The burns on my fingers, hands and forearms were not mild but that’s how the traumatic brain injury (TBI) was defined. MILD. Even after six months of in-home occupational and speech therapy, I could barely manage a simple, one dish oven baked meal.
I tried. I planned. I wrote down meals for each day of the week. I made grocery lists with an individualized template my therapist created for me. But none of this helped get a consistent meal on the table. I was better at slicing my fingernails than chopping onions.
Burns, cuts, tears, explosive messes in the kitchen, forgotten meat in the trunk of my car, that’s what I produced after my extensive efforts.
My injury happened at work, so my recovery was controlled by worker’s compensation. Everything was about labels, doctor’s orders, and documentation. I had a “WID” (worker identification) number and, in the end (of that), I was compelled to give up medical care, retraining possibilities, and employment benefits. There was nothing mild about any of this. It was a kind of hell no one outside our home could see.
Cooking was just one of the many activities of daily life affected by the TBI. Failing my kids on a daily basis and excessive marital stress topped the list of casualties. Baskets of unfinished paperwork, scheduling nightmares, overwhelming distractions, sleepless nights, chronic pain, and the loss of my 20 year career loomed over me constantly. My daily goal became “accomplishing” one less failure than the day before.
Even larger was experiencing the discrepancy between my pre-injury level of function and what remained. Accepting I’d never be the same was emotionally excruciating. The mountains before me would always be endless, swallowing up every waking moment of my life. I was told to “find something you enjoy doing” to cope, but exhaustion was my intimate friend.
Can’t you just hear Julie Andrews singing?
“Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens . . . these are a few of my favorite things . . . when the dog bites . . . when the bee . . . I simply remember my favorite things . . .”
The quintessential song marketing optimism.
I suppose “tulips” wouldn’t have sounded right in the song, but three years post-injury, tulips are what brought a fragrance of hope to the less-than-living life I felt trapped in. I needed perspective badly.
We were in Washington, DC on a family vacation, grossly delayed because of my injury. Our “kids” were fifteen and eighteen, and I was determined to not let the short time we had left together as a family (before their college years) slip away any further. I was on maximum doses of narcotics 24/7 with an Ibuprofen kicker at night just to manage the pain on this “walking required” vacation.
Our older son loved the historical context of the area, while our younger son the culture and art. My hubby was the perfect efficiency expert, scheduling back to back events, coordinating wheelchairs, and dealing with details at the end of our long days.
With the help of drugs, my physical pain was at bay, enabling us to take in sixteen venues in ten days including the Washington Monument. Out of habit, because of my neck injury, I didn’t look up to view the towering structure. Instead, I looked down at the flowers around the base of the monument.
It was there I found my perspective.
Yellow was everywhere. It reminded me of my pre-injury life, begging my unattainable return. Then I saw It. A single pink tulip. Right there, framed by the others yet alone and different.
“Honey, look!” I called out to my husband.
He attended me with a simple, “What . .” As he tried to understand my excitement.
“Look at that flower.” I replied.
His eyes scanned the massive bed of tulips.
“No, THAT one.” I urged, now pointing.
“You like the pink one?” He asked.
“Don’t you get it?” I demanded, pointing to the pink tulip again, “That’s me!” My voice was now escalating, as it often did when others didn’t understand the broken communication caused by my TBI.
He pulled himself close, to quiet me.
“That’s what I feel like.” I whispered.
We stood there, silently looking across the sea of tulips surrounding the huge monument.
I thought about the obstacles I faced every day. So big I could not see beyond them.
As tiny droplets began to fall, they landed on my nose and eye lashes.
God had planted something deep in the soil of my adversity.
As the sun peeked through the heavens, I embraced the beauty of what was blooming in my soul.