The hardest part of changing my brain from Engineer to Artist was accepting the reality that something had gone wrong with my brain.
Here I sat in a hospital waiting room with a family member, surrounded by stroke patients, young kids with sports injuries, and paralyzed individuals, and wondered, “Why am I here?”
My name would be called, and my relative had to hold my hand and direct me, because I couldn’t even walk without guidance. She’d lead me back to my case manager’s office. As the case manager spoke, I’d burst out in tears, not understanding why I was there. This continued for three sessions. I just couldn’t grasp what was happening.
The next week, my relative and I had to remove every work outfit from my closet, even my work shoes, so I would realize I was never going to work again. Doing that, there was one plaid suit and a dress that I refused to let go. She allowed it, but any shoes related to my job had to be removed. She hid my briefcase, which I still have, but the rest was removed from the house. I still didn’t understand that I’d never work again.
Next up my cognitive ability was tested. It was scheduled as a three hour test. After three hours, the doctor said “Deborah, you’re going to have to be here for two 8 hours days. You are not a 3 hour patient.” During those two days, I periodically had to stop and cry, because I couldn’t go A B C D E F … or even count from one to ten. As an engineer, this felt inconceivable to me. I wasn’t even allowed to drive my own car home.
Two weeks later, the testing doctor called me with results. She didn’t say much, but referred me to Dr Kaelin, (then at Sheppard Brain and Spinal, now at the Frazier Center in Louisville). She also said I’d need a neurologist, and other specialists. She told me I’d never work again and to immediately get a lawyer and go on disability. She also advised me to have a Living Will drawn up.
Finally, I accepted me fate. I went to Sheppard Brain & Spinal Center. They tested my nerves, and I’d lost a lot of feeling and mobility on the right side of my body. The muscles weren’t receiving the right signals. They’d have me play Hopscotch. It would take a long time to switch back and forth from one foot to two feet. But by the end of the program, I could do the whole Hopscotch board just fine at a normal pace.
Years later, at Frazier Rehab in Louisville, KY, there was a young man in a wheelchair. And all he could do was cry whenever I walked past. Seeing him, I had so much compassion, because I had been him, unable to grasp my new reality. He’d been in an accident, while mine was due to a reaction to a treatment I’d been given for my migraines.
I worked with Dr. Kaelin at the Sheppard Brain Center extensively. One day, I had on a beaded chain with a pendant on it, which I had made. I can’t remember where I got the beads. But when Dr. Kaelin saw it, he asked if I’d made anything before. I had not. He told me to keep it up. Three months later, I had made endless and complex designs. I made so much jewelry, I had to give it away. I quit counting after I created over 2000 individual pieces of art.
From beads, to sterling silver, to fine jewelry, I moved into art photography, leather work, metal work, and resin designs. (A new website featuring my art will be live soon!) I even dabble in landscape design now! In conversation, a lot of my engineering brain still comes out, but I repeatedly undergo Frazier’s Brain & Neural Rehabilitation Program whenever I feel I need a check-up, in order to keep my brain’s plasticity active.
Deborah Marie is available for additional media opportunities, including podcasts, written articles, speaking engagements, and video testimonials. Learn more about the the non’profit foundation she started at www.Gemassist.org.