Sixteen year old me bobs unconscious in the lake’s water. The designed-for-style (and not for practical purposes) life-jacket is doing a good job at keeping me on the surface, face down.
An arm grabs me, then another, then air, still darkness.
“I Can’t see!! I can’t see!!”
Just the sound of the wakeboarding boats engine rumbling away.
An eternity later, or a blink of an eye, depending on how you look at it; I opened my eyes and could see. My Dad was leaning over me. Forcing the smile on and the tears back.
“Hey mon fils… Ca va?” French is his language.
I tried to speak but a tube connected to my gutter forbade me from doing so.
Panic set in. I pulled on it, my father stopped me, I was choking, he sprinted to the door to call the nurse and I yanked the thing out. It was an extraordinarily uncomfortable experience. Not painful, just imagine pulling an inch thick riveted spaghetti about three feet long from inside of you, there’s more tube than arm length.
Structurally speaking, I was relatively intact: a broken nose, which had become the salient feature on my face and some loose teeth; nothing I wouldn’t be able to bounce back from. My brain, however, was a different story.
Apparently, we were wakeboarding in a remote lake, training for some competition when I tried a trick and somehow kneed myself in the face with such force I’d knocked myself unconscious and rendered temporarily blind. I then fell into a three-day coma. I’m not sure what others experience while in a coma, but for me it was like waking up, not going to sleep, you just wake up, There’s nothing more to it. I don’t remember anything else; the same way I wouldn’t remember anything if I were sleeping.
The silicon knee brace saved my face but directed all the force of the blow into my brain which pin-balled in my skull. Apart from the splitting headache, the dizziness and nausea, it also jarred my hippocampus and left me with space and time amnesia. The doctors narrowed it down to a three week period of total black-out.
What took a while to figure out was that my short term memory was gone. If we were talking and you went to the restroom and came back, I’d just repeat myself as if I hadn’t seen you at all. This is amusing for those around you and confusing for me. But don’t worry, I wouldn’t remember you laughing at me so it doesn’t really matter.
With no short-term memory, you need someone next to you at all times because you sound insane in the best of cases, offensive in most. Also, you may get very very confused. You may find yourself somewhere and forget why you’re there, or where you want to go… You operate from one impulse to the next, sometimes pivoting mid-thought.
Apparently, it was an awful time, I wish I could speak about it, but I don’t remember it either.
The worst was yet to come. It’s quite ok when you don’t know what you should know. To the question ‘Where were you yesterday?’ I would reply with the same emotional response as to ‘What is the fabric of the Universe?’ The pain comes when you realise you should know something and for the life of you, you just don’t know!
Mathematics. I’d lost all ability. I could count, but I couldn’t add or multiply. At first, I was fine with it because I didn’t even have the notion that I should know how to multiply 4X5. My response would be “I don’t know” and quickly move onto something else.
But at some point, denial vanished. And when I was asked simple arithmetics I’d get very angry and tell people to use a calculator and to stop asking me this. I would have to grab a piece of paper and add up vertical lines. It took forever, at times, I’d forget what was the initial question mid sum.
When I finally accepted this required attention, the doctors needed to know how far back I’d gone.
We did a simple math test and they concluded I had the math levels of a six-year-old. Ten years of existence just gone. Being caged in your own brain and not knowing how to escape it, or improve your situation. It was the most daunting experience ever. You break your arm, you can see it, you can go to rehab and see the results, you can pick a weight and give it a shot. But when you break your brain? There’s just no gym for that.
It took two years for me to relearn my maths and about ten years to re-train my short term memory. The truth is, I don’t remember who I was before the accident and how much it actually affected me. It’s a question with no answer; I don’t know if I always was a scatterbrain and always forgot stuff, or it’s the scars of an unfortunate accident.
Care for your self, for our mental state is as fragile as a cloud formation -Its shape is temporary and subject to forces beyond its control.