We were having a fight over coffee in the kitchen. Yep. Coffee. Well, it was actually about coffee and a supplement that he wasn’t taking correctly. Essentially, I think he drinks too much coffee. He doesn’t. I worry that he’ll have a seizure from too much caffeine. He thinks (as he always has) that he’s somewhat invincible. I have to laugh thinking back, at the sheer normalcy of a woman lecturing her man with a scolding “mom voice”. It warms my heart to think that for once our spat had more to do with just the nature of men and women, rather than TBI.
(Now, before you judge me, I know that memory is typically a big issue for TBI survivors, and in those cases giving someone a hard time for forgetting something would be cruel. In our case, Patrick’s memory is quite good. It’s better than mine! He is just stubborn as hell.)
“We made an agreement, Patrick,” I said. “We AGREED that you would drink two of those 11 ounce bottles of coffee a day.”
“I know,” he said. “But…..”
“That’s why I bought them” I said. “So that we could keep track of how much you are drinking.”
“OK. I hear you!” he said.
“You are supposed to be monitoring your caffeine intake.”
“Remember? That was the experiment we were trying out here.”
“DO YOU REMEMBER?”
(OHH yes. I was in full blown “mom mode”. All that was missing was me using his middle name).
He tried to interject, but I held my hand up to him as if to say, “let me finish.” And then… like a bolt of lightning striking my heart, he flashed me a look. Oh my God. This look he gave me! It was so expressive. His face, which playfully read “I cannot believe this woman right now,” was present with an all too familiar expression that was intrinsically, and marvelously unique to Patrick 1.0; the one who had gone lost after his accident. I squeezed my eyes shut as if I were seeing a mirage, and when I opened them, this vision of his former self had disappeared.
………How’s that for trippy?
This curious experience is not new to me. Sometimes, when I least I expect it, I will see apparitions of pre-TBI Patrick standing before me. This version of Patrick haunted my dreams for months after his accident, and in the wake of my grief I was almost enticed to stay dreaming forever. But as time moved on, the memory of the man I knew Patrick to be slowly faded to mostly a phantom, as a new one came into focus.
I’ve worked to make peace with that every day, and to let go of who I knew. Paradoxically, this phantom still reappears, revealing more and more of himself to me at the most unexpected times. It’s no joke to say that TBI keeps you on your toes, for an immeasurable number of reasons, but I think it’s ability to surprise you in wonderful and horrific ways, would have to be at the top of the list.
Just when I think I am comfortable with the way things are, it changes.
What I’m speaking about is the brain’s powerful, mysterious and elegant ability to re-wire and heal. It is a magnificent process, albeit mostly an invisible one. However, because the brain is responsible for operating everything within the body, it is never “off duty,”and therefore much slower to heal. This is why we measure TBI recovery not in days or weeks, but in years. So while along the way I have thought to myself many times “this is gonna be it” in terms of recovery, Patrick’s brain has kept finding ways to micro-shift, so that more healing can occur, and some intangible quality of the man I lost returns to me.
I remember one night, about 9 months into his recovery, Patrick and I were in a hotel in Miami. I came out of the shower and he was laying on the bed on his stomach. His face was intently trying to read a book, and he was scrunching up his nose. (All of these things were new). Flash. All at once, it was as if the accident had never happened. I expected him to turn to me and be the way he used to be, because he was in that moment so “Patrick-ish.”
Some months later, while riding in the car, Patrick began drumming on his knees, as he had constantly to the music in his head for a decade, for the first time since his TBI. Another time, a year later, I caught him wearing a pencil behind his ear, just as he had done all his life. This past winter, about 10 days into taking CBD oil, and as we began to titrate him off medications, I saw more life return to his face. He became more animated and sharper. A “presence” began to return. And even more recently than that, a certain inflection to his speech has returned, again in flashes.
These visions of the past have happened too many times to count. And when they do, they usually disappear quickly, as if only a mirage, but then return again with more frequency, until they are assimilated back into the person that is now Patrick. It’s a crazy process of restoration, and the craziest part of all, is that I tend to forget that these little fragments of who he was existed until they come back.
They become integrated into a person who also has many new TBI traits and quirks. It’s as I am meeting Patrick all over again. Most people will never experience this unique aspect of romantic love, because when they fall for someone, it is naturally a composite human being. The object of their affection presents themselves as a complete puzzle, formed by placing a lifetimes worth of pieces into place. They don’t, as a rule, meet a person who is splintered into a million puzzle pieces, and then try to put them together.
But TBI is the exception to Love’s story, not the rule.
When my boyfriend had his accident, it was as if all the puzzle pieces that made him Patrick were broken apart. It was like all the files in the filing cabinet of his brain that represented his personality, memory, emotions, behavior, interests, bodily functions, etc were spilled all over the floor. Recovery for us, has been the long and arduous process of trying to put the puzzle back together, and trying to pick up each and every folder and find its proper place in the filing cabinet of his brain.
Some of the files are permanently damaged. Some of the puzzle pieces have torn edges, singed curves and don’t fit like they once did. Some got lost in the trauma completely. This is why the puzzle never looks exactly the same again. However, this is where the magic of NeuroPlasticity begins, which is the brain’s ability to smooth the edges of some of those pieces so that they can fit again, or to write new files to take the place of those that were damaged.
And this is why these apparitions exist.
It has NOT been easy. But it has fused us together like a welder bonds steel. I always thought that we were very close, but TBI has taught me that whatever intimacy I thought we had, paled in comparison to what we have now. I loved him for so many reasons, but I loved him as a composite.
TBI has taught me to love and treasure every single puzzle piece, because when everything is taken from you, every piece of the person you love that resurfaces is to be devoutly cherished.
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Thank you. All our love, Anj & Patrick)