Among several things I’ve been astounded by during TC’s recovery is his astute clarity about how he has changed since his injury. Last night marked one of the first times in months that we sat together and talked freely about anything and everything. I daresay we had a nearly “normal” conversation.
Most days are too jam packed with therapy, doctors appointments, and errands for TC and I to communicate about anything other than our busy schedule. It can be exhausting to confer with him on little things such as what to have for dinner because the energy required to repeat myself over and over and then to decode his gibberish is utterly depleting. By the end of the day I am more than happy to put on a DVD or participate in some activity that doesn’t involve talking.
However, in the past few days TC has shown extraordinary progress in his speaking and last night’s conversation flowed happily and effortlessly. I attribute part of this progress to a really successful day in DC this week. TC met with two of his doctors for follow up appointments and even stopped by his office to enjoy lunch with his colleagues. He was visibly overjoyed to return to his place of work, sit at his desk briefly, and catch up on the latest news from his office. I’ve always told TC how incredibly fortunate he is to have a profession that he’s not only good at, but that he sincerely loves. Returning to work at whatever point it might be possible is TC’s motivating goal in therapy and Wednesday’s visit to the office reignited his determination to overcome his current disabilities.
If you overlook his unsteady walking, his semi-paralyzed right arm, his blind left eye, and the long scars that run the length of his skull, TC’s speech is the primary thing that separates him from the person he used to be. Like a mother hen with the diligence of a hawk, I tend to examine TC’s every sentence, reaction, and response looking for clues that will give me insight into how exactly he is changed. Surprisingly, the differences in his personality are subtle. They don’t affect his day to day interactions in any meaningful way, yet they are living and fascinating examples of how complex brains and brain injuries can be.
TC is keenly aware of these differences, but often unable to control them. For example, the volume of his voice. There’s an old SNL sketch featuring Will Ferrell and Tina Fey in which Will is explaining in a loud and funny tone the causes and symptoms of “voice immodulation,” the inability to control the volume of your voice. We joke about this sketch now because it seems to apply to the person we lovingly refer to as TC v.2.0. When T is excited or enthusiastic about something, he often begins yelling without realizing it. When this happens in the car, Jack assumes we’re fighting and starts yelling my name to intervene. I find myself frequently explaining, “Daddy’s not mad. He’s just really excited.”
TC v.2.0 is also much more friendly with strangers than the original model. He greets everyone from receptionists to grocery checkers to fellow rehab patients with a huge smile and hearty hello. I have seen him do this with small children as well, but have warned him that in this case it may not be interpreted as he intends. As TC explains it, he has a new lease on life and a lot of love to share. Greeting people happily and enthusiastically is an extension of his new found inner joy and appreciation for life.
Although I find TC’s increased sociability and tone of voice more entertaining than problematic, there are other small things that do concern me. Getting T’s attention can be quite difficult, particularly if you are approaching him from the right side. Often I will have to say his name 3 or 4 times before I can get him to look over at me. He is easily confused by time and struggles to follow lengthy discussions. It’s difficult for me to discern how much of these problems is physical, how much is related to his speech deficits, and how much is permanently imprinted on his healing brain.
While I remain the same sarcastic and moderately cynical person I was before, my new husband has no tolerance for the negativity associated with these qualities. His new outlook feels reminiscent of a child’s: there is simply good and there is bad. He has no use for gossip, biting comments, or judgment. It’s a beautiful approach to life, but it can sometimes scare me. I wonder how he will survive in the real world once we emerge from the cocoon of our countryside retreat. And then, in the same breath, I wonder what my problem is. Perhaps we should all be approaching our lives and our interactions with the same purity and enlightenment that TC now exhibits.
In our funny, half-English, half-gibberish conversations that likely resemble twin-speak to the outside world, TC and I refer to these changes as 90/10. In terms of his personality, he is 90% the TC I knew before and he is 10% changed. The 90/10 effect also applies to my attitude about our new life. 90% of the time I am inspired to persevere and to fight. 90% of the time I feel honored to serve as a witness, and occasionally, an accomplice, in T’s miraculous recovery. The remaining 10% of the time I succumb to the typical “why me” woes as I imagine what our lives would look like at this moment had TC not been so brutally injured. During these breakdowns, he comforts me and reassures me that those things I had wanted for our current life are still possible. He reminds me to be patient, to trust in him, and to stay hopeful. And although he is telling me all of this in a garbled and slurred voice with an extremely limited vocabulary, I believe him. He may be brain injured, but he’s still the smartest guy I know.