The Curious Case of Lisa Yee

The other day I saw a photo on Facebook of someone from my high school class I hadn’t seen in decades.

“Wow,” I remarked to my husband, “he’s, like, an adult!” Mind you, I’m 51, and our 25-year-old daughter has already embarked on a career of her own.

Predictably, the grownup in our marriage reminded me that I, too, am technically an adult. I had to laugh … but just a little. (What makes him so smart? He’s not the boss of me!)

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You see, as someone who has emerged on the happy side of traumatic brain injury, I feel like I’ve been aging in reverse. Now, before you start imagining Brad Pitt’s character transforming backward through the years from an old man to a fetus in “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,” know that I’m just having fun with words here, something my brain still allows me to do.

But when it comes to doing math in my head or keeping track of where things are and what day it is, that’s another story.

For my purposes here, aging in reverse means I’ve recaptured the joy of childhood. My fun and games are now yoga, piano, singing, being outdoors–sometimes even writing. To quote another movie, “Elf”: “I like smiling! Smiling’s my favorite!” On the other hand, I also get moody, emotional and stubborn, like a teenager, and I’m forever being warned about taking unnecessary risks by that grownup in our marriage.

He’s right. (He’s always right. That’s what makes me so mad!)

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Creativity Now!

I swiped the title of this piece from George Costanza’s father, Frank, of TV’s “Seinfeld,” who’d end his ridiculous shouting matches with wife Estelle by throwing his hands in the air and shouting, “Serenity now!” Maybe the “serenity” part had started as a soothing mantra, but these were the hilariously batty and antagonistic Costanzas, so no serenity for them.

 

Rocky

Just over a mile from our house stands a steep hill topped by a boulder in the shade of an oak tree. Back in my pre-brain injury days a decade ago, I’d get up early and go for a run before work, ending it with the zigzagging terrain of what I called The Mountain. I also had a name for the boulder: Rocky, which I’d sit on to catch my breath and take in the view–the lake, the woods and, at that hour, no people.

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Then I’d walk home to start my day. At that time I was a regional editor at a suburban Chicago newspaper, so my job involved a lot of sitting, typing and fretting—pretty much like any job, now that I think about it. Those runs energized me for more than work. There was also the usual stuff of life—housework, grocery shopping, dinner prep and shuttling our daughter between school and gymnastics.

It was one of those nights after practice that The Accident changed our lives. I drove to the gym and had our daughter, who was 15 and on her learner’s permit, drive us back. At a four-way stop three blocks from home, there was a crash. I have no memory of any of this, of course.

Thank God, I was the only one injured.

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Nashville or Bust…I Guess

About a year ago, my cousin Monica asked all the “Curry girl cousins” if we’d be interested in some sort of destination reunion in 2018.

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To survey our preferences on price, amenities and dates, Monica, who lives in Kentucky, texted all of the 14 other not-so-girlish women from coast to coast—California, Illinois, Indiana, Maryland, Michigan, North Carolina, Oklahoma and Texas. The last time we had all been together was in 1996, at Pa Curry’s funeral.

There are also 20 “boy cousins”—the sons of Ma and Pa’s children—but this was going to be ladies-only.

My immediate reaction, as with many invitations: Come up with excuses to say no.

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Brain Injury Is Just Ducky

Our former neurologist once told my husband: “Lisa will be fine as long as all her ducks are in a row” — in other words, as long as nothing threw me off my routines.

As a TBI/epilepsy patient since a 2008 car crash, hoo-boy, did I have my routines. Sample day: Wake up, take drugs, eat breakfast, read newspaper, exercise, shower/dress, eat lunch, nap, do minimal housework, have dinner/watch TV with husband, take drugs, sleep, take more drugs, go back to sleep.

This is not to say my life was completely predictable; there was also the occasional seizure.

In general, though, my ducks remained in a row.

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Back to Where I Once Belonged

paul_and_johnMusic was a big part of my life growing up—piano lessons, church choir, band, theater—not to mention the songs playing nonstop in my head. That internal soundtrack is still going, but now I also have the fun lack of decorum that comes with traumatic brain injury, so I hum or sing along to my heart’s content. Where appropriate … usually.

By far my favorite group is the Beatles. It shames me to say that John Lennon’s murder on Dec. 8, 1980, was what sparked my interest in the Fab Four, but at 14 I was a little young to be a first-generation fan.

In college, this guy Ted, who would go on to become my husband, learned I had an encyclopedic knowledge of All Things Beatles. Even with other music, he noticed my lyrical memory was weirdly spot-on, even for songs I’d only heard coming from my siblings’ stereos or seen in songbooks. After 1993, when our daughter was born, I learned lots of “Barney & Friends” songs, sang her lullabies and helped her master the state capitals by singing them.

The Accident came years later, in September 2008. I emerged from a coma with moderate TBI and multiple broken bones and internal injuries, lucky to be alive. As cool as it would have been, though, I didn’t “wake up to the sound of music,” as in “Let It Be,” Paul McCartney’s ode to his mother. According to Ted, I once awoke in the hospital saying, in a robotic voice, “ERR-or. ERR-or,” and something like “01010101010.” I guess my brain was a computer, resetting itself. Or maybe that came from a repressed edition of  “Lost in Space.”

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Follow Along, Won’t You?

Hello and welcome to my world. Back in 2008, that world shrank a little while the universe around me was expanding and speeding up. I’ve since gained insight into the power of my family’s love and the healing value of sheer stubbornness. Please join me as I share my travels through TBI life. Some stories will be amusing and some sad, but they will all be real.