Updated: Nov 3, 2021
- 26 000 words
#- 500 words
I do remember the rehabilitation.
I remember the hours and the days and the weeks and the months and the years.
Doctors and nurses and therapists can now learn by diagnosis what the real and not feared and expected damages to my mind in my brain are, can now attempt to heal or mitigate expected or unexpected deficits, now that symptoms of my brain injury can reveal itself as my mind in sensation and action and memory, and my body in sensation and action now I am out of the coma, I am rising out of the coma ending like a deep sleep, erasing or accepting disjointed senses and confused mind, and over the shifts I come to understand that this is not a bad dream. There are obvious and generally suspected physical motor skills damaged by the injury and as the injury is to the left brainstem, more on the unsually dominant right side of my body. This means I will have to learn how to walk again, or learn to live with never walking again. This means I will have to learn to write and draw with my left hand, a process that only took twenty-odd years with coordinated aptitude of my right hand. There are the unknown damages to my mind that only gradually will reveal depth and persistence, now I am lucid and out of the coma. I may have cognitive deficits or memory problems or both. I may have unsuspected losses.
I have no idea this injury is so severe.
I ask my mother, suggesting it could not have been a bad coma because, well, I survived. Mother blinks in surprise and answers by telling me that it was acoma, which is truly all the qualification necessary. I am alive. I am a lucky man.
#- 750 words
I want to shit. I have for several long minutes been sitting in white plastic bath chair with a hole cut in seat, suspended over the private toilet but I am not having any success satisfying this natural and usually private urge, this natural but now not so private here on the hospital ward. As with re-establishing my natural gag reflex after the trache is removed, the plate for saliva to be caught in my throat and sucked out by a tube removed, this process must be first conscious then automatic. I want to shit and I have reached that uncomfortable point where I am too far along to stop, too far along to snap the sphincter closed and re-absorb the shit. I close my eyes and concentrate. I do not summon an image. Nikki’s concerned voice comes through the door as merciless as a knife. I look at a nauseous yellow wall before me and feel particularly naked beneath this light, uselessly angry with myself, as I try to resolve this animal urge.
I have been here for about a quarter of an hour. Nothing happens.
Michael? Time to go down to OT...Why? What’s wrong? At this point NikkI does something that is perhaps fairly commonplace for her as a nurse, but I can only barely get through by offering distracting jokes and mentioning over and over again that surely they will wait down at OT. I want to shit. I do not want to talk about it. I know my mom once had to deal with my shit, but then I was a baby and it was natural. I know this is exactly how I do not want to be known by any woman and certainly not by Nikki, but this is not a choice. I want to talk and talk but cannot find any words. I try but fail to find any jokes. I am humiliated in a new way. I tell Nikki that surely they will wait for me down at OT. But NikkI wants me to go on time and if I cannot shit- well, she will help me. NikkI is a nurse. She pulls on rubber gloves and squats beneath me above the toilet and carefully wipes this private area, causing the rest of the emergent shit to withdraw into my body. It now feels very much like an alien object causing sharp and specific pain. I tell her I only need to shit even more now, but now it hurts as well. NikkI is not swayed. It is time for OT. At this NikkI offers me to an unknowing porter.
A coma? How long?
Stairs. Looks like I just fell. No one else there. Fell. I rediscover new pain, pain in complete, pain in transparent, pain in woken consciousness. I arrive at OT, shifting around in my wheelchair so much that Liz asks me what is wrong. I tell her about being taken from my interrupted shit. Liz decides to push me back up to the NCCU and I am restng over the toilet again while she goes to talk with the nurses and insure this does not happen again. This brief exercise seems to have loosened my bowels somehow, and in movement, in the relief finally forcing out the cause of so much pain, my body rebounds to a sensual excess of pleasure... I am told I should be pleased at again learning that first control of my bodily functions. I do not think adults ever are, though there is a moment, a brief moment, I am proud of my difficult shit.
#- 1 000 words
I sit with knees bent and back vertical on the physical therapy gym wall, scanning women therapists going about the room, a posture neither difficult nor straining but perhaps boring. I watch women and watch women again often the same but oriented a different way, or walking a different direction, or helping a patient in movement and encouragement, or in conversation with fellow therapist. I would like to talk with this woman, I would like to talk with this other woman, I would like to talk with this other woman. I never have anything to say but would probably just ask her how her job is. It is very bright in this Physio department on floor three with a wall of tall windows that allows brilliant unbroken afternoon sunlight to enter, with no curtains, with no blinds, with no shadows. Outside is the end of summer and the beginning of autumn, outside is clear and sunny, outside is windy and brisk. All images are so vivid and sharp it seems I feel them brush my eyes. From here I see the thousand leafs of pale greens of poplar, of suburban grass lawns, of wavy wild grass fields on the hillsides, of a cliff of dark green conifers on the other side of shadowed fast river and above the train tracks. Aided by memories of senses of scent and sound and touch and multiplied by passage of time, I recall my past, for this gym, this Foothills Hospital overlooks my childhood city neighbourhood before we lived in Bearspaw. I remember childhood of red brick older homes and ranch-style wooden houses and tended lawn grass and anonymous weedy gravel alleyways and glimpses of stalking silent cats and urgent barking dogs and our city newspaper delivery routes of cool misty fall mornings or the other city newspaper delivered after school...
A coma? How long?
Stairs. Looks like I just fell. No one else there. Fell. To move from holding up the wall, I am lowered into a wheelchair then taken to parallel bars- these guides and supports adjusted to be about waist-high. I am convinced my body is fat from constant touches by the physios, or otherwise less than the perfection I would want to share with any woman. I try to swing my leg right then left forward and ignore stabbing pain of my toe-curled inflexible right foot, using the least possible weight through my arms and stopping to scan the room of women. I think, as perhaps usual for my age when bored, of purely physical and not romantic sexual liaisons with this attractive woman and with that attractive woman and with this other attractive woman with that other attractive woman. I look at the featureless beige walls, the featureless beige sound tiles of ceiling, the featureless beige linoleum floor, the pale wooden and shiny metal adjustments and additions, the walls of mirrors, the unhappy reflected self, the fellow patients and the other Physios, almost all women, out the windows watch tree leaves rustle in breezes in pale poplar green. I think of women and how I am now injured wonder how this woman or that woman or this other woman or that other woman might think of me. I have hopes or perhaps just hormones at work. I recover my physical deficits quickly at the start. I am desperate to rediscover identifying qualaties and mute or overcome my anxiety that these identifying qualities might no longer be there. I was never the tallest or strongest or fastest but made the High School basketball team on promise of my reasonable quickness and co-ordination and possibly that I got along with the others, and such has been the usual history of all the racquet sports I have played from tennis to racquetball to squash. It is generally asserted by nurses and doctors and therapists that I will probably not walk again and that I might need a hearing aid and that I will need a patch on the eye only eventually surrounding muscles operated on, but no one tells me of this prognosis because they are unsure, they are not seers, and it is, after all, a brain injury, and every brain injury is differrent. I decide I will concentrate on learning to walk again. I am not a 'quad'riplegic, who is unable to use any limb and obviously limited to a wheelchair, or a ‘para’plegic, whose entire lower body is disabled obviously limited to a wheelchair but able to move arms. I am a ‘hemi’plegic, which means that there is a line down the absolute middle of my body separating the left side, which is healthy, from the right side, which is only generally working, and though for many others this means a wheelchair I will walk. I must remember it is not the extensions of my mind and not the actual body, muscles or nerves that is damaged but rather the brain tissue itself on the opposite side. Brain tissue is is known to not regenerate. I will never rehabilitate to play sports, to write or draw with my right hand, my right ear will continue to work but those signals will not be coherent, the right side of my mouth will not regain texture of food on tongue nor right nostril join in tasting. Even should I recover many levels damaged it will not be the same. Ever.
I think of women
#- 500 words
Throughout these memoirs, dreamlike and persistent if not obsessive, I write often to no reason that I think of women. This is not an exaggerration. This is only an indication of how often I do so but not such I could say when and where and who but how and why is easily understood as I think of sex with this woman or that woman or this other woman. Here this is no surprise and not particularly more frequent than usual young men or the other male patients I meet throughout rehabilitation. We are young men, we are surrounded mostly by young women as nurses, a few as doctors, a few as therapists, we have also an automatic professional intimacy with these nurses and doctors and therapists, and we usually have no other subjects to involve our thoughts, or at least have no other subjects as intereresting, have no other subjects as stimulating, have no other subjects as often. When I think of women it is necessary more that she is friendly than that she resembles this favored image or that favored image. When I think of women I think of her in the first and simplest image of her giving me fellatio, for I know my own erection, I now know her lips and face, so it is not difficult to imagine them together. I do not know if young women can imagine this constant fantasy. I often have brief flashes of images while carrying on entirely unrelated conversation. I often only think of women whom I see in passing or see briefly or with whom I do not even talk. I think this way until I get to know her and find her attractiveness leads me to more elaborate fantasies which often seem to require an emotional connection.
#- 500 words
I am resting awake in my bed a nurse comes at my call and my father lets me ask a question. Of the many questions I could ask her, questions about the coma, questions about the hospital, questions about the ward, questions about the injury, questions about how tired I am and want to be refreshed by sleep but I never am, questions about anything, I do not recall these questions. It is a technical question she has never before heard, maybe a question for an intern or a doctor or a neurologist or a scientist. Certainly not a question for a nurse. I wait through her helpless reply as it is revealed any definitive answer or educated speculation or hopeful guess simply lies outside her knowledge. She does not want to make an error. I encourage her through brain-injury uncertainty never more than that of a doctor or a neurologist or a scientist. Quiet, I wait until she has left my room, out of hearing, then speak slowly to my father.
She was useless.
My father laughs at my resigned and dry tone. This is the first time my father has heard me say something typical as me before the injury and the coma. There has been some concern about possibly deadened emotional affect of my speech, as there has also been some concern whether I should be on antidepressant medication such as before the coma. My father has replied that I was always deadpan on the one hand, and on the other hand that I was now so pleased to be alive that any depression was effectively and rationally past. Mother notes my father's laughter in the coma diary, and that according to my father I have retained my sense of humour, though she might not admire that.
#- 500 words
Some time through resting between therapies one afternoon, my elder brother David arrives with his eldest daughter Leilani. I click through boring channels on hospital cable television, all muted without subtitles or perhaps my hearing is gone, channels that describe unexciting breakfast or lunch or dinner menus, channels that offer documentary explorations of the hospital, the wards, the many smiling nurses and serious doctors. David's his eldest daughter Leilani is easily carried in a stroller. He murmurs camly as he stops and brakes the stroller and lifts her up to receive my kiss. She does not burp on me. He puts her down on the clean hospital linoleum floor of random brown flecks on beige ground. LeilanI is just over a year old so crawling is her usual mode of mobility and only occasionally she stands up wobbly for a step, turning her gaze up or back or to this side or to that side, such momentary innattention to her balance inevitably causing her to flop to the shadowed and clean hospital floor again and again. Leilani seems to easily forget the fall. LeilanI is not discouraged but perhaps puzzled and so intrigued to try again. LeilanI will try again and again. My brother does not watch intently concerned after seeing her fall a few times without crying, without complaint or injury. My brother smiles encouragingly and says something I do not hear. My brother moves now to the bright blue window, dark coat and dark suit and dark tie swallowing light. David gazes out over the recognizable neighbourhood of our childhood. David looks at me. Fine, he says. And you? Oh, tired too much, maybe bored with hospital food, wondering how long rehab is going to take, trying to find something worth watching on TV, but otherwise…
Where are you from
#- 500 words
As I progress through rehabilitation few nurses or doctors or therapists will mention this but out in the post-Hospital world too many, particularly women, ask me where I am from. I have slightly altered pace and accent that seems to speak of learning english anywhere but here. It is not an accent but seems so. And at first I simply tally the guesses offered and try to take this as a joke. I end this annoying game when there are about fifty votes for England and sixteen votes for Australia and three votes for Scotland and three votes for Ireland and three votes for Wales and three votes for South Africa, and some others who decide my cheekbones are particularly slavic so hear my accent as Russian or Czech or somewhere East European. I am eventually told I am definitely Not South African by a woman herself from South African, Not Irish by a woman herself descended from Irish, Not Scot by a woman herself from Scotland. I allow that in some way this is a joke. I try to enjoy this game but in time it becomes maddening that even after mentioning I am trying to lose it, the other person persists in her fascination, then it seems a choice between rudeness in refusal to answer or the beginning of an explanation. Years since, by reading BBC News website, I discover I have 'Foreign Accent Syndrome', not an actual accent but named such by listeners, seeming German if English, seeming English if North American. This extremely rare syndrome is only recorded about fifty times since WWII, as result of strokes or other brain injuries that effect pace and emphasis and length of verbal sounds, so rare that it is not surprising therapists do not know it has a name.
#- 500 words
Hearing is a sensory injury of immediate concern after it is clear I can see, for that particula area of the brain is also to the back and below the visual cortex. Hearing not a problem of volume but discrimination, of taking sounds and shaping them into words, of hearing in groups, of hearing when I cannot see cues of facial expressions. Amplification of any hearing aid as little as the other speaker shouting fails to increase my ability to hear. At the second Hospital I go to an audiologist and I am wheeled into a soundproof cube where my ears are tested and where in hope I hear words that are not there as if imagination can summon words. I have constant surf of noises, the same as anyone healthy but unable to immediately submerge by discounting it from my brain. As I progress in my rehabilitation I will hear various descriptions of this underlying noise in my ears. Is it like voices? Is it like continual ringing of bells? Is it like the crashing surf of a distant sea? Is it the noise of brain and senses at work, a roar of blood washing through the inner ear? What is this static over? What messages do you incompletely hear? Are you able to distinguish between voices in the head and voices outside in this real world? Do these voices say anything, compel you to a certain action? Have these voices come before your injury? And now years later this noise is muted as music of dreams, the ‘static’ anyone must have- all that one hears- the roaring of blood pumped noisily throughout a circulatory system heard through bones and flesh and organs inside the body, something heard rather than ominous atmospheric silence. This is the noise of living.
#- 500 words
After two weeks in the NCCU, after such promising rapid recovery, after my various deficits are first diagnosed, I transfer to the Bow Valley Centre of the Calgary General Hospital. I will there learn to walk again through the physical therapy Physios, if my healing continues. This hospital will be entirely demolished some years later, because of carcinogenic asbestos threaded through the walls, but my memories of it persist, my memories of first walking again. I am moved to Building H, floor 7, a special Stroke Recovery and Brain Injury Ward for Southern Alberta. I am sad to leave the NCCU. I am sad I will never see those nurses ever again, though that I am so promoted is of course a sign my recovery is so positive. I will meet fellow coma survivors from the NCCU already there, Arnie the Car Accident and Jeff the Cycling Accident. Doctors and nurses and therapists of the NCCU tell me that I am rapidly improving beyond the limited therapies they have done. Doctors and nurses and therapists are pleased and impressed with how quickly I recover, but nobody can be certain my recovery will continue. This is a brain injury, every brain injury is different. I have less need of immediate care, so do not immediately know my new nurses. After being conducted by porters around to various therapy locations in BVC my memories are alert enough I can wheel myself, so my horizon of companionship is limited to new therapists and fellow patients and visitors, as many family friends are drawn back to concerns of their own immediate lives. Once I understand my usual routes, here for meals, here for visitors, here for showers, here for sleep, there is no need of further help. Or so I tell myself. I am lonely.
#- 750 words
One afternoon after my physiotherapy and after my nap my father visits and wheels me up to the empty and seldom-used sunroom of H-8. It is bright and empty and here we can talk undisturbed. There are here no chairs of any sort, here no access to an outside patio, and here the view is not very different from the ward below. Here again we can see mature poplar and oak trees mostly stripped of dry golden and orange leaves by constant westerlies of autumn foliage, trees lining the highway and trees clustered on banks of the fast shallow river not yet frozen, we can see the homeward rush-hour traffic, we can see the transit trains slicing between two directions of stilled traffic, we can see on the other side of the river all the mirrored glass and the silver and bronze and the concrete and redbrick downtown towers rising before distant horizon of gray mountains, always the far mountains, though there is a city before them and this is not the uninterrupted view from deck and windows of Bearspaw, and there is greater sense of their size looming over city buildings and hills. Inside on H-8 there is a barren pool table and floor of clean beige linoleum and are walls of glass on three sides east and west and south with concrete blocks and elevators on the north side. My father and I can talk here privately and the fact my father is quiet is easily balanced by the fact I am not and never have been nearly as reserved. My father and I talk intellectually over the rarely exposed but usually repressed pain of the past of injury and the coma and the reasoned hopes of current rehabilitation. My father and I talk as if we refer to another person who is a friendly stranger but someone not any sort of emotional memory. We do not cry. We do not laugh. We smile. I think only glancingly of how I might have died. Or so I tell myself. My father and I talk of each our own death and we are perhaps proud in surviving and dismissing emotional connotations and so speaking rational and true. My father and I talk objectively as if that abstract perspective of many subjective points of view are the true events rather than my memories truth or his memories truth. That’s exactly the same worst order of disabilities your mom and I came to, when you were in the coma and we talked to a counselor at Foothills, my father concurs. To try to prepare for whatever losses you would have from the coma, she asked us in preparation for whatever would be. So. Death, Vegetable, Memory, Sight, Walking. We never thought of the possibility you might not hear too well. Or this accent. Never crossed our minds. My father pauses in meditation.
Could we just be quiet for a moment of silence? He asks.
And not knowing what brought this moment on and unable at this moment to ask, I am silent. Sometimes emotions carried by thoughts escape and overwhelm all words and all intellect and all distance in time or space. I know my father uses Opera for such moments but here without such music there is only silence. I look to my father but he is looking away towards the declining sun with a moist film of tears covering his blue eyes and he breathes sharply and is more emotional than I have ever seen. I look to the sunset as well and try to see what my father sees.
#- 1 250 words
Learning to walk is both the easiest thing to relearn and the most difficult.
If I had survived a brain injury a few decades before, I might have been consigned to a wheelchair and been sadly told I would never again walk, for there was not yet knowledge of how much careful and deliberate and constant rehabilitation could enable walking. I have my first new Physical Therapist since Lara on the NCCU, my ‘Physio’, when I am transferred to H7, and she does not massage my muscles or stretch my tendons but tries to teach me how to walk again. I start in a body without bones but I gradually stiffen against tendencies to flex and collapse as I am creating anew those necessary neural paths to do those simplest matters of co-ordination leading to the ever-more complex co-ordination required for walking.
Caitlin is serious and I must learn this is a professional relationship so we have a common project in my walking again, but how she looks that day is irrelevant. I compliment in the morning session and then the afternoon session how she looks that first day and that second day and that third day and so on. I am not listening to her. I am distracting myself as much as annoying her, for the truth in fact is I want to distract her from noticing my disability and quality of my body. I ask her if being fat will hinder me walking again, she replies obviously not, she replies that I am not fat. I need to hear this for I have been some time without a girlfriend who in politeness or sincerity would claim my body is fine, would insist I am not fat, would say I am not ugly, and so on. I am lonely. I am a lucky man. I am eager to relearn walking. In my physical therapy I do not progress through the crawling- stumbling- walking way of infants, where to fall is expected, to fall is not serious, to fall is not in drunken shame. I begin upright where there is so much farther to fall. I have no idea how severe my injury could be and I automatically discount careful warnings. I have decided I will walk again from the moment I am walking down the hall in the NCCU. I will walk again. I was walking just the day before the coma. I was even running.
I think of women. I think of Caitlin.
This is a professional relationship, says Caitlin my Physiotherapist.
I start this morning first standing up leaning or more comfortably sitting on the Physio ball. A room down the central hall is fitted with an exercise mat, two vertical mobile mirrors, a wall mirror and a large therapy sphere. A balance-ball. I bounce up and down on the rubber sphere as if it is a toy, for it is one of those inflated ‘earth-balls’ we children would push about in Elementary School to learn teamwork or respect for others or something contributing to citizenship. I am annoyed that this ball seems to want to drop me off this way or drop me off that way, for in this case Caitlin seats me on it and pushes it side to side. I am annoyed. I think of women. This is a professional relationship. I respond by consciously shifting weight too slowly in calculations that will become automatic for a healthy brain. I am convinced my body is fat, I do not allow imagined humiliation, I want to make a good first impression this morning. I want to walk. I force all other rational or irrational thoughts deep, and use energy of anger to focus on each moment on the task at hand. I reduce movements into momentary categories then careful divisions fluid and changing- balance and motion. Balance through Motion, Motion through Balance...
I work with Caitlin for half an hour.
I think of women. I nap after lunch.
I work with Caitlin for another half an hour.
I tremble with exhaustion and have no trouble sleeping that night.
I do boring but necessary mat-work. I think of women. This is a professional relationship. I support myself on my hands and knees and try to lift one support and balance on the other three then repeat the opposite arms and leg extending my hand or foot in line with my torso. In these positions Caitlin will push and pause and push again from another angle. I learn to hold these positions for lengthening times a few seconds leading to a minute, but these positions do not become easier and here I have my first presentiment that I shall truly never recover all my physical skills. At this time I am still so very happy to be in my familiar if somewhat damaged body, and disregard anything that distracts my focus or diminishes my desperate confidence that this relearning to walk is a matter of concentration and I will simply work hard then harder, for however long it takes, and my intensity and persistence will be rewarded. I walk pushing the weighted shopping cart fifteen metres to sit in a chair in the hall one morning and I walk pushing the weighted shopping cart thirty metres to sit in another chair in the hall the next morning.
Learning to walk is both the easiest thing to relearn and the most difficult.
Walking is easiest thing to relearn because my body remembers the movement from an infant memory of one leg stepping forward and body tumbling slowly facedown but then rescued by the sudden forward thrust of the opposite leg. Even differences of sensation from side to side is only reversed and easily compensated for, such that I originally get right and left confused because my right arm and my right leg seem particularly uncoordinated. I feel my legs weak beneath me wobbling then performing sudden and brief step-dances to regain erect posture. This is easy and this is what I must repeat and repeat and this is the easiest thing to relearn...
Or so I tell myself.
Walking is most difficult thing to relearn because this repetition must first be conscious and carefully thought-out but eventually it will become autonomic and unconscious and allow both staggering of a drunk in recovered falls and elegant athleticism of any great television sports of football or soccer or hockey or even dance or ballet. My aims are not so lofty nor skills lost so remarkable, but to go from reasonably well-coordinated youth to full-size puppet, jerking along invisible and tangled strings is difficult beyond expression. I watch as Arnie and Jeff both first recover faster degree than me of physical abilities though unfortunately finally incomplete. I ask Caitlin if I do something wrong so she talks of ‘variability’, of some brains having more ‘redundant’ cells that can be brought in, of some brains maybe with more ‘elasticity’- able to use brain cells from other purposes...
I work with Caitlin for half an hour.
I think of women. I nap after lunch.
I work with Caitlin for another half an hour.
I tremble with exhaustion and have no trouble sleeping that night.
#- 500 words
One evening alone with no visitors I explore far rooms used for X-rays or blood tests or CAT-scans, with lonely waiting rooms and piles of old magazines. I am bored with my room. The usual view out my window crosses a summer sport field and a baseball diamond and a soccer pitch and a highway divided by transit trains, but the most I have seen lower down is to autumn trees golden yellow orange leaves alongside fast silver river, then towers of downtown rising farther blocks away. My window is open but not even a memory of summer carries on a westerly wind that first few days. I am bored with my room. Now in late autumn and early winter as sunset comes earlier, I search after supper even as darkness falls, I search without destination, I search intent to discover another beautiful place or another living memory, but as I have never lived here before I wander as if lost. I wheel down the main hall that connects the second floor of all the hospital, I wheel down to the hospital’s emergency entrance and out sliding doors to breathe fresh air. Snow falls in large flakes. It is cold outside and across the river downtown towers are only visible in suspended floors, scattered offices lit blue as if underwater, apartments lit in golden warmth. Cars on the highway are visible only by white headlights and red taillights and faintly lit puffs of exhaust, traffic rush hour jammed, on this side of the snowy ice of frozen river. Crowded transit trains slice between opposing movements and pause at Bridgeland/Memorial station to disgorge or take on a few riders in silence...
I am alone. I think of women.
I see my breath cloud before me as it rises into sparkling darkness.
#- 500 words
I walk slowly pushing a shopping cart loaded with weighty objects, constantly kicking underneath on its right side as my right leg only roughly emulates usual smooth strides of the left. Each day I pass a yellow and orange and red and black poster mapping nerves through a transparent human body, an image boring into my thoughts on each step in each approach, an image I think as residing in my brain, an image I would like to ignore, but in my brain image its right side is withered and injured and senses distorted. In private theatres of my mind I mutter to it and talk to it and challenge it and receive challenges in return. I tell this image he is nothing without me, without the muscles, without the organs, without the bones that made up my body, and the image replies in turn that I am nothing without him, without the neurons and without the synapses and without the cortex and without all the nerves that direct my muscles and serve my organs and receive my senses and even without the damaged brain my mind comes out of. I am thinking of my brain as separate from my body, but I am becoming viscerally aware this is not so, that this is a mistaken model of my mind and brain and body, that the body is the brain and the brain is the body. I move slowly about fifteen metres from raised mat in this Physio room, a new room near to the entry desk towards a stairwell and wheelchair waiting area. I often feel as if my therapy is on display in this room with no mirrors to watch progress in, no great bounds of progress to see. I think of women. This is a professional relationship.
#- 500 words
One evening alone with no visitors I am wheeling around the main hall that connects the second floor of all the hospital buildings, the buildings named by letters A to L, the buildings which were added on and not previously designed, when I discover an extensive medical library in this labyrinthine core of BVC buildings. Usually I now explore with Arnie the Car Accident and once we go to the hospital switchboard where we chat with an operator, but sometimes he has friends visiting so I search alone. I do not wait in the tv room even as it has all channels that I do not hear and the sports no one needs to hear. I roll around swiftly, eagerly coming to know the plan of various floors, but rarely are any staff around. I am alone. I have no reason to be here. I am curious. This medical library has no windows and two levels and many shelves with hardcover texts that even in this evening is attended by one staff, and in its central and unmarked place I think of it almost the library of a monastery in medieval Italy in a book I once read. I question the staff quietly as if there are other patrons I might disturb. I want to take a volume out, something doubtless too technical, too difficult, too obscure, that will act as some magical totem, but the elderly woman Librarian says I must receive clearance from a doctor who works there, for the book would then go out in his name. I decide to read the chosen book in the library, but it is too long, it is late, it is closing, so I decide to save it for another time...
I will never find my way to this place again.
#- 1 000 words
I have from the brain injury lost co-ordination for the entire right side of my body, so it is not simply my leg learning to walk again, there is also lost co-ordination of my right arm, and lost co-ordination of my right hand. I will become left-handed as my father already is but in all situations I will avoid handwriting and I will write only on computer typing. Gross motor functions of the arm survive with somewhat less precision, with more room for error, movements that might only be recognizably deficient to a dancer or athlete or anyone who makes their living with their body. I never have lived that way or considered my body particularly athletic, so loss of gestural facility or walking ability is momentarily annoying but not existentially devastating. Or so I tell myself. I have mostly retained my intellectual faculties and probably retain some creativity, and this is what matters most. For my coordination of arm movement I take up regularly kneading bread dough every weekend I go home to Bearspaw. I have always liked to cook. I have always cooked, but now I can do no stovetop cooking, as I do not have the ability to competently hold the pan with my right hand and stir with the left hand or to competently hold the pan with my left hand and stir with my right hand. I am annoyed. I can only bake. This is practice, this is pleasure, and I bring the bread often to my nurses or therapists. Ann, my Occupational Therapist, reserves a kitchen at the hospital to watch me make a pizza, accompanies me to a nearby Italian deli. Ann watches me pull my wheelchair along without comment or pushing. It is a white day with no horizon or difference above and below and light snow covers everything from bare trees to house roofs to parked cars to now falling onto my lap. It is a cold day and I am wrapped in an old maritime sweater an old football-style jacket and pale blue jeans. I have not been outside the hospital in the city as Bearspaw is beyond city limits. I unhappily experience what wheelchair-bound disability daily life would be like in rolling along in climbing small slopes in awkwardly mounting sidewalk curbs. More than ever I know I must walk.
A coma? How long?
Stairs. Looks like I just fell. No one else there. Fell.
The woman who runs the Italian deli this day gives me a kind of imported boxed cake without charge as we look at the meats and cheeses and find both ingredients. I do not ask or even look at the boxed cakes but my condition inspires her generosity. Christmas is coming. This favourite recipe is easily recalled from years of pizza, the proportions I had kept simple and made on weekends at Bearspaw or at home only needing time. The recipe calls for a tablespoon dry active yeast in a cup of lukewarm water, fed by a tablespoon of honey or sugar, and a tablespoon of extra-virgin olive oil. Let yeast liquid foam for five minutes. Combine dry ingredients in large bowl, usually one cup of cornmeal and two cups all-purpose flour or even whole-wheat flour, form a well in the centre and add yeast liquid mix. Knead for twenty minutes as exercise like kneading bread. Cover and rise until doubled. Make a twelve-inch, thick crust, or a fifteen-inch thinner crust. Boil garlic cloves only seconds, then slip off husks, slice thinly, remove green core flesh (tasteless but not easily digested). Spread garlic over pizza, crumble over Gorgonzola cheese, top with paper-thin sliced Prosciutto, then drizzle lightly with more olive oil. Bake until cheese is melted, ham is dried out, smells ready, about fifteen minutes at maximum heat, about 450 degrees Fahrenheit.
I share the result with Ann, with my Physiotherapist Caitlin, and my Recreational Therapist Helen.
Fine motor functions of the hand, digital skills, are more obviously damaged, more difficult to regain. Before the coma I print small capital letters about half the size of a usual lined book, and write cursive small letters even half that size. I have always disliked aesthetics of the usual written capitals with too many curves too long, so all capitals are blocked printed. I never make great distinction between small ‘r’ and small ‘n’, and write only sharper edges for the one and curved edges for the other. It is very compact and legible and often thought printed. It is a font that I have only adopted in the past few years of note taking in University, and becomes the style of all my writing. After the coma, this is all lost. Later, at the Extended Care Hospital where I go after BVC, for several months I try to teach my right hand to follow again these moves. Every evening when I return from the University Fitness Centre I practice by writing out the exercises and weights and repetitions just done, but it is not until I am leaving that I think to query my physiotherapist if I should ever recover either pace or accuracy of this writing. I could have saved my efforts. I could have taught my left hand. I no longer enjoy writing, I no longer enjoy gestures, I no longer write in pen on paper. I will never recover the skills lost.
#- 500 words
One evening alone with no visitors I am wheeling around the main hall that connects the second floor of all the hospital buildings to discover yet more unexplored and empty and novel locations, up the ramp here to an entrance lobby, down the ramp here to another lobby where three halls intersect, through the open metal doors here, past the closed cafe, in one side of elevators here and off on another floor there on other side of the elevator. I enjoy that the hospital is so large and quiet, that all linoleum floors have stripes of various colours leading to this place or leading to that place, that there are no staff or visitors or other patients, that this is always more satisfying my restless wait for sleep or mute tv after the usual bland supper. I look at maps, I plan then ignore plans, I go to the outside emergency department doors for again early winter night, I search but I do not know for what I search. One evening this search leads me to metal doors that are locked to me, which name Authority in warning signs, in unfamiliar graphics and wire-threaded glass windows and dim light within. Names of wards beyond that might be wards of extremely psychotic patients or animal research or paranormal or biological research, but these are only paranoid dreams, only intriguing nightmares, only bored childish fantasies, for there are reasons for such barriers that are probably banal, probably no more than usual laboratories, usual storage, usual and uninteresting.
I have been watching this different new tv show, I do not think it is my hearing alone or injury that affects this strangeness called ‘Twin Peaks’.
I am alone. I think of women. I will never find my way to this place again.
#- 500 words
Caitlin is here at BVC the first and soon favourite of my Physiotherapists, the first woman I have been close to for too long, the first woman I am eager to please for too long. Caitlin is tall and slim and red blonde. Caitlin is perhaps familiar with so many male patients erotically if not emotionally attracted to her. Cailin listens to me as long as I walk. I remember my usual upbringing and the words come easily. I need to talk. Or so I tell myself. I discover an unknown store of quotes which I must have heard since I was a child. I smile and I sigh and I comment and I notice how almost anything done or suffered in my physical therapy, in therapy of learning to walk, is by definition 'good for the soul’, yet the resulting tiredness is ‘sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof’, but how my focus on walking may become too close an obsession that does ‘not see the forest for the trees’, that all her calm encouragement and advice is ‘a prophet is not without honor save in his own land’, that my desires or my deficits are best judged when I ‘let your conscience be your guide’, allowing patience of ‘in the fullness of time’ versus being ‘ahead of the curve’, or ‘pushing the envelope’, and of course how ’knowledge is power’, versus ‘power corrupts and absolute power corrupts absolutely’ for if no wisdom is gained, ’a little learning is a dangerous thing’...
Caitlin listens grimly. My father arrives one day and during my therapy reveals his part of my heritage. I walk pushing a weighted shopping cart. I complain at her encouragement. You are suffering to walk, he says. That’s good for the soul.
#- 500 words
Caitlin is tall and slim and red blonde and permanently flushed as if embarrassed easily, though in fact she is not shy and can repeat jokes easily. Her eyes are maybe green or maybe grey. In her presence I try to read her as a book, I try to find common interests, I try to present an attractive self, but all this does not transcend our purely professional relationship. She wants me to value her as my physio rather than simply as a woman. I do offer florid compliments and cannot help but notice what she looks like, but these comments are inappropriate and bothering and I really should stop. I am a nice enough man if I just would be a professional relationship. I do not have this confidence. I do not know how to stop. In my private thoughts, in my private desires, Caitlin is an emotional ideal, and I think of her in ways that might unsettle her, in ways surprising to any others who might hear only my bothering and obssesive and flattering and literal comments and never imagine my true thoughts. I find her attractiveness leads me to more elaborate fantasies which now seems to require an emotional connection. I imagine Caitlin and I walking down a street from a repertory cinema in an area of the city called Kensington some warm midsummer evening. We are talking about a film just seen. I am walking without a cane, instead with an arm over her shoulders, holding her close, and we laugh and smile. I do not know what film it is if it is my favorite or hers or something new that pleasantly surprises us both.
I feel young and healthy as I impersonate my own younger uninjured self.
I wake before I kiss her.
#- 500 words
One evening alone with no visitors I am wheeling around the main hall and a young woman introduces herself as I wheel up ramps in Block G of BVC. She is attractive and medium-tall and reddish blonde and thin and green-eyed and sharp-featured with a quick and knowing smile. She has a slight figure. She is for some reason immediately certain I am one of those men who seduce young women. I am articulate and witty and maybe my eyepatch gives me an attractive piratical air. I am smiling confident as if I know something. She is only nineteen and I am twenty-six. I do not even think of our age difference. She talks to me with an engaging Irish lilt, not concerned, not appearing to even notice my physical disabilities, not mentioning my own accent, which is definitely not Irish. She is not nurse or doctor or therapist but only a part-time cleaning woman, so I am momentarily free of the need for muted expression of emotional and social and sexual desires, though it is she who speaks first, she who has already watched me before, she who has been intrigued in me, she who begins a flirtatious conversation that gives no little boost to my ego. I think of women. I think of her in the most immediate sex. This is not a professional relationship. I ask if she is married, I ask if she has a boyfriend, I ask if she always chats with wheelchair-bound men at the hospital, I ask if she is a student and if so where. She smiles. She is living at home and working here during the term, saving rent money for Art studies at University.
Tara. A coma? How long?
Stairs. Looks like I just fell. No one else there. Fell.
#- 1 750 words
Down another hall towards Building G is the blue physiotherapy pool. I have practiced walking down this hall, always busy for this is part of the route on the second floor of all buildings, often flinch when passed from behind, often slow warily when approached from in front, but it is only myself who exhibits any lack and nervousness. I think of women. From this hall extends the main hall and reception desk, the wheelchair drop off and pick-up area beside the elevators, the open main stairs, the metal curtain that allows passage of the connecting hall but shuts down the gyms and rooms of the physio department. From this hall extends another hall that is used as garage for many wheelchairs and canes.
Opposite is the Physio poolroom, a window-less room covered in turquoise tile, always warm and humid, always suffused with that familiar pool smell of chlorine, always smooth as a mirror when undisturbed, always seen through flickering reflecting nets of bright interference on the walls and ceiling from scallops of light of when entered and raising waves. The usual grid of black lines is seen through the water, warped and wavy lines as the water moves, and my lower body seems large and steeply foreshortened. I think of women, but this is a professional relationship. I am convinced my body is fat and not muscular and otherwise less than perfect, and the water does not help, the shorts do not help, the presence of Cailin does not help. The pool is about a six metres square with three levels. Resistance of the warm water means my mass does not move too quickly through gravity and kinetic energy, and while bodyweight is not greatly reduced I can respond fast enough shifting my weight. The three parallel levels deepen the width of the pool, the water will support decreasing amounts of my weight as I practiced walking first in chest-deep water then on elbow-deep then on waist-deep levels. Lengths of these levels could be guided by a set of parallel bars moved into position as shiny metal of smooth tubes ending in wheeled ends in troughs along edges of any pools, designed to accept and quiet rippling waves created by our movement. Caitlin backs me to one side and encourages walking in the deepest level. My right foot still suffers tension, curling inward such as I could not yet do this on land. Support bars float by my shoulders but only a few times do I reach out.
Time for hard work and I hope you are ready for it, she says.
Caitlin is always already changed into an older one-piece blue swimsuit that is not her favorite, that she uses only at work, though she is not yet wet, she is waiting, she is waiting for a cleaning staff woman to help me change. I change in a men’s locker, entering in my wheelchair, supporting myself by unevenly holding a bar and the cleaning woman’s help, now stripping, no longer nervous or shy, now pulling on new shorts, now sitting down and wheeling to the raised wall around the pool which Caitlin helps me on then swivel my legs over. I look at Caitlin. I think of women. I hear once again in my thought, that this is a professional relationship. I am nervous and compliment her suit or her hair or her cruel smile. Every move and every gesture is slow and uncertain and though she tells me in time I shall develop confidence and cease to think about every move and every gesture on a conscious level, this awareness seems to be so long away from achievement. The water is warm and my weight easily embraced by the water, my mass slowed in water to a rate to which I can handle, to which I can react fast enough, to which I will be safe to practice extending or increasing for if I fall it will only be in water.
Yes Michael. Turn around. Step higher. Keep your right foot down longer.
I start in the deepest level, shoulders by metal tubes that slide along the walls, my outstretched arms occasionally reaching for them. I think of women. Caitlin walks me closely, encouraging, and I cannot help but think of her appearance, how attractive, how close, how she might look in another swimsuit or without a swimsuit. I am too aware, I am not concentrating on the movement, here her voice serious and kind, instead I think of her voice in sex, in what I imagine her saying, in what she would say with no words, in her smiling voice shading into gasps of pleasure. I am invisible underwater but wonder if I am otherwise obviously attracted to her. Walking diminishes this distraction, walking takes too much work, so any walking with even a young man's insistent erection is not possible. I try to think of a way to get her to casually or accidentally discover me, and what would she say or do and what would I say or do. I am ashamed at the next moment. I am more in mind than body thinking of her. Her swimsuit is dark blue. Her torso is small-breasted. Her thighs are long and slim and join her torso in female pelvic arch. Her rear is well-curved but not large or wide. I can no longer see this in the water, but memory is intense and her touch summons their return. My desire distracts me from each walking motion but I doubt she wonders why or notices my arousal. My eyepatch slips and I pause nauseous and try to deal with two radically divergent images, then push it back into position.
Yes Michael. Turn around. Step higher. Keep your right foot down longer. And I wish you could find something else to talk about. Don't you have any other interests?
I move to a higher level, water now just under my ribs. Caitlin offers me hand paddles and I sweep them in great circles against resistance of the water, adjusting my weight, my torso and hips to slow weight shift. I think of Caitlin. I sweat in warmth of water, in movement, in energy of stress, momentarily brought away from carnal thoughts, not long, for as I watch her for any indication of how truly she evaluates my progress, I think of her. In the water there is mostly her head, her hair in a blonde ponytail, her eyes blue or maybe green, her flushed cheeks, her pink lips and ready smile. I tell her that indeed I have other interests, primarily walking again, and as that is connected to her… I turn the question back to her.
I wait, curious.
I like to travel, Caitlin says. I went to New Zealand then Australia then England and Scotland, and worked a bit in Germany as a Physio. Physiotherapists are in demand everywhere. Travel.
The pool chamber is quiet but for her voice, a kind, even voice that avoids any subject that would disrupt this professional relationship. She only gently will touch one shoulder or the other, encouraging movement and balance, and never catches her eyes in mine, watching instead my body in its struggle for co-ordination demonstrating how injured my brain is. I think of Caitlin. She is looking not at me, but at this uncertain move against some abstract other, some healthy other, though it is only in her mind, in this subjective sense, that she could guide me to through rehabilitation. She is there, each step from my relearning walking, she is involved emotionally and I flatter myself that by this time, after nervous initial weeks, I have become calmer, quieter, and less aggressive. I no longer talk and talk.
Everyone is different. Walking is not an intellectual problem. Don’t be so hard on yourself. Yes, you want to push yourself in the pool- but only within reason- trust me.
I trust you, I say. You could let me fall.
But I don’t. I won’t. That wouldn’t be professional.
I look at her.
Yes Michael. Turn around. Step higher. Keep your right foot down longer.
Curious to my newfound quiet she asks me about the book I am reading, pursuing this line of questions even as it becomes clear it is not her sort of book, that it is a translation from Japanese, or from Italian, or from French, or from Portuguese. Not best sellers, not authors or works she has ever heard of. She becomes less immediately attractive in this ongoing discovery of her interests against interests, but this brings only disappointment, only frivolous nostalgia for when I did not know her, only when I could dream her to embody all those other qualities and interests that I want. She had perhaps already passed through whatever her brief interest in me, for I am only a professional relationship. I am a patient. I am another who will soon leave. I am outside her interests.
#- 500 words
One evening alone with no visitors I am wheeling around the main hall on G2 and in the spirit of the season decide to enter the hospital chapel. This is again evening and halls are everywhere empty and I am tired and frustrated by my daily therapies and thinking of Caitlin. Walking is not an intellectual process, Caitlin reminds me at least twice today. I decide to appeal to any religious powers for comfort even as I do not believe. I have survived a coma. I am a lucky man. The chapel is open but empty. I have not visited when someone is there, though I have never been too susceptible to evangelism. In High School I had in class run with a friend who was a born-again Christian and as we ran cross-country he would slow down and often quote evangelical sermons and bring up religious questions and proferred answers. In response I soon began to quote whatever Shakespeare we had done in class that day. I always loved Shakespeare's language. It has been many years now but I wonder if this chapel will work on a level of seriousness against my skepticism. It has a separate central hallway entrance between the psychology department and doors to an ambulance garage beside Emergency. As the entire hospital is a no-smoking area, addicts of nicotine gather in the cold garage to smoke, to share this exile, nurses and doctors and therapists and patients. I never go there, I have never smoked, and I am not gathered in companionship. I rest in chapel calmness and quietness and silence. I skim hymnals and Testaments, examine brass-plated pews that name donors, try to see out plastic stained-glass windows.
I sit in my wheelchair. I wonder. I wait. I think of women. I am alone.
#- 750 words
One night I take my usual long shower but this does not relax me. I think of women. I think of Caitlin. I think of Tara. I think of this nurse whose name I do not know, I think of her explicitly undressing her nurse’s uniform, I think of her thin small-breasted torso emerging to music only I hear. I think of her but this does not work for me, for I always need to hold her name in my urgent thoughts, for I need to repeat her name as I imagine caressing her, for ongoing encouragement if not revealed emotion. I fantasize this effective series of images, this effective series of memories that should not fail to bring necessary release. I have had enough sex to know there are only a certain positions or actions or motions usually possible. I have had little enough sex that discovering this with each woman is new. Every night I think the name of this woman or the name this woman or the name this other woman, for I am a sexually frustrated young man and in the daily and evening hospital environment surrounded by women whose names if not bodies are possible. I do not know if whomever she is imagines the use of her name. Every night I go through variations of this need. Every night my senses ignore the bathroom chair I sit in while I squeeze out requisite unfamiliar shampoo, while I lather an automatic erection, while I drift in warm steam of endless shower spray, while I close my eyes to turquoise tiles and dim late-night light, hearing only mental echoes of my whispering Her name over and over, and imagined Her name or Her name or Her name. But this tired night, even as my usual actions seem hours long, vigorously stroking away with my coordinated left hand, stroking but slower than before with my right hand, nothing approaches pleasure and nothing promises pleasure and finally nothing happens. In angry futility I turn trickling warm water off and roughly dry and wheel to my bed in a roomful of other young men who have perhaps achieved the automatic sleepiness after complete pleasure, but we do not share this, we do not speak of this.
Midnight passes but I cannot sleep. I touch myself in private hope. I lie abed in yet another woman’s embrace, but it is not enough and then- then, concentrating on touch, I focus only on myself. And so I notice it, frantically turn on lights and summon a nurse by silent buzzer and wonder fearfully how could I have failed to notice this before? What have I done? A nurse arrives, flashing her probing light, curious that I summon for I have never bothered a night nurse. I usually go to sleep or rest tired from my night shower. I explain my worry visually. She disappears and another nurse, yet another and another, appear at the foot of my bed. It is only then I become self-conscious enough to think of being embarrassed, but I do not pull my sheet over my half-hard penis and try to ignore signs it might suggest, try to be even, open and nonchalant in perverse bravado to any nurse, who are all, I notice, looking down at my lap with unreadable expressions...
The Head Nurse this night is the last nurse on shift to arrive. She nods, turning my displayed penis over in her hand and noting the small, circular skin abrasions. Get Michael some Vaseline. You’re fine. Nothing rest will not cure. Use the Vaseline, later.
#- 500 words
On the day I transfer to the Physically Disabled Youth Program at Warrener Extended Care Hospital, it is a cloudless, brilliant blue sky above, sunlight sparkling on blazing white snow over house roofs and covered sports fields below and far distant mountains on western city horizon. Sunlight flashes brightly on each turn in crisp dry air, and I cannot look at the snow except house and conifer shadows, except mounds grey along street gutters, I can only allow a squint even in the mirrored skI glasses I wear. I think of the physios I leave behind though until the Program has a new therapist I will continue to be bus-driven to the BVC. My Physio is no longer Caitlin. I think of her. I am sad once again to be moving on in my rehabilitation, but clearly I am not ready to be decamped into anything like the life I knew before. I am not entirely able to care for myself. Sounds of cars and trucks pass by as we drive the short distance from hospital to hospital, winter tires crushing mounds of roadside snow, splashing in puddles of melted snow. At this temporary respite of sunlight and warmth here as I began a New Year, my mind rebounds and beautiful life makes me think of Death. At this time almost anything makes me think of Death. It will be years and years for me to recover abilities and even then original abilities will never be the same. Dreams of a young man, of healthy use of body and mind are dead now. Or so I tell myself. I had thought to simply return to previous life, a studio apartment, a story to work on, and a social life to share.
Concentrate, my father says, helping me settle into my wheelchair.
#- 500 words
My first roomate when on the Program suffers advanced Multiple Sclerosis and is reduced to only his head and his tongue to direct his electrionic wheelchair, though he is otherwise lucid and thoughtful. He is a former RCMP officer. He knows the nurse who cares for him from before his hospitalization for she is the daughter of a friend. He is not on the Program for there is no pretense he can survive outside the hospital. He soon moves on to his own room. My second roommate suffers Huntington’s Chorea, a degenerative neural disease similar to MS but also affecting the forebrain, the mind and personality of the sufferer, and also kicking in by the late twenties or early thirties. He is then my contemporary, my peer, though I do not wish for his companionship and never much talk with him. I nickname him Sleepy because due to ravages of his disease he does often pass the day in sleeping. Sleepy approves this tag, understanding I mean it kindly. He is in the PDY area and on the Program because he is being lodged wherever there is opening in the Warrener, for there is no pretense he can survive outside the hospital, he is likely to die institutionalized and several years later when I live alone near the University, I learn he had died a few months after I left. I remember watching a video of ‘Total Recall’ with Sleepy one Sunday evening. He expresses his pleasure especially at violen and gory scenes, sometimes laughing amid strangulation and repeated gasps and incomplete and garbled words I do not hear. Sometimes he is silent. I am lonely. I think of women.Outside I see early winter sunset. Outside I hear impatient whine of cars on Sixteenth Avenue. Outside life goes on.
#- 500 words
Mary Jane is my new Physio who insists on being known as MJ. She is tall and pale blonde and her eyes are brown. She is not Caitlin. MJ is attractive enough but I am trying to learn to maintain some distance so I will not be sad when I necessarily leave. MJ works with everyone on PDY but I am the only one who is likely to walk out of here. I do not think of her as I thought of Caitlin. I do not know what she thinks of me. That this is a professional relationship is easier to manage now. MJ guides me from the wheelchair I use now mostly for quickness of transport about the Warrener or later at the University through use of four-footed canes to use of a single cane. MJ introduces me to an Adapted Physical Program at the University to there use the Fitness Centre weights and cycles, but this is only once a week and I want more, soon I am fit but this is not enough so soon go independently after our Warrener receptionist Joan sets up regular transport by Handi-bus. Joan often wears a sheer blouse that accents her fine breasts and I notice her prominent nipples when she talks to me. I think of sex with Joan. MJ watches me climb and descend stairs with cane or handrail. She will walk with me when I try to walk outside without a cane, but it is clear my progress is now on a plateau and there are no great advances to see and nothing new to do but just practice. You learn what you practice, she tells me more than once. You know you flare your nostrils when you make a point, she tells me.
I think of women.
#- 750 words
I walk with MJ but I am not there. I think of women. It is only now years since actual events that I pause to think of my injured way of expressing that which is most important at the time, only mature years, only calm years, only years that the shame no longer restrains me. Or so I tell myself. For the most important thing is sex. I think back to incidents I cannot fail to think of sex. I am a young man and though it does not mean I think of it constantly it is a constant subsonic concern that needs little encouragement to come out. I think of how at this time rather than the coma maturing me, I am trying to recover a sexually active, sexually aware, sexually attractive, young man I was no longer even at the time of the injury. I am always ready for sex. I think of women. I think of how to seduce this woman or that woman. I recall being washed in a shower chair by one nurse who seems to appreciate me, who smiles, who caresses me, who dismisses my tense automatic erection with a That's expected, and a brief stroke that I would want her to do again but another nurse is working the shower next door, so I do not ask. I want privacy. I want her. After this event that nurse is told by the next door nurse that perhaps I can wash myself which though true is not truly what I want. I recall of course Caitlin but this is already mentioned and there is nothing to add but that this desire is nearly constant and she probably has no indication. I recall gripping and pulling MJ toward me when we are aone in the therapy pool, an indication of desire in my eyes, but of this I am ashamed. I stop. She does not mention this the next day at my therapy meeting with the other therapists and Dan the administration at the Warrener. She is sympathetic. Somehow I decide then that she will only enjoy working with me if I continue to want her sexually, but this desire does not recur even in the pool and I am ashamed. She is not Cailin. I recall several times displaying my erection in mid-masturbation with sheets thrown back, when LPNs at the Warrener came in to tend my roomate, when I would not use vaseline because it would stain the sheets. Or so I tell myself. I recall this desperate repetition and in fact it never matters which LPNs are on duty. I recall ejaculating a sudden volume then leaving for breakfast when they decide to make my bed, finding the sheets for LPNs to clean, and this leads to admonishing censure as much as that. I recall a woman who works in the cafeteria and is attracted momentarily to me. She is about to be married. She flirts with me and I tell her how long I think of her, measuring in centimetres as a joke, but my conversion from inches to centimetres in mistaken and so in fact I am not longer but shorter. I never get a chance to correct this. I get a sudden deep kiss. I recall being patient at another hospital and confessing that Usually I masturbate to go to sleep and ask the nurse to bring me some sort of liquid, but this is only the first step to seducing her, the first step to a hand job, the first step to accomplishing my fantasy and perhaps hers. ` ``
#- 750 words
I wake late one winter day at Bearspaw in the guest suite. I sleep well. I never think of this sleep like that sleep that is not sleep of the coma. I do not think of death. I wake and look out the north window to whiteness of heavy snow lying on the yard we had built for the dog who has now died, and now without his barking presence, his intimidating presence, from the forest deer will often come on the lawn and sometimes nibble garden leaves or eat fallen seeds beneath the bird feeder. At this moment two white-tailed deer pause quietly on the lawn, posing as if metal sculptures, whose delicate tension seems nervous and ready to spring away, though their movements are only careful and not alert to threats. Whiteness surrounds in a vague foggy background where indeterminate nature contrasts with the illusion of finely seeing textures of white-speckled brown flanks and neck and narrow legs that seem too narrow and too fragile to support their bodies. I watch. I think of how I wish to share this with a woman. Whiteness fills the sky though it is not falling snow but clouds that have come to rest on the ground, so dense that even the next house over is more rumor than fact, and there is no horizon only whiteness meeting whiteness this quiet winter morning. Whiteness glows in through our window and the cat sleeps on the windowsill above the heating vent, warm on one side, pressing to cold glass on the other, but her eyes are closed and she purrs against a gentle caress. I see no shadows cast from the bed, the desk, the door into my separate bathroom, only a muted insubstantial tint to the pale-blue carpet and white and yellow-striped wallpaper, only the hint of three dimensions rather than sharp definitions of volume and planes and edges, and the house itself feels equally quiet and I listen for the sound of my parents moving about and hear the crackle of the morning radio in the kitchen with some weekend morning classical music program. I wonder what I will do this day but at the moment usual tasks will focus my interests. I use the metal support bars my father has put by the bathtub for a shower, then change into jeans and sweater, then come to the breakfast table late for my mother’s cornmeal waffles and to discover what they have planned for the day, as we are here outside the city and my freedom depends on where they will go. I delay these usual actions, these ordinary actions, these actions no different than of healthy persons, than myself before the injury and the coma, though with my injured dexterity and persistent requirement of thoughtful planning each gesture, each movement, even the simplest, all these actions take often twice as long to do, though my parents do not watch and perhaps want to ignore such apparent deficits. I am alive, however that may be, I am alive, I am still mostly the same me as ever. I am an unplanned baby born only a year after my brother though my parents hoped for a girl. I must by now appreciate that my life is a gift, though I continue to think of my good fortune, even before the injury and the coma, as a matter of luck. Waking morning here suggests natural time, duration and not clock, rest and patient, when even darkness of the night has dissolved into snow here without evenmemory of shadows. I stroke the cat.
#- 500 words
I am bothered and if I were not so consumed by therapies, I would be bored by my learning to walk, my learning to move, my learning everything physical with care on only one side of my body. I was dominent on my right side from hand to foot to playing sports and to handwrite and draw. I seem to have lost a sense of my body on the right side, a sense of space, such that turning to the right often brings me against the edge of the corner, my right foot often stubbing toes, and my right hand only able to grasp with about half the force of even my undoordinated left hand. I present my frustrated but carefully reasoned arguments over the slowing pace of my rehabilitation to MJ. I argue that my niece LeilanI is beyond crawling, that my niece LeilanI walks, that my niece LeilanI runs even, while I am still struggling with one cane and walking so awkward and slowly and not likely to run any time soon. MJ explains this difference. MJ tells me I must understand I am relearning and recovering with plasticity of a damaged brain whereas my niece has a healthy child's brain designed to learn, that my relearning and recovering is instead such as a child with Cerebral Palsy learning to walk, that I should be as pleased with my rate of progress as all my nurses and doctors and therapists are. I am surprised and enlighened and somehat chastened by this diagnosis and description. I know one CP survivor by often riding a Handi-bus with her, a young woman splayed into her wheelchair and requiring help to move and help to eat and help in any physical acts. I am not so injured. I am a lucky man.
#- 500 words
I walk with MJ but I am not there. I stumble and I recover and I murmur deprecations of myself, but this is a common theme for my rehabilitation. I should be more forgiving, I should be more reasonable, and surely I have not dismissed or forgotten that reframing of my progress. I actually have dismissed the argument as somehow not applicable to me here and now. I want to walk now. I tell MJ I want to walk perfectly and she explains that no one walks perfectly. Everyone walks from A to B however they walk. I surely must listen to MJ and not dismiss her judgement. I am bothered despite such encouragement for however rationally correct the process of walking is not rational. I never do accept imperfection in my walking, but it seems there iszone between necessary concentration to move correctly, to step, and frustration of self-consciousness and uneven stumbling. I have to think, to concentrate, and also move automatially. I am angry rather than sad as anger is for me typically easier to deal with, so I am angry but only to myself, I am angry that by now my walking is improving only incrementally. I try to keep my comments unspoken but somehow my mood reveals itself. I try to distract MJ not with obsessive compliments but by explaining stories only tangentially related to this progress. There is a short-short story by Donald Barthelme, a comic meditation- ‘Margins’- that suggests a writer change his handwriting to emulate a style of positive values seen in size of letters, size of loops, angle of lines, space within and between each and so on. Concentrate on thathe is told, handwriting experts will then analyze it and it now characterizes an entire invented self. It is easier to change that which you can- your handwriting- rather than some nebulous ‘character’. Jennifer my PDY Recreation Therapist looks at me quietly. Someday learning to walk will no longer be the most important thing in your life, she says.
#- 500 words
Some time through one resting afternoon my elder brother David visits alone. He is in a partnership now and in such visits we share no more than a quick verbal touch and an honestly apologetic and slightly harassed ‘busy’ if on the phone. Even without the injury and coma and rehabilitation we would have different concerns, we would have different interests, we would lead different lives. His wife is pregnant again and Leilani will have a sister. His house is inside the city in a good neighborhood and is perhaps too small for a growing family but he will not sell and will not then afford our parents’ place in Bearspaw. He will instead renovate and expand their own house. This decision seems to me and to my parents to be discounting a great possibility but we know it is not soon me alone who will afford or could live alone in such place. He perhaps does not want his children traveling a half hour to school and a half hour home each day on school busses as we had, does not want to himself drive a half hour or more home to work, a half hour or more work to home, does not want his wife to chauffeur the children everywhere for social events. I learn all this reasoning through my father. David offers always ‘busy’ in response to any of my concerns for him, different as they are, my concerns polite as they are, my concerns helpless as they are. David moves now to the bright blue window, his dark coat and dark suit swallowing light. David looks at me. Fine, he says. And you? Oh, tired too much, bored and maybe uninterested in the rehabilitation, too slowly returning to having my own life, but otherwise...
#- 500 words
One evening at Bearspaw I use a primitive computer graphics program to draw images based on work from years before the injury, the coma, the rehabilitation. At that time my artistic problem had been how to make each image based on an identical prototype. In this inspiration there is no apparent temporal order of first cause and then subsequent effect, in fact it seems my creative consciousness has worked in reverse, only now that I am injured and so stripped of my manual dexterity do I resort to computer drawing, though I began with this image five years ago. I had then traced each image and drawn added alterations on the basic type of three-quarter profile of Easter Island giant stone heads. Now by computer this process becomes automatic and each image can be built of a shared and saved original that I minimally alter. I try to feel gestures in drawing but this is by computer mouse or stylus and not pen. I try to devise an alphabet or grammar of basic elements in each image, but there is some difficulty rendering such that, for example, I end up with straight rather than increasingly curved lines in using the full profiles. I am frustrated. No one else considers this to be an annoying deficit, but this limits precise lines of the gift I want to create. I want to offer something to those who work with me on PDY, to my recreation therapist Jennifer and my physiotherapist MJ.
(I make the first card of four panels for MJ if these can be printed, or as described here. Panel 1: Stonehead on hillside, sighs. Panel 2: lightning bolt Zap! from cloud in upper left corner (God). Panel 3: Stonehead announces to Bird flying across above from left to right, ‘I can walk! I can walk!’. Panel 4: Bird flying out to right replies, ‘But can you fly?’. MJ laughs. MJ gets the original. One summer afternoon, with others of PDY, I listen to Jennifer as she suggests as a group we need to ‘brainstorm’. At this time a summer hailstorm passes by. I do a single panel: Stonehead on hillside, multiplied images of human brains falling down as if hail, with the caption, ‘Stonehead caught in a brainstorm’. Jennifer laughs. Jennifer gets the original.)
- 500 words
I am walking down the east central hall of the Warrener past windows of black night without even streetlights and reflecting shadowed and quiet and empty halls. I am alone. I am walking to the dining area but this is not time for breakfast and this is not time for lunch and this is not time for dinner. I am walking with one cane. I am unhurried but curiously expectant. I have heard my name announced and summoned to the front doors but do not recognize the voice. I am walking smoothly if not perfectly. Linoleum beige floor is flecked random shades of light brown. Walls are guided by light brown metal bars slightly lower than waist-high. I near the empty cafeteria when I see my mother's father sitting on a wooden bench before a tropical plant. He is as I last saw him and as my memory ever sees him, that is, tall and slim, white-hair very high on his forehead, handsome and very Hawai’ian. I sit to his right in weirdly calm surprise and ask questions that even then and there seem mistaken,
Grandpa, Grandpa, what are you doing here?
It has been four years since his death.
Oh well, I have come to visit you, Grandpa says as he pats me gently on my shoulder. His voice is deep, his shrug suggesting all the distance traveled is nothing. He looks down at me somehow even from sitting. We are very proud of you. You are working very hard.
I notice an old man in shadows at another table. I turn to Grandpa, Who?
Oh, he is my grandfather. I have brought him along so that he could see you, so that you could see him, so you could know all your ancestors are so proud of you.
#- 750 words
One evening at the University I am wheeling down the wide hall in Block B of the Kinesiology building. I had just been told by a Handi-bus driver who brought me here, as I spoke to a young woman I happened to know, that I had more luck with women than him. I laughed then but now frustrated after my workout it no longer seems a joke. I think of women. I am lonely. I have just finished my usual aerobic and weights workout, first on an exercise bike and then on cable machines as my co-ordination is not good enough to control free weights. I now go towards the Olympic Speed Skating Oval to catch my Handi-bus ride to the Warrener. I think of women I have seen. Tara hails me from seating benches in the atrium. I am a lucky man. I have not spoken to any women at the FC, but I am vaguely aroused by thoughts of spandex-clad torsos and thighs and narrow waists so her sudden appearance is fortunate answer to many frustrations. Tara is with a friend and offers me a ride, if I do not mind Jennifer riding in back. I do not mind. I dismiss my Handi-bus with apologies and get a knowing smile in return. I think this is the same Handi-bus driver. Tara seems more attractive than ever. I am walking about in the Warrener the next day, when Doc tells me he has heard my name on the PA. I am wanted at the front desk. I smile to Joan. As an expected this is Tara, who now slowly walks down to PDY, beside me on my cane, young and healthy and perhaps troubled by the hospital environment by then so familiar I never notice it, that there are people in wheelchairs everywhere, that there are people so obviously disabled in ways that may be physical, in ways that may be mental, in ways that may be both. I search for our therapists with an urge to introduce Tara.
Tara wants to go out to the mountains, I say. I have no idea when we will return.
Several hours later we come to Lake Louise in an afternoon brisk but not cold, an empty blue sky above postcard-beautiful snow-capped mountains, in perfect spring skiing weather, if we had equipment, if I had been uninjured. Forest shadows lay cold over the path on a route that retains too much ice to negotiate it myself, so Tara goes alone to see the lake. We stop for supper at Canmore, somewhere Yup has recommended, as Tara feels wealthy. She works weekends at the hospitals and some weekday evenings at a menswear section of the Bay. She has money. As evening falls we park at a place I remember from my youth, the private end of a gravel road. She stops the car where I direct. We kiss. She smiles. She asks me if I take her seriously. I smile. I kiss her and rest a hand high on her thigh. She says No, she decides to continue kissing me, no, she does not take me seriously, no, she kisses me, no, and rests her hand over my jeans already tightened over my arousal, no, and opens the buttons. My hand reaches inside her shorts and find her already wet, fingers rubbing blind but persistent, then she gasps yes suddenly and she is surprised to come so quickly. We have been talking about sex for hours no matter what we say and my erection is in her mouth and I am not surprised.
#- 750 words
I phone Tara one night, for she is somehow one of those rare women I can hear on the phone. It must be her voice. Or so I tell myself. I am lonely. I think of women. I imagine being with her. I have told Tara that even with my disability and limits given I am still a man, and anyway the brain is the sexiest organ, the brain is what is aroused and does the arousing through the body. She challenges me tonight to arouse her simply by voice, by my imagination, by my story, by my brain. I have done something like this before. I imagine most young men have tried to seduce women by phone. I am pleased to impersonate my younger and healthy self before my injury. I ask her if she has ever watched any particular daytime drama. I ask if she has ever a particular theme of fantasies, and aside from her usual rape fantasies she mentions how she thinks sometimes of seducing a virgin, of being someone's First. She laughs quietly, she murmurs Then I end up with you. I close my eyes and the night cafeteria disappears, this telephone at a table far from any distractions, any others, even this wheelchair fades. I am only a voice on the phone. I tell her a story about aliens and abduction, similar thematically but years before ‘The X-files’, of a hospital she wakes in, not real but rather a set drawn from her memory, ‘characters’ these aliens inhabit, who in their basic parthenogenic reproduction so fascinated by sex. Teach us, they ask her. I hear Tara's breathing deepen. She giggles and murmurs encouragement as I continue. I am a doctor in this fantasy, I am an intern, I am a nurse, I am an alien playing these roles. I elaborate breathless and innocent and scientific experimentation these aliens conduct. Tara laughs quietly, tells me what she is doing, what she imagines me doing, and her breathing reaches a peak. It has been a quarter-hour at no charge. Nurses from One East are wondering where I am at this hour, unable to leave until I am accounted for…
Where did you get that story? What, just then? You should write it down.
Tara and I go to a subtitled movie, my selection, in an area of the city called Kensington. Tara fidgets with her hands, turns her body out away and in, her eyes often over at me, only rarely at the screen. It is a Spanish film, the language she studies at University, so perhaps she does not need to watch, but her knowledge does not apply here. She is not watching, not even attempting a display of interest, for she is bored.
It is a midsummer evening, light golden with long shadows when we emerge from the theatre. I tell her I will walk without my cane, will only support myself with my left arm over her shoulders as we walk for half a block. I am happy. I think of how I had told my Recreation Therapist Jennifer that I have wanted ‘someone to share my life’. I feel young and happily committed to her and at these thoughts I recall Lynn, I recall that need for constant contact of learning and knowing and feeling with my girlfriends from before the coma. Night comes and cools. Sunset paints sky and clouds with vividness unreal in brilliance, of unforgettable vacations. I am glad to be alive and be here and impersonate my own younger self. I do not go out with Tara again.
# 750 words
One darkening winter afternoon while I live at the Warrener, rather than going to my usual workout, I go to my father’s office at the University. I am alone. I wheel quickly across the campus, across the snow-dusted patio of Science B, and I am fortunate to find building fire doors open to the elevators. I have not planned this. I only thought of this when my mother reminded me two days ago. I am fortunate to catch Rob Alain, next-door office neighbor on my father’s floor, just then leaving and ask him to let me into the office. I do not explain, but he agrees. I turn on my father's Apple Mac II SE. I am fortunate to find and use a computer graphic program, a program of limited symbolic images that I must use, a program that suffices against my inability to draw with my left hand. I have not planned this. I am not sure this will work. I am fortunate to need only organize and qualify one each of simple images, later they may be duplicated, may be oriented by reversal, may be flipped on an axis vertical or horizontal. I am fortunate somebody wrote this program for my drawing is as bad as if I had never learned how, I am fortunate to decide graphic design has become less an ongoing frustration of loss and is now a disability insisting problem solving, I am fortunate no longer drawing does not bother me. Or so I tell myself. Time is swallowed by the computer but this project takes only a few hours. I print final copies, watching paper feed, folding sheets, waiting for all to be printed. There is no familiar almost narcotic scent of paint or ink or glue or chalk or conte or fixative, no comfortable tactile sense of paper under instrument of each medium, no gestural awareness of lines drawn curved or straight or of colour fields blooming bright or muted. I take a spool of clear tape and emerge to the quiet empty floor, an institutional atmosphere similar to hospitals but seeming even quieter, for I remember these halls busy when I am a student and as a youth and as a child, for my father has had this particular office for decades. No one is here to question or halt my intention of putting these signs and this banner around the exposed brick inner wall of the building that surrounds labs and seminar rooms. I place each printed paper about eyelevel for a walking person. I put the banner and arrows closest to my father’s office, leading on around brick walls from smaller signs and the first sign seen as soon as the passenger elevator opens. On this sign there is only a large question mark, that common symbol in its simplicity and obvious fashioning and meaning designed to draw the attention from colourful and slick ads for laser physics and astrophysics and chemical physics and physical chemistry and theoretical chemistry conferences. I turn off computer and lights and close the office. I wheel across Campus in gentle snowfall to catch my Handi-bus beside the Oval.
I’ve had people I haven’t seen in ages, who had no idea it is my birthday, stop in to wish me Happy Birthday, my father tells me the next day. Oh, I took the signs and banner down. I’ll keep them.
One large question mark. One ‘Maximum 55’. One square of small question marks behind a large ‘55’. One large cupcake with one candle. One banner that reads ‘Professor William G Laidlaw is Fifty-five today.'
#- 1 000 words
One evening I go to the High School reunion walking now with the cane nervous and curious. I am twenty-seven as my birthday is in October. I feel older if not much wiser. It is a strange time warp, for it is difficult to see how ten years could have passed, it is difficult to see how we thought ourselves young adults then and are young adults now. We are adults now. Or so I tell myself. Nothing seems to have changed in any significant way. ‘Girls’ are now mature and many married and mothers of one or two or three and themselves or their husbands or both somewhere in careers and aspirations now circumscribed by responsibility. ‘Boys’ have no immediate approval in fathering and no assumed responsibility, as always comes that qualifier question ‘-and what else have you done?’
My important history is easily summed up.
A coma? How long?
A young man connected by marriage to one of the girls, remembers me as ‘that Tennis player’ at Charlie’s parties, on his backyard court, nine summers past, and is surprised I no longer played much tennis by the time of my injury. His memory offers me a question I will ask other friends and schoolmates, if they thought of it or if they think of it now: where had they imagined I would be ten years after graduation. In typical narcissism I do not recognize that I have no particular imagined scenarios of where these friends and schoolmates would be ten years after graduation.
Our star athlete classmate remembers me ‘thinking, always up on some other plane...’ with ‘the rest of us down in the muck’. He had imagined me thinking or something.
Another classmate boy remembers me always sleeping, head down on desk, when in Math class or Physics class, how once our grade twelve Math teacher called me in from playing on a Tennis court visible from class halfway through a period. He laughs. He had imagined me an artist or writer or sleeping.
Another classmate girl, who knew my father was a University professor, thought I would be ‘a CEO or something’. She knew I knew many people and made few enemies. She had decided I was smart and had no idea what my marks were in math and physics.
Another classmate who was nascent busiessman of course shows up in a double-breasted grey-blue suit and power red tie. I have nothing to talk with him about. When I ask his high-maintenance fiancee if he has made too much money for her, she replies there is never too much money for her, and laughs as I laugh.
Another classmate girl with whom I went up to accept diplomas congratulates my progress, admitting that when she had heard of my injury she thought I might be seriously damaged and more a vegetable. I look the same and this is a compliment. She looks the same and this is a compliment. I had asked her guidance for my yearbook photo, but a male friend had swayed me against her choice, saying that in smiling I look like an eager game show host. I had worried that if people saw me smile they might ask me to smile again. I have never been adept at smiling on command.
Another classmate girl I dance close with, or rather shuffle around in a circle not particularly to the music, is a locker neighbor through three years in the awkward social inferno of High School. She is the friend of a friend of a girl who looks only a little like a Physio at Foothills Hospital. I ask if she is married. I do not recall her ever so attractive. She is married to a man who is really old she jokes, forty! She had imagined me an artist or writer.
Other classmates stay away, have nothing they would have imagined of me, really haven’t imagined or thought of me since- or even in- High School. Some classmates might remember me as arrogant and intellectual and artistic and making jokes when nothing is funny, as ‘hanging out with those jocks’, with drawing of ‘spaceships weird and fantastic’ such it is difficult to believe I am not ‘on some outrageous drugs’ at the time. And it is too familiar, under these matured faces I can see Original Faces, read expressions of pride, of bitterness, of dreams exceeded or unmet. I have perhaps thought myself alone disappointed in what my meager achievements are, but this is not so, as some other graduates have not even come to the invite. Some are simply too far away in their careers. Charlie is not here as he works for IBM in Australia, doing something nobody knows but if I sincerely wish to see him his parents haven't moved, phone them up. I do not. John is once Man among boys on the basketball team and now he is Man among men. He had imagined me an artist or writer. Theresa tells me of software programs she uses at work as a Graphic Artist, how they might help recover my artistic intentions.
Many are married and even young parents.
Jennifer tells me that half will be divorced in ten years.
It is adult life now. I am not alone in experience. Things happen.
Life is not a container in which things happen, Life is the things that happen.
#- 750 words
One evening at the Warrener I look into the bathroom mirror and see the eyepatch. Until this point I have avoided thinking of it, I have even become familiar in a world as perceived by one eye, I have avoided thinking how others see it, I have avoided thinking of how I see it. I am not bothered. Or so I tell myself. When someone takes a photo I am vain and quickly take the patch off, reasoning that this is how I will be years from now, after my patch is gone. I want to erase this moment and this memory. I do not worry that these eye operations might fail and I would be condemned to the freedom of wearing the patch. I know that my first operation will be to relevant muscles around both eyes, to see if 45-degree vertical focal discrepancy is product of both eyes or one alone. I am taken to Rockyview Hospital, all expanded and renovated with wards in cloverleaf plans, in bright white walls and light orange brick, windows that reflect only a darkened version of blue summer sky. I am becoming an architecture critic of several hospitals. I decide this is more recently renovated and more interesting to look at than previous hospitals and maybe I should stay here. I wonder about the floorplans and elevations and mechanical and emergency access and here wards and there offices and labs and places for nurses and doctors and therapists and general traffic plans. I wonder about where my nurse cousin works. Glenmore Reservoir is below with a historical park for Calgary and southern Alberta down the hill, a historical park with buildings brought from towns around the province and here rebuilt as tourist attractions. I remember as a child visiting this ‘Heritage Park’ for kindergarten and birthdays and holidays, I want to go there again as if the first time, this nostalgia expands to encompass many places. I want to visit my mother’s family as if the first time, visit my cousins, the beach and beach-house, the airports, the airplanes that promise such transport. There is more to life than simply learning to walk again.
In my boredom it comes to me only gradually that I will remember nothing, nothing, and this fact summons anxiety I think of it compared to the coma. Doctor Skul will detach some muscles, cutting here and not there, only by educated guesswork, and I will remember nothing. At the Warrener another relates a horrific story about general anesthetic, about how unaware surgeons had not noticed their patient is given wrong anesthetics, that feed tubes are over-compensated, and from this simple operation a patient is put in a coma and brain-damaged. Now there are so many default procedures, so many professionals in this field, so many alert watchers, that this will never happen again.
Now count backwards from twenty-one... a voice says to me, twenty-one... twenty... nineteen... eighteen... seventeen...
I wake in my Rockyview room, both eyes swollen and laced to hold them shut, thread material that will melt into flesh and disappear as it allows eyes to finally see when bruised eyelids opened. Doctor Skul visits me twice before announcing that her suspicions about my left eye being the major ‘wandering’ culprit are accurate. She tells me I will heal over the next six months, before she again cuts certain other muscles and ligaments, around my left eye. She tells me the different focal centres, from left to right eye, are now down to twenty-five degrees of separation...
I still have to use the eye patch.
#- 1 250 words
One evening after my workout I am wheeling down to ward One East and Debra is in a TV lounge, sitting off the central hall halfway, sitting alone in a darkened room listening to the Weather Channel, sitting alone but intent. Weather predictions are practically and actually interesting when you are in a wheelchair or otherwise disabled, dependent on Handi-bus for transport, on others to push you along, on yourself moving slowly in rain or snow or cold. I have met Debra in the hallway leading to the cafeteria, where I would walk to meals beside her though she is in another ward, where I would tease her in suggesting a race at mealtimes. She fascinates me as her very ordinary young woman trapped in a wheelchair. She is not very tall or very blonde more usually attractive to me, but she is shy and smart. She has even ordinary features and brown eyes and brown hair. She is trapped in a small wheelchair of red metal tubing, with tires of solid rubber, circular pushing wheels following the outward-angled shape so her hands are not at the full width of the chair and it is easier to push wheels. She is functionally blind so only able to see light and dark and to see only colours and general shapes but no details. She will flatter me later that she thought of sex and me from the first meeting. She also imagined me as looking like young Richard Gere and I am briefly glad she cannot see. She pushes herself along even slower than I can walk, but it is one night on returning from the FC, my frustrated aroused thoughts drifting through memories and images of many young and fit and healthy women who all seem tall and thin and unachievable from my wheelchair, young and fit and healthy women in tights or shorts or aerobic costumes, shiny and flushed and gleaming and smiling and not hospital professionals. I could seduce this woman or that woman. Or so I tell myself. I will never be able to seduce any woman ever again. Or so I tell myself.
I think of women, I think of Tara, I think of Caitlin, I think of this woman and that woman, I think of unnamed bodies at the gym. I am tired and alone and restless one evening after my workout I so wheel into the lounge and wilfully pull beside Debra, to her left looking the opposite way, so we are face to face. In an urgent whisper I claim that I might die of I cannot have her. Kiss. A deeper and more passionate kiss than I have expected but then my impatient hand lands on high on her thigh as she blushes- surprisingly firm though thin but then she does go to the APP Tuesday evenings at the FC.
My room, she says, Tomorrow night, my room, I have my own room.
At this invitation, somewhere in the building the fire alarm goes off and all the major fire doors automatically slam shut, including the TV room, casting us both into the windowless darkness. False alarms happen occasionally to the Warrener caused by the weather and within a few minutes firemen arrive from a firehall just down the street. I am aroused. I have not expected her immediate response in a positive way, but to her smile, her decisive whisper, sex becomes something that completely floods my brain, and my joking proposition becomes real. My desires become unbound, my desires are answered, my desires are without conscience, my desires are cause of many actions that overcome those years of experience before. She has suffered a coma due to some problem with her asthma medication so her last clear memory Before is walking into the hospital, but she is awake and immobile and unable to speak throughout much of her coma and hears the doctor suggesting she is as good as dead and that they should take her off the machines. Her mother agreed. Her father refused. Debra has had nightmares ever since of running from house to house to house chased by someone who wants to kill her.
I desire Debra as a woman and this is what she appreciates, what she enjoys, for she is a young woman whose desires are not cancelled by her disability. I pity her. I think of her as restrained virgin. I know there is a disabled man who is her friend but they never have sex. I do not think of this. I do not pity him. I have no compassion. Debra makes her decision and at first our meeting is in her room as scheduled then there is the possibility of going to a nearby motel and in some way the idea we should have sex elsewhere become this major production is perversely enjoyable. I want these doctors and nurses and therapists to recognize my sexuality and hers and see we are fully alive and this includes sex. I am impatient, I am sincere, I am truly attracted to her and not truly attracted to her. I will see how sex shades into friendship and realize that it is not despite her injury she is attractive but rather, to some degree, because of her defining disability. I do not feel less man because my own disability is less than hers. This is indeed at that time ‘someone to share my life’, though I insist that she is primarily a friend with whom I have occasional sex. Or so I tell myself.
I ask her once if I should call her ‘Debi’ as her nurses do, but she wants my pronunciation, my accent, my name for her, though she never insists on this name to her caregivers and others.
Debra registers for courses that upcoming fall term. The Head Nurse and the Social Worker for PDY tell me they have worked nine years to encourage Debra to leave the Warrener. I arrive and in four months she has left and now she will take courses at University...
I tell people we met in the coma, I explain once to Debra, now with her attendant in her new double-bedroom apartment in a townhouse near the University. This is true in both literal and metaphoric terms. It is a true fiction. In literal terms we met at the Warrener. There is nowhere else we can have met, nothing else but as patients there, but the metaphoric truth is in the idea that any coma is part of a ‘meta-coma’ that has no dimensions of space or time and we met in this coma and promised to wait for the other to come out. She suggests she could have been a nurse and I insist we would then have had only a professional relationship. We will be friends for several years. I will have other women and try to break off this sex but I never do. We will be friends for several years. I will regularly take her to a roti restaurant down in Kensington with regular sex until she commits to a true relationship with a Handi-bus driver. I am sad. I am happy.
#- 750 words
I go on vacation with my father to the islands. Mother is unable to stop work much before Christmas, so we will go and return before. I have known for months that she will not come with us but the experience remains very strange, I have known this as always a family trip but now of course my brother has his own family, I have known this but find it very sad. This is a sort of working vacation for my father and we go first to Hawai'i. In the airports I ride wheelchairs past waiting lines for checking-in and passing customs. Boarding the planes I walk slowly with my cane. Elsewhere, I try to walk as often as possible, try to visibly progress each given opportunity. I discover that the hotels we stay in are well adapted for disability, with support bars in bathrooms by toilet and bathtub, hallways in long slopes and few steps. Military and tourism are the strongest industries and employers of the islands, so no traveling demographic is ignored, so I should not be surprised. I want to be useful for my father, so I suggest we should eat only foods we do not often have in Canada- Portuguese sausage, MauI onions, fresh guava and mangoes and papaya, fresh sugar cane, fresh pineapple and fresh coconut,malasadas (portuguse donuts) and wheat seaweed crackers, red iso peanut crackers and dried cuttlefish. I try to emulate the local dialect-‘pidgin’ but my hearing is imprecise, my English accent too strong, and so my father warns me others might think I mock them...
On the Big Island, an afternoon free from his work at the USDA- helping create a computer program that models heat penetration of papayas, heat enough to kill insect larva, but not so much heat to render flesh of the fruit inedible mush- my father and I leave Hilo and drive a narrow and twisting road a clear day along steep hillsides above the ocean, to purchase some Koa wood for his woodworking project. I wonder if it is apparent I am looking at this woman and that woman. I feel compelled to talk and talk. My father does not need to respond so I simply open an internal monologue. I talk and talk. We stop for the wood and I investigate various stuffed animals and kinds of wood in the shop. We buy box lunches- bento. We visit Laupahoehoe, a small peninsula where many schoolchildren had died from a tsunamI in the ‘30s. I talk and talk. We are turning back to Hilo when my father sighs-
Michael, you’ve been talking non-stop since we left this morning. Could you please just shut up?
On my mom's home island Kaua'i, I practice walking motions at Salt Pond, a reef-guarded semi-circle swimming bay, walking slowly and powerfully pushed and pulled about by waves. I find that simply trying to stay in one place, paddling against energy of the waves out as breakers come in, and then in as undertow draws out, is exercise enough. Staying in one place is constantly going forward. My father has had his research projects and colleagues he visits on the two other islands visited but Waimea is to look after our condo and for me to see my aunts and uncles, cousins and nieces and nephews. I have no other projects to work on. I visit my cousins in Honolulu and Waimea, married now and parents. I ‘talk story’ with Edene, the wife of my cousin Aukai, who lives in the beachfront house, designed by and built by and inherited from Grandpa.
#- 500 words
One morning, the second week finally out of the Warrener, I decide to leave my wheelchair at home, I decide to burn my boats, I decide to leave myself no other options but to return by walking. I decide this urgent project without telliing anyone. I will leave no rescue possible. I am angry though it remains unknown why. I am no longer in a hospital situation so I will move with the minimal indication of my disability in my cane. I need no encouragement from doctors or nurses or therapists. I walk to the C-train station, then up to the station by stairs, where I usually catch the elevator down to the platform, instead walk then down stairs on the far side of 32nd NE to catch route 19 bus, which cuts west to 16th Avenue across northern quadrants of the city directly to the University terminal. What I could not do burdened by wheelchair, simply catch a bus, is now easy and has not exhausted me. I think of women to impress but of course no one is watching in approval. I discover all the opportunities and all the freedoms, that a walking person unthinkingly lives, as ramps are much easier to climb than wheel, as walking is much easier over gentle topography of campus, once daunting in gradual slopes and sidewalks and doors. I discover the FC is no longer so difficult to negotiate in rising from the chair only there, for with this constant practice being on foot is now not so uncertain. I am no longer afraid of falling and though I do not dance and do not run I am now not immediately seen a disabled man. I walk all day and return home tired but not exhausted. I never use my wheelchair again.
#- 1 000 words
Gaudi, I say.
It is the Summer Olympics and I am sunning- or 'roasting the flesh' in Doc’s terms- on our small patio watching television coverage from Barcelona with Doc in the shade. ‘Doc’ is in fact a Doctor, a PhD, a Professor of Endocrine Physiology from Brandon, Manitoba, suffering increasing symptoms of MS and thus in a scooter when he comes on Program but soon in an electronic wheelchair. I have nicknamed all of us on the Program following the idea of MJ as Snow White and the rest of us Seven Dwarves. There are more than seven of us. Some have other nicknames or prefer no nickname. So there is Doc, Sleepy, Grouchy, Yup for Happy, Vancouver Island for Victoria, and Mo, whom I name Momentum. I am comfortable with Dopey but this nickname does not stick. I am pleased to dispense nicknames but not all our agreed. These are not my cousin's kids. I am not insulting others but only naming in jest and no one should be offended. Or so I tell myself.
I watch sports. I always have and my disability does not diminish this.
I watch the Olympics every day that summer.
I am envying those superior athletes, though only recently reminded by a woman who works at the FC that I am not alone aware of exactly what I cannot do- almost everyone cannot do what these Olympians are doing- this is why they are Olympians and we are spectators. I am surprised and chastened for my injured pride but this reasonable argument deals with something like intellectual enlightenment, rather than with something like residue of dreams and goals lost to my injured youth. Doc reminds me, all those Sunday evenings watching NFL in the Warrener together with Yup, that they had already lived some part of their abreviated adult life, that I have been injured in what should have been the Prime of Life. I have had an early midlife crisis, I have reason for bitterness, I have suffered an awareness of death without even yet having a hope for the future, hope for a wife, hope for a career, hope for a family. I hear these arguments but they are deflected by my willful insistence on absolute responsibility and complete freedom, that all else are excuses without validity, without truth, without true relevance for my interrupted plans to become Someone. Or so I tell myself. My ways of watching the Olympics are not healthy. I am drawn to watch events as if following a slow-motion repetition of a car accident, as horrific and hypnotic and endlessly fascinating in my injury, as unable to separate by logical means, only seeing in each gesture, winners all, ability I never have had to begin with before the coma, to walk or to run or to jump long or high, all imagined loss of which infects my dreams. TV has just run an aerial panorama of Barcelona.
Antoni Gaudi, I say. A Cathedral. Only Spanish architect I can remember.
Saw Tewksbury's win, Doc replies. 200-metre backstroke.
Who did he beat?
Don't know. Some American. Does it matter?
We watch a track event in silence, meditating on how it matters, and then I speak again.
Doc, I say, Before the coma I thought running is boring, required no great co-ordination. just one foot ahead of the other, over and over, for a hundred metres or a thousand. Now... Saw some swimmer who’s thirteen- did her parents throw her in the pool in her diapers? You learn what you practice, sure- but thirteen?
Must love to swim.
Doesn't sound like she had much choice.
You have to have desire. You worked hard at walking.
Everyone wants to walk-
I will recapture these words even as I say this, but Doc only jerks displeasure and forgives me with a wry smile. Everyone wants to walk.
I admit to Doc that I do not really care what his attendant Jim thinks of me, as arrogant, intellectual, pretentious, or any other words he would not otherwise use, as long as he tends Doc well. Doc has a specially modified van, he does not drive but ramps extend out one side and he rolls into it for trips, as when he goes to a conference in Edmonton for three days, driven by Jim. Doc tells me, later, that Jim quite probably stole some petrol from his van. Doc tells me how Jim had come in, blocked the door, washed kitchen floor, vacuumed a bedroom- all very out of character- how his friend remained outside, how the tank gauge on Doc’s next trip registered only vapors of gas, how he had just filled it up...
That’s absurd- lose a job just to save a few cents on gas!
Fifty litres, a hundred litres... It adds up, Doc explains.
Jim flames-out next weekend and leaves me nervously alone with Doc and shows up late with alcohol on his breath...
Any argument is academic- Doc fires Jim. I am not at home, so I do not really ever know how this goes down, but Brian, an emergency attendant from Home-Care, is already there. As we wait for new attendants, Brian is so energetic I worry that he is on some amphetamine, but this is only contrast. But he tends to Doc, he takes much better care, he helps line up interviews for replacement attendants.
#- 500 words
One day, an LPN homecare visits Doc. Eve. She is a pleasant young woman of East-Indian descent who seems to know her work but unfortunately is not tall or strong enough to save Doc from slipping to the floor during transfer to a bath chair. I am watching Olympics when she comes out to ask my help. If I cannot help she must phone her employer and this will not be good mark at work. The bathroom is a small room, made smaller by the wheelchair, and Doc waits on the floor. He is lightly humorous. He is nude and not yet showered and clean and I notice first that he is thin and very darkly hairy. Eve places a towel over his privates. I think out how to lift him. I have enough strength but do not know about my coordination. I lean against the sink and direct Eve and together we lift him into the bath seat- a slight anxiety of dropping him bringing sweat more than any physical exertion. I tell Eve that if she needs help to transfer Doc back to his chair, I will be watching the Diving. I am in the corridor an hour later and try to force a kiss from her. I stop in shame. I am lonely but not like this. I want to say this is not me but she moves quickly away.
Eve seems like a girl you could have fun with, Brian says next day.
I don’t think so. I asked her out, I say.
Maybe that is because you asked her out, he says with a smile.
The next day...
Eve asked where you were, Brian says.
I do not reply. I do not understand.
I think she likes you, man. I don’t know why... he laughs.
#- 750 words
Before the second eye operation my vision is tested again at Rockyview Hospital. Doctor Skul does not test me but sees me once at her office, to check how well the previous operation has healed. Many children are in the noisy, busy, waiting room, for similar operations she usually performs on children affected by wandering eye problems. My case is unique and if it is any comfort my operations will likely result in a scientific paper. I will be in print. Or so I tell myself. Now that I know what will happen and what will not happen I am somehow more afraid than the first operation, had I been aware of memory in the coma this is doubtless how I felt terrified and confused and persecuted, and she is going to put me asleep and carve my face. I know what is happening and this time fear is not alleviated. For the second eye operation I am taken down from the Warrener to Rockyview the day before, as the hospital wants to dictate my food intake a day before to insure I respond well to anesthetic and not become ill or overmedicated. I do not share my new fears, I do not trust my fears, I do not understand my fears. Fortunately there is a friendly nurse with whom distraction is possible and I do not want to be thought a coward. I do not have supper the night before or the breakfast that morning.
Nurses cut an IV into my right arm as I wake and pre-anesthetic drips into my body. I cannot wake, I cannot sleep, I am too alert to drop off, I know what to expect now enough to fear errors, and that I will remember nothing and nothing and nothing. I am rolled into a stainless steel elevator and close my eyes slowly to fluorescent bars above, then I am rolled into the operating room where I apologetically try to help my transfer onto operating table but I am too drowsy and too uncoordinated and too limp. I hear a cheerful welcome from Doctor Skul. I try to reply but my tongue is wrapped around itself and then again there is nothing to say.
Now count backwards from twenty-one... a voice say to me- twenty-one... twenty... nineteen... eighteen... seventeen...
This second operation reduces the focal difference of my eyes to five-percent vertical. I will not have another operation, I will not fear again and now for some reason I am brave and want another operation, but as this is close as my eyes will likely get. Three months later Dr Skul tests me and seems satisfied and yes, my eyes will be subject of a professional paper. Remaining differences of focus my brain will learn to compensate by using whichever image agrees with other senses of my body- notably the inner ear. One eye focuses on long distance, one up close. I buy bifocals, use them reading until tired and lines double on each other, but do not like to look down to read. I experiment with driving one of my parents’ cars, but have myself no car and this does not encourage me towards one. When tired I saw three-eyed or four-eyed faces, doubled mouths, too many fingers- a flickering change from one eye to other at distance of my outstretched arm. My right eye is slower to adjust if I move my head too quickly and sometimes I have to close both eyes and pause for trembling nausea to pass before they again focus together...
I never use my eye patch again.
#- 1 250 words
I meet Wendy at the FC by cable lats when I use an empty one she is beside. I wheel swiftly around in my chair toward the Handi-bus, now pumped up by exercise and happily energetic and social and I see her again. I think of women as I always do after workout here and she I would notice anywhere. I notice one book she is reading and mention I have heard of his work though I never have read him, so ask what she thinks of his work. Wendy is an English graduate doing her PhD, the book is a large critical tome by Northrop Frye. I cover my ignorance by asking Is it possible that too much critical theory can eviscerate a work of art beyond any afterlife recovery. I talk about writing and theory and too much education. I am intimidated by her reading so mention my own undirected and very unschooled reading and admit I have not read any proferred Canon of English Lit since years studying before and rather I have read works written in this century, I have read often translations of literary fiction, of French, of Japanese, of Italian, Portuguese, of Spanish, of German. I have read most written in the years since the First World War. I am not boasting. Or so I tell myself. I watch her lips as she talks, I watch her eyes as she listens. In a few minutes there is clearly a chemical reaction enveloping us and we need at least a latte to discuss such amazingly common interests in literature.
A coma? How long?
I see Wendy the next day. Another day. Another.
I am on campus talking to Wendy, telling her a constantly frustrating disability is that I do not hear well enough to carry on conversation if I do not also read the face, so do not hear by phone, so I must talk to her in person. I can talk but rarely hear. I can hear my mother but not my father. I can hear some women but not others. She agrees to meet in person. She becomes my sole conversational partner, my sole outlet for my usual young male desire, for though there is Debra she has become only a friend, and though there is Tara she is now past and something she tells not to make a big deal out of her and me.
I am a lucky man. I am falling for Wendy.
Wendy is unreasonably convinced of the strength of my mind and my heart and too doubtful of her own. She trusts me and this is our first mistake. Wendy is not blonde, rather red, with freckles I wanted to follow up inside her skirt. She is very tall and slim and has a beautiful bright smile. Her green eyes sparkle at first meeting and without thought I follow the possibilities in her look. I do not trust myself but I can stop at any moment. Or so I tell myself. She is very attractive in ways I should beware. Not her body alone is arousing, but this emotional state we create between us, building on actual common interest in literature, a passion I find myself revealing more to her than ever to Recreational Therapist Jennifer or Occupational Therapist Helen or Physiotherapist Caitlin or amateur sexual therapist Tara or even friendship therapist Debra, similar to love but probably no more than eager lust. It is encouraging she finds me attractive. I encourage her in return, I tell her not to live with her boyfriend and not to disappear to Toronto, I tell her what friends should not tell her if they are truly friends. I am not truly her friend. I do not know how to stop. I am a voice of private and carnal and selfish desire. She does not pull away. She says instead she would never have kissed me first, that it was response that it is all out of control now. She has trouble actually deciding how I truly feel about her, how I truly feel about anything, how I truly am a very natural actor. I act but everyone acts and maybe it is sincere pretence. She does not understand how I harbor no bitterness to fate for my injury and disabilities. I offer no more than a shrug. I do not accept my injury and disabilities. I try to live without thought of my injury and disabilities. Or so I tell myself.
Wendy mourns beforehand what friendship we could have cultivated, but now it is too late, now any privacy we share becomes a moment for eager and intense, necessary and desperate sex. I tell her surely she is not afraid to be alone in a room with me. She should be afraid as I should be afraid as the next act is to have sex again. I surely do not need her as a healthy woman to assure myself whatever skills lost do not include the most intimate. Or certainly need her affirm this more than once. Once we have started sex, there is no way to go back to simple friendship. Or so I tell myself.
Wendy smiles, once, and this is reason enough to continue.
Wendy does not know if I am simply playing with her. She does not tell her fiancé, I tell Debra about her, though not her about Debra, though no one else. It is necesary to be silent. I am silent. I am planning my escape. I cannot leave. Debra decides that this affair is all Wendy's fault that I am just being a typical naturally promiscuous young man. Debra forgives me. I do not forgive myself.
But he is such a good man, Wendy argues. He is. If you had only come to be hisfriend first, you wouldn’t say that. And it’s too late...if only we had met four years ago- but then you were with Lynn. Would you love me? Could I depend on you? When the next blonde woman comes by...
There are always certain social losses so difficult to assess, that come from a brain injury, losses mostly subtle, losses mostly shared understandings of social relationships, mostly things that are not said, things that are not done, trusts that should be shared. With Wendy I have lost these skills, or rather ceased to create, to commit, to consistently observe them. Or I am not a true friend. She is engaged and is soon married then gone cities away and as years follow years I have never seen her again, never talk so passionately with her of writing and poetry and any arts...
Not many people are ever given a second chance.
I recall resolutions towards ‘Truth’, towards absolutes as a way of life, and realize this passing error has led away from all these other pleasures for those momentary few. After, angry with myself, I decide to give them more personal reality by writing down these rules, as if a lawyer, but there is no reset or repeat. After, it is too late. After, I have lost a friend. Now years later, all I can think of is what friendship we lost. I am sad.
- 2 000 words
I have now read many books of Philosophy since the injury, but my interests have not changed from what little philosophy I had read prior to my injury, when questions of thought were abstract no matter how intensely I studied or if I ever understood. Questions are many borne of the injury, the coma, and the rehabilitation. Questions no longer abstract though perhaps surprisingly these events do not inspire an existential moment through which I realize my mortality and thus become religious or driven. Questions are more immediate and experiential, such as what is the coma, what did I survive, and following the first wonder comes defining query, that is what is ‘what’. This is not dualism of subject, for it is only one aneurysm or contusion, but two conceptual approaches to my brain injury.
In canonical Western Philosophy there are two themes, two ways, two ‘what’, that this question addresses, however blurred such distinction has become but which I have read through. This apparent schism is first the 'Anglo-American Analytic' and then the 'Continental' style which was once theme mainly of French and German thinkers. First analytic thought is that ‘what’ leading through metaphysics of scientific materialism known as neurology and refers to the living organ and how it is damaged- the brain- considered and examined and healed as physical structure I briefly offer above in Coherent General Propositions. Such theory is akin to making a movie through all the technology and artistic and economic superstructure, the camera, the lights, the sound, the filming, the editing, on another level including the actors, the directors, the studios, and on yet another level how it is shared, the movie, the theatres, the television. All these theoretical and remarkable devices and creative groups and display systems, creates and enables but does not determine the second ‘what’.
Second is that ‘what’ most expressed through Continental philosophy, which refers to that living process damaged in a brain injury- the mind- and can only be apprehended and understood in action retrospectively by the patient working together with doctors and nurses and therapists trained and educated to perceive and help repair or reduce the damage. Such theory is akin to whatthe movie is through all the images, the story, the characters, and on another level includes the genre expectations, the acting styles, the narrative techniques, and so on, this second ‘what’ limited to what the first ‘what’ makes possible.
I try now to understand more how my mind is damaged, rather than primarily the brain. I have always had the good fortune of receptive brain that responded well to whatever learning it is exposed to, in theory all except maybe for math and physics. I have also have had very selective memory. I have never been brain-injured prior to the coma. I have never known any deficits that such can cause. I am most interested now in the second ‘what’ of these philosophical questions.
I can only answer this ‘what’ of the mind through my severe injury-tutored near-death version of Hospital Existentialism- the original thought of that philosophical movement that emphasizes individual existence and freedom and choice, and though our scientific theories seem to be limiting further then further exactly how much is outside our choices, our absolute freedom is not revoked but the ranges of possibilities within which we choose are according to our situations, such as in my case ever running again. Psychologically this absolute freedom is in situation circumscribed by medications used against syndrome and injury and coma and truly we must value philosophy over physiology, our minds are never more yet never less than what each is our brain, healthy or damaged, quick or slow, memorizing and anticipating, or locked in indefinite present, and this is very clear as when the mind is now injured yet recalls time prior. Religons voice literal interpretation of dogma and may find entire philosophical questions no more than blasphemous scientific materialism, for no one needs God, or leaves room for personal souls, even as brains can be read by fMRIs when in religious meditation. After the coma I do not become religious, though many other survivors do briefly or lastingly, and though my brother does in response to his prayers answered. I tentatively resolve distinction between mind or soul and brain by deciding the material situation of the brain generates an insubstantial temporal process I call mind. There is no division, no dualism, no separation of material versus ideal, but rather as Buddhists might argue, the brain is like any other organ- as eyes see images even in paintings that we in our culture perceive as representative portrayals of the world- so do brains think thoughts adaptive in that time and place.
Some intuitive aversion to thinking our minds only electrical and chemical reactions is also against our inarguable perceptions of freedom, and an historically persistent philosophical dispute, as clearly articulated by Descartes in I think, therefore I am. Unfortunately, this leads to the metaphysics of dualism, of the opposition of mind and matter which I mention my way of avoiding above. I do not suggest there is dualism between brain and mind. Of the brain is the above section on Coherent General Propositions, but all the careful inspection, understanding, of neuro-chemical interactions can perhaps explain what the brain is doing where but not descibe what the mindperceives or acts. Of the historical Continental style one attempted escape from such dualism is through the philosophy movement of the twentieth century known as Phenomenology, a style of thought initiated by Edmund Husserl, followed by Martin Heidegger, Jean-Paul Sartre, and Maurice Merlea-Ponty, dedicated to describing the structures of experience as they present themselves to consciousness, without recourse to theory, deduction, or assumptions from other disciplines such as the Natural Sciences, which is the study of structures of consciousness as experienced from the first-person point of view. The central structure of any experience is its intentionality, its being directed toward something, as it is an experience ‘of’ or ‘about’ some object. An experience is directed toward an object by virtue of its content or meaning (which represents the object) together with appropriate enabling conditions, as all above quoted from Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy.
I read of Phenomenology as explored by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who suggests that rather than I think our original relationship with the world is I am able to, as we are always already in situation physical and mental to try to interact with our surroundings, some time before we have methodological doubt. In this way there is also no dualism to overcome, for the matter is the mind. Merleau-Ponty's work insists on our embodied mind within the life world, not as distinct subject in an objective world. Such perception is so immediately obvious we may not even notice it- the fact that any world is my world and not subjective perception of an objective world- a ‘view from Nowhere’, a ‘God’s eye view’- which can only be mediation created as combined abstraction rendered from indefinitely many actual ‘views from somewhere’. According to Phenomenology we have erred in misconceiving any sort of perception as passive, purely scientific indefinite cause-and-effect process, when it is more immediate, when it is not perceived sense-data first, then interpreted by the brain as, but rather something perceived as. For Merleau-Ponty our relationship to the world is engaged and active perception, which is not the atomistic sense data received by organs but entire meaningful being-in-the-world. There is the natural science abstraction of the Universe as viewed from Nowhere, or rather Everywhere, and cause-and-effect is applicable, and the immediacy of each our own world of meaning and purpose and perception. Rather than thinking of my being as limited to my mind, and this sensing the Universe from a detached perspective, I recognize my experience as a body within this world, of being both the object and the subject intertwining in my perceptions. I am not in the Universe or even in the world, not in my life, as if an object in a box- no I am my world and I am my life.
I think of how my injury has affected I am able to, and how this denies necessarily some fraction, some aspects, of my being, most clearly the gross-motor functions required for walking, but also of course fine dexterity developed over decades in learning to handwrite and draw, and of course my hearing on the telephone or when the speaker is not seen. I am dis-abled, I am no longer able to, but clearly remember not long past when I was usually co-ordinated as much as someone going blind may continue to dream in colour. My body is within this world in a different way. I am able to and continue to be able to in my own dreams, much as I have dreams set in places that no longer exist or with people who no longer live. I am able to construct or perceive my world only the way I always have in the past, and it is only when waking, when moving, when walking, that I am reminded my world has changed, for the livingpossibilities I once knew have been shifted, in everything from ever playing sports again to running to walking fast, and this has changed dimensions of my world. I do not even like to think about the loss of my drawing skill, though surely the artistic eye is undamaged in my brain and I have found ways to express myself creatively, surely I must recognize how fortunate I have been, surely the world is still there to be understood as project of art.
I think of the MC Escher print ‘Drawing Hands’ as symbol of this thinking, where it appears two hands, finely drawing each other hand, are rising from the plane of the paper. I mourn the rather young death of Merleau-Ponty at the age of fifty-three, ending further evolution of his thought, for who knows where his concepts were to lead.
Other Philosophical interpretations I leave to professors.
Philosophy, answering this second ‘what’, can perhaps answer all those what, who, how, where, when, queries, in describing What happened- but there remains the largest and most intractable question easily added to the previous- Why. For many coma survivors Why is answered in religious terms, but religion offers me neither first nor final answers. I had read and thought about Buddhism before the coma, but this was in abstract, this was not practice, this was as a Way of understanding my life and not as a Religion to save my soul. After the coma wondering about causality that precedes even the materialist scientific metaphysics of all the machines that sustain me, of all the brain aids, I briefly consider the idea of karmic balancing and wonder what I could be balancing. From this life, I have no idea. From previous lives, I do not know. I believe such insisted causality transforms my life into elaborate conspiracy theory. I believe that is valid description of many religions. Here I offer no exploration of the coma from Christian, Muslim, or Judaic perspectives because each way of understanding the world requires faith in divinity ordering the cosmos, embodied by given humans possibly more historically known than the Buddha but in whose divinity I do not believe. I believe I am not religious in any way. I do not worry about Why.
I am alive and this is a gift I do not ask about.
I am alive. I am a lucky man.
- 3 750 words
#-1 250 words
I do not remember how to live.
Doctors and nurses and therapists no longer have a specific role in my life. I am no longer in the hospitals or even in a wheelchair. I think of women. I think of Caitlin, I think of Tara, I think of Wendy, I think of Debra. I think of the other women I have known since those years. I am alive. I am a lucky man.
There are aspects of living I have forgotten, aspects out of practice having lived under various hospital schedules for years, aspects and routines I find so difficult to reinstate. I distract myself and focus only on the physical. Disregarded routines accumulate and become challenges. Disregarded small decisions become larger and pressing. When first I live with Doc and his attendants I push the necesaery ordering of time back. Now alone there is no escape and no one to please and no one to tell me to raise this foot and put more weight on that foot. Instead of breaking these usual problems of living down into manageable, simple yes and no decisions, I will transcend confusion and choose to believe any scheduling will best organize itself. Instead of going to class then home across the city I go over to Debra’s. When I have my own apartment even nearer to University I continue going to Debra’s. I stop going to class. Sleeping hours and waking hours and eating foods and times and assignments and study all disregarded become quickly chaotic and deadlines finally meaningless. I am doing well enough in class but I am not interested in elaborating or even sustaining or recovering this old role as Student. I come to that once familiar and now unfamiliar home of the University. I do not know what to do.
I have in automatic wandering come to the Equipment Room in block A of the Kinesiology Building.
Morning is gray with large snowflakes, clouds of white coming down, erasing city, ghosts of other buildings. Winter. Days before Christmas break. Time flies no matter how fun, and here, now, I muse lost possibilities, whom I would dream of being that had been diverted from any linear progression of accomplishment, but such dreams and necessary accomplishments fragile and vain and meaningless. Did I truly want to be this or be that. Architect. Writer. Husband. Father. I am sad. Students emerge out of a white cloud as they approach. Everyone is prepared for cold, wrapped in colourful shells. Everyone has their own concerns but I feel watched. I have managed to lose a single glove, a loss familiar each winter, this year a left glove, next year a right glove. I look at mitts and gloves, scarves and toques, coats and boots and summer shoes of other students, shuffling into this building built with rows of concrete blocks. I start to count the concrete blocks. I am angry. I do not know how I came here or what brings me here or even what day it is. I realize it is exam day when I see the many young students searching test lists directing to this or directing to that gymnaseum, many young students suffering last-minute anxiety attacks, many young students desperately studying, many young students mock-testing, or other routines I have never found useful even if my pride is reasoned enough to study. I walk into a great mass of shuffling students before me recognizing no others, but there is tension, heightened sensitivity, diffuse throughout this crowd. I absorb this tension, borne along by this crowd, then it flows past, and I see only students sitting down against the walls. Laughing quietly at shared jokes I do not hear that are probably about me. I want to go workout. I do not want to go workout. I want to go workout. I have been unable to sleep at Debra’s yet I am now desperately tired. I am angry. I borrow a landline phone of the Equipment Room, from Adam, a friend student, and call my Psychotherapist Olivia. She hears something in my voice, in the way I speak, in what I speak. Everyone is watching me as they wait in line to exchange U of C ID cards for wristbands to use the facility, so I lower my voice, try to be calm, to be polite, to make sense, but I find many connections, alternating between a sense of pattern malicious and unavoidable of paranoia, then metaphoric connections of plot, of narrative, of character in any story. Everyone is watching me. Olivia’s voice becomes blurred by static that only I hear. I ask Adam to listen for me. He has no problem hearing. He answers a few questions from Olivia.
Adam. Yes. No problem. Just now... he looks OK. He’s dressed fine. Sure. His father?
Olivia speaks slowly and clearly when Adam gives me back the receiver.
Michael, I’ve asked Adam to keep you company. I will phone your father, ask him to take you to BVC, the Emergency- you need help, and sometimes it is OK to get help- Please, Michael. Just wait for your father. Just wait there with Adam. Please. Please.
I give Adam the phone. No one returns my challenging stare. No one pays any overt attention to me, but this does not mean they are not aware of me. Today will be my first visit to the Psychiatric Ward, though I do not expect this, and from sedation I will not recall much of the month there. I will eventually have my first meds regime for organic brain-damage. I stand to one side and watch others, the students, the staff, and the Profs drop off ID cards for wristbands, tokens for towels. Ending this story is both the easiest thing to do and the most difficult. I have come to where I began, where there are no memories, where the words are not enough, where I have also come to the end of learning to walk again in the hospitals though not in my life. This is the easiest thing to do. I do not end, I am no longer a patient but what I become after this end is not resolved to a certain way of being, and this is the most difficult thing to do. I watch the Equipment Room counter staff at work. Cards are placed by last-name alphabetical order in a Plexiglas deck that rises from another wheeled cabinet- a series of transparent rows that are lettered in one group to left, that are marked for taken equipment to right. Scuffed Plexiglas top covers the counter. Computer terminals are to the left and right to check cards for fines or current status. Slot through which used towels drop into a wheeled laundry basket- for when not occupied with patrons, staff are washing, drying, and folding towels. Everywhere else under the Plexiglas are current papers for the building, map of Block A and Block B, schedule for the Pool, another for each gymnasium, for the Racquetball courts, for the Squash courts, for the FC, for each aerobics’ studio, for the climbing wall...
Adam folds white towels, says calmly.
#- 750 words
I do not want to remember but this is necessary to write this memoir, I do not want to think of my loss though it is easy to name and remember and number, I do not want this and perhaps this is why it has taken me so long to write. I have never accepted my injury, I am sometimes told by both professionals and friends. I do not know what that means, I reply. I think I have. This is a brain injury and every brain injury is different and so my way of accepting this brain injury is different. I do not weep, I do not complain, I do not howl against injustice or nurture bitterness. I give my brain injury and my coma and my rehabilitation no meaning. I avoid thinking of these losses and do not want to complain and whine for there are others much more severely disabled. I have lost forty-nine days I will never recover. I have lost certain physical skills and I am not able to run or play sports or climb or hike or ski or kayak or canoe. I do not have the needed balance of muscles and coordination to lift free weights but must use cable machines. I will never share outdoor recreation with children as my father did with me. I have lost physical dexterity and I am not able to handwrite or draw or paint or even talk wih my right hand. I gesture and handwrite only with my left hand and so inelegantly and not very descriptively. I have lost needed responsive balance and I am not able to ride motorcycle or bicycle. I am not able to easily cook on the stovetop or serve to the table or carry full plates or full drinks without spilling. I am not able to easily pause or turn or bend or stretch in cleaning around me for my balance does not react in time, and this is one way I fall. I usually fall at home where I am less careful, but sometimes in public I nearly fall or sit down suddenly and any ice is impassable. I can trip on the edge of carpet. If my mind wanders from the act of turning or my intention changes in mid-motion I fall. If I turn corners to my right my body seems to have lost a sense of space on that side and I bump into the wall or stub my toe. I walk slowly and do everything physical slowly and this adds up to longer days however I pass them. I can no longer walk far and I tire out easier from any common exertions, from cooking, from cleaning, from laundry. I cannot always hear and I can no longer converse on the phone easily or even when just not seeing the face of the other no matter how close. I can no longer walk and talk in friendly pace and enjoy just walking, but must plan to sit and listen to only one voice at a time. I like to sit but my partner must be speaking to my left ear and I must see her. I often listen for the high points of a conversation rather than repetitively mention I did not hear what is said. I can often not tell when it is question or comment or story or statement. I cannot hear lectures or plays or movies or television however loud and require subtitles. I like foreign films. I am not bitter. I am alive. I am a lucky man.
#- 1 000 words
I wonder what I gain from the injury and the coma and the rehabilitation, but this is harder to know or remember or number. I was not earning or living my life as an athlete or truly enjoying all the outdoor recreation possibilities open to the healthy. I might never have again run or played sports or skied of hiked or kayaked or canoed or climbed rocks or descended caves. I have never much desired to ride a motorcycle and have rarely used my bike. I can still bake pizzas or lasagna if not cook sauces or swiftly cut this or that ingredient and I have never enjoyed being waiter. I might never have written only by hand and possibly skill at art is ultimately in mind and in the eyes and not the dexterity of hand and gestures. And what else might I have gained is not so easy to know, for though I have no immediate existential awareness I do come to see some things more calmly and mature and informed by history. I find school uninspiring and I find women more than sex and I find memories and nostalgia even over the past few years to Before the injury and the coma and the rehabilitation and in this way I am more open to emotions, but this is later after another's death and not my own near-death. I want to be writer or philosopher now that I can no longer draw and no longer draft and no longer easily be visual artist. I was always already tending to verbal art and never wanted to be performer. I was changing possibly as any artist changes even if I was not aware of it happening. My father's younger sister went to Art College and from oil painting has moved on to printing and dry-point etching and is now fascinasted by effects of acid washes in its abstract forms and layered liquid traces. She was an artist and once as a child helped me drawing faces, helped me add shading, add shape, add depth, but I was then too young to try living models and not the two-dimensional images of photographs. She had worried what it would be like to be me her nephew as sensitive artist growing up in an oppressive scientific materialist household. She had somedifferent ideas of my father. She had these worries. I want to be writer or philosopher, but these are certainly not new ideas and not new plans and not new aspirations and whereas before I had thought my life colourless and comfortable and dull there are now an abundance of incidents to report or make into story. I never want to use my family in stories and anger them. I can use myself. After the coma I am in no rush and no anxiety about this story but only about other things, original things, childhood things, that has had the awkward timing of coming aware just before the injury. I do not want to write about those things. And so I avoid it. And this rehabilitation has given me a purpose, things to do, things concrete, things real. I can indefinitely avoid facing my childhood traumas if instead I focus on walking again. I do so. I go to a brain injury service for several years but in time I no longer want to be thought brain-injured and by now my medications are stable and I do not go to the psych ward anymore. I do not then and never will accept my brain injury. I no longer pay for this service, or rather the government no longer pays for me. I have decided to look after myself and be an adult like any healthy person. I have decided that no longer will I need the social contacts limited to the disabled. I have disability pension and then rental subsidy and while this is not enough to do everything I want it is enough to never do anything I do not want. I find one coffeehouse then another coffeehouse then another coffeehouse, this last where I become regular, become known, become friends for this is a place supported by a megachurch and named Mission, so they do not need to make much money, they do not mind me as the friendly atheist in the corner who is always reading. Staff here are usually from this church or bible college and so every day I go there I know either the person working there or the regulars or both. I go there for ten years until it is sold. I read a lot of books. I learn. I share. I meet friends who are artists or illustrators or musicians who play there and those church people who mount occasional art shows. I might have met these people elsewhere and I might have never met them. I know a woman I love who comes there when I am there and it seems the world is right, but then she dies. I want to be known as more than an author who writes of surviving a coma, but I might never be more than that. I want to write well this autobiographical work because it is not likely to happen again. I want my work to have a place of honour in my parents condo.
#- 500 words
I have been writing this work for many years, in fact began while still in the extended care third hospital the Warrener where I had lived for fifteen months, after the second rehabilitation hospital BVC for three months, after the acute care of forty-nine days in the coma and then early rehabilitation in the first hospital Foothills Hospital NCCU for two months, all of this now twenty-five years ago. I am a slow writer. I did not then and do not now and probably never will finish my thinking about the injury, the coma, and the rehabilitation. I have worked on this by reading old notes and abortive earlier drafts at first trying to recount exactly what happened during those weeks and months and years. I am never satisfied with this bare narrative but this is not a work of fiction where I can alter the plot, for this is as well I recall exactly what happened. I read many books over the years as I adjust to my disability, but they do not tell me how to write this story. I work on other stories. I live. I lose. I write. I pause. I write again. I have other concerns. I am even now not pleased with this work but have decided it is at least an interesting story, if compelling journal, if also not immediate due to the many years passed. I did not then, I do not now, I never will want my life defined by what has happened to me. I am told by a doctor that as long as he has known me I have not accepted my injury. I may never accept my injury. I offer this work as my acceptance. I believe it will interest readers.
#- 500 words
I call this «Lucky*» Man, for though to others this narrative of the injury, coma, and rehablitation, is more «Miracle» I believe that is an interpretation, often religious, in which I have been and must recognize I am blessed. So might title it «Blessed» Man. I have no particular aversion to such interpretation, much as I have been told sometimes this is an «inspirational» story, but these have not been my first interpretationsthrough the months and years during and since. I prefer to interpret my survival and recovery, even to the extent I can write about it now, as a matter of «Luck». I am not lucky to suffer brain injury, subsequent coma, years of rehabiliation, at twenty-five, but if that was going to happen I have been lucky in how I recover from the injury and coma, and that the effort I put into rehabilitation is rewarded. I read about the night of my injury and the enthusiasm I had, the certainty I had that I was going to do something, going to be something, but whereas for some survivors of traumatic events they become more aware of their mortality and rush to do this or that thing, the opposite occurred to me. I feel then both immortal and meaningless. I feel everything I do then could just have well never been done, I feel somehow that past life trauma has returned in this life, so for many years, as history recounts, I drift and wait and read. I follow no clock or calendar. I do not rush. I read. I write but it is only now that I want to be published. I find philosophical interpretation I prefer, an equation to the back of the book, but basically the idea is that the less likely an event and greater difference in outcome determines the amount of total luck, good or bad. I have no argument. I am a lucky man.
- 500 words
luck equation, as proposed by Nicholas Rescher, Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh:
a(E)+b(E)5[1-pr(E)] = b(E)5pr(not-E)
where E is the event
a(E) is the amount of luck involved in the event
b(E) is the difference of event occurring makes on your life
pr(E) the probability of event occurring
good(or bad) luck is total amount of luck involved in the event occurring plus the difference the event makes in your life multiplied by probability of the event happening- or put another way, difference the occurrence of event makes multiplied by probability of event not occurring.
e.g. 1: if an unlikely event (winning the lottery) makes a big, positive difference in your life, you have had lots of good luck, if a likely event (inheriting money) you have not as much luck.
e.g. 2: if an unlikely event (hit by lightning) makes a big, negative difference in your life, you have had lots of bad luck, if a likely event (hit by a car while dancing on the highway) you have not as much bad luck.
The following are a few philosophy books that influence my philosophicalunderstanding of the coma:
The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science
by Shaun Gallagher, Dan Zahavi,
Self, No-Self?: Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological and Indian Traditions, ed. Mark Siderits et al.,
OUP Oxford, 2011
Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective, by Dan Zahavi,
Bradford Book, 2005
Buddhism: A Philosophical Approach
by Cyrus Panjvani,
Broadview Press, 2013
Multiplicity and Becoming: The Pluralist Empiricism of Gilles Deleuze byPatrick Hayden,
Peter Lang Gmbh, Internationaler Verlag Der Wissenschaften, 1998
Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology
by Edmund Husserl, David Carr (translator)
Northwestern University Press, 1954
by Martin Heidegger, David Farerell Krell (editor)
Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008, first published 1964
Henri Bergson: Key Writings (Athlone Contemporary European Thinkers) by Henri Bergson, Keith Ansell-Pearson(editor), John Mullarkey (editor),
Bloomsbury Academic, 2002