Deb Brandon: Living in Radiant Color

Flashbacks and Survival

I was listening to the Dixie Chicks’ song “Easy Silence.” Tears welled up at the words

Photo credit: Jonathan Brandon

…And the peaceful quiet you create for me

And the way you keep the world at bay for me…

as memories flooded my mind. I shuddered as images from my first-year post-brain bleeds flashed across my awareness, when my mind was in total chaos, when the bloody brain consumed my entire existence.

Frozen in place, incapable of escaping the cacophony around me, the jerky movements, the blur of colors. Tears streaming down my cheeks, dripping onto the floor, while my friends continued to eat and chat. Only Cindy and Sara had an inkling of my distress.

            Utterly confused and disoriented, unable to comprehend the world around me. My mother on the phone, pacing about my hospital room in the neuro-ICU, speaking in tongues to yet another relative, only able to catch the odd word here and there: “better,” “scars,” “Jonathan,” “home.”

Lying still inside a CT machine, loneliness and fear consuming me. Terrified that I would die in there, with no one by my side. The only evidence of the presence of the technicians a few yards away, the sound of their muffled voices reaching me from behind their observation window.

Sitting on my hospital bed, slack-jawed, as the evil neurologist accused me of faking my symptoms, calling me an attention seeker. Helpless, I turned my attention to the interns flanking her. Surely, they realized that my symptoms were real, that I wasn’t a headcase? Instead, they nodded assent to her charges.

            Reclining in bed taking stock of the meds on my nightstand. Which would be most effective were I to attempt suicide?

Sitting at my desk, on the phone to my chosen neurosurgeon’s secretary, my hands shaking, my breath ragged, discussing dates for my brain surgeries. “I’m sorry. Could you repeat that please. I… I… I can’t… I’m having trouble wrapping my head around this.”

Her voice shifted from businesslike yet friendly to warm and soothing. “I understand. Take your time.”

As soon as I hung up, I dialed Cindy’s number. “The… the… ummm… surgeries have been scheduled. August 8th for the big one and August 10th for the brainstem.”

I broke the suffocating silence.  “Cindy… I’m… I’m freaking out.” My voice was small.

I barely heard her response “Me too.”

Lying in bed on my first night in inpatient rehab bereft, feeling alone in a vacuum. I tried to stifle my sobs to avoid the attention of the strangers that surrounded me—my softly snoring roommate, the nurse patrolling the hallway, her shoes squeaking with every step, or the nurses sitting at their station chatting, mere yards from my room.

            Calling out to my roommate and her visiting daughter. But my voice was too soft. Dragging myself across the wall, towards the nurses’ station, hoping that one of the nurses would see me in my plight before I collapsed on the floor.

            Abby my PT at my bedside, listening to the neurosurgeon’s pronouncement. “You need another brain surgery. Tomorrow.” Emerging from my initial shock to hear Abby’s voice. “Bummer!”

            Explaining to my dragon boat coach why I couldn’t help organize our next race. “I won’t remember.” When I meant to remind her that I still suffered from residual deficits from the bloody brain, that my organizational skills, or lack thereof, weren’t up to the task. But, flustered by the team’s laughter and the coach’s frown, the words weren’t there to be found. I curled into myself blushing in my shame.

            Paralyzed at the entrance of a crowded restaurant. “I can’t do this.” And Bill’s insistence that I could. Holding onto his shirt, following him into the melee, weaving my way around tables, shying away from touch.

            My heart plummeting as the dreaded truth slammed into me. That moment when I realized that I couldn’t help Sarah with her high school algebra homework. Telling Bill that I can’t return to teaching. Absorbed in his magazine, he didn’t even lift his head. “You’ll be fine.”

Hearing a whine emerge from the depths of my anguish, “I couldn’t help Sarah with her math homework.” And Bill, greeting my words with silence.

            Every day was a new struggle. The many setbacks—one step forward, two steps back. Long plateaus—sometimes days, other times weeks. The conviction that I’d be stuck as I was, with all my debilitating deficits, forever.

            Days, weeks, sometimes months, of living in a nightmare. Lying in bed, listless, wallowing in my misery. The despair, the tears… That two-week period in the throes of depression, heavy limbed, feeling helpless and hopeless as I huddled deep within the maw, suicide a viable option in my mind. I told no one of the darkness that swallowed up my being—I didn’t want anyone to stop me were I to put my plans into action.  

            How on Earth did I survive it?