This week has been busy. It’s been a short week because of Thanksgiving, so it hasn’t been any busier than any other week, really. It’s just that everything we normally do in five days is compressed into four, and although it’s no more to be done than in the average week, it just FEELS like it’s more.
But it’s after a long weekend — one, for us, that included travelling to the States and back, being witnesses to a car accident here in town, doing loads of laundry, the full bath-and-hair meal deal for Stinkerbelle on our day off, and getting lousy sleep despite more time to actually get sleep — and so that always comes with a feeling of let-down. The lousy sleep thing in particular is really getting to me, so when Tuesday morning rolled around, I was exhausted to the point of tears.
But there were appointments to go to and Stinkerbelle needed to be ferried to school afterwards. I took the opportunity when I dropped her off at school to have a quiet word with her teacher, to let her know about some upcoming appointments. I also wanted to let her know that That Girl has been struggling socially, being excluded from play by her classmates, and had spent a couple of recesses sitting alone on the grass in the schoolyard with nobody to play with.
I was emotional. It is hard for me to think of anyone mistreating my baby, even in the most average, normal, 6-year-old circumstances. But on that day, I was really tired and it just hit me harder.
On the way out, I met up with a friend, S., a former neighbour who is a teacher at Stinkerbelle’s school. We got to chatting about how Stinkerbelle was doing. I was still feeling emotional. Plus, I was tired, and I was struggling just to NOUN. As happens.
S. laughed and said, “Yeah, try doing that when you’ve had a traumatic brain injury!” And she began to relate a similar story about a struggle to find words she had had.
Now, backtracking slightly, S. had been a teacher in Stinkerbelle’s class for about half her kindergarten year. Then, one day, Stinkerbelle came home and told me that they had a new teacher. When I asked where S. had gone, she said, “She’s sick.”
S. was off school for about six months. I saw her in June, and we chatted briefly. But S. has an immediate family history of cancer. She’s had gynecological issues. She has suffered from post-natal depression. She has a child with severe food allergies that have, more than once, put his life at risk. So when I chatted ever so briefly with her on that day in late June, I didn’t feel it was appropriate to just casually ask “So, where ya been?”
I didn’t want to pry.
But then, as S. was standing in the school hallway on Tuesday morning, and began telling me about a traumatic brain injury, I was stunned. Thinking she had fallen or had a car accident or something, I asked what had happened.
The story she told me left me absolutely gobsmacked.
She and her family were at an amusement park, I suspect on holiday somewhere, in the late fall. She went for a ride on a roller coaster, and a couple of other rides, and she felt really sick afterwards. Like, really ill. Unusually ill. She also had a cold and an ear infection at the time.
When they got home from holiday, she didn’t get better. She got worse. MUCH worse. She began to sleep all the time, or sit for hours on the sofa just staring. She became completely apathetic about everything; a total blank. She began to lose the ability to taste or smell. She forgot how to shower, or go to the bathroom. She could do nothing to fend for herself.
She told me that one day, her husband brought her a bottle of water as she sat on the sofa. She had no idea what it was, what it was for, what to do with it. She asked, “What am I supposed to do with this?”
She had lost the ability to drink a glass of water.
The hospital here had no idea what could be wrong. She was there for weeks, and they kept pushing her to take anti-depressants, other psych drugs. They wanted to commit her to the local mental health facility.
Now, S. KNOWS from depression. She has been depressed. She knew she was not depressed. But she lost the ability to communicate that she knew. She lost the caring to communicate it.
After weeks of bad diagnosis, and many tears and struggles on the part of her husband and her family, the fog began to clear slightly, and she was able to finally tell them she was NOT depressed. They sent her to a much bigger hospital, where they started to dig deep and do some testing on her brain.
They found evidence that S. had suffered several concussions in her life. Now, S. had been a competitive skater as a teen, as well as playing rugby, and remembered taking many blows to the head on the ice or the field — but as a girl in sports way back in the 80s, she was never properly diagnosed, let alone treated. I mean, she was a GIRL. Sports medicine was for ATHLETES. That is to say, for BOYS.
I can attest to the mindset, believe me. I am nowadays suffering the aftereffects, the chronic aches and pains, of being a girl injured in competitive sports in the 80s and having those injuries dismissed with a tiny bag of ice and a pat on the head. Sports, and thus sports injuries, were for MEN.
Now in my case, I hobble around and take painkillers and whatnot. But a concussion? That’s a whole other situation. We now know that concussion in sports, especially multiple concussions, can fuck you right up.
So, as S. stepped onto a roller coaster that day last fall, she had no idea that she had had concussions of any consequence. And she certainly had no idea that, with the little bit of jarring and flailing about that a roller coaster can cause, just how badly those concussions would come back to fuck her up thirty years later.
All the whipping about and speed and whatnot from that one ride basically scrambled her brain, just as though she suffered a concussion that autumn day and not as a teen. It turned her mind to mush for a good few months. It traumatized her family. It completely changed her life.
Thus it was on Tuesday I found myself standing there, listening to her story. I had had no idea that any of this had occurred. I felt horrible for her and her family, terrible that I had not known and not been there to help in any way I could.
We finished chatting, as she had to go tend to her charges, and I had to go home and do some work. But as I left the building, I burst into tears.
I realized that this one discussion had thrown my day, my life this week, into rather harsh perspective. Here I was emotional and upset over the little day-to-day family things that one deals with, just living one’s life. There, walking through the doors into the school library, went someone whose life had been forever changed by a frankly horrific event.
I felt heartbroken and stunned for her and her family.
But I found myself feeling selfish, and petty, and also incredibly lucky and blessed that all I had to deal with were everyday trials and tribulations. Appointments. School woes. Lack of sleep. Lack of hormones. Whatever. I also had a wonderful, loving, healthy, happy family, and a roof over our head and plentiful food on the table.
Healthy. Happy. Together.
Any time I feel self-pitying, or find I am taking that for granted, I will forever remind myself of what S. has had to endure, what her family has gone through. And remind myself how lucky I am.