Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

March 10, 2009

Only The Injury Is Invisible

Although many TBI symptoms are invisible. those who sport them are not.  It’s OK to ask.

When I do a book signing, people of all measures of differing ability come through the line and I get to spend a little time with them.  Never enough but it is a joy I relish at every event I attend.

I will never forget this one young woman many years ago now.  She was in a wheelchair and she suffered significant coordination and muscle dysfunction.  Her mouth would not close after each word.  Imagine that.  You say a word and your mouth slags open.   You have to push it closed with your fingers after each word.  What a pain in the &%# that would be! 

Bless her heart, she carried a towel to catch what sometimes escaped and her speaking was all but unintelligible.  But I could immediately tell her mind was sharp and her thoughts and words were there.  They were just getting lost in the delivery.  It bothered me so much that I couldn’t understand what she was saying.  We were both frustrated.

I spent time with her off and on that whole day.  Alone, away, where I could focus and learn what her language sounded like.   By the end of the day, I had caught on enough to really appreciate how bright she was and how keen her sense of humor.

I don’t use a wheelchair often but I’ve used one enough to feel, not only the sideways stares but, worse, the fear and almost panic from people seemingly at a loss for how to deal with their awkwardness.

I don’t know about you but I ask everyone in a wheelchair what landed them there.  I ask why they have a patch on their eye or why their arm falls lifelessly to their side.  

I’m sure some people reading that are aghast.  Ha.  But I’ve yet to meet one person unwilling to tell me.  Even eager to tell me their story.  Relief.  Perhaps appreciation.   Maybe just two old goats sharing war stories about canes and chairs.  Who knows.  But it’s an instant connection.  The genuine curiosity to know what makes people uniquely them.

I am disabled.  Officially and certifiably.  You can see the paperwork or the wheelchair on my license plate or the “special instructions” that accompany my driver’s license.  I can pull out my disability statements.  Good God, I’m one of them!  Laughing here.

The messages that go from my brain to my legs and feet don’t get there correctly.  In my right foot, I’ve lost 94% of the safety sense that enables you to pull your hand away when you touch a hot stove so I have to drive with my left foot.  When I fall into deep sleep, my brain inexplicably kicks me right back out again.  When I get tired, I can’t say all the words I want to clearly or even find the ones I want to say.  I can’t tolerate crowds or too much stimuli for too long because it drains my cognitive abilities and slows down my ability to process, anticipate, prioritize, remember and multi-task.

And you know what else?  I love baby bunnies and chocolate ice cream and seeing the polar bears and the tigers at the zoo.   I love sleeping during a rain storm and watching a snow storm when I don’t have to get up and go out the next morning.  I hate political ads on TV for six months straight before an election.  I love an icy cold beer on a warm summer evening and a hot dog in a steamed bun in foil at a baseball game.  I hate when someone speeds up and rides on my tail instead of passing me on the highway.  I love slow dancing to, “Unchained Melody” and watching University of Michigan  football on cloudy crisp afternoons in November.  I get sentimental when I hear our National Anthem and I can’t stand it when I hear that somebody has hurt an elderly person or an animal.  I wish that Mexican food and pizza were diet foods and it’s hard for me to eat salads and fruit in the winter.  I’m scared of spiders and heights and deep water.  I’m not sure what I think about cremation and reincarnation.  I had a crush on Shaun Cassidy when I was a kid.  I miss my parents who are both deceased and I wish I could tell them I love them one more time and hear them sing me, “Happy Birthday”.  I love the smell of freshly cut grass in the spring and I shamelessly sing, “Dancing Queen” at the top of my lungs when it comes on the radio.  I don’t understand, for the life of me,  why young men wear their pants hanging down off their bums.  I don’t think they’ll ever beat McDonald’s french fries and I hope that we can find some reasonable ways to get our soldiers home and turn our economy around. 

We’re not that different.  We’re just people.  Often your people.  The ones you knew, the ones you loved, the ones you raised, even.  We have parts on us that are broken now and things that are missing, that’s all.   But we still have often huge, generous hearts and sharp, fabulous minds, reasonable opinions and feelings that get hurt.  We love and laugh and regret and dream and giggle and struggle and fail and succeed.  All of it.

Only the injury is invisible. 

I love it when I see little kids, like my nephew who’s four and my niece who’s two.  They don’t judge.  They don’t fear.  They run up and grab my cane!  Some twirl it like a baton.  Others use it as a sword or a hockey stick.  They love it and it delights me.  No one has taught them yet that they should feel awkward around us or that we should be avoided if at all possible.   They restore my hope.

It’s OK to ask.  Just as you’d ask a person how they broke their arm or why they have a cast on their leg.   It’s OK.  We welcome the conversation.  Only the injury is invisible.  We’re standing right here in the light, waiting.

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9 Comments »

  1. […] Another decent blogger put an intriguing blog post on Only The Injury Is Invisible Kara Swansons Brain Injury BlogHere’s a quick excerptI get sentimental when I hear our National Anthem and I can’t stand it when I hear that somebody has hurt an elderly person or an animal. I wish that Mexican food and pizza were diet foods and it’s hard for me to eat salads and fruit in … […]

    Pingback by Only The Injury Is Invisible Kara Swansons Brain Injury Blog | HEALTH AIDS FOR SENIORS — March 10, 2009 @ 7:23 pm | Reply

  2. Great site this karaswanson.wordpress.com and I am really pleased to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

    Comment by Oritteesore — April 5, 2009 @ 6:57 am | Reply

  3. Welcome, Oritteesore. I’m so delighted it helps. Best to you, Kara

    Comment by karaswanson — April 6, 2009 @ 3:17 am | Reply

  4. terrific site this karaswanson.wordpress.com excellent to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

    Comment by CahLoano — April 11, 2009 @ 10:59 am | Reply

    • Thanks, CahLoano. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — April 11, 2009 @ 9:55 pm | Reply

  5. brill site this karaswanson.wordpress.com nice to see you have what I am actually looking for here and this this post is exactly what I am interested in. I shall be pleased to become a regular visitor 🙂

    Comment by CahLoano — April 17, 2009 @ 4:21 am | Reply

    • I’m so glad. I appreciate the visit. Be well. 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — April 17, 2009 @ 3:53 pm | Reply

  6. Ahhh, does this mean I am not alone?!? 🙂 Took me a couple years, but I learned this year that I have a disability, an invisible one, and I’m only recently learning about it thru neuro rehabilitation. These last 4 years I have struggled & fought to return to my “normal” life – only to learn, it doesn’t exist any more 🙂 My therapists told me I remind them of things you wrote, so I searched you on the internet…. I’d like to read your book.

    Comment by LaurieDeptula — April 27, 2009 @ 5:45 am | Reply

    • Yes, Laurie, this means that, absolutely, you are NOT alone!!!! Here we are! 🙂

      Comment by karaswanson — April 27, 2009 @ 9:16 am | Reply


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