Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Boo Brain Tumors

Two of my all-time favorite therapy experiences were with people with brain tumors.

The first was many years ago now when a world reknown scientist was admitted for rehabilitation following surgery. His primary goal was to work the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle, so it was fate that we were paired together. We spent an hour a day looking for ways to focus his thinking so that he could do simple things like sort his mail and complicated things like peer review scholarly articles. He became weakened by his chemotherapy and daily radiation (I was with him the first time he ran his hand over his head and came away with a handful of hair) and while we as his therapy team wondered why he didn't just go eat cheeseburgers and visit the ocean we honored his fight. He became very ill while in rehab and was transferred acute care for what were to be his final days; I visited him and sat with his wife who was completely shocked that this time had come. Even though there was no indication he could hear or see what was happening around him, she insisted that the History channel play in the background.

The other was 2 years ago last week - a young man who threw up after taking his law school finals and was in surgery for a brain tumor resection 12 hours later. He was smart as a whip, had a love of electronic music and his fiance, and was frustrated by his inability to think of the exact right word for something. He and his fiance decided to move up their wedding date so that she would have the right to medical information and decision making - and he still came to speech therapy on his wedding day. When he didn't show up one day I was worried - the next day his mother came over from the acute care hospital to tell me he had died earlier that day. As we stood awkwardly in the waiting room she grabbed me and said "How am I ever going to get over this?". No one expected him to die so soon - he went to the ER with a headache and they found the tumor had grown aggressively, and when they cut it out it swelled and killed him.

I can't help but think of these two in hearing the news of Ted Kennedy's death. I went to the funerals of both of these men and was sorry I had only known them in the context of their illness when hearing the stories of their lives told by the people who knew them best. The media has jumped to discuss the faults of the senator and people are quick to make jokes, but at the end of the day, it's an extraordinary life lived.

The picture is an anonymous brain from here.

No comments: