“I want you to fry this egg to show me your abilities,” the occupational therapist told me. I made a mess of yolk and shells, and without oil in the pan, burned the egg. I wanted to joke this was average cooking for me, but couldn’t find the words.
I had been a single, working woman about to turn 28 years old and living in the city. A year earlier I had completed a 500-mile bike ride. And I rarely cooked eggs. Two weeks earlier I had been accepted to graduate school and gave notice at my job. But on my last day of work, my doctor called. After three months of dizzy spells and vomiting, I was diagnosed with a benign brain tumor. Doctors implanted a shunt in my brain and performed a lengthy surgery on the mass. Medications and the smallest dose of steroids for brain swelling made me like a zombie. One doctor told my mother, “You need to come to grips with it; your daughter just isn’t right.” Even in the midst of a foggy brain and though I was not able to communicate effectively, something in my soul hoped for more.
After being discharged from the hospital, my parents brought me to live with them in their rural town of 100 people. Within a month I no longer needed medication or physical and occupational therapy, but continued to meet with a speech therapist. Week after week I flunked his memory tests, and the failures threatened my sense of self and hope. Two and half months into our meetings I said, “You test my memory with auditory questions, but I am a visual learner. How about a different test?” He dug into his files and found an exam for my learning style. After a perfect score, I said, “Thank you, I no longer need your services.”
A year after surgery I moved to California and began graduate classes in theology and culture. My grades were good, but after I made yet another awkward mistake in class, someone asked me, “Were you like this before your surgery?” I’m not the person with the same abilities that I once was, but do focus on what I am able to do, like I no longer drive, but I graduated last year with two master degrees.
Recently, I met a very high functioning, articulate young man with Downs Syndrome. I wanted to hear what he had to say, who he was and who he wanted to be. I didn’t want to know he just wasn’t right, how many tests he could fail or how often he was reminded of his awkwardness. He said, “Most people don’t listen to me, but you do.”
Emerson was right, ‘What lies behind us and what lies before us are small matters compared to what lies within us’. Yeah, this I believe.
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