Wednesday, July 7, 2004

Trish #28

Trish is making amazing progress.

The likelihood that she will fully recover is becoming ever more apparent. The actual damage to her brain tissue was rather slight, according to the MRIs and CT scans. However, clinical analysis of her behavior and cognition has revealed a more serious brain trauma than what the physical examination indicates. What this means is that her cognitive "hardware," the brain tissue, has not been significantly damaged. There is no physical reason to prohibit her total rehabilitation. However, the damage done to her "software," that is to say to her mental processes, was significant. She will require extensive therapies of various kinds if there is to be any possibility of her reassuming life as it was.

The therapists are delighted with her progress though. Last week, when asked to finish drawing a clock inside a circle, Trish drew the numbers 1 - 5. They were all crowded into the top right hand quarter of the circle. She left the rest of the circle blank. Today, when asked to do the same thing, she put down all 12 numbers, completely filling in the circle, even though she began by placing the number "12" in the "10" slot and finished by putting the number "11" in the "9" slot!

(Something very similar happened yesterday. When Trish was asked to list the months of the year, she began with March and then named the other eleven months, ending with the month of February.)

These kinds of organizational mistakes indicate frontal lobe damage. Brain damage to the frontal lobe affects our so-called "executive" functions, the part of our mental life that that arrange details in correct sequence. Once again, however, because she has made such rapid progress in such a short time, there is every reason to expect that these cognitive deficits are probably temporary.

We went to the chapel at St. Joseph's today to give God thanks. During our prayer, I anointed her. I prayed that her healing would keep unfolding until she is completely well. Afterward, I asked if she would like to play the piano. "I think I have forgotten how," she said. But I wheeled her to the piano anyway. With great hesitation at first, she put her right hand on the keys. Slowly, she began to sound out a tune: "Through it all, through it all, I've learned to trust in Jesus, I've learned to trust in God." Then she added her left hand. Her rhythm was awkward and her left and right hands did not always agree about where they ought to be in the song. Nonetheless, the tune was discernibly there and she was happy. Her ability to enjoy and to create music had survived! Glory to God.

Now I must tell you about something funny that happened. When we left the chapel and went to her room, I asked Trish if she wanted to read the Bible. When he said that she did, I asked her, "which book?"

"Ruth," she replied.

So I opened up Peterson's The Message to the book of Ruth. She read the entire first chapter aloud. When she finished, I noticed that she was looking at me as if there were something she wanted to say. I asked her what it was.

"Ruth must have uncovered more than Boaz's feet!" she said.

We looked at each other for a minute and then really laughed. We have experienced many funny moments like this since Trish first began to communicate. I can't write about most of them so I chose this one to share with you. (One day after a real funny occurrence, she said, "you must not write about this!" I assured her that I wouldn't. Today I promised nothing.)

One of the most common features of brain trauma is the suppression of inhibition. People who suffer a brain trauma will often say (or do) whatever crosses their mind at the moment. For example, the first day she could even whisper, Trish found surprising joy in using a popular four letter word. She used this word to describe the quality of her food, the appearance of her hair, and the smell that sometimes filled the hospital room. This has been amusing for me and for our daughters. Trish has rarely used even the mildest of swear words. On the few occasions that she did use a swear word, she always added a vehement denial.

"I don't use that kind of language!" she would say.

Though she has recently slowed down the use of her newly discovered explicative, in the last couple of weeks it has come up rather often. This has sometimes been hilarious. For example, one day after she had just received her food, she looked at it for a while, sighed deeply and then said, "this food tastes like s--- but we must give the Lord thanks for it." Then she reverently bowed her head and began to pray!

(The food at St. Joseph's is actually very good. Its just that Trish is on a limited diet that often lacks taste. So I doubt that even her admittedly bland food deserves as severe a judgment as Trish has inflicted upon it.)

Contemporary society has debased our language and cheapened our public discourse. Even our vice President saw no need for apologizing after he recently used foul language to insult a U.S. senator. He was wrong. A certain discretion in language and manners is necessary to preserve human dignity and to promote the shared life that our diverse peoples must experience if we are to live peacefully with one another. Even so, I sometimes find the contemporary Christian control of language and thought stifling and irritating.

We are not nearly as free with our language and thought as even the Bible writers were. This is not because we are so pure of heart and mind. It is because we often equate holiness with prepubescence. There is a strand of American Christianity that seems to believe that God finds us more acceptable when we try to be little boys and girls. In the last few years, we have experienced something like a Christian "cultural revolution" (such as China experienced a few years ago when it disowned all of its thinkers and artists.) We gradually have accepted a notion that loyalty to God and to His church means that we must never ponder or reflect, never question nor debate. And we must never, ever use adult language in any context. Within this view of faith, any allusion to sexuality or other natural physical functions gets perceived as being somehow unrighteous and unworthy of true men and women of God. That's why you have to be brain injured before you can say openly that Ruth may have uncovered more than Boaz's feet at the harvest site!

I am going to admit here -- I'm even going to put it in writing -- that I have often thought the same thing about Boaz. OK, the truth is, since the sixth grade, I have thought about this every time I read the story of Ruth. At first I prayed that God would forgive me for such a terrible, sinful thought. As an adult, I have just hidden it from my fastidious brothers and sisters in Christ. But unless times have really changed the way men think since the days of Boaz, it is difficult to imagine any man, godly or otherwise, being as moved to action as Boaz was by the mere removal of a blanket off his feet!

I don't like crass people or crass language. I do like honest people and honest language. The attempt to convince one another that holiness of life somehow involves a denial of nature or a suppression of the body ends up making our expression of piety real slimy. It gets slimy because it becomes a lie, a false piety. The way a holy life submitted to God really works is not through denying our questions nor by piously saying prayers over things that we don't like. A life committed to God is one that acknowledges our actual feelings while expressing gratitude to Him for His blessing and submitting to his ultimate governance.

Trish played the piano today. She drew a clock -- not yet one you could actually use, but a real discernable clock nonetheless. ( I told her not to worry about it. "Just tell the therapist it was an Appalachian clock!" I suggested.) She walked without a walker while two people helped her. She read the first chapter of Ruth and made a worthwhile theological comment about the text. And she blessed her food, even though she used a choice explicative to describe it first. About all of that I have only one thing to say: "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."

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