This morning, while I was eating breakfast and surfing the web, I came across a quote that really struck a chord with me. It read:
“When the bridge is gone, the narrowest plank becomes precious.”
The words hit me like a tidal wave. I read them over and over. I’ve never found a quote that better summarizes the initial desperation you feel, when someone you love is catastrophically brain-injured. In that moment, when you first see your loved one laying in a hospital bed, so many bridges are instantly destroyed.
There are the bridges inside the brain that link all of our neurons; bridges that have been traveled over a lifetime and are globally interconnected. These bridges have been utilized so many times by our mind, that they are easy paths of travel; allowing executive functions like quick thought, processing, reasoning, attention, focus, visual/spatial skills, math skills, and organization to be possible. There are also bridges that make up our personality; the unique links that have formed us into the exact people that we are. There are bridges of memory that allow us not only to recall what we’ve learned in our lives, but to store and encode new information. Make no mistake: TBI annihilates these roadways, leaving canyons between neurons that must seek new ways to reconnect. It is an grueling, long and arduous process to build again, but it is the only way to recover.
There is also the bridge of consciousness, which in Patrick’s case was nearly destroyed as well. I remember sitting next to his hospital bed, holding his hand, and volleying my eyes back and forth between his face and the monitor that showed his rate rate, oxygen level and blood pressure. I felt like I was standing on one side of a canyon, unable to reach him on the other. He felt so far away.
Even after his consciousness was restored, neither of us were prepared for how many canyons lay before us. I came to find that bridges are unintentionally burned, between you and others who cannot understand your new life. Bridges that once connected you to dreams you had and the skills you possessed that made them possible, feel decimated. Living this way, I believe that it’s all of the devastation, that makes that final bridge.. the bridge of Love, which links you and your injured lover together, so hard to keep in tact. It isn’t that couples love each other less; it is that they cannot find their way back to each other across so many burnt bridges.
This is the ugly truth of TBI, but it is also only a piece of the truth. Anyone who has lived with a brain-injured person, knows the true meaning of the first part of that quote: “when the bridge is gone..” However, it was the last 5 words of the quote that struck me like a tidal wave, not the first. It was the part that read, “the narrowest plank becomes… precious.”
The concept of “the narrowest plank” astounded me. All this time, I’ve never had a name to describe something that I knew so well. The narrowest plank is the place where you begin to rebuild. For most of us, it is faith in something bigger than ourselves that allows us to keep a connection, across the canyon that separates us from our injured loved ones. This is the beauty of it all: that through the greatest force on earth, Love, we walk out across the canyons of our deepest fears, on the narrowest plank we’ve ever known, and cross to the other side, where TBI awaits us.
And this is where we live for a long time.
Because long after the body heals and scars are formed, and cards stop coming in the mail, and people resume their everyday lives, people like Patrick and I are still rebuilding. And each time Patrick reaches a new plane of healing, there are new risks to be faced and assessed. He is constantly presented with the choice, to walk out on that plank of wood or to stay on solid ground, and he always courageously walks on. And in the past few years, there have been countless times that I have been met without a bridge, at the cliff of whatever I was facing, too. I guess for both of us, the narrowest plank was enough. Perhaps this is how we have managed to come so far; that we’ve embraced it together at every turn. This is also the way in which, we found our way back to each other.
In fact, the narrowest plank has become more than enough: it has become everything. And that is why I love that the author of this quote used the word “precious” to describe it. To be precious is to be an object, substance of resource of great value, that is not to wasted or treated carelessly. It is a word attributed to something beloved. It conjures up the image of something that you would hold close to your body to protect. What could be more precious, than a bridge to healing of mind, body, soul and relationships?
If I could give one piece of advice to anyone, who was starting out on this journey with TBI, I would tell them to trust the narrowest plank. It can hold your weight. It won’t break. And you won’t fall, because it’s strength comes from the faith you have in it. It will carry you through your internal journey as caregiver, and give you courage when you are too terrified to take the next step. It will also carry and connect you to your TBI survivor, over and over again, so that you can keep building new bridges together.