December 4, 1995
I’m already awake at 6:30, this morning, with every nerve pinging with excitement. Today is the first day of BITS (Brain Injury Transitional Services). After a light breakfast, I jump into my red sweats and running shoes, tie a red bandana around my head, and wait eagerly for our family friends, Buck and Betty, to pick me up.
Once I walk into the Sid Richardson Tower lobby at Harris Methodist Hospital, Connie, the BITS Case Manager, greets me and assists me in registering as an outpatient. From there, we go to the rehab gym, downstairs, in the Mabee Rehab Unit, where she assigns me a locker and hands me a memory book for taking notes and keeping handouts. Last, she introduces me to my classmates. Although we come from different backgrounds, as survivors of strokes, aneurysms, injuries, and tumors, we share one desire: to recover and return to our normal lives as soon as possible.
The bond we share quickly ignites a flame of fellowship that I expect to last as days fade into memories. With “graduation” only six weeks away, I treasure the training gleaned from every one of my “teachers,” therapists representing five disciplines of therapy: physical, occupational, vocational, speech, and recreational.
Physical therapy with Paula for improving my balance and for developing firmer legs. Especially welcome are the daily walks over all kinds of terrain: slick hospital floors, jagged sidewalks, and rickety construction sites. I expect that, in no time, I will be walking my old two-mile-a-day stretch around the Northeast Campus of TCJC.
With sturdier legs come steadier hands that no longer drop or slosh everything they touch. As a homemaker, I expect to benefit from the weekly meal-planning, grocery-shopping, and cooking practice that Beth will allow me in Occupational Therapy. In fact, I can hardly wait to “rattle them pots ‘n pans” again in my own kitchen.
With my newly regained physical balance and calmer hands, I am also about to learn how to balance something else: my checkbook. Together, Richelle and I are working on transforming dysfunctional figures into functional math skills. During this period, I will be totaling the cost of car loans, adding grocery bills, and subtracting cents-off coupons. I will learn to shop smart. As another part of Speech Therapy, Richelle tests my hearing and other speech-related skills, such as deductive reasoning and comprehension of abstract concepts. Kelly, a speech pathologist, gives me daily practice in written expression. As an English professor, myself, I appreciate her lessons as well as the timed writings. During times like these, I feel a kinship with my students whom I often required to do the same in my classes.
Writing, also, is the main focus of my recreational therapy with Gale. Although we pursue some of my other favorite activities, such as playing table games, he is concentrating on sharpening my creative writing by assigning me homework on topics related to our outings, including the creation of a brand after visiting the Cattleman’s Museum; creating an airplane-shaped publicity brochure after visiting the C.R. Smith Aviation Museum, and writing my first essay on Thistle Hill, “Thistle Hill: the Grand Dame of Pennsylvania Avenue.” As I read to him and the group, I choke back tears.
“Kim, what’s going on here?” he asks.
I try my best to explain to him and the group that the lump in my throat is a thankful one. I have shown myself I can still write.
In Vocational Therapy, I make more exciting discoveries about my new self. Before coming to the hospital, I had been unable to work for two months, and now, as Tom and I comb through my work history for interim employment possibilities, I become even more excited about the prospect of working again. Tom assists me in brushing up on clerical skills, taking phone messages, sorting and filing. I’m discovering a new appreciation for detail-oriented work. Most rewarding is the time I get to spend as a rehab volunteer, sorting doctor’s mail in the mail room and pulling orders from Materials Management. Once the orders are filled, I load them up on a cart and deliver them to the appropriate departments. In addition to its educational value, the job is also helping me get my daily exercise.
December 30, 1995
At the end of each action-packed day, I emerge tired but happy (an cliched phrase, yes, but an accurate one. I actually hate for each day to be over!
January 1, 1996
The new year arrives with a pre-dawn surprise: a trip to the emergency room. Because I have stayed so busy for the past few weeks, I have ignored a raspy throat and sputtering cough, hoping it would go away. Just before dawn, this morning, I gave up on the struggle to breathe and called my doctor. Twelve hours in the emergency room and a battery of tests has yielded the diagnosis: acute bronchitis. Much later in the evening, I am allowed to go home where I am to spend at least a week in bed.
January 5, 1996
Today is the day of reckoning: the date of my neuropsych exam. Feeling stronger, although still groggy from antibiotics, I take a great gulp of courage, hold my breath, and begin the four-hour ordeal. With Dr. Hightower’s calm, easy-to-follow directions, I make it through the test, even before noon.
January 10, 1996: Today, much to my surprise, the farewell meal I thought I was attending in someone else’s honor turns out to be in my honor, too! After lunch, I hug my classmates and therapists and leave for an interview with Cathy, the Hospital Volunteer Director.
January 1997: I have now been a BITS alumna for over a year. From time to time, I thumb through the memories of my first year as one would turn the pages of an album. At three months, I am wearing a pink volunteer smock. Six months shows me driving my own car. At nine months, I’m back in the classroom as a substitute teacher of English and Spanish. Finally, look at me, with a full head of hair, training myself on the computer, and writing regularly for the BITS NEWSBREAK. I have set the album aside, with a marker in place for my next big adventure in life. Once I heard someone say, “That which doesn’t kill us makes us stronger.” With determination, daily prayers, and my caring BITS therapists, I feel that I have, indeed, been made stronger.