A Teacher’s Story
I spent 11 days at Einstein Hospital. That’s where the ambulance took me. And I can’t imagine a better place. Every single person I encountered — doctors, nurses, therapists, assistants — tried his or her best to support me. Yet when I left Einstein to go to MossRehab, I remembered almost none of them. In fact, the day after a visit, sometimes hours after a visit, I didn’t remember the visitor.
When I awoke in the hospital, I was hooked up to an IV. I was also attached to a steady supply of morphine. Morphine does many things besides kill pain. It constipates you, and it affects your memory. At least, that’s what I understood to be the cause of my memory problems at the time. No one told me, lest they worry me, that I had much more than a neck injury.
Not only did my neck twist and break from contact — my head received a blow. A girl in the hall at the time of the assault told investigators that when my head hit the floor, she heard a cracking sound. That was the neck. But the silent injury was the movement inside my skull. The blow reshuffled the three-pound soft mass we call the brain. I had a serious head injury.
The doctors knew that my memory problems were from the impact to the head. All I knew was that on about day five in the hospital, when I tried to scratch my head, it hurt, and little pieces of dried blood appeared under my fingernails. When did this happen? I wondered.
Little by little, I looked at the evidence of what had happened to me. When I got out of the hospital, I went back to Germantown High, to walk the hall where the assault occurred. I wondered if I would recall the events. I wondered if it would be upsetting. It wasn’t. I remembered nothing.
My neuropsychologist explained it to me this way: “The brain didn’t create a memory. It’s not inside you, so you can’t conjure it up.” My doctors knew early on that I’d had a brain injury. As I said, all I was concerned about was my neck, and the horribly uncomfortable brace I had to wear on it. I was struggling with the different tubes running in and out of my body. One night, I awoke with tubes tangled around me, and blood everywhere. It was a mess.
Surprisingly, though, thinking was easy. My thoughts were crystal-clear while I was having them. My problem was losing the thought after I said something. Sometimes, I’d lose it in mid-sentence. It was impossible to prepare for the interviews I did with the media, because I couldn’t remember my own thoughts. For me, it was always now. Even weeks after the assault, my mind wasn’t creating memories that would last. And so when I read the paper or watched an interview with me, it was new to me.
Sometime during that stay at Einstein, I was interviewed by a columnist from the Philadelphia Inquirer. I remember a man sitting beside my bed and talking with me. I said things like, “It’s like you’re walking through the desert and you just want to get the kids across. One is frustrated, and so he attacks the leader.” Where did I come up with that? I only know I said it because it was in Daniel Rubin’s column, a column he called “A casualty of an everyday battle.” He got that right.