Sunday, April 27, 2014

Acquiring Minds Want to Know

As much as I've acknowledged for nearly four years that I've been somewhat physically hobbled by my stroke, I think I'd been somewhat unwilling to accept the higher significance of my condition. It's really only been the last year that I've allowed myself to identify with Brain Injury and the Brain Injury community, though I'm much the better for it. There's a mass of semantics at work there, between the mere word, "injury," the term Traumatic Brain Injury (which I've heard the most but which was more recently clarified for me as the external branch of Acquired Brain Injury (any Brain Injury occurring after birth [i.e. not  hereditary, congenital, or degenerative]). Because, ya know, Brain Injury is an acquired taste. And, while a rolling stone gathers no moss, it picks up a ton of other crap along the way. I was introduced to ABI at a new brain aneurysm support group sponsored by the Brain Aneurysm Foundation. Funnily, while my aneurysm was the start of all my trouble and the stroke an additional acquired extension of it, that bubble in my head has long taken a backseat to my stroke/"Cerebrovascular Accident"/"Cerebrovascular Insult"/ "Brain Attack." There's no adequate language to sum up the collateral damage.

As occupied as I've been of late with being brain injured and using that standing to its best effect (i.e. paying it forward), the aneurysm support group (which consists mostly of aneurysm rupture survivors, family members of people tragically killed by an aneurysm rupture, and the rare anomaly [like myself] who had the good fortune to discover his aneurysm pre hemorrhage) was a psychosomatic wake-up call to pay closer attention to the headaches I've been having. Not to worry -- my sense was and my doctor agreed that the pain was craniotomy related, since it was local to my skull and worsened when my reassembled boneflaps move (such as when I yawn). Nevertheless, with my flight to DC looming large, my doctor ordered a precautionary CT scan.

Fortunately, the results showed my head to be "unchanged" since 2012 (which is about the best you can hope for when you have a junkyard for a noggin). As usual, I've compiled some images -- the first is most X-ray like, the others are flipbook movies of different series of scans (I recommend slowing them to half or quarter speed in the YouTube settings). Sure looks pretty weird to me, but the radiologist said, "No additional...abnormalities are identified". Don't think I could fit much more anyway.

Titanium aneurysm clips are intact.

Saturday, April 05, 2014


Our lives are ruled by lists: "To Do" lists, Reminder lists, Shopping lists, Ingredient lists (depending on your gluten or nut or vegan sensitivities); and Buzz Feed, ViralLine and Huffington Post lists of irrelevant -- yet immensely-important-when-they-pop-up-in-your-Facebook-Newsfeed -- things (I'm looking at you, 13 Reasons Why Small Dogs Are A Big Deal and 19 Hilarious Roller Coaster Photo Ops). Recently, a founding member of my brain injury group passed away but left us with a token wholly representative of her wise, giving, and funny nature -- a list called, Things I Can Do. While I don't feel it's my place to share her list in its entirety, (except for my personal favorite, #7 -- "Bug People"), it did inspire our group to make our own lists and focus on what we have, not what we've lost. This is the list I came up with for myself:
  1. Figure things out.
  2. Write/share/educate/provide perspective to others.
  3. Snowshoe
  4. Drive
  5. Tricycle
  6. Be a father.
  7. Work
  8. Think.
  9. Overthink.
  10. Be Myself.

After seeing what I'd spit out off the top of my head, I realized my list could be broken down into the following categories:

  • Things I Can Do
  • Things I Can Still Do
  • Things I worked hard to do again
  • Things I can only do because of the stroke.
What I like about the list is that it focuses on my strengths. As a society, we zero in far too often on our weaknesses and how to "fix" ourselves, when our strengths usually outweigh our deficits. We also tend to overshoot when it comes to what we believe we can do and instead take it as a challenge toward self improvement. I think I've been pretty clear in the past about how I feel about New Year's resolutions, and grandiose bucket lists (who knows what tomorrow will bring?) Thus, before and after my surgery, I maintained, "Totally Achievable" Bucket Lists. Unfortunately, my Before list was lost in the internet ether, but I've done my best to recompile it from memory:

  1. Make French toast with the boys.
  2. Give tuna juice to the cats.
  3. See the end of Lost (not sure it was worth it)
  4. See the end of Star Wars. (not sure it was worth it) [and I didn't know then that the series wasn't over]

After currently looks like this:

  1. Make French toast with the boys
  2. Juggle (done with one hand)
  3. Hula hoop
  4. Go bowling
  5. Swim
  6. Walk on the beach
  7. Pass driver's test
  8. walk through automatic revolving door
  9. bike/trike for ice cream with the kids
  10. Use an escalator

I do have more grandiose aspirations (publishing my book, tricycling long distance), but I'm unwilling to call those goals Totally Achievable because I can't allow myself to take anything for granted. Yes, it can be exhausting to be that hesitant about the future; but it feels better than getting my hopes up too high and either being disappointed or regretful.

That said, I did face my fatalistic fears recently and in March allowed myself to think as far ahead as May! -- to an award ceremony in Washington, DC, where Brain Injury Voices will be accepting a HAVE ((Hospital Award for Volunteer Excellence). I've booked my plane tickets and hotel room and am now writing yet-another fundraising plea (thanks to everyone who helped me reach my goal to buy a recumbent tricycle -- I pick it up tomorrow!), so our group can make the journey to accept the honor, meet with Congressional representatives, and visit with brain-injured service members at Walter Reed Medical Center.

I now close with a list I recently discovered in my blog Drafts folder from August 2005:

Pet Peeves

Ironically, as well as being fodder for another pet peeve, I've written this once already this morning. It's ironic because I originally decided to write this list in my blog so that it wouldn't be lost in the ether. Then again, the "ether" would have been Tess' e-mail, since she's the one who requested the list.
  1. Entitlement
  2. Entitled Drivers.
  3. Entitled Customers.
  4. Entitled Noise.
  5. Baseball movies that use tight shots on the action
  6. Do-rags (though not schmattes).
  7. Entropy.
  8. Machismo.
  9. People who tell you what you should do to improve your life.
  10. Big books with small print.
  11. Not remembering things I did two minutes ago.
  12. When you lose everything you've been working on for the last hour.
  13. Not anticipating consequences
  14. Lethargy
  15. Extremism
  16. Pet preferences (everything isn't frowns and grimaces, after all). [not sure if that was an actual pet peeve or the start of a new list (like having the toilet paper roll flip over the top)]
  17. Not being able to think of anything else.
  18. Oh, the powder at the bottom of the Cheerios bag/box. I hate that.