Photography © Jennifer Matthews
Having a brain aneurysm in middle age reset my muscles to an infantile level of usage. That’s one thing nobody told me: when the brain bleeds, it short-circuits everything for months.
Rounds of physical therapy forced me to inventory what worked and what didn’t. Unlike most of the patients in the clinic I attended, however, no one could tell what was wrong with me: I wore a scarf to cover my scalp’s surgery scars and patches of shaved hair from where my neurosurgeon entered to save my life, but beyond that, I looked completely fine.
That’s what people told me.
But brain trauma manifests in complicated ways. My recovery wasn’t linear, and progress was painfully slow but measurable: at the one-month mark, I wasn’t using a walker; at the two-month mark, I could drive short distances; at the four-month mark, I got rid of my assistive shower chair.
At ten months, I was riding a bicycle, part of my continued attempt to flood my brain with oxygen while training my muscles for strength. I wavered between completing a new goal and wondering when the goal setting would stop. I was empowered but sometimes deflated, especially when my strength and stamina were low.
On one particularly difficult weekend ride in September, every pedal push was hard-fought, so much that a strong wind pushed me into unsteady wobbles where I clenched the handlebars as well as my teeth just to stay upright.
Earlier in the week, I had been fine. I had returned to work one month prior and was folding myself back into a professional routine, complete with full-time responsibilities. Maybe those demands were finally catching up to me.
As cars passed, I wondered what they saw and at what point one might slow next to me, to inquire if I was okay.
Because most days I was.
But there were times I wasn’t.
During that first year of recovery, people stopped asking about my progress either because they had no idea I was still “in recovery” or perhaps because they thought weakness was contagious. Whatever the case, cocooning myself became normal because there was no manual for survival of brain trauma.
So I wrote my own. Doing so involved a great deal of persistence because, in hard times, the best way to get past challenges is to keep pushing through them. That’s what I told myself on the road.
And that’s why I kept pedaling.
Audrey Wick is a writer and full-time professor of English at Blinn College in Texas. She believes the secret to happiness includes lifelong learning and good stories. But travel and coffee help. She has journeyed to over twenty countries—and sipped coffee at every one.
Poet/Photographer Jennifer Matthews’ poetry has been published in Nepal by Pen Himalaya and locally by the Wilderness Retreat Writers Organization, Midway Journal, The Somerville Times, Ibbetson Street Press and Boston Girl Guide. Jennifer was nominated for a poetry award by the Cambridge Arts Council for her book of Poetry Fairy Tales and Misdemeanors. Her songs have been released nationally and internationally and her photography has been used as covers for a number of Ibbetson Street Press poetry books and has been exhibited at The Middle East Restaurant, 1369 Coffeehouses, Sound Bites Restaurant in Somerville and McLean Hospital.