationships. They are probably as tired of this ongoing saga as I am, but they continue to show up, help me run errands, give me rides, encourage me and celebrate my progress.
TINY VICTORIES, HUGE PROGRESS
The ongoing joke has been that I just wanted to get to “Grandma Level” — to be able to bake cookies again, something so simple that I used to do all of the time but became too daunting and exhausting to even consider since the injury. My friends celebrated that first batch of chocolate crinkle cookies with me, and they have continued to recognize other tiny, but huge, victories as well, such as when I began sustaining conversations longer than two minutes, walking dogs a block further and shopping assisted but in person.
THE BEST PETS
Since the pandemic, we’ve all been more isolated than usual, but not being able to drive or do most of the things I was doing before the injury has made that isolation more extreme and I often go several days without seeing a human being. Healing is so boring and lonely!
Thank God I have been blessed with “the best pets.”
My spunky corgi mix, jovial Australian shepherd and cherubic cat show me love, humor and comfort every day. My Aussie has even become conscious of my impairment, recognizing when I’m reaching my limit on the computer by giving me a forceful bump to the leg.
And even though I’ve spent most of every day feeling like I’m going to puke and pass out, the time when I’m the most “whole” is when I’m riding my horse. She and I aren’t putting in the miles we used to or going at the speed we normally would, but the short jaunts we have gone on have been good for my soul, and remarkably I feel more stable on her back than on my own feet.
I’m not very good at asking for or accepting help, but I am so grateful for everyone who has been there for me.
I recognize that what I have been going through is minor when compared to the challenges that many members of this community have endured and possibly still endure. I hope sharing my experience might encourage those experiencing difficulties and their loved ones to be patient and empathetic with each other, recognize ongoing issues, give themselves a break, and offer, seek, accept and appreciate help when needed.