Updated: May 1, 2019
As I began to get set up to be transferred to a rehab hospital in Braintree, I had both OT from the hospital as well as the Nursing director in Braintree telling me that rehab was going to be intense and that I needed to be ready to work. I chuckled at them and stated "Oh don't worry, I'm ready to work. You don't understand what type of person I am and what type of high school I went to." At this point in my recovery, I had managed to start wiggling my left hand. It was difficult work, but when someone came in to do a neuro exam, I would say "I can squeeze your fingers in my left hand if you place them there yourself." I didn't have the full power or purposeful movement you typically have in your limbs. I could lift my arm up to about my shoulder for a few seconds, but it felt like it was made of lead. But every time I was asked to squeeze someone's hand I put every ounce of strength I had into it. My doctors were pleased, it was slow progress but there was healing. How much, only time would tell. So I was loaded up into an ambulance once I was medically stable and shipped off to rehab.
When I got there, my mom had given them a heads up about my rough roommate track record and they were kind enough to ensure that I had a room to myself. I would finally be able to sleep. They reminded me that I was here to work and I would have to go to all of my therapies daily. I assured them that they would not have a harder working patient than myself. The slight movement in my hand gave me hope. As the swelling in my brain decreased, movements came more frequent, but after being bed bound and the hell that my body had been through I just physically did not have the strength anymore. I knew I was not afraid of hard work. That hard work here would not only get me home faster, but get me back to some form of a life. Hard work had been ingrained in me since my teenage years.
I went to a small catholic all girls school called Ursuline Academy in Dedham, MA. As students, we often joked that if we could survive Ursuline, we could survive anything. It was an academically rigorous school which strived for perfection. We were to be scholars, women of the world caring for our fellow man. It was an environment that I thrived in academically, and after college would frequently go back to help lead the Senior and Junior retreats. Socially, they certainly were not my best years as I was frequently terrified of even being spoken to in the classroom let alone other people, but Ursuline was part of my identity, one I valued immensely. It had trained me to be prepared for college and grad school. The skills I learned there helped me excel to become a Nurse Practitioner at the young age of 25.
My identity of being an Ursuline woman would become a double edged sword. Every day, when I was brought to the gym to do physical exercises I pushed myself to the limits. I would volunteer for extra sessions, learning to walk again, improve my balance and build up my stamina to walk up flights of stairs so that I would not have trouble walking up the 3 flights of stairs Matt and I have going up to our apartment. I was exhausted every day, but I could feel myself getting stronger slowly. I would sit alone in my room when I wasn't doing scheduled therapy doing my own personal sessions, working my muscles and legs. I forced my left arm, which I affectionately referred to as Gimpy, to do everything. For every meal I forced my left hand to work, practicing opening containers, holding cutlery, and at night I would just sit in my bed with a sneaker in my lap practicing how to tie shoes over and over again. Those who go to Ursuline are often classified as overachievers, and I was living up to that standard with all the staff amazed at how much progress I was making every day. I was eventually well enough that I was allowed walk around my room unattended and use the bathroom by myself. Seems like a ridiculous milestone for a 26 year old but considering I had not had this privilege for almost a month I was ecstatic.
Physically I excelled, but cognitively I struggled more than I ever imagined. When speech came to evaluate my cognitive skills, it was clear that I had some serious problems. I was unable to remember small groups of words or numbers, mental math was almost impossible. This was more devastating than my physical shortcomings. Being an Ursuline alumnae, it is expected that you be successful and there was such an emphasis on academics that I had staked a lot of my self worth on it. And now it was glaring me in the face that it was gone. I fumbled through my cognitive therapies daily, and asked my family to bring in brain games books such as word searches and crossword books. I was determined to push my brain beyond its limits. This ended up causing a lot of excess stress on myself, as I was almost constantly getting headaches and because of where in my brain the bleed had occurred and the fact that there was blood pooled in the back of my right retina I was still having trouble just seeing and reading words on a page.
It wasn't until I had my official neuropsych evaluation that I started to realize that I was becoming my own worse enemy. I explained to the doctor that I am very difficult on myself when it comes to exams and that I am a perfectionist. He smiled and said "listen, these are tests that you are not able to get a 100% on. So just take a deep breath and do your best." It was then I realized that I was trying to get a 100% on life, on my recovery and that my frustration around how I was failing and how my progress was slow was actually hindering my recovery.
As my medical teams told me over and over, I had to give myself a break and let my brain heal. It was a tough lesson to learn but one I wished I had learned much earlier in my schooling days. But being an Ursuline woman, I pulled myself up by the bootstraps and got to work. I just learned to be kinder to myself and realize that just because I'm not getting a 100% on tests doesn't mean I am not an Ursuline woman anymore. That title encompasses much more than grades, and it has unfortunately taken me 9 years since my graduation to learn this. But the school instilled the ability to persevere no matter the odds. After all, we "survived" it so we could survive anything. It instilled a strength in me I never knew I had until I was forced to call upon it during this nightmare. It was one of the major reasons why I only needed to remain in rehab for 1 week. By the time I was discharged, I was walking and moving my left hand well with almost all of my fine motor movements back.
*Dedicated to Ursuline Academy and every student that has walked those halls. It has prepared you for life's challenges in ways you would never expect. And to those that donated to help me during this time, both those I know personally and those who have never met me, I thank you from the bottom of my heart.