A Long Overdue Update and Conclusion

I’ve been kind of radio-silent about things because I’ve been a little embarrassed by how hard the ‘recovery’ stuff has been for me, especially when compared to what Sister M has had to deal with, and I’ve had a hard time explaining it. As most people very kindly say, I “seem fine”, and really I mostly am, but I’m going to attempt to explain some of my behind-the-fine experience.

So about six months ago there was this car accident which, until recently, I didn’t really think was that big of a deal. I sort of thought the doctors had been overly paranoid and caused my parents and others a lot more worry than was warranted. Words like ‘life support’ and ‘coma’ seemed too dramatic when really it was just a little breathing tube and some much-needed sleep. It was (and still is) a little bit hard to believe anything terribly significant can have happened without the existence of even a vague or fuzzy imprint in my memory.

I can’t really explain what I’ve been doing all day for the past six months, I didn’t read, I didn’t write, I didn’t sleep, I even didn’t unpack… two of my Ohio suitcases still sit on my floor mostly full. ‘Recovery’ is the term for it I suppose. I did go to therapies of various kinds where they made me do things that seemed really dumb but were also harder than dumb things should be. Without my really realizing what exactly needed work, progress happened…I can walk at a normal pace again, I can listen to music and drive at the same time, I can teach Sunday School or go to the grocery store without feeling nauseous, I can remember most things before February 22nd and after March 2nd, if I’m given a minute. I sort of knew some things were different/a challenge but they didn’t really bother me much.

Then as I started to do more, more obvious ‘brain injury moments’ started to come up. I drove to California for a family vacation, something I’d done before without a problem, and I even stopped in St. George one night just because it made other people feel better, not because I really thought I needed a to break up the drive. And it went just fine, I made it to Newport Beach without incident and I could see the beach house, all I had to do was find a parking spot. My brain, however, just sort of stopped working. I couldn’t deal with trying to figure out where to park, I couldn’t figure out where I was going to put my suitcase when I got to the beach house, I didn’t know what I was going to wear to church the next day. I think the term for this brain phenomenon is ‘flooding’ and the result was that I ended up finding a grocery store parking lot and sweating in my car for 3.5 hours trying to figure out what to do.

That’s an obvious and dramatic example of course, most of the time it’s not that dramatic, specific, or even apparent. It’s not something I really understand all that well, and thus is fairly difficult to explain, but here’s an analogy that’s maybe a little more concrete:

Pretend you’ve been told you were in an accident and that you sustained some leg damage, but as you’re sitting in your bed nothing hurts and your legs look fine, you’re just sort of tired. Then, you start moving more. Your calf cramps up sometimes but that’s not a big deal. You can’t walk as much as you used to without a little soreness or fatigue but it’s fine. Then one day you go to walk upstairs and your leg gives out. But the next time you do stairs it doesn’t. It gives out sometimes and sometimes it doesn’t. And then you bend over one day, let’s say you used to do that a lot because you were into yoga. It was the way you used to decompress and it was one of your ‘things’ and now you just plain can’t. And then you go to give a kid a piggy back ride one day, something you were known for among the kids in your circle, but you can’t do it as well as you used to and the kids notice, though you don’t know exactly what’s different about the piggy-back to fix it. You just know it’s not the same and you’re disappointing those kids. And so it goes. Improvement happens over time, but after six months things don’t feel the same and you’re still discovering things you didn’t know you were missing but now just don’t work right. You can do some exercises to help with the things that come up, but no one can say what will or won’t be the same and no timelines are given.

It’s like that, except it’s your brain, which is involved in every single waking second of your life, even if you’re lying down watching TV or in total silence and stillness. With your legs, you start to learn that after more usage they become less reliable and things get trickier, whereas when they’re more well-rested, things are easier. The same is true with the brain, but it’s fairly unclear what is going to be tiring. Some days figuring out which clothes to wear is a little harder, as is figuring out what to eat, and then you encounter traffic in the car, or you’re around a lot of noise, and next thing you know you’re watching the Olympics and have to repeatedly ask your brother who just won that race we just watched ten seconds ago or which lane the Americans are in, and you almost wet your pants because you can’t decide when to use the bathroom for fear of missing something important.

All of this has been interesting and unpredictable, sometimes unpleasant, and occasionally amusing but thanks to the help of lots of people, my awesome speech therapist especially, things have gotten better and better and next month I’ll be starting work again (finally!).

I’ve been asked a few times how I feel about the fact that I went on a mission in the first place, if I regret that decision. Had I not been in Ohio maybe I wouldn’t have been in an accident and maybe I’d still have my own place and my job that I loved and my cats and really I think I’d be living what I thought of as (and was) a pretty great life. But I am grateful that my vision of how great my life could be didn’t get in the way.

As we gave tours in Kirtland we’d often talk about the idea of our own perspectives vs. a bigger one (God’s) as we talked about the building of the temple there. Initially the best the people thought they could do, understandably, given the very limited resources they had, was to build something like ‘a house of logs’. But then they were given a bigger, better vision of the sort of building that stands there today, which was and still is considered unique and impressive. Their original plan could have worked, it certainly would have been easier, but they would have missed out had they merely had a ‘house of logs’.

In my case I don’t think I could have predicted that living in my parents’ basement and not doing much of anything for six months would be part of anything resembling a better/improved life over what I had. It’s not the life-losing and life-finding I might have imagined having read that promise in Matthew (16:5). However if I’d known being in this position was part of what was going to happen in order to get those months I got to spend in Ohio, I would have signed up for this in a heartbeat. My life might not look a lot better than a ‘house of logs’ but I do feel vastly improved and I didn’t/couldn’t have seen how that would work out.

Overall, as I’ve said probably more than anyone wants to hear, I was unbelievably blessed and changed by my experience in Ohio. I don’t regret going at all, I’m really, really grateful I got to do that.

Writing continues to be a challenge for the new brain, but I am determined to keep trying at that, and should I have anything to say that feels worth sharing, I’ll be doing that on my regular blog (jenniferandwest.wordpress.com).

This one is over, with an even more unexpected end than it had a beginning.

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14 thoughts on “A Long Overdue Update and Conclusion

  1. Jennifer,
    I am from the Kirtland and Perry Wards. I spent the majority of my time in Kirtland. I grew up there and raised a family there. I am so grateful for my experiences there. I am now living and working in UT near my children and their husbands and families. My daughters are so grateful to have grown up in such a spiritual place as Kirtland. My father, James Iams was the first person to manage the properties in Kirtland and work on the restoration. He passed away 25 years ago and did not get to see the full restoration while on this earth, but I know he is aware of it. I lived in Madison and have taken that drive where you had your accident many times. I am so happy that you survived and that you are improving. To everything there is a purpose. It seems that you understand that. Best wishes in the future. Take care and keep your chin up!

    Holly Iams Lepisto

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  2. Jennifer thank you for sharing these thoughts they were very sobering and profound. I especially loved your affirmation about the house of logs and have going on your mission was worth it. Actually with your permission I would like to forward part of that letter to Elder Oaks since he was the one that called you in the hospital but if that makes you feel uncomfortable I won’t I’m a close friend of his wife Kristen

    Obviously I don’t have a clue to what you’ve been through but about a month ago we were in Idaho and I suffered a pretty horrific mountain biking crash broken ribs and we think I had a mild concussion. I can be a second witness in a little tiny speck of what you said about brain function. Fortunately I was wearing a helmet but I hit my head really hard in the last month things of been very different in my brain fuzzy I could relate to some of the things that you mentioned of course not to your extent but I’ve come to realize that having a concussion and having a really severe head injury really does affect and change your brain I never would’ve believed it. My kids and John noticed it and I feel that I’m just now coming out of the fog although I still have moments. I will continue to pray for your recovery thank you again for sharing something so profound

    Rebecca

    Sent from my iPhone

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  3. I’m so grateful you wrote this blog post! I’m Sister Saunders’ mom. Our family just got back from a visit to the Ohio. At one point, we were able to meet with Sister M, which was so so good. Her faith and testimony are something very special, as is yours. I thought about you often as we visited with her and wondered how you have been doing. Thank you for sharing a little bit of your experience over the past 6 months, and for sharing YOUR very special faith and testimony. It was a blessing to be in Kirtland and to visit the sites. I did not want to leave! I can see now why you sisters have such a love for the OCM and for Kirtland. It’s truly a sacred and beloved place. What a great blessing for you to have had the time there that you did, and what a great blessing to those you served and served with that they were able to have you as one of their beloved sisters.

    Much love,
    Jana Saunders

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  4. Wow, Jenn! This is SO GOOD! It does my heart good to read this. As you always have, you have enlightened me, entertained me, made me laugh, made me think and taught me. I look forward to more……and more! ❤️

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  5. Jenn:
    I just love you girl. I am so proud of you and know that day by day you will continue to improve. You have blessed so many lives with your story and wonderful faith. Thank you for being YOU!! As you have always been.

    Sandy

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  6. Thank you for both that beautiful clear description of something so difficult to understand and for being you, which you still are, with a more celestial burnish. — Tony

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  7. Jenn,
    As always it is an unmitigated pleasure to read your blog – and not just because you write better than most people who have not suffered brain trauma! You just have a wonderfully genuine ability to express yourself in an entertaining yet very meaningful way. Thank you for sharing! The Wood Family counts you as a dear friend and you are on my personal list of top five favorite non-related people! Looking forward to the next post on the “regular” blog…

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  8. Oh Jennifer, you write so well! Despite the struggles, fears, and challenges that daily surround us, it’s good to be here, because that’s when we learn and grow the most. I glanced across the chapel Sunday and saw you stand up and walk out of the chapel and thought; “Jennifer looks beautiful; inside and out! I’m glad she’s here! I’m glad she’s alive!”

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