Met Jim the other day. Hadn’t seen him in fifteen years. He probably hadn’t crossed my mind in at least a dozen years. I last saw him a few years after he had an operation to remove a brain tumor. I saw him once in awhile in the first years following his operation, seeing some of his related health issues but never really giving it much thought other than “it must be a nuisance having to deal with the side effects.” I had never really asked him how he was doing other than a question that would illicit a cursory response. And why would he have said more when the question sounds like a casual greeting?
Met Jim the other day as I was biking along at a pleasant clip. The recognition on my part was immediate. I did a wide u-turn and said hello. I was curious if he would remember me. Gave him a few hints. I soon realized I had changed my appearance too much since he last saw me.
Met Jim the other day and purposely took my time to reacquaint myself with him. I was now in a different space in acknowledging his neuro-atypical status. It dawned on me that I was talking with a fellow ABI, an ABI veteran of fifteen plus years.
There was a mutual understanding and a relaxed cadence as we shared experiences. As our commonality dawned on me it awoke my curiosity. Acknowledging his veteran status I was eager to learn more about his recovery and rehab post-operation. Now a distant event for him.
Since I have been working with an OT (occupational therapist) for the past six months I was curious how much OT support he had received. Pre-ABI I would have had no context in which to ask the question. He told me he had received a couple of OT visits. I surmised that an operation for a brain tumor creates damage in a clearly defined part of the brain, anticipating fairly predictable consequences. In my case, having survived a side impact it takes time to determine which parts of the brain have been significantly injured, which parts of the brain have been bruised, while also waiting to see how much and where the healing will take place.
In response to my question, Jim told me he accepted his disability very quickly. The doctors had been very blunt about the damage the surgery would cause. I imagined that following the diagnosis and then the waiting for the operation their had been time to come to terms with his ABI status.
I saw a real contrast in my transition into an ABI status. For me it came as a result of a sudden and unexpected event. Some of the effects of the mTBI appeared immediately, while other effects gradually emerged. At the same time some of the effects gradually diminished. On days that I would experience minimal effects I would believe the ABI was clearing. Other times I would forget that I was living with ABI, till some event early in the day would trigger a symptom. Every time a blunt reawakening.
My encounter with Jim was encouraging in its own strange way. It did not give me a sense that my ABI would necessarily improve greatly. It wasn’t that I could give him some helpful insights from my experience. What was encouraging was the sense of understanding that pervaded our discussion. No lengthy explanation was needed in order for me to understand some of his daily challenges. I found a sense of relief at having someone understand some of my experiences without resorting to lengthy descriptions. It was an experience of empathy underscored by understanding.
Jim is content to stay home. I can relate to him finding large groups disorienting. Trying to carry out a conversation with more than two or three people at a time quickly goes off the rails. Occasionally someone tells him they regularly pray for him. He adamant that he would rather have a person pay him a ten minute visit. It would mean much more to him. I would have to agree with him. Prayer is part of walking alongside someone, a tangible sense of presence. Prayer in a vacuum seems hollow.
As I continued on my bike ride I reflected on our short visit. I experienced in Jim a sense of calm, a feeling of acceptance. An acceptance of loss with a sprinkling disappointment but no hint of bitterness.
Before I can reach that place of acceptance I need to disassociate acceptance from acquiescence. At this point in my journey with ABI my focus is to expand my horizons, to relearn and do more of the things I was able to do pre-ABI. I have accepted the slowness of the process. Impatience hasn’t been complicating my attempts to expand my horizons. Setbacks happen. I can accept that. I mine those experiences to garner new insights. That’s been a key part of my rehab. I come armed with the new insights to fine tune my next attempt at the activity.
Once I no longer experience improvement, I will hopefully have the dignity to live with acceptance and not view it as acquiescing.