Funcussion: The defining moment of 2019

January 29, 2020 - By

Imagine opening your eyes and finding yourself unexpectedly in the foyer of a hospital. You’re alone. It’s suddenly night time, but your internal clock says it should be afternoon. How would you feel in that moment?

2019 was an incredible year. My volunteer-day mentioned in the four day week post turned into a full-time ministry position at Crossroads Christian Communications Inc (a topic for another post), I traveled, I turned hours of commute time into family-time, and for some reason after years of being an uncoordinated person I dared to try something new on a bicycle.

I’ll never know what I was doing on my tiny wife’s bike, amnesia would rob me of that memory; but one clue I have is waking up the next day with two phrases spinning through my mind: “bunny hops”, and “broken jaw”. Whatever I was doing resulted in going over the bars, and landing on my chin. The result of this moment would shape the rest of the year for my family.

A photo of my e-ink tablet, on the screen is a cartoon of me crashing the bike
An illustration in which I draw what I think happened

For the 15 hours following the accident two forms of amnesia held me tight. I was left with about one minute of memory with which to have the same conversation with my wife repeatedly. There were (apparently) some funny and sweet moments, including my offer to her “Anything you’ve always wanted to ask me, but don’t want me to remember you asking?” She laughed at every joke, every time which was a kindness. “Funcussion” is a term that came from these hours together on our hospital date.

Back to the hospital foyer. How did I feel in that moment of confusion? I’ll never know, but in my hand was this scrap of paper. I would know immediately that this was from the notepad I keep in my back pocket whenever I go out. I would know that this is my wife’s handwriting. It was probably a huge relief. Kristi says she returned to find me staring at the paper, then look up and meet her eyes. Apparently my reaction was pretty awesome.

a photo of a note that says "Kristi will be right back"
The note I discovered in my hand once a minute when Kristi was dealing with doctors, parking, etc.

My conclusion that day: “I hate to admit this, but I think I may have to take the day off of work tomorrow”.

The recovery happened slowly in phases. When I told people what happened they would wince at the broken jaw, and react mildly at the concussion – this, I felt was the reversal of the appropriate reaction! I would miss two weeks of work. During that time I was not allowed to look at screens, read, think creatively. In short I could do almost nothing. I went from being problem-solving-rich and time-poor to time-rich and problem-solving-poor.

After four weeks I had worked out a routine, and was getting by on a screen-time budget. I wore sunglasses almost all the time, I took long breaks often. I could become out of breath by thinking.

My concussion specialist was incredibly helpful, and was delighted to tell me that I was ready for “high impact sports”, and that I could now “hit the trails again”. He couldn’t remember that athletic endeavours are “not my thing”. I suspect the primary reason is he deals with the “I’m fine, put me back in coach” kind of athlete.

a child's drawing of me laying on the ground saying "ow" while a couple behind me smooches
My seven year old friend’s illustration of what she think happened, spiced up with a romantic sub-plot

In total I endured eight months of short work days. I love work, and creative problem solving – but if I did “too much” in a given day it meant the evening was spent laying in the dark. “Stress” (not meaning “frazzled”, but my favourite kinds of mental challenge) was something I had to limit. Certain tasks (and even people) became what I would call “cognitively expensive”. A funny example of this was working closely with my boss Joel on discovering how a new technology works. My method is usually fairly linear, but in a heightened state of challenge Joel’s fascinating more-fluid process is more like drawing a spider-web from the outside-in. It was amazing, but trying to follow his logic too closely was exhausting.

The best analogy to explain what enduring the stages of the concussion was like would be video quality. Before the accident my mind had the clarity of a 4k screen. Circumstances like having had coffee, and stimulating brainstorming could upgrade me to 8k for periods. Wonderful! The concussion took me down to a RealPlayer 480×320 media window. Brutal. I worked my way up to DVD quality slowly, but some circumstances would knock me back down to VHS – I could feel the change happening. So incredible and bizarre.

Ten random facts:

  1. My wife could tell how I felt at any moment by the flesh around my eyes.
  2. I have not been afraid enough of the term “concussion”, and have been too afraid of the term “brain damage”.
  3. For months I intentionally surrounded myself in silence. No more podcasts or audiobooks in the car. No more constant music. Music went from a passive to an active-only event. I couldn’t afford trivial I/O.
  4. For eight months I craved only very familiar books, movies, and music. As the healing went on familiar music slowly evolved to cover songs, live performances and remixes, familiar books became short stories by familiar authors.
  5. My light sensitivity and problem solving in this field has led to me being able to help four other people.
  6. Amnesia has led me to noticing how often I forget or misremember things. It’s really scary. Something will slip my mind and I will wonder if it’s related to the injury, or if I’ve just never paid attention and I’m always this forgetful.
  7. My negative emotions became amplified ten-fold. Circumstances that would ordinarily make me moderately nervous (certain social situations, or being out of routine), would wreck me.
  8. I discovered that screens and electric lights are all flashing tens of thousands of times per second. In the evenings I used a kerosene lantern often.
  9. I performed a lot of experiments with reducing the impact of screens. Pictured below is my method of halving the number of pixels. My screens were constantly black and white, the theory being that equalizing RGB into one would be a third of the flashing information.
  10. My biggest lesson was that I need to take rest more seriously. In times that I have worked mentally as hard as I can, I need to in turn rest as hard as I can too.
a photo of my rotated screen half-covered, and in grayscale

I really have been blessed through this suffering. Working with so many Christians meant being reminded often that I was prayed for. Prayers for healing are appropriate, but they are not ultimate. I can say that 2 Corinthians 12:9-10 rang true for me – I was content – this is the more important, but less obvious thing to pray for in my opinion. Eight months was a long time, I expected to be “fine” after 2 weeks. After a couple of months my frustration had yielded to comfort, and I decided that if I never improved beyond that point that I would be content.

But he said to me, “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.” Therefore I will boast all the more gladly of my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me. For the sake of Christ, then, I am content with weaknesses, insults, hardships, persecutions, and calamities. For when I am weak, then I am strong.

2 Corinthians 12.9-10

Every aspect of what makes me who I am seems to start in my brain. To be limited in capacity in this way has been a very challenging and difficult trial, at times it felt like not an organ, but my very essence was injured. I couldn’t have done this without the tireless support of my wife, or such an understanding workplace.

When I think back to 2019 this is the trial that defined it. It was harder than I can express, I never want to do anything like it ever again, but it brought so many valuable lessons that I will always be grateful for.

Categorized in:

This post was written by ArleyM