A short story from my life I've written for a college assignment. Not grammatically correct yet but getting there.
"Walk in a straight line"
Five words that changed my life.
I wasn't drunk, I hadn't been driving, I was only seven and I failed that test. It was one more step in my failing health that would change how I learned and who I was.
Only a few months prior I was a well adjusted first grader. Top marks in class, always volunteering to read first in groups. I was confident and happy or so I have been told. Many of those months are gone from me, taken by an illness that thousands of children dealt with every year, chickenpox. Only for me a mild case of chickenpox invaded my system as it does in all those afflicted causing pox sores and then reached the brain-blood barrier. For most people this barrier protects the sensitive brain from a variety of ailments. It is the protective shield that keeps us intact as our body struggles to heal itself. For me that barrier failed and the chickenpox virus entered the sacred temple of my consciousness and began to cause irreparable damage.
I had chicken pox for a few weeks as most kids my age did and then I recovered, or at least thought that I had. I didn't know that the virus was slowly working through my brain. In fact no one did. For a few months I would be fine, go to school, play and then get sick. Miss a few days and then get better and go back to school. They cycle repeated itself, each time the sick periods getting longer. I went to the doctor over and over again without any diagnosis. Then one time when I appeared a little wobbly he asked me to walk a straight line and I couldn't. I was amazed and confused as to why my legs wouldn't respond properly to my commands. I actually thought it was kind of neat, that was until I saw the horror in my parents eyes.
Cat scans and other tests followed and I got progressively sicker. I would wake up vomiting uncontrollably. My weight dropped dangerously as I couldn't keep any food down. Finally the doctor said we had to go to the hospital. At that point I could barely eat. My head pounded furiously with massive headaches and I would only walk a step or two before my legs would refuse to cooperate.
Laying in the hospital bed was the scariest part of my voyage. I was in an isolation ward since they still didn't know what I had. Outside the room I could see kids playing. Kids without hair, with IVs. Kids I was too dangerous to be around. That was the first time I really began to get scared. My mother stayed with me in the room every day. She helped to clean my hair from the glue used to attach electroencephalogram wires. She never left my side until one day when a group of doctors came in and she left. I didn't know what was happening. Years later I was told that I did know but I have no memory of it. I lost many memories from that time.
They flipped me on my stomach and held me down. In desperation and panic I reached for the nurse call button and yelled for help but a doctor told them to never mind and moved the button out of my reach. I fought, I struggled, I passed out.
When I awoke it was dark and my mother was there. My head hurt but not bad as it has before. She told me they had done a spinal tap to test the fluid. I shouldn't sit up or turn on the lights, it would hurt my head. I felt better and within a few days I was out of the hospital and back home. Recovery was not swift but it was consistent. I learned that the spinal fluid test confirmed that I had viral encephalitis. My brain was literally swelling to the point it was pushing into my skull which was the cause of my severe headaches and limb control. The slow road to recovery had begun.
It was a year before my hands stopped shaking, my legs came back to proper function and I was able to put some weight back on. I attempted to resume a normal life but things were not the same for me. Simple things such as reading comprehension were no longer so easy. Often I would have to read the same sentence over and over again before it would sink in. I never raised my hand to read in class again. My grades fell, I dealt with mild dyslexia, I struggled to learn because what worked before didn’t any more. The damage to my brain was permanent and I would never learn the same way again.
I struggled through school, barely passing at times. My parents did the best they could to help but I don’t think they ever really understood what was wrong, I know that I didn’t. I had lost the ability to learn and it took over a decade before I would finally figure out how to do it again. When I went off to college I began to question my brain and its inner workings. Unfortunately, in the time before the internet, there were no easy resources to teach me what had happened to me when I was sick. Luckily my college has a fairly complete medical library which I went to. Confronted with complex medical journals and texts I was lost again, lacking the necessary reading comprehension. Undeterred I worked harder, spending hours going through journals of children with encephalitis and their outcomes. Often I would have a medical dictionary to help me through.
Once I completed my research I walked away with an understanding of the damage my brain had suffered and the resulting learning disabilities. But I came away with something else too. I had finally cracked the code, I had begun learning how to learn with my unique brain. My quest to understand my illness had resulted in the solution to it’s biggest impact, my ability to learn.