18: Your Voice Sounds Good Today

18: Your Voice Sounds Good Today

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

Your Voice Sounds Good Today

When words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.

~William Shakespeare

“Your voice sounds good today.” That’s what my parents said on the mornings when I was thinking well.

Just over three years ago I hit my head in a car crash. “No big deal,” I told the doctor. “I’ve had eight concussions. I’ll be fine.”

“No work for three days,” he stated. I argued with him that I was on duty as a police officer in two hours. “No work, no driving, and find someone to help with your children for a few days.”

My friend came the next day to help with my two foster kids, ages seven and five.

I told her, “The boy did come to the box one time.”

Confused, my friend responded that Max was already home.

“No, the boy even now did come one time,” I said, trying to explain that Makayla would be home soon.

Improper sentence structure and word choices affected my ability to share my thoughts and feelings with those helping me. I struggled to speak clearly, to understand activities, and experienced strong reactions to sights, sounds, and movements.

The diagnosis was post-concussion syndrome. The brain clinic stated that I had a good chance of a full recovery because I had started therapy so soon after the injury. They suggested that the children leave to give me time to heal.

Three days turned into several months of a hard fight. After ten months of therapy and training, waiting and setbacks, I got my life back. I returned to my road patrol duty. The children returned and I resumed my plan to pursue adoption.

Work was great, at least in short bursts. One morning about a week back into my real life, I answered the phone. “Hi Mom, what even did you want to say to me this morning? I did need to be ready right now to do work.”

“Oh, Julie. You need to rest. Your speech and voice aren’t good today.”

Every aspect of my life was affected. I found that I had to save all of my energy for work. I could only ski a few runs before the movements would cause dizziness. The singing at church was so loud I’d wear earplugs and cover my ears. When my symptoms were obvious to the children, they would tell me to go rest in my room.

If well rested, I did great, my thoughts and responses strong and fast. I could tolerate the pace, sounds, and stress of working and raising children. But the “brain drain” would always return. Sometimes weeks would go by with no symptoms and I would be confident that I was better.

“Your voice doesn’t sound good today.” Another sick day.

As the year continued, the ups and downs led me to the hardest decision I’ve ever made.

I held the children close, “I love you two more than life itself. You deserve the best of everything, including a mom who can spend more than a few hours a day with you before resting for work. I love you so much but I can’t adopt you.”

“But we want you. Don’t send us away. We’ll be good.” They left a few weeks later and were adopted by a wonderful couple.

My heart broke.

Spring came and I still experienced good and bad days. The good stretches became longer and the bad stretches became shorter. My recovery time was more rapid. I began to spend more time with my friends and family. I added activities back into my life outside of work. My fitness improved and two years after my injury I declared myself recovered.

“She hit her head at work tonight,” I heard my friend tell my dad. I looked across the hospital room. She spoke into the phone. “No, we don’t know how bad it is yet.”

I convinced the doctor I was fine and returned to work three days later. I thought I was okay. I didn’t lose my ability to speak clearly. I didn’t have the visible symptoms I had with the first brain injury. But everything became more difficult. I returned to spending my free time resting, and yet the workdays became longer and harder.

My brain fatigued much more quickly after my on-duty concussion. At the first sign of compromised abilities, I would call in sick.

“My brain feels like a bucket with a hole in it. No matter how much water I put into it, by the end of the day it’s empty. I can’t get the bucket full enough to last through my shift,” I complained to God, begging Him to plug up the hole.

My dad and I went sailing during my 4th of July vacation. It was a wonderful getaway until my dad started a serious conversation. “You need to quit work. It terrifies me that you get disoriented and confused, that you might not be able to react fast enough. It makes me sad that you have to give up everything else so that you can make it through a few shifts at the police department without leaving early.”

My vacation became one of heartbreak. I felt that everything I had worked for was gone. I had fought so hard to get back and I had failed. I questioned my own abilities; I thought that if I could just try harder, I’d get better.

My first day back to work from vacation went well. A week of rest was just what I needed. The police calls came in fast and I responded just as quickly. “I don’t have to quit,” I decided confidently. I started my next shift by taking my cruiser through a car wash. The sounds and movements made me throw up.

“I need to leave.” My captain looked at me with sadness in his eyes. “My brain just isn’t consistently rested enough to be safe on the job.”

A week later I collided with my nephew while playing in the waves. The sand swayed under my feet as my mom helped me stumble to the car.

“Mom, I did even hit my head right now.” Back to square one. Hospitals, brain therapy, pacing activities.

I struggled to understand. I was so angry at God for taking away my foster kids, my job, and my capabilities. I was angry that I couldn’t do all of the activities I loved. I felt loss after loss. Yet I still trusted Him to use me in a meaningful way and give me a fulfilling life.

I still feel the hurts and losses of the past three years. I still roller coaster with good and bad brain days. But over the past year, I relaxed into life and redefined my priorities. I strengthened my relationships with family and friends. Snowshoeing replaced skiing. I sold my motorcycle and started hiking extensively with my dog. Even though I couldn’t sustain being a long-term foster parent myself, I now provide respite for other foster parents. And even though I could not sustain a full-time job as a police officer, I now work as a probation surveillance officer and a private investigator with a flexible schedule.

Today my life is not defined by my head injury. The injury is just a piece of the puzzle and not the complete picture of me.

Life is different now.

And most days I can say, “My voice sounds good today.”

~Julie Sanderson

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