13: Man of the House

13: Man of the House

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Man of the House

Think positively about yourself . . .. ask God who made you to keep on remaking you.

~Norman Vincent Peale

“I’m in a New York state of mind,” were the lyrics ringing out so joyfully from the Billy Joel song on the radio. They put a smile on my face that lingered throughout the entire song.

It was a Friday evening in January and I didn’t personally know about that New York state of mind, but I was definitely in a “TGIF” state of mind. For some reason, it seemed like the past week had been the longest I had ever worked. It had felt like Friday would never come.

As I approached the highway ramp to get onto the expressway, my mind lingered for a moment on a nice hot bath and some good old-fashioned chicken soup to warm my tired aching body.

I turned the radio up to hear some more sweet music to make the long ride home more pleasant, but the music stopped and an announcement came on the radio that there had been an accident on the expressway. A car turned over and drivers were using just one lane. I turned away from the entrance ramp and headed down a side street, thinking that it would probably extend my journey home by at least another hour and a half. My hot bath was looking more like a quick shower and the good old hot chicken soup was looking more like a cold turkey sandwich.

Although the route I decided to take was the longest route home, I would avoid the traffic. I smiled like some conquering hero, figuring that I had handled that situation pretty well.

As I drove, the lights were all green. However, as I entered an intersection, I noticed an SUV waiting in the turn lane. Having the light still in my favor, I proceeded into the intersection. I was midway across the street when, for some unknown reason, the driver took off and turned in front of my car. I raised my foot to apply the brake and that was the last thing I remember.

While lying in a state of oblivion, I recall that I felt a peace that was beyond comprehension. A progressive feeling of unrestricted freedom surrounded me in complete and total bliss. I was calm and in a fog, and I thought, “I must be dead; if this is heaven, I’m loving it.”

All of a sudden, reality set in. I tasted blood and, for the first time, felt pain. Opening my eyes, I realized the Lord had spared my life. He was not through with me yet and there was more that He had for me to do in this life.

The next thing I remember was being cut out of my car and the seatbelt. While they were cutting me loose, I remember calling my wife and telling her that I was involved in a bad accident. They brought the stretcher and strapped me down, put me in the EMS truck, and we headed for the hospital. When I got there, my wife and daughter told me that I had been thrown into the rearview mirror and cut my head. I also had seatbelt burns across my chest, two sprained wrists, and lacerations on my legs.

I stayed in the hospital overnight and had multiple tests. Since my head hit the mirror, they thought I had fractured my neck. The next day I was sent home with orders to see my family physician. But the next morning, when I tried to get out of bed, the entire room started to spin. My wife rushed me back to the hospital, and they told me that I had vertigo. It was so bad that I could not stand without a cane or something to lean on. My equilibrium was completely off and there was not too much they could do for me until my brain healed.

My doctor ordered me to see a psychotherapist, because my attitude and behavior were drastically changing. I was getting irritable with everything and everyone. It was not like me. I had been very quiet and laid back, with most things never moving me out of my comfort zone or getting on my nerves. I had lost my short-term memory and was extremely short-tempered with all my therapists. I did not trust any of them.

What made this behavior so peculiar was that I did not realize the change in myself. At first, I thought that it was just my age catching up with me. But my forgetting had become a constant thing, and I found that I just could not help myself. Even tying strings around my finger to remember to pick up the laundry didn’t help. I forgot why I had tied the string around my finger for in the first place. It was the most frightening time of my life.

There were some moments that I did not tell anyone about, because it was too embarrassing. It was so distressing to call home and say that I forgot which street to take to get home. Not only did I forget many streets, but I would get confused about which direction I was going. I would have to pull over on the soft shoulder of the expressway and sit there for a moment to figure out which way the sun was setting in order to get my bearings and figure out which direction I needed to travel.

Being the only man around three women in the house, I felt I needed to protect my manhood. Also they always wanted me to drive when we went out. I felt that it was too demeaning to admit, but deep down inside, I also knew that it was about my stupid pride. I could not help myself. I just wanted to keep that strong protective image that I had with my girls. I did not want to lose that role. But truth be told, I needed them much more than they needed me.

I now have much greater sympathy for those who struggle with Alzheimer’s disease and other dementias—the confusion, the secret shame, the pride and sense of purpose that can disappear. I knew that I would get better, but their condition progressively deteriorates. Although I did eventually recover, I will always remember what it feels like to have an injured brain.

~Marshall Campbell

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