A fictional account that portrays some of the nuances of living with acquired brain injury.
The first sensation that registered as he awoke was a slight chill on his right arm. He rolled over so his right arm would absorb the warmth of the mattress. He decided that the woodstove needed to be stoked. Or maybe the woodstove had been stoked but the heat had not reached the far end of the house. Kevin rolled over to check the time. Having slept almost 8 hours he decided he was ready to get up.
There was still time to say goodbye to his daughter before she left. He had told her last night he would be awake to see her off. He rolled onto his side and swung his legs over the edge of the bed. The attempt to stand up sent a shock through his body. With great effort he leaned forward. He concentrated on shifting his weight by bringing one hand down onto the bedrail to help steady himself. This took some of the strain off his back. With a bit of extra effort he was able to straighten his back. He felt like he was recovering from a weight lifting competition. His back complained as he raised himself to standing position. He stood briefly without moving, making sure his balance was steady.
Kevin was puzzled. He didn’t recall doing a heavy workout the day before. It was two days ago when he had loaded the six foot slabs of ash. Yesterday he had sat around visiting with family members who were over for the weekend. It had been an enjoyable and relaxing day. There was no denying, right now his body simply refused to cooperate. In fact it refused to do anything without concerted effort.
How to get himself dressed? How to get his first leg into his black jeans? With his right hand on the edge of the dresser, his left hand holding the jeans by the waistband, he lifted his right leg, while making every effort to not lose his balance. The second leg was a bit easier to maneuver. He knew he could command his body to respond. Albeit rather slowly. But there was no need to rush. Putting on his shirt was easier. While it was hard to reach his arm back to get his hand into the sleeve, it was easy to keep his balance. He had gone to bed with his socks on so that was one less thing to deal with. At least he didn’t have to take on the challenge of sitting down and folding himself double to reach his feet.
After having put on his jeans and shirt Kevin shuffled toward the bedroom door. He groped his way through the fog that clouded his vision. The brain fog had become a familiar and annoying feeling. He assumed he was awake enough to begin the day. As he walked into the living room he muttered a good morning to his daughter. He wasn’t even sure she heard him. He was taken aback by the effort it took to speak two words. His body protested that simple gesture. He wasn’t sure she had even heard his greeting. Glancing out the window overlooking the backyard he noticed that Angela had clipped a leash on Franklin and taken him out so he could relieve himself.
Kevin walked into the kitchen and noticed the remnants of last night’s wine and snacks. By the time he reached the kitchen he felt like he had covered two kilometers. It shouldn’t take this much effort to cross the house. What to do next. Making breakfast or setting the table for the others would take more energy than he could muster. Or maybe just make a pot of tea.
It didn’t take long to make his decision. He shuffled back to the bedroom. The walk back felt like slogging through ankle deep mud. Every muscle in his body rebelled. His head was still in a fog. He hoped he wouldn’t meet anyone as he made his way back to the bedroom. Before he was even half way to the bedroom he was in tears. The effort to get back was just too much. He hardly registered the sense of relief at having made it to the bedroom door. He stepped into the room. He gave the door a slow motion body check to close it. He didn’t notice it was left slightly ajar. He didn’t have the energy to turn around and see if it had closed.
He slumped down onto the bed, landing on top of the blankets. He made no attempt to even pull the blankets back so he could cover himself. As he lay down his body succumbed to the relief. Within the solitude of his bedroom, he broke down in sobs. There was no stopping the tremors that moved through his body. He had no energy to hold himself together. He was disappointed in himself. He was disappointed in not being able to see is daughter off. He didn’t have the energy to initiate anything constructive.
Eight hours of sleep last night. That should be enough to rest his body. The eight hours of sleep was definitely not enough to bring respite to his brain. He remembered having several vivid dreams but the details evaporated as he woke up. The previous two days had been crowded with a high level of engagement, conversations, changes in routine, excitement, the expressions of love and support, and more. The heightened level of activity of family members visiting for the weekend was more than his brain could process.
After lying down for twenty minutes Kevin mustered enough energy to get up off the bed. Some of the fatigue had seeped out of him. He decided it was best to head straight outside. It meant delaying breakfast. Not a good idea. Being outside would be calming and provide some healing. The wind in the trees, the gnawing sounds of the squirrels chewing on walnuts, the mating call of the cardinal, the distant bark of a dog would gradually settle his brain. The subdued sounds of the outdoors meant less for his brain to filter. These sounds were fine. These sounds were in the right place. They belonged. These sounds were sounds of life, sounds of harmony. Things were good.
When Kevin headed outside he took Franklin with him. Franklin was always eager for a walk. He loved the excitement of exploring the linger scents of a mouse, a vole, a rabbit or some unknown animal. The longer the walk the better. Walking Franklin brought with it familiarity, a relaxed pace, the satisfaction of pleasing someone else. Since he had Franklin on a leash Kevin decided to head into the bush and check how the sap was running. Checking the two dozen taps meant more time for Franklin to enjoy the outdoors. Being outside was better than sitting down indoors. Walking was a good way to channel the restlessness that accompanied his fatigue.
After checking on the sap he decided to work on the ash logs that he had harvested two days before. He wanted to split a three inch slabs into two thinner slabs. He had laid out the sharpened axe head, the ironwood wedges, the splitting axe and the froe along with a crudely made ironwood mallet. Splitting the slabs required methodical work. It was satisfying work. Done carefully, the results would be better. Splitting logs should not be rushed. The grain needed time to separate. He would move slowly but that was good because that match the rhythm of his brain. With a bit of planning the slab should split into two useful planks. As he worked he sensed his brain sending clearer signals to his legs. To his arms. To the different parts of the body. The muscles starting to respond quicker, his coordination began to improve, fatigue gradually subsided. There was no one asking questions. He had no need to explain what he was doing. He only talked when he wanted to give a word of praise or encouragement to Franklin.
Kevin appreciated and enjoyed the time by himself. He savoured physical activity that was somewhat repetitive, that had a rhythm to it. Something more or less predictable. This space being familiar there were fewer demands on his brain. Fewer impressions to sort out. He didn’t need to work overtime, filtering sounds, filtering emotions, filtering impressions or making adjustments. Focusing on one thing reduced the amount of sensory input bombarding him. He knew he needed a day or more to clear the overload brought on by the activities of the past two days.
Something predictable yet unexpected happens when Kevin’s need for a slower pace meets the rapid pace, rapid change, the saturation of activity overloading his senses. He couldn’t absorb the accelerated sensations that bombard hime. Even though he enjoys being part of the faster pace, even though he enjoys the vitality of visiting with his family he cannot absorb the jolts, the G forces that accompany the break from predictable routines.
Kevin’s journal entry that day read, “Had a slow start to my day.”