Tuesday, September 7, 2010

The Before Part of Before and After: Life with Stone

In the last six weeks, as we've been talking with doggy cardiologists, learning about dilated cardiomyopathy and implementing a plan to increase the length of Stone's healthy life, I've been thinking a lot about all this amazing dog has done for me. To simply say he's transformed my life would undoubtedly make me the master of the understatement.

To truly understand the bond Stone and I share, to truly appreciate the contrast between the Before Stone and After Stone, you first have to get a snapshot of the Before photo.

When I woke up on the morning of June 26, 1995, my guess is my life was a lot like many of yours. I worked in a non-profit human service organization that provided services to people with disabilities, which basically means I worked absurdly long hours for absurdly low pay.

When I wasn’t working, I was spending time with family and friends, volunteering for other under-funded nonprofits or completing the litany of tasks that come with life (the cooking and cleaning and waiting for the cable guy). I read voraciously, (not Tolstoy mind you), and sort of kept up with the latest trends in music. (In my defense, I grew up spending summers on the Jersey shore listening to Bruce Springsteen and really what new artist can compare to that?) I traveled whenever I could, found digging in the dirt in my garden therapeutic and with varying degrees of success, tried to find time to exercise.

That was in the morning on June 26th.

By the end of that day, an auto accident left me with a traumatic brain injury and in a few short moments on a highway in Philadelphia, I traveled from social worker to client.

In the months and then years that followed, my list of rehab goals seemed endless.

I wanted to walk without falling down or walking into things; to consistently be able to feed myself, speak in full sentences and tie my own shoe laces; to read without struggling and then to actually remember what I read; to accurately add, subtract, multiply and divide and not draw a complete blank when I saw the number 0; to concentrate at least long enough to use the phone. (“Press one for customer service. Press two to place an order…); to understand the evening news; to stop getting disabling dizzy when I moved my head; to once again sing loudly and off key to Bruce Springsteen’s Rosalita; to return to approaching conflicts diplomatically and solving problems creatively and perhaps most of all, I longed for the return of my sense of intuition, without which I felt as if I were seeing the world in only black and white.

When I finally gave up the delusion that I’d be back to “normal” any day now (and then any month now), I wanted to recover emotionally as well by finding a way to accept and integrate the new realities of my life.

The eternal optimist in me told myself I’d be such a better social worker because of this experience and that the good thing about everything being hard was that every activity was rehabilitative.

Sometimes I even believed me.

A team of eager and talented rehab professionals worked with me on all of those goals and more. With their help, I worked to retrieve lost knowledge, relearn skills and develop strategies to compensate for my deficits. But forever complicating the rehab process was a persistent and pervasive cognitive fatigue that to a large extent continues to limit my life and control my choices.

Cognitive fatigue is the “jargon” professionals use to describe what happens when our brains get tired and the supply of neurochemicals is significantly depleted.

When your brain injury symptoms include cognitive fatigue, you will be differently able at different times and in different situations. When our brains are well rested and the environment we’re in isn't overly distracting, we function at our peak. When our brains are tired most of us function significantly less well, which means one day we may be quite capable and the next, barely able to take care of ourselves.

The truth is the experience of living with a brain injury when your brain is well rested is completely different than the experience of living with a brain injury when you’re fatigued.

Don’t get me wrong, they both suck, but one sucks a heck of a lot more than the other.


  1. Beautiful, Tina. Thanks for sharing this.

  2. Tina, I read your blog and was inspired because I too have brain injury from a chemical imbalance. I commend your courage! Val Vogel

  3. Much love to you, Tina. Your story of life before and with Stone continues to amaze and inspire me - I can only hope to one day be one of these remarkable therapists that you speak so highly and fondly of (and maybe I've already been that to someone, I just don't know about it!)

  4. Hi Tina,
    I hope these dog days of summer are past and a welcome chill is in the air. We're all worried about Stone out here in Cyper-ville. I thought I had emailed you a comment last month when he was so sick but I must have hit delete instead of send. Ooops. life after TBI is one big Ooops. I can't figure out Facebook and my email accounts are clogged and jammed. I just abandon them and open another one. Of course, it's hard to remember which account I'm using so Ooops. My 14 1/2 yr old Shivas Irons is having a rough summer, too. About a month ago I thought it was over for her but the vet treated her for Lyme's Disease (and I practiced veternary medicine w/o a license & gave her a teeny tiny dose of steroids. She BOUNCED back. That's the roids for ya! But she must have gotten a tad of steroid psychosis as she jogged around the back yard and ON TO THE LIGHT WEIGHT PLASTIC POOL COVER!!! Ooops!! She began sinking as she stood in the middle of the pool on the cover, a place she had NEVER gone before!! I got into the pool by way of the steps in the shallow end and tried to walk towards her. Now the plastic cover is bunching up around my chest as I moved. She's still standing in ths same place, not moving, just sinking, about 8 ft away from me. I was begining to realize that going into the pool, being entangled by the plastic pool cover, trying to save an ailing 14 1/2 yr old dog was a TBI impulsive move or one BIG Ooops. She'd NEVER gone near the pool in the 3 1/2 yrs we've lived here and I was thinking she was doing the Old Inuit move of setting sail on an ice floe as one's time had arrived. But I decided to give it a shot and while hanging on to the ladder with one hand and smooshing down the plastic cover with the other I reached for her, hooking one finger in her collar. I pulled and she and the cover floated serenely towards me and the steps. Out we climbed, me sodden yet she was dry. My dog and I usually communicate well however, I don't know what the hell happened that day. *Aug 19, 2010-my birthday no less. She's been "fine" ever since. She's finished her antibiotics and I've tapered her off the roids but the consensus seems to be "doggie dementia". It happens.
    You know, Circle Tail uses inmates at the correctional facility near me to train the pups ffor service. I'm thinking of looking into it, to see if I may be of some service since Shivas Irons is telling me our days are limited. She came into my life at just the right moment in some sort of cosmic harmonious way so I've got to believe she wont leave before the right time, either. You and Stone have that relationshiop, too. You cliick so the synchonicity of your relationship will continue no matter what happens.