I was 21 years old. I sat down - more correctly, my physical therapist holding onto me with a belt helped me sit down, and a piece of paper was put in front of me.
In the past two years I had come close to death on multiple occasions – the first was when my intestine became paralyzed and was about ready to burst. The second was when, due to a complication from a medication I took, my body stopped producing red blood cells and my body became severely anemic within days (my lowest hemoglobin was 2.9 g/dL, if that means anything). The third was when my intestines ruptured, sending sepsis through my body. Within the first month that I had fallen into a coma I had suffered renal failure, pulmonary failure, and congestive heart failure. My parents were being prepared for a son that, if he ended up living, would no longer be able to take care of himself in any way. The brain damage I had suffered might be partly permanent or entirely permanent.
The piece of paper was a worksheet out of a kid’s book, not even a book for someone in kindergarten: draw the line between the animal and where they live. The dog lived in the doghouse, the camel lived in the desert. Those are the only two I remember. I couldn’t do it.
I couldn’t do it.
I knew I used to be smart. I knew my hands used to move where I wanted them to move – that I used to be able to feed myself. I knew I used to be able to walk. And of all the things I had forgotten, of all the things that were shadowed to me, the one thing that would have made my life easier was to have forgotten all of this.
I have had moments of tremendous sorrow in my life, like anyone else, and I have even had moments since that were probably objectively more sorrowful. But knowing I couldn’t do that worksheet was – it’s not possible to put into words. If it weren’t for my family, I don’t know what I would have done.
At that point there wasn’t much left of me besides my body, as unresponsive and pointless as my body had felt like then. I had dropped out of college twice – first from ISU back to the community college from which I had already earned my degree, and second from there entirely when my brain and body couldn’t do it at all anymore. At that point, being alive was to be successful.
Later that afternoon, I quoted Robert Frost’s poem “Out, Out”, to my uncle who told me he’d bring me fishing when I got better – there was something left of my mind, maybe. But, since going fishing sounded like a good idea, so I demanded my discharge papers immediately – in my defense, being dependent on morphine makes irrational ideas seem rational. I was weeks away from being ready to go home.
But, in August 2000, I was back at the community college I had been at before I had been too sick to take classes, the one from which I had already earned an A.A. in 1996, the one that proved to be my home since I had had to drop out of my undergraduate school in January 1999. And one of the first stops I made was to the Center for Disability Services.
(to be continued in Part II)