It is 4 pm. Do you know what I have done today? I woke up, ate breakfast, read a book, got the mail, ate lunch, and then napped. In the past 15 minutes, I have cleared my head enough to start writing this blog post.
That is it. That is a list of all actions I have completed in the past 16 hours. The sum total of my worldly contributions for this time of earth that I will never get to live again. Dude.
To be precise, as my scientific nature makes me – I have also maintained a relatively constant heartbeat, routinely drawn air into and forced air out of my lungs, used my bipedal skills to motor around the downstairs of the house, deftly digested the food I placed in my body, and put my tool-using hands to good use petting purring, domesticated cats.
That actually is a lot, when you think of it. Of course, it is discounted because every other human being around me completes the same tasks, all the time, every day. And, it is not really fair to take credit for unconscious organism-level actions, nor credit for using appendages provided from birth.
Yet, at the same time, my injury, and then my mom’s injury, have made me aware of how much effort and energy and thought each of those simple, unconscious activities take. My mom certainly will not be unconsciously puttering around her house on her own two feet in the next month. During the flu, my ability to draw air into my lungs was sometimes questionable due to congestion and spasmatic coughing… I almost drove Mary to the emergency room one night. Although my brain injury does not necessarily impact any of the specific skills listed above, it does impact other slightly-higher-level-functioning things like doing math, or carrying a conversation, or exercising.
Those limitations do not go away because something else comes up – the flu, travel, family crisis. They are still here, in the background, every moment of every day of my life.
Part of the challenge of the flu is that it is exhausting. Even once the fever breaks and the coughing stops, the unyielding, leaden physical exhaustion can stand between one’s ability to return to functioning in the normal world, sometimes for a day or sometimes for a week or more.
As my cough gradually disappears (thank goodness), I wonder where my flu fatigue stops and where my PCS fatigue continues. Am I better today? Was I better yesterday? Should I wait another day before resuming my uninspiring exercise activities? The strange thing is, I do not know, my doctor does not know, Mary does not know, no one knows. This is where I am forced to bow to the reality that there is rarely a clear delineation of one condition from another, rarely a line that divides two experiences or organic functions apart.
Why does it matter? Functionally, I suppose it does not. I would like to know. I want to accurately tally the cost of my injury, for myself. Perhaps the world needs to know, to differentiate between a socially understood and accepted condition that almost every human being alive has experienced, and this weird, transient, not scientifically understood experience called Post Concussion Syndrome.
On one side of the line, sympathy is commiserative, an “aw that sucks. I remember this horrible time…”. On the other side of the line… well… if I was not experiencing this myself, maybe I would think that the injured person had some unresolved psychological issues, or they were using it as an excuse. Perhaps they were misdiagnosed and had a real brain thing like a tumor. Or, maybe it is a real thing, and I really do not understand it. I would offer “aw that sucks” sympathy, but would not have a real personal experiential basis to relate.
Thankfully, most people will never experience what this feels like. Changing the side of the line I stand on, I , thankfully, am like most people who are not quadriplegic. My body is whole. Losing my body in that way is not something I have experienced, so I can not truly understand. I can offer sympathy and empathy, but not the deep subconscious acceptance of someone who has been there. There is nothing wrong with that. It just is.
I have been anxious to get over the flu. Not only because it is horrible, but also because I did not want to miss my sabbatical. I have a lot of healing and mental resting to do.
Oh wait. Hold On. Stop. That is what I have been doing. Sitting around, sleeping all the time. Maybe the whole body seizures of coughing made me do some slow headbanging, but otherwise my head was safe and resting the whole time.
As a 39 year old gainfully employed adult, it was SO STRANGE to realize, yesterday, that I actually do not have anything to rush back to once I am done with the flu. Yes, my sabbatical is ticking by, but I did not have urgent tasks that needed completing during this timeframe. No book to publish, no rooms to paint, no goals to meet. That is the point of the sabbatical.
So, I eat, I sleep, I pet cats. Sometimes I play guitar and do yoga. Sometimes I meet with friends and chat. I call my mom every day in the rehabilitation facility. That is me. That is what I am doing, right now.