So I had my purpose and with that, I tried to find myself again. I knew that my old self was locked in my body somewhere and it was my hope that the physical and mental rehabilitation would help. But my steps were baby steps. I was physically and mentally unable to do anything on my own. The initial meeting with my therapists did not go well at all and I wanted to permanently escape from the therapy center. I had nowhere to go though – I was stuck in this world and my regimen was three times per week from 9:00-3:00. I was to alternate between cognitive therapy to relearn to speak, read, write and think and physical therapy to regain the strength I lost on the right side of my body. My face was distorted and the entire right side of my body was practically useless.
Walking into the group room and meeting the group I had been placed into was absolutely terrifying and jaw-dropping. I was the youngest patient by, I’d guess, 20 years. I was with other brain tumor and stroke patients. As the new kid in the group, I was asked to introduce myself. As you can probably guess, I was unable to do it. Well, maybe I’d be able to tell the group a little bit about myself, such as how I just finished my first year of law school and my career goals. Couldn’t do that either. And that’s when it hit me. Within a matter of a month, I had lost all that I worked so hard for over 24 years of my life. Gone from my life was socializing with my family and friends, aspirations of earning my JD and practicing law and rekindling my relationship with Ashley. Defeated and in search of hope, I optimistically looked at the therapist and thought to myself “you can help me, right?”
I looked at her, she looked back at me. She had to be kidding, right – I had to be able to at least know my ABC’s. While I recognized the letter “A” as such, I was unable to communicate that to anyone. In other words, I could not say what I was thinking at the time. At that time, the pathologist did not realize the extent of my deficits and moved on to the lowercase letters that you see on the board. Again, I sat there, unable to say what I was thinking even though I knew that it was the letter “A”. Sorry Michael, it looks like those ABC’s were not as easy as one, two, three.
Every day, when my parents would pick me up from therapy, they would ask me questions about my day such as: “what did you work on?” or “what did you have for lunch – did you have ham? did you have turkey? did you have soup?” They waited for a response, but I did not answer because I could not remember. More troubling though was that this was all just within minutes of being picked up. I later learned that my brain was so compromised due to the hydrocephalus and infection that it was feared I could remain in that state forever. I was left with persistent neurological liabilities, specifically as they relate to the processing of information and the management of language and memory.
The weeks that followed offered little hope to my family, my doctors, therapists or myself. There was absolutely no progress being made. With my difficulty in performing simple tasks learned years ago, I began to manifest symptoms of anxiety in social situations. It was terrifying for me to have someone approach me who did not know what I had gone through or attempt to engage me in conversation not realizing the full situation. In the grocery store one day with my father, I was just standing there watching the people hurry down the aisles filling their shopping carts and recalling a time that I used to do that. Not intending to stare awkwardly, I could not help but to reminisce. As I watched someone go to the beer section and place the six-pack in his cart, I hear a guy say to me “hey kid, is there something wrong with you?” My father intervened and we walked away but I couldn’t help but to dwell on that moment. I was going nowhere any time soon.
Yet, without the tireless effort and dedication of therapists, brain tumor patients like myself would never be able to resume their life and share their stories. Even in the darkest of moments when all hope seemed to be lost, my therapists always smiled and offered me hope. Day in and day out, they strived to assist me in getting my life back and restoring normalcy in a world only other patients and survivors can understand. I remain forever grateful to those therapists who worked with me and the effort they each put in to help me get to where I am today.