Tuesday, August 19, 2008

The New Normal

This is a whole different ball game. Casa Colina caters to brain and spinal cord injuries of every type. Wheelchairs zip around in all directions, turning the navigation of a hallway into an obstacle course or a bumper car ride. It has been startling for Katherine to be surrounded by people from all walks of life facing such gigantic challenges. A few seem to have the type of brain injuries that affect reasoning skills and cognitive ability. (To be blunt: seem “crazy.”) Others have a hard time with social skills. For instance, Katherine’s roommate greeted her by telling the nurse, “I want a divider!” Of course, Katherine was crushed. She had planned on introducing herself, making polite conversation, and establishing the roots of a new friendship. Her roommate, an elderly stroke patient, was annoyed by her presence.

After attempting a conversation with some of her fellow patients the first day, Katherine seemed slightly stunned. As we strolled away from them, she whispered to Grace and me, “Am I like that? Is that how I seem to other people?" Followed by what's become something of a litany: "They don’t know I’m normal inside.”

Grace, Jay’s Aunt Judy, and I sat in on Katherine’s “Disability Adjustment” class. It was a trip and a half...like something out of a Mike Meyers movie. I wish Amie had been there so she could do the voices for us. English was the second language for several participants. An interpreter repeated everything in Spanish to one patient, making it hard for me to concentrate even without a brain injury. Other patients kept up a steady stream of conversation. Two were having such an issue with each other that the teacher had to stop and intervene several times. It reminded me of a class I once taught whose roster included four or five ADHD students.

For a tiny moment, I couldn’t help wondering if we’ve landed in the Cuckoo’s Nest. Maybe Katherine will get to play Jack Nicholson.

Vignette: The teacher (psychologist) is going down her list of points. She talks about the effects of “trauma.” First, she must define it for those who don’t know what she’s talking about. Then she goes around the table asking people what kind of trauma has brought them here. Katherine says, “AVM,” but the teacher doesn’t quite hear/understand her. She asks one of misbehavers at the end of the table. He reminds me of a combative Fred Sanford. He launches into a long story: “I tell you what it is. It’s when you countin’ yo’ money and somebody lies and rips you off and you get blamed for it.” The teacher tries to define “trauma” in the current context again. The next gentleman says it’s when you can’t remember things. The teacher steers him back to first causes until he gets the right answer, “Fell off a ladder.” The man next to him was shot in the head with a nail gun. Next, the teacher goes around the circle asking the question, “What do you enjoy doing?” Katherine answers “Writing notes to people.” Two say playing golf. One says smoking. Fred Sanford says, “Counting money.” The teacher asks them what their proudest achievement is. The only other woman answers “Graduating from college.” An Asian man with a thick accent smiles as he tells us he is a good husband. Katherine says, “My baby.” Fred goes into another long thing, but it ends up with his money-counting ability. The teacher asks them to name the characteristic they like best about themselves. Several cannot answer this question at all. Katherine says “Compassionate.” One says, “Optimistic.” Before the teacher calls on Fred, Grace turns to me and mouths, “Counting money.” Sure enough...

After class, we all stroll out onto the pretty patio, where several patients have already lit up a smoke. One of the staff is explaining to a patient why the combative gentleman is combative. We pass the other lady from the class who is proceeding slowly up the sidewalk on a walker. She wears a t-shirt with “Property of Jesus” emblazoned on it in big block letters. Aunt Judy tells her that she likes her shirt. That serves as a secret password...brethren start emerging from the woodwork. The staff member accompanying the t-shirt lady starts telling us about a well-known Christian speaker coming to the area soon. Then an attractive blonde woman who appears to be about my age comes over to introduce herself. Her son is being admitted and evaluated. He is Katherine’s age, 26. His survival of a terrible car crash has been miraculous. She wears a cross. So we connect. We’re on the same page.

Little reminders: “You are not alone. I am here.”

It has been a huge blessing that Jay was able to rent a little house on the Casa Colina property. Although Katherine must spend the night at the TLC, no one seems to have any objection to our strolling her over to the house between activities. On weekends she is able to hang out for long periods. The house is something straight out of Ozzie and Harriett, and brings back memories of my happy “Fifties Five Points” childhood. One day, the Ice Cream Man even drove by with his nostalgia-inducing music. There is a grassy little backyard in which James can play, which has been a help to Sarah and Mary Ruth in keeping him entertained. We’ve already had some sweet, cozy times in this modest dwelling. It feels a little like Normal.

By Friday afternoon, Katherine was tired. We didn’t want her to be alone, so Grace, Jay, James, and I all got into the queen-size bed with her to watch TV. Of course James was all over us, and we eventually squeezed Jay out. But we were silly and funny and it felt comfortable, like putting on a ratty old favorite housecoat. It’s amazing how little it takes to make us happy now.

Incredibly, Katherine’s sense of humor has sharpened through all of this. She’s saying things she never would have said before...wickedly witty comebacks to her sisters’ stream of hysterical banter. When I pointed this out to her, she gave me an adorable little uneven shrug, and said, “You might as well laugh, or you might cry.” So we laugh. As I’ve said before, it’s not hard at all when Middle Sister is around. Rather, it’s hard not to. For years, I’ve begged her to audition for Saturday Night Live. She can make you laugh even when you’re really mad at her.

I'm rambling again. The point is this: despite Brain Damage, despite the world being forever changed, despite unspeakable emotions...Normal is slowly coming back. Whatever the heck that is. I tend to agree with Patsy Clairmont that it’s just a setting on your dryer. Personally, I’ve never really felt entirely “normal,” nor especially wanted to be. The first time Katherine realized how altered she is and started trying to tell us how she is still “normal” inside, I said, “No, Katherine. You’re not just normal, you’re special.” Normal is way overrated. Still, after so much havoc, it’s kind of nice to have a little coming back around again.

A modern-day Fairy Godmother from church who refers to herself as “The Purple Hippo Lady” gave me (among countless other generous gifts) a book by Carol Kent called A New Kind of Normal. Carol is an inspirational speaker whose only child, a stellar Annapolis graduate and devout Christian, was convicted of murder and sentenced to life in prison without possibility of parole. A friend of Brooks’ gave us her first book, When I Lay My Isaac Down, which chronicles the events. It helps to know others have survived the unthinkable. There is a secret sorority of suffering.

In the prologue, she writes, “In that one shocking moment, everything changed. That phone call became a defining moment in time—a marker that has forever divided our past “normal” life from a life we never expected and certainly didn’t want...This book is about...choices we all need to make when our carefully developed life-plan takes a U-turn or comes to a sudden halt. It’s about discovering fresh hope and renewed courage when we would rather give up...It’s about choosing not to waste the sorrow. It’s about giving hope to others in the middle of our brokenness and tears, because it is all we have to offer. And because it is all we have to give, it is enough.”

Our “defining moment” occurred on April 21. I realize now that somewhere inside of me there was an unarticulated feeling that God would never let something like this happen to my family. Not us. Not my special Katherine. This kind of thing happens to other people, people you see on Oprah once they’ve come through somehow. But I’ve learned that no one escapes life unscathed. Sometimes things happen that startle us out of our complacency, disturb our assumptions, and destroy our expectations. But these things also serve to teach us something new.

Luckily, a room became available on Saturday, so we were able to restore the privacy of Katherine’s roommate. Katherine moved into a room across the hall which is unfortunately very dark and a little dreary. It makes me depressed in spite of Jay’s valiant attempts to brighten it up with pictures, flowers, and mementoes.

After we got her settled into her new bed, Katherine looked around and shook her head in mild amazement. “This is unbelievable. Un-be-lieve-able. I’m normal inside. What am I doing here?” I’m tired of answering that question, so I just looked at her. Then I said, “You tell me.” With humility and a wistful little crooked smile, she answered, “God has a lot to teach me here.”

Amen to that for all of us.


ActorNation said...

Mailing address?

Can you please email me at KH@HoldonLog.com.

I'd like to encourage some performer friends to send some pretty images to decorate that dark room.


(we don't know each other, but I'm from Holdon Log and we've featured Katherine in the PerformerNation newsletter. I think Sept. would be a good time for an update).

Anonymous said...

Tell Katherine, God is teaching a lot of people about things through her, and you...
Had I the power to undo it, I would, even anonymously for you all. I have followed your journey since, gosh early April, and God is amazing to me, through your eyes.

Anonymous said...

Can you guys have visitors? I'm willing to make the drive to Pomona, although I'm not certain that Katherine will remember me. We did a modeling assignment together once, a year or two ago and then she sold me some Arbonne. :) I didn't want to intrude while she was in her second stage of recovery at UCLA, but I am willing to make the drive some day if she would like the company. Let me know if you can.


Linda Abney said...

There is no way to tell you in a few sentences how much your courage in all of this has touched people's lives. None of us knows what the future holds. I know the things we've all learned from you and your family's openness will carry us through events in our futures that may be painful and so difficult to understand. Not that anyone welcomes suffering but it helps to see living testimonies of grace being given one day at a time. I pray that His grace will overwhelm each of you as you see how He is going to use your courage to encourage others.
P.S. Can we come paint the room?

Anonymous said...

ditto ditto I would love to come paint the room with anyone who would like to do that.
Again I say how much you bless us through your writing..
let us know what you might need at this time, besides the gift cards..just name it! and it goes without saying a complete healing is what I pray everyday.
Bless you all

cindy.franklin said...

I have been following your stories since the day it happened. My friend was taking her son to school and met a friend in the parking lot who was very upset, it was the day that Kathleen was rushed to the hospital. My friend prayed with her in the parking lot and called me, I live in Central Calif. I started praying and put her on our church prayer chain, my Mom's prayer chain, and my in-law's prayer chain. In June one of my close friends was on her way to Mayo Clinic for testing for a week for a life threatening disease. I told her I would send her a scripture verse a day on her cell phone. To make a long story short, that was the start of my new ministry, I had been praying about to start for over 3 years. I designed a website for the verse, with a picture, and a song each day. I send over 55 text a day with the verse all over the US. Alot of the days I was writing my entry I would think of Katherine and your family, I would love to share this with you and I hope this would bless Kat and all of you. I would love if you could read them to her each day and let her here the music. I always tell my friends when they go start the site for the first time to get their favorite drink, Diet Pepsi, Hot tea, Ice tea, etc... and sit down and read all the archives to get caught up. I feel like part of your family, just like everyone all over the world from your awesome updates. Thank you for these. So many people are cheering for Kat and your family, lifting you all up in prayers. My favorite verse is Joshua 1:9, "Have I not commanded you, Be strong and courageous, Do not be afraid, For the Lord, THY GOD, is with you wherever you go!"
Cindy Franklin www.acordialheart.com

Cliff, Katie, Hannah, Christian, and Mitchell said...

Katie Miller Says:

August 20th, 2008 at 9:47 pm
Kim, I have just recently found out about Katherine. I tried to call Aimee, but just left her a message. My family and I are praying for you and your family. Please give your precious family a huge hug for me and know that I love you all!!! As you know, God is so good and I believe you and I shared something together 5 years ago that went something like this, “If God brings you to it, He will bring you through it!” I love you and will keep praying. I am glad that I found this web site so that I keep up with her progress. Please tell Aimee to call me.

Katie Miller

Whitni said...

Hi, could i get your email address? I have something i want to send to you, but it is a little too personal to post on the blog. If you have time, please email me at whitniwaldrop@gmail.com

Jessica Ranjbari said...

Well, I've been on a break from the computer as I got married and have been busy with life, but even then I would think about Katherine at least once a day... I was able to catch up on everything today and I can see that there's still a long road ahead - but if Katherine's come this far, than she is sure to miraculously improve during her stay at Casa Colina. I wish I lived closer - but you're all in my thoughts and prayers... She really is so much more than "normal" :) I hope she makes some new friends along the journey.

Kim Arnold said...

My email, which I can check only occasionally, is kta2754@gmail.com

thank you all so much for your incredible support!


Anna said...

what an amazing book! its really ministered to me over the past few months as my "new normal" is staying home w/ my precious baby girl. i am so thankful for that...but change is change! you and your family are constantly in our prayers! thank you for sharing this journey with us and reminding me daily that 1) we are never alone, 2) that God knows exactly what He's doing (even when we dont!) and 3) to always remember that God is teaching us something, even through the hard times!

a few verses i clung to when my mom was going through treatment for breast cancer:

Isaiah 43:1b-3b "Do not fear, for I have redeemed you; I have called you by name; you are Mine! When you pass through the waters, I will be with you; and when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. When you walk through the fire, you will not be burned; the flames will not set you ablaze. For I am the Lord, your God, the Holy One of Israel, your Savior!"

Joshua 1:9 “Be strong and courageous. Do not be terrified; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.”

again, thank you for sharing your heart with us! you are an amazing writer! thank you for allowing God to use you and your situation for his glory!!!