Friday, December 11, 2009


And so much has changed in these four weeks. I couldn't read or write or do much of anything besides talk and listen and eat and drink (lots of herbal teas) in the first few days after the operation.

One of the most stunning examples of the ways in which my brain couldn't operate as usual that first week, was when I was on the phone with someone and they wanted to pass on a message to a friend who was in the hospital room with me and though I understood the simple message I was meant to convey and knew what it meant to do that, my brain somehow would not let me. I could not for the life of me just say the few words that would have passed the message on. Just one example of many that illustrate how limited what I could accomplish was those first few days (including reading and writing).

By the end of the first week I could read out loud some but not silently to myself, could only write a few sentences with several corrections necessary in every word and feeling exhausted after only that. I couldn't multiply single numbers or do other simple basic math or touch my nose without missing it or remember certain words etc. etc, And my perceptions were so diffused and atomized I couldn't take dealing with more than one thing at a time (the first few days in the hospital were an exception as I was still coming down from the operation drugs and anesthesia I guess—and still on heavy steroids etc.—so was very speedy in my speech and seemingly not bothered by all the friends and family who visited).

But after those first few days in the hospital, if more than one person tried to talk to me at a time it hurt my head and made me extremely anxious. People were dropping off food at my apartment and they would enter and start to empty bags and talk to me and I would ask them to leave because it was too much for me if there was anyone else there at the same time.

I couldn't watch almost any TV or read or listen to music—all of that seemed overwhelmingly complicated, like the words on the page or the images on the TV or the individual sounds in the music were a cacophony of dissonant and gratingly loud and aggravatingly harsh sounds. The images on TV seemed so distinctly separate that every second's alteration from one moving image to the next was a whirlwind of so much movement and imagery it felt like a universe of discord was fighting for attention in my brain's limitations.

But by the end of the second week, I was reading a little to myself (a paragraph a day was about my limit) and very well out loud. Writing was still almost impossibly difficult and full of odd mishaps like substituting entirely different words for the ones I thought I was directing my brain to write, as in "who" for "now" or "instinct" for "image" or "Thursday" for "operation"! Not to mention the numerous typos and strange reversals and additions that altered the meaning of words or sentences or ideas.

It was fascinating to experience and quite engaging, at least to me. In those first two weeks I spent a lot of time just sitting and smiling (at least to myself) over how contented and unfrustrated I felt despite the fact that there was very little I could do besides eat and have a conversation with whoever was in the apartment with me (and in those first weeks someone was with me at all times, either my daughter Caitlin, or my older son Miles and sometimes my daughter-in-law Jennifer or my good friend Sue (I just wrote that as "god friend"—one of the many interesting typos I still make).

But by the third week I was reading much better, short articles in TIME, and able to watch relatively simple (i.e. black-and-white, two or three character simple premise) movies and TV shows, could write with slightly less problems, mostly just typos, unable to get my mind and fingers to hit the right keys but not substituting entirely incorrect (in terms of my initial intentions) words, and could abide two people in my apartment talking at the same time.

But now, in just the past two days, the writing has improved drastically, I'm typing this with mostly ordinary typos every few words rather than several in one word and tons in each sentence like it was only a few days ago! And yesterday I read an entire article in THE NEW YORKER. When just a week ago I couldn't read more than a paragraph without feeling like I just overloaded my mind for the day. So much has come back, in fact, that most of the time I feel pretty much like my old self.

There are still many things that can improve. A short outing to the store exhausts me, and being confronted with more than one or two people out in public is so painful I have to turn my eyes away or close them. And sounds, when I'm out, still do that diffuse overall cacophony thing that is hard to bear (I noticed last week when I tried being in a room with lots of people every sound to me was equally loud and overwhelming, so someone talking, someone whispering in a far corner, someone unwrapping a package or blowing their nose or walking across the room or sighing [I wrote "signing" for "sighing" at first and then trying to correct it wrote several other incorrect words including "winging"! so my incorrect word substitutions are still happening especially the more I type and my brain begins to tire] or making any sound whatsoever all come across as equally loud as though they were right up against my ear. Way too difficult to deal with).

But I am so grateful for the incredible progress I've made that any improvement or lack of it seems completely okay with me. Again I thank everyone for their love and support and hope that I didn't sound too self-righteous in my post yesterday, as if I'm always perfectly grateful for everything—"good" and "bad"—I'm not that evolved. But I'm working on it.


-K- said...

This would make a fascinating book.

JIm said...

Ditto on the book.

harryn said...

or at least another chapter to the work in progress ...