43. I don’t want anyone to see me like this…

While I was at the 3rd Hospital I was awake enough to interact with visitors when they came to see me.  I was still unsure if the situation was real or not – I just felt awful so let me just issue another blanket apology for any and all misbehavior that might have occurred on my part.

One day may Oregonian parents, DnA came to see me after Therapy.  We sat down and I quizzed A with questions like, “What year were you married?” and “How many years were you in E?”  (they lived overseas as missionaries).  After she answered all my questions correctly I gave up and turned to D.  “Well, it looks like A,” I told him.

We chatted for a while and D gestured over to my dinner tray.  Dinner was early there.  “Are you going to eat in front of us?”  he asked me.  “No,” I answered truthfully, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this.”  I don’t think they heard that last part because they were already gathering their things and making motions to go since they wanted to make sure I got some sustenance down my throat while it was still warm.  They needn’t have worried since the food cart the dinner trays sat in had amazing heat retention capabilities and it usually took my food a while to cool to the temperature at which I could ingest it safely.

Mom heard what I had said, though, and made a sort of “Oh, my poor baby” sound.  I think she knew about my eating concerns since I had told her “I’m like an animal” the day before.

The shock of eating messily was pretty hard on me.  Being able to swallow enough to get my PEG removed was a blessing, but relearning how to put food in my mouth etc. was not my favorite part of hospitalization.  Not being able to get up and wash my hands as often as I wanted to also bothered me. I have long admired my cousin-in-law, CT for his skill at dissecting a crab with surgical precision using only a pair of chopsticks.  He can thus eat crabs and lobsters very neatly without messing up his hands, which is not the norm at Chinese restaurants.

But eating hasn’t been the only “messy” part of recovery.  PT37 “ran” me around Planet Rehab last Thursday and I couldn’t help laughing as we passed through the waiting room and I thought of what those people must have been thinking as we passed by – PT37 gripping my gait belt and me loping/galloping along.  I heard the uneven rhythm of my limpy gait (even though I’m trying not to limp) and it made me laugh even more.

Mommy tells me I’m more “voluble” now that I’ve sustained a brain injury, but I actually try and control what I reveal emotionally, even though I’m in the Me: Unfiltered stage. I’m probably more “Me” than I was before this happened, FYI.  But most of the time I’ve got my game face on since it’s been my experience that it’s sometimes “too much” for people to know 100% of what I’m really feeling.  To clarify, I do not change the feeling itself, I just control the manifestation of it so that it’s a diluted, more palatable version of what I’m feeling that my friends/loved ones can grapple with more easily (see Post 18.  “Dad, tell me that thing again…”  esp. the last paragraph.)  This is not me trying to be brave – it’s a self-serving exercise in that toning the feeling down for public consumption allows me to participate more fully in life.

But even this “game face” version of my experience is a calculated exposure on my part.  When I said, “I don’t want anyone to see me like this,” I didn’t realize it at the time but that ship had already sailed.  All sorts of pictures and posts regarding my illness have been floating around in cyberspace since I got sick – and an army of people around the world have prayed for me as a result (thank you!).  I was horrified at the hospital since I was just discovering my limitations but my parents knew it could have been so much worse and so wanted to document what they saw as achievements.  The result is a bunch of pictures of me in a wheelchair looking unhappy.  I have read old emails from Dad that literally celebrate the fact that I swallowed my own saliva. When I woke up I saw no reason to celebrate anything.  But now I do.  The fact that I did not fall off the Physio Ball at therapy last week is a reason to celebrate.  So is the fact that I made it to Tuesday night meeting, although I had a little walking trouble on the way out.

I told my friends, (the Polish-Indian-“Russian”) S’s, that the “game face” exposures are intended to keep things real.  Even though it might be “a lot” for people to digest when they’re busy trying to earn a living and raise a family I have embraced the idea that people are going to see me “like this” since A) it’s inevitable and B) I don’t want people to mistakenly think, “Oh, she’s handling this so well.”  Because I’m not.   I’m just good at faking things (like, I’m not dizzy.  Nope!).  So I hope that knowing I wanted to cry at therapy a few times this past week might help you do your duty at the office.  Or the fact that I’m on my fourth neuro-psych might encourage you to seek professional help if you need it (if you’re a believer, though, make sure to run everything you hear through the filter of scripture).  In any case, it’s a new day and I’ve got to go put my contacts and my game face on.