Back to School. Back to School…

…to show my dad I’m not a fool.  Ohhhhhh, back to school.

Tap tap tap tap tap tap.  Tick tick tick tick tick.  The sounds of an auditorium style room full of anxiety-filled, Type A law students taking a final exam, typing away at their laptops and checking their watches.  Before my surgery, there was nothing quite like that atmosphere to send me into my own personal hell… but obviously a lot changed after my 1st year.  No longer did a measly exam send me into panic – my brush with death had a way of knocking out those testing butterflies.  Sitting in this room now gave me a sense of pride. I was actually completing a law school final exam only months after being told I may never achieve a mental capacity greater than a second grader.  Submitting the exam when the time was up was akin to what I’m sure a marathon runner feels like after crossing the finish line.

This was one exam that I would forever remember.  A few weeks later, I eagerly checked my grades, and next to that particular class, I saw a “NS”.  What the hell did that mean, I wondered?  I asked Ashley but she had no idea either.

Let’s back up…

As you can probably surmise, I decided it was time to try heading back to law school.  There was only so much research I could conduct, hearings that I could sit in on and reports that I could write to prove to myself that I was ready.  My effort, dedication and work product continued to impress my employers – they too, knew I should head back.  I knew it was going to be tough and unlike anything I had ever experienced during any of my schooling.  But with my one semester leave-of-absence nearing its end, there was one critical obstacle in my way.  At yet another follow-up MRI and appointment with my neurosurgeon, I was informed that there was no further growth and that the shunt was working very well.  My progress had continued to amaze the Yale medical community and without more, I was granted clearance to return to school.

And just like that, I was back into the routine.  I received my registration date and time to pick my classes and off I went.  Being ambitious as always and not wanting to fall behind any more than I already had, I registered for 15 credits.  Call me crazy, insane or even stupid for doing that – but guess what? I did it. Well – sort of.

Those five classes required me more to work harder than ever before and resulted in greater angst in a five-month period than I had ever experienced.  The assigned reading was overkill at times.  As I was still in a rehabilitation state of sorts, I was unable to easily read material the first time and comprehend it.  And to further complicate matters, these were judicial opinions, many of which were chock full of legalese and acronyms galore – thank God for the law school spark notes!  I got called on multiple times and just stared blankly or made up some incomprehensible response.  It was awkward at times.  Again, I was around classmates who I held in high regard.  I wonder what they thought when I was called on?  Then again, after what I just beat, I didn’t really care what they thought.

Despite everything, my friends still stood by me.  Early on in the semester, Ashley and my friends threw me a surprise welcome back party.  photo(5)photo 2It was awesome to see all my friends in one place and to know that they cared. Like law school, this too was a test for me as I was forced to be in a social setting, and like school, I managed.  I was completely surprised and happy to know that everyone came out and showed their support.

The rest of the semester was such a blur.  About halfway through, I was mentally done.  But I dug deep and found the extra energy needed to get through the rest of the semester.  Finally, the last day of classes had arrived and then reading week to prepare for exams. For me, that was crisis mode.  How was I to retain all of this information under the rigorous time constraints?  Even despite what I had just been through, my exams were still administered in a rigorous three-hour window. It was an experiment for me, but it was the only way for me to assess myself.

There were certain classes that I did really well in, far exceeding my expectations.  And there were others, well, let’s get back to that “NS”.

Shortly after seeing my bewildering grade, the emails rolled in and the phone rang. It was the law school calling to tell me that my exam was so poor, incomprehensible and confused that I had earned an F. Earned.  That’s nice.  But seriously, was it that poor?

My professor and the school were willing to work with me.  But there were those who I could hear whispering “I told you so…” Nonetheless, as ashamed and embarrassed as I was, I arrived at the school to meet with the members in Administration and my professor to review the exam.  A quick explanation of law school exams – you are given an extremely long story, with multiple “characters” and events (Think Murphy’s Law style – everything possible can and does go wrong in these scenarios).  You then need to write a coherent essay explaining all the legal issues involved in the story.  Where I went wrong was as clear as day to my professor and perhaps and interesting anecdote for any neurologists out there – all of the legal principles I identified were correct, but I had simply mixed up which “character” did what.

The school and my professor recognized that my exam was not a true indicator of my work throughout the semester and I was given the opportunity to retake the exam over the summer.  Otherwise, all of my hard work, the time that I spent with the professor during office hours, outlining and re-outlining my notes, taking practice exams and reviewing them my professor…not to mention losing thousands of dollars on this course would be gone.  Fortunately for me however, my professor recognized all of this and fought hard.  I recall him telling the school and I that he had previous students with traumatic brain injuries who had manifested the exact same problems on exams.  My professor suggested that I be allowed to retake the exam that was being given during the summer course. After much back and forth, I was notified that I was permitted to retake the exam that was to be administered during the summer session.

The legal concepts and theories were still fresh in my head but I still put in many hours of preparation as before because I refused to squander this opportunity.  I was so determined and prepared to nail it.  After it was all said and done, I received word from the law school that I had earned a B.  What followed was a congratulatory message from my professor commending me on my hard work and persistence.

So like you Billy Madison, I proved to my dad and my family that I’m not a fool.  I knew it all along but there were plenty of doubters.  Again though, through adversity and persistence, we can all achieve whatever we set out minds out to do.  The human brain is an amazing, resilient organ.  To think that a tumor the size of a grapefruit was in there which in turn lead me to having to differentiate between a red fish and a green turtle to taking and passing law school exams is, well, mind boggling.  After getting through that first semester back, I was more than happy to bring on more tap tap tapping and clock-watching.

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