the inkless tattoo…
He refers to himself as “the human train wreck”. It’s a reference he makes with a big smile on his face, but something tells me his intention is only fractionally tongue in cheek. Perhaps he smiles to ward off the negativity, perhaps he smiles because he found a momentary position of comfort, perhaps he smiles because, well, at some point, there’s nothing else you can do.
My newest patient, who we’ll refer to as “Ben”, is 32 years old, and to say he’s had it rough the last few years would be a monumental understatement. In reviewing his case history the morning of his first VT appointment, all that came to mind was “this man is lucky to be alive”. Here’s the highlights:
January 2009: He fell from a third story balcony breaking both femurs, his left heel, his left wrist and smashed the left side of his face, which required reconstructive surgery of his left cheekbone, jaw, and orbit. Also had multiple surgeries to repair his heel and legs. He was unconscious for one week post accident and was diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion.
October 2010:While camping in Colorado, he slipped and fell while hiking with family and tumbled some 60 feet down the side of a cliff, re-injuring his left leg, breaking his right wrist, both the MCL and ACL in both knees were torn, and fracturing four vertebrae in his back. He remained conscious for this incident. Was taken to the hospital, put in casts, and sent home the same night with a grade 2 concussion. His back and knees required surgical repair two weeks later.
January 2012: He is taken to the snow by his family to celebrate his 30th birthday in the mountains. While sledding with his young cousins, he loses control of his sled and plunges some 80 feet down the side of a steep ravine, only to come to a sudden stop compliments of a 100 foot pine tree. The good news is he was alone on this particular sledding run, but the bad news; four broken vertebrae in his neck, broken bones on the right side of his face, large laceration along his hairline, left elbow completely dislocates, left wrist broken, broken left shoulder, fractures right hip and is knocked unconscious. He remains in a coma for close to three days. He is then diagnosed with another grade 3 concussion and sent to surgery to fuse the bones in his neck. After spending three weeks in the hospital, he would return many times over the next few months to continue the reconstructive process of his body.
From a visual standpoint, Ben is intermittently double from exotropia, suffers migraines almost daily, has a slight hyper when he is tired, and has accommodative paresis (paralyzed focusing), is often visually confused, and occasionally suffers dizziness from excessive visual stimulation.
There are patients that intrigue me, and then there are patients that intrigue me, and Ben is definitely the latter. Our orientation went as well as any I’ve ever conducted, as Ben is very articulate, has a great sense of humor about himself, and is very driven in his rehabilitative process. He’s also covered from his collar bones to his big toe in tattoos. As we began his first activity, the conversation led to small talk, and he soon made mention of his many tattoos.
“My goal is to have more tattoos than surgical scars”
At last count, he says the scars have pulled even, both counts currently sitting at 74. Get that? He has had 74 surgeries and has 74 tattoos. As the session progressed, Ben told me about the tattoo that means the most to him, the one that no one can see, that no one will ever see because it is without ink, but it has left an indelible mark on his life and consciousness just the same.
“People judge me because I’m on disability, they look down on me because I cannot work, or they think less of me because I have to live with my parents. I’ve been called lazy, stupid, retarded, invalid, handi-crapped…you name it. Their judgment of me is so unfair. People can laugh at my story because it is funny, and it makes me laugh too. But there’s a difference between laughing at my story, and laughing at me. I would give anything to have my old life back, and they have no idea how much it wounds me to hear those comments, to hear them laugh at me, even when they’re joking.”
It’s so rare that I am at a loss for words and anyone who knows me knows of my gift of gab. Besides, talking to help others through their challenges is what I do.
I had nothing.
Ben went on to tell me that he has recently finished a Master’s Degree in Business Management/Human Resources and is currently working on a project to promote awareness for what he calls “over judging disabilities”. He describes it as “bullying the brain injured”.
“People are usually forgiving of physical injuries to a point, but when they cannot see your challenges, they are quick to bully and laugh in your direction because they view you as a lesser person. That needs to stop. I’ve had a rough road and my body shows it, but it does not define me.”
As we wrapped up our first visit I told Ben his body may be a train wreck, but his mind is a high speed bullet train, and even suggested a bullet train be his next tattoo. He laughed and responded with:
“Most of my tattoos are cool…and some of them suck. But it’s the inkless tattoo that matters. The mark on my soul that I need to help the world understand. Judge me for what I can do, not what I can’t”
A wise Vision Therapist once told me that some patients will give me far more than I will ever give them.
Game. Set. Match.