Ethan and I were in the hospital the morning after his birth when the doctor on call for our family practice clinic came to check on him. I was surprised to see this doctor because he did not practice in our clinic, but at a clinic in a nearby town. He’s a long time family friend and many many years ago I regularly babysat his girls. After checking on Ethan he asked how my accident recovery was going. I’ve been an avid reader all my life, but in those months post head injury I had lost the ability to stay focused and attend to the words on a page. This frustrated and scared me. I talked about grieving my loss and fearing it might be permanent. The doctor looked at me that morning and said, “Jenny, (you can always tell what era people knew me in by how they address me) I love to read and this would be difficult. I will pray that you someday find joy in reading again.”
Almost five years later I ran into the doctor again and told him I had not forgotten his gift of compassion and insight. I also told him I’d read 50 books the previous year. For real.
It’s been a long road back. The brain injury made it tremendously difficult to attend to details and stay focused. This created the most trouble with fiction because I’d completely miss story building elements and then the stories didn’t fit together for me. It was exhausting and defeating. Eventually I discovered that I could use post-it-notes to keep track of things I wanted to remember. This was brilliant for nonfiction, but it didn’t work so well for fiction. I still post-it-note my way through books. Early in my reading comeback I diligently typed those notes to my computer and so I have extensive notes from many nonfiction books I’ve read. Technology has evolved and I’m happy to read electronically so I rarely type notes anymore, but have Kindle highlights instead.
The first books I remember finishing were Brain Injury Memoirs. It felt good to read stories from other people that affirmed my own experiences. Brain Injury is often called the Silent Injury and a therapist once told me if I’d wear a helmet people would better accept the fact that I had an injury. Since I looked okay and acted okay it was hard for people to believe that anything was wrong. Unless you lived with me.
As I gained reading experience with those memoirs I began reading more. When I added the post-it-note routine I gained confidence. I started keeping track of the books I finished and now it’s fun to look back. I still struggle with fiction, but starting in January this year I’ve been reading a lot of fiction to the boys and it seems to be expanding my tolerance for attending to the details of fictional story. It’s healing. And it’s fun.
This afternoon I posted my reading trail on my blog. It’s kind of like hanging laundry out on a front yard clothesline, I guess. But it’s also a shout of joy. I’m reading Anne Lamott’s book Help, Thanks, Wow: The Three Essential Prayers and this afternoon I read this:
We sing a slow hymn at my church St. Andrew, that goes, “God has smiled on me, He has set me free.”…..You can’t have gotten from where you were – gripped by anxiety, tiny with fear – to come through to freedom, for God’s sake. To have been so lost that you felt abducted, to feeling found, returned, and set back onto your feet: Oh my God, thankyouthankyouthankyou. Thank you. Thanks.