New Norms

A couple of weeks before the test, I compiled a couple of pages worth of review problems. And during the following week, I wrote the test and held additional office hours. Then on the evening before the test, I ran a review session.

Test weeks have always been deadly. Even before the bloody brain they used to be tiring. Now, I really dread them. And the evening review sessions are the worst of the worst.

Though this time, I felt pretty good going into the evening review session. Perhaps the nap I took in the afternoon did the trick. Perhaps this time, the session wouldn't drain me so completely.

I was okay during the first hour, then I felt the fatigue spreading through my systems. I could feel my body and mind becoming heavy and slow. I had to work to enunciate clearly to prevent myself from slurring my speech. My short term memory acted up—I had to ask the students for cues. “What problem are we working on?” and “What was your question again?”

I kept getting distracted. I was working on a word problem, where Horatio was pulling the bottom of a ladder away from the wall. “My son's name was Horatio before he was born. My daughter's was Esmeralda...”

But after a decent night's rest, I felt much better. I was still a little tired, but since the brain injury, fatigue has become part of my new norm. And now, since insufficient rest is also part of the new norm, a good night's sleep left me feeling more refreshed than I usually do in the morning.

With my head held high and a spring in my step, I carried the box of tests over to the lecture hall.

After I handed the tests out and gave the okay to start, I surveyed the room full of students with satisfaction. Their heads bent over their tests, they scribbled away, intent on their work. This was the easy part, keeping an eye on the students, answering the odd question here and there.

The room was quiet except for the occasional sound of paper rustling. Then the first hand went up. I took stock of Rachel's surroundings, and noted route I'd have to take, I only had to squeeze past Fred to get to her. After I answered her question, I scanned the class. One row down, Larry's hand was up. He was right in the middle of the row, three students in from each end. I sucked myself inward and slipped between Rachel and the desk behind her, climbed over to the next row, made my way past David, and leaned over Larry's shoulder. Next, all the way across the room, I scrambled over Allie's backpack and squeezed behind Tori, to get to Jack.

After Jack there was a lull in the action. I returned to the front of the room.

As my gaze swept across the bent heads, I felt a dampness behind my eyes. Wait. What was this? The room around me didn't quite feel in sync; I seemed to be operating with a split second time lag and my vision didn't seem to be quite right—a touch of vertigo and dizziness. My balance wasn't quite right. What's going on? Overload? It couldn't be. The room was quiet. Not much movement, just papers rustling as fingers paged through the test, all over the room. And those pencils, shushing, scraping back and forth across the paper. Then a cough and a sneeze, and more coughing, and students shifting in their eats. The sounds filled the room, the universe.

Tears threatened to well up. Overload. Definitely.

Why now? I hadn't felt this way in such a long time. The last time must have been several months ago, probably more than a year ago. Though I did have trouble shortly after I returned home from Israel three weeks ago, and I also hit overload when I was on the phone to the credit card company the other day. And earlier in the week I nearly lost it—all the sounds from outside my office. And when I went grocery shopping...

Oh yeah, overload is also part of the new norm.

I suspect that though life with the bloody brain has become my norm, it will always be a new norm.