Imagine you’ve been wearing dirty eyeglasses for years. You’ve adapted to the smudgy view of the world, and now that’s just the world to you. You muddle through and don’t bump into too many things. You just assume a certain amount of what’s out there is illegible. Then someone comes along and cleans the lenses with rubbing alcohol, and puts them back on your face.
How could you have imagined what you weren’t seeing? That leaves have crisp edges. That colors are not overlaid with dust. That almost everything IS legible. This is the metaphor of a highly visual person. There are many other. Imagine a loud vent fan has been running all your life and someone turns it off and you discover birdsong. Imagine you’ve had lead weights strapped to your legs and someone takes them off and you discover running.
The word for today is integration. I can feel left and right hemispheres in communication, feel the central exchanges of the subcortical brain moving traffic through without slowdowns, feel orderly inside my head in a way I can’t really remember feeling, except I keep having this image of a bright eyed six-year-old who didn’t struggle with remembering words. I wish my parents were alive, and here to see this, to greet that child’s return.
These pictures were taken when I was 4-5, before the fall.
We were living in Rochester, New York the year I was six. I shared a room with my brother Ricardo. I had the top bunk and he had the bottom. One night I rolled right over the retaining safety bar and woke up midair, falling, and then landed, hard, on my back, on a cement floor. It is only in the last few weeks that it’s occurred to me that there is no way to land on one’s back like that and not have a big cracking blow to the back of the head. But in those days, you had to have a skull fracture and blood everywhere to be considered head injured. The occupational therapist has been explaining compensation, and tells me that young brains are even better at this, loop out the injured arts and have the subs step in even more efficiently. So now it seems that my entire writing life has been managed from temporary quarters, by editors drafted from the gardening team of the kitchen crew, all of them running as fast as they can with big bags of stuff slung all over them.
But not today. Today I am feeling a clarity and focus that seem utterly foreign. I can pay attention to what I choose to, without struggling to shut out everything else. Everything else just isn’t that distracting anymore. Here’s another metaphor. It’s like living with a really messy roommate who just moved out and there are acres of clear, uncluttered floor, so that I have room to dance.
Tonight, I am getting ready for my last day, and the second fMRI that will measure the changes in blood flow in my brain, a concrete marker of improvement. I am also writing to the directors, telling them about their colleagues in Cuba who are eager to communicate, and asking about starting a scholarship fund. Most of the brain injured people I know are too poor to pay for this treatment, at least in part because they are brain injured.
Perhaps only the people with debilitating chronic fatigue will know what I mean when I say this. I am tired, but not exhausted. It’s an ordinary tired that is side by side with being energized. What’s missing is the deep weariness that it seems has at least in part been the result of decades of my injured brain pedaling as fast as it can in the wrong gear, and traveling inches for an effort that would carry another cyclist yards. Whatever is happening inside my head, my body is demanding protein in unprecedented amounts. Yes, it’s time for another meal.
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