Before and After

Michael K Laidlaw About 3 000 words

#406 3524 31st NW

Calgary, Canada T2L 2A5

Email: 4451moana@gmail.com


Before and After

by

Michael Kamakana

Before the brain injury I am able as most people, able to walk at minimum, able to run. I do not think of this as particularly good fortune, simply the fortune of how I have grown up. I know clumsy people of course, from childhood on, I knowpeople in wheelchairs, people with canes, but none of this seems very real to me. I am able at maximum to dance, to dodge, to leap, even coordinated to play sports, and though never star athlete, I do play on the High School basketball team. I am not there by being very tall but shows some skill, some ability, some intensity, that moves the coach to try me out, hoping I will improve. I do not, in particular. I have made the team. I am able at minimum to run this way, stop, turn, run that way, feint, dodge, block, guard, pass, all the ways the game is played. I am able and this is one way I can feel I am no less than ‘one of the guys’, and years later I will recognize that this is the pleasure of being on any team, this social role, this feeling you are part of shared project, this goal you strive for with companions, though I am often depressed I myself can contribute so little to actual games but hold down the end of the bench, useful mostly in practice as body for other athletes to navigate around or over. I do not have very high opinion of my skills, though in the nature of teams nobody agrees, everybody pulls for everybody, and it is only myself who is most unhappy. At this age players are still growing, though I do not much, still improving skills, though I do not much, and one guard who starts the year second string grows over an inch and becomes starter by the end of the year. I am impressed etc.

#

After the brain injury I am disabled as some people, on waking from the coma unable to stand let alone walk. I retain clear memories of once being moderately coordinated and at first this disability, this ‘physical challenge’, seems an error of which I have had some role, some moral responsibility, some fault, and this presumption that there must be some parallel between result and cause, something I have done, is commonly voiced by many who now meet me. If I falls down the stairs, if not car accident, am I drunk, am I intoxicated, am I etc. If I have a brain injury am I on drugs, am I drunk, am I intoxicated etc. If I have an aneurysm how is it possible it comes out of nowhere, are there no symptoms, are there no warnings, can you not get to the hospital etc. He prefers to say ‘aneurysm’ rather than ‘contusion’ for if caused by a blow to the brain within the skull, what is the blow that causes it, if falling down stars, well why did I fall down the stairs. There is of course no certainty, there are no witness, to my brain injury, and by nature of the injury I have no memory of it. I am told by nurses and doctors and therapists that cause is not relevant, for the result is all the same, the result is something I must work on very hard, the result is ‘closed-head brain injury’, that is, there is no wounding object introduced to the brain but it is just brain against braincase. I learn over time to accept this diagnosis and in fact worriy some professionals with my unreasonablypositive emotions, such they worry about areas of the brain still injured beyond their first appraisal, but in fact I am simply very happy. I have something to do, I have physical project, have this disability to measure against ability etc.

#

Before the brain injury I am able as most people, fortunately slightly more skilled in various sports, though in fact team sports do not much hold my interests long. I do the usual boyhood sports at the usual boyhood proficiency but know very early on I will never be great hockey player when I learns I cannot skate backwards, something that must have been clear when I was five, so far too early to build heroic fantasies later destroyed when I am cut by say my major junior team. I enjoy soccer but soon they live outside the city and there is no team within easy attendance, so this ends. I will play racquet sports. Idiscovers tennis, which is seductively beautiful to watch but turns out to be annoying to play, principally because of the time spent chasing balls but also the commitment required in time to practice supremely awkward movements such as serving, though I do at various times continue with and even achieve some ability. I discovers racquetball but this is soon followed by squash, which becomes my favorite sport, for though more difficult to watch it plays much faster than tennis as the ball does not much leave the small white room, and the game requires more intriguing strategy, placement, kinds of shots, than pure power in racquetball. I enjoys the varied density of balls to play, colors that bounce and heat according to striking. I enjoys subtle angles, enjoys dodging into place from shot to shot. I decides squash is in fact the game that requires the most coordination to play where your feet usually stay on the ground. Idiscovers this sport too old and probably never has the skill to be more than moderate club player, but enjoys it greatly etc.

#

After the brain injury I am disabled as some people, but refuses to let this interrupt my athletic interests, now narrowed to that which I can only accomplish by not running, not even walking fast, which serves to tire me out but not raise my heart rate to training range. I comes to the University Fitness Centre as soon as I am transferred to the rehabilitation hospital, remaining in the wheelchair, though I can walk with my cane, but this moves me about faster. Here I discovers the limits of my disability, the possibilities, and the challenges. Here there are other disabled but soon the offered volunteer class is not enough and I want to come five times a week rather than two, and this is possible. I stationary cycles, I rows, I stairclimbs, I do cable weights. I have found physical project which has no confusion or doubt of value, which in fact is of great value to me at this age, for I am twenty-five years ten months when injured and at loose ends for purpose. After the brain injury I do indeed seem to have this purpose. I must walk again. I will work very hard at this and discovers that mantra of my first physiotherapist, that ‘you learn what you practice’ is relevant to what sports I had played before the injury, that, in fact, I was indeed coordinated, I could perhaps have improved, had I simply practiced. I have the error in practice that I want each step to be ‘perfect’ when she mentions no one steps perfectly, that is not the point, simply to move from one point to another point is enough, unless you are a physical artist such as dancer or athlete. I am told by one of the Fitness Centre students I am inspiring etc.

#

Before the brain injury I enjoys hiking, in fact all outdoor activities from camping to snowshoeing to cross-country skiing to cycling to climbing, though I do these to varying degrees of skill, and climbing is actually caving, the same equipment, the ropes, the buckles, but as it is matter of descent instead of ascent it requires less strategy. I enjoys hiking the most, for it is simply walking with added awareness of the world through which I moves, the natural world, the beautiful unspoiled world, the original world as precedes much if any human intervention beyond treading and deepening and perhaps even marking or mapping paths. He enjoys the smells of the forest, from pine to mulch to rare streams, and wonders what it is like to never know such world, to be solely urbanite as too many young people have become, familiar only with mediated presentations of reality, with what this or that screen shows, with the natural world no more than background to given spectacle. I enjoys hiking and in fact my favorite vacation memory is with my girlfriend hiking to then camping on natural beach on the western side of Vancouver Island, which moment I can recall as the peak of their relationship. I remembers cross-country skiing from out the back door of home, of once going to the mountains and skiing until darkening afternoon that I do not notice because my eyes are adjusting to the light, and how hearing of avalanche combined with my absence draws great fear to the same girlfriend and this was perhaps nadir of their relationship etc.

#

After the brain injury I am not able to hike, or, able but not agile enough to enjoy the process, so by default I becomes an urbanite. I must calculate all weight and limb movement to an extent I had never realized necessary, because it is not necessary, usually the healthy body is able to respond in mid-action, able to adjust, able to measure, and I simply calculates and responds too slowly. As I am what is called a ‘hemi’, that is ‘hemiplegic’, one side of the body is of normal coordination, in my case the left, and the other is injured and of lesser coordination. In walking fast or running, my left leg can stride quickly and some distance, and perhaps for the first stride the right side can follow- but by the next stride the deficit of speed of coordination is unmistakable, the left stride is long, the right side collapses at the knee, and the body falls. I would like to explain this is ‘not my fault’, that I am trying very hard, but as I myself has trouble believing this it is not surprising others are maybe skeptical. I am amazed on reflection that the human form, in my case one point eight-three metres, is balanced on shifting, moving base no more than thirty centimeters square and usually less, walking and turning, leaping and running, climbing and descending stair and slope. I am told that the difference between running and walking is simply that at whatever pace, walking requires at least one foot on the ground, running does not. As brain injury there are no visible indications, indeed my body looks healthy. I can usually throw in ‘coma’ with ‘brain injury’ for everybody better understands implications, even that I walks even at top speed about half speed of anyone else, that I avoids stairs if ever possible, that I stops often when approached from behind, that I hesitates when approached from before, that when I sits down you might not notice this. Walking and conversing are no longer possible, as I must watch where I am going, I must concentrate, I cannot gesture, always only with my left arm and hand, I must be sitting down, I must look at my interlocutor’s face to construct words out of sounds, sounds always too fast, sounds I hears only seventy-five percent on the left side and thirty on the right- and no this does not add up to one hundred percent hearing. I might mention my hearing difficulties but I am able to hide the deficit, to pretend, to nod, to shrug, to avoid conversations with more than one other at a time, always face-to-face, to avoid trying to talk in noisy or crowded situations, but all these strategies must overcome the fact it is an invisible disability, that even friends may forget, that I can no longer converse on the phone, and so I am often walking more than I wishes. An examination of the soles of my shoes also shows that I have a tendency to scrape the back of the right heel, stuttering my step despite my determined stride, when I forgets even for a fragment of a second, and another tendency to twist the forward inside of the left foot, as I walks at any pace and more so when I am tired. Walking was once pleasure and is now always varying levels of disability, and the grim or determined or even angry face I presents to the world sometimes is not affectation but true reflection of anguish. I progresses to learn to walk again because I am angry. I am angry at the limits my right leg brings to walking, more than simply in not running, but slopes and stairs up are easier than down because mass and therefore momentum in the first case, in ascent, is directed in one way, up the slope, whereas in descent, down the slope, I must control forward and down momentum but not too fast or it will collapse like running. His right leg will violently tremble when tired, when going down, when going up, when going home etc.

#

Before the brain injury I can cook, and this is my essential hobby, this is something I begins when I am eight with my mother, and though she is not Italian this is the cuisine I chooses to learn with her. Together we study recipes, together we read cookbooks, together we learn details of ingredients and techniques if not details of pronunciation, which comes much later when I learns the ‘g’ is silent, the ‘scui’ is ‘shu’, much later when shopping for named food or ordering dishes, though my mother never does learn to entirely ignore the ‘g’. I learns to move about the kitchen, to measure, to stir, to sauté, to simmer, according to recipes, to note details in cookbooks and after some time is confident enough to venture my own changes. I shares this knowledge with the girlfriend I lives with, they play house and try various recipes, they move through one cookbook, another, then two cookbooks of Mexican cuisine, and perhaps will try Lebanese cuisine next when we end etc.

#

After the brain injury I makes pizza, kneading by hand, kneading by food processor, fired on a brick tile, for I can no longer stand at the stove and sauté. There is a choice between holding the pan firmly in place and scraping wildly, or allowing the pan to wander as I moves the spatula correctly. My mother just wants to help and know she cannot etc.

#

Before the brain injury I have worked on my signature, which I feels is too legible and therefore without personality, in fact all my writing is too clear and more than once I am told it ‘looked almost typed’. I have aesthetic questions about my handwriting, about the models of handwriting in general, such as the capital ’G’ seeming to me too box-like, or the capital ‘M’ having uprights too narrow, but it is only much later, when I am finally at University, that I allows myself to alter the forms to my choice. I do this by simply insisting the capital letters are always printed, always independent, and this I finds much better. He allows myself the necessity of aesthetics etc.

#

After the injury the extent to which my nervous sensations are divided between healthy and injured is complete through my entire body, though this is often case of powerful stimulus hurting on the right side and no subtle awareness or sensitivity. This includes all my nerves though of course it is more those areas of the brain senses than the nerves themselves, all my organs, including my interior and exterior, that is, digestive and reproductive. At first I must learn to masturbate with my left hand, as the right is too slow, but when you want skill enough you will learn what you practice. I am pleased to quite soon discover I am still capable with another, in this physical behavior, or at least as well I can recall. Also, because only half of my rectum is sensitive I must at first come to be aware of when I really needs evacuate etc.

#

Before the brain injury I can handwrite and draw etc.

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After the brain injury I am not able to handwrite let alone draw, or, able but now only with my left hand rather than the right hand, which took only twenty-something years to connect the images in my mind to the dexterity of my fingers. I could draw. My entire right side is less coordinated, feels heavy and dull, but for the most part I can adjust and ignore this, it is only when I tries to handwrite or draw that this deficit is glaring. He tells myself I was not going to be visual artist any more than great athlete, but the difference comes to me when I looks at my work from before. He draws for myself, for nobody, for I do not share, I do not imagine my work going anywhere, even when I thinks I might be an architect, indeed it is when I am taking University Art classes I recognizes I truly wants more to write than draw. His drafting felicity has been since childhood, relative to my age, always representational and not expressive. Idraws to clarify what I will write and this is loss I cannot calculate, though, of course, there are many people whose writing in all cases is a mess and who never could draw and do not miss it. As there are many more people who read than handwrite and seem entirely without desire to be writers. I have to think about whatever gave me the idea I must write, for this has not been an entirely positive goal, at least in terms of the real world etc.

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