A Bad Haircut…

We’ve all been there. You head out on a Saturday afternoon to run a few errands, make a stop to get your hair cut, and BAM.  Get home to look in the mirror and realize the person who cut your hair had a rather aggressive interpretation for “just a little off the top” and now you are forced to live with their debacle. It certainly is not the end of the world, but for the next few weeks your creative styling skills will be hard at work, trying to overcome your new coif. In three or four or maybe even six weeks, you can try again; preferably with someone who might fall more in line with your wishes.

This weekend, while home in Austin, I made the one-hour drive out to the home of one of my former patients for a friendly visit. A gentleman three years my junior, we became fast friends during our sessions together, and have kept in touch in the several months following my change of offices. With the permission of former employer who he still sees for vision therapy, I delivered some Noir colored filters for a trial, and spent the better part of an hour catching up. Since leaving my old office, there are a handful of patients with whom I’ve maintained contact, and even cultivated new friendships. In this particular case, my role has been friend, sounding board, and support system to his entire family.  Due to ongoing litigation and national attention of his situation in particular, I cannot disclose much information regarding the nature of his event, except to state he suffered a traumatic brain injury in June of 2017. His road to recovery has been slow, long, and ripe with twists, turns, and detours. He has been through every type of therapeutic treatment the world has to offer, from hyperbarics to psychological to visual. Some twenty months post-injury, he still suffers many of the challenges he experienced in month three.  In his words, his “threshold for the world” (before he feels overwhelmed with a migraine and/or nausea forcing him to nap before vomiting) remains at close to two hours.  He heaps praise upon his wife, who has taken on the role of solo parent, adult caretaker, housekeeper, and master of all things required for maintaining a state of homeostasis for their three young children. Flooded with doctor appointments and therapeutic treatments, in combination with his twice daily four to six hour naps, his own interaction with his children is limited to less than one hour per day. He cannot drive, has trouble remembering to eat and take his medication, and due to recurring migraines has days where lying in a dark room is the extent of his output. As one might imagine, maintaining a positive attitude and will to fight on has been a challenge. Many of his friends have all but deserted him, not with intention, but more due to their own busy schedules and his inability to interact independently with the world beyond his front door. From the outside looking in, things appear to be normal – please stop me if you’ve heard this one – but in reality, his entire world has fallen apart. Understanding has been hard to come by, an understatement of monumental proportions.

It’s been said no two brain injuries are alike, and truly, the statement seems to be accurate. If there is one common thread, though, it might be the propensity of those afflicted to compare who they were pre-injury with who they are post-injury. Seemingly, the more impacted one’s life is the more they develop a propensity for frequently contrasting their before-and-after injury worlds. If I had a dollar for every time I’ve worked to help someone understand the inequities in such a juxtaposition, early retirement would be on my horizon. Initially, hearing the words is anathema to those affected; nonetheless, understanding the need for grace is an important function of the healing process. My friend is no different.  Although we maintain contact through frequent phone calls and text messages, each and every face-to-face visit involves a conversation reviewing what his life used to be, followed by the oratorical drudgery of what it has become. Mostly, I just sit and listen. As our visit was coming to a close, my friend ran his fingers through his recently shortened hair complaining of the poor style his last trip to SuperCuts produced, explaining how he yearns for the days he feels good enough to complain about a bad haircut. Nowadays, he’s in bed most days and couldn’t care less.

I wrote a post a while back entitled Where Normal Hides detailing the impact my patients with Traumatic Brain Injuries had on me, and how all they really wanted was their old life back. The post meant something to me then, and after re-reading it just now, the sentiment resonates once again. His old life is long gone, and he is hoping his new normal somehow has more to offer than its current presentation.

As I drove away from our visit, all I could think of was his statement: “the day I feel good enough to complain about a bad haircut”.

How far does someone have to sink where such a prospect is attractive?

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