When hoping turns to coping: A BIST member’s story

My brain injury occurred on August 17, 1974. It was amazing, if I can use a three syllable word for something which changed me and took a bunch of my talents away.

It was 38 years ago; it was seconds in which the damage was incurred.

On the day of my accident, I was being driven from McGill University in Montreal, where I was going to attend school in September. I lived in Connecticut, and my elder sister Daina was a McGill student. We dropped her off in Vermont and my friend from high school, James was driving my golden Nash Rambler, for which I had paid $100, and I was stretched out in the back. It was raining hard and the slick streets were quite treacherous. We got hit, and I was in a coma for one month. The point of impact was very near my head.

After they airlifted me to Albany Medical Center, everyone was so worried. My mother comforted me, stroked me and washed my clothing; and my father drove up from where he was a professor in New Haven, CT. He often played the guitar and banjo, and spoke reassuring words to me.

My friends from home heard about my situation and sporadically hitch-hiked up to see me. My most dear friends travelled to visit me: John Peterson, who would come and see me and always got on the bed to hold me; and my partner and best girlfriend Corinne Smith, who lived across the fence from us and with whom I often baked cookies.

It was amazing that part of my family of which I knew little was regrouping. Such warmth and such amazing caring. It is almost unbelievable how much care my family and friends gave me.

Yet it was difficult to tolerate many visitors. They spoke too quickly and ‘oohed’ and ‘ahed’ over me. I did not like or want their condolences, nor the noise that they brought. I surely couldn’t verbalize it, but quite soon, I wanted them out of my personal space!

My doctors continued to monitor me quite closely. But what luck I had! I was treated with such incredible care. After some weeks and months, though I am not sure exactly how long it took, I would learn to walk again through the physical therapy.

But my rehabilitation was arduous and painful. I was still furious, speechless, and disorganized. I tore my hair, I bit the sheets, I screamed for a long time, until I was wasted and I lulled myself to sleep. I was so filled with anger and hopelessness.

As I recall, I always liked to roll my wheel chair, with my non-paralyzed foot, to the infants’ nursery. No one would look for me there and I was so pacified by my silent companions. When found, I was wheeled into my own dwellings, the bars on my bed were lifted and I would scream and cry. Quickly I would fall asleep from all of the muscular exertion.

The accident had left me unable to walk or speak. All windows of communication seemed to have been slammed shut.

Upon release from the hospital, my family found a half-way house called New Haven Halfway House. The people running the Halfway House were freeing and nice. We did our chores. I helped out by working in the New Haven Food Co-op, organizing shelves and buying the food that the Half Way House required. I was “learning how” to take care of myself. Even though I was in such a condition, I was very satisfied.

As time passed, the word hoping turned to coping. Perhaps the tonic of repetition started to catch on. Although I still was pretty angry, I realized that the motions I was performing were those which I performed in similar situations. My speech was getting more accurate and more understandable. During all this time of ‘healing’, a lot of energy was being absorbed by my bursts of striving and then falling back into a reposeful sleep.

I have lived with my brain injury for thirty-eight years of renewal and reconstruction. Since that time, even though I can only see clearly though one eye, I am getting by. From being speechless and fighting like hell to rekindle the wicks into understandable speech. I paint, try to play the 5-string banjo, sing and am very grateful for all of these ‘little’ things. There have of course, been incredible times of panic and screaming and not being able to ‘get it together’ but I feel for the most part good and talented.