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Out of my mind: Ten years more, for better or for worse


by Debbie Carini

Ten years ago, I was given a gift. It didn’t seem like it at the time, but here I am, in 2018, alive to tell you about it.

On May 20, 2008, a bubble burst in my brain. I might have been home alone when it happened or driving in a car or out in the garage trying to find hidden Halloween candy, but luckily, I wasn’t—I was in the house with my husband. He quickly realized something bad was happening and called 9-1-1.

A brain aneurysm had ruptured on my anterior communicating artery. The resulting bleed caused damage to the part of my brain that controls memory—especially short-term memory and my personal timeline. To say I was confused is an understatement. My friends and family, who spent time with me virtually around-the-clock at the hospital for nearly 30 days, kept a journal of my mixed-up thoughts.

For example:

Once when my dad was visiting me with my sisters, I grew very concerned that I had lost some homework (I was 30 years out of high school when it happened) and when he told me not to worry about it, I responded, “Dad! This goes on my permanent record!” (My sisters laughed, I know, because it’s written in the book);

I thought I was in an episode of the 1990s television show ER and that George Clooney was my doctor;

I told my husband I was having a hard time because I was trying to figure things out in three different languages (I only speak one);

I told another friend, “I think I’ve just had a really bad weekend.” (I was in the hospital for almost a month).

One of my favorite recurring themes was that I thought I was regularly in contact with my “friends” Senator and Mrs. John McCain (I do not know them). I also thought I was involved with the “mob” (probably from watching a lot of HBO’s The Sopranos before I had the aneurysm. The show had its last season in 2007).

Thankfully, I can report that a full decade later a few things have cleared-up, a little: I know the McCains aren’t inviting me to dinner and I also know that, although my name ends in a vowel, the only mob I’m part of is the one I call my big, warm and caring family.

But, I still have this...stumbling block, barrier, affliction, drawback, obstacle, impediment. In other words, a handicap: I’m pretty much always confused, lost and forgetful. I’ve learned tricks to help myself. I write notes, I use the camera on my phone, I ask a lot (a lot) of questions. And yet, permanent befuddlement is frustrating. Sometimes it makes me mad, and sometimes it makes me sad. And sometimes, I just have to laugh at myself.

The gift, it turns out, was learning that even in the middle of all the crazy, my family and friends have stuck with me. They help me find my car, they painstakingly help me remember the plots of movies, they exhibit limitless patience with my repeated and endless questions.

Of course, most people might think the gift is simply being alive, but the gift is so much more—it’s getting to see “for better or worse” in action. It’s getting to see those bromides about family and friendship come true. Ralph Waldo Emerson said, “It is one of the blessings of old friends that you can afford to be stupid with them.” As it turns out, it’s true, Ralph, it’s true.