I’ve been asked to explain more about last night’s illustration. I’m not sure where to start with my update anyway, so I suppose that’s as good a place as I can think of.
I painted the picture above, I was thinking about amnesia—not just a little absent minded forgetfulness but a full-fledged loss of identity. In the early coma days, I did a few small paintings with the theme of underwater divers, mostly because I saw him trapped underwater, in another world, plugged into a breathing apparatus. So here our diver is again, still trapped below but standing, while clues of his past fall from the surface. Records, CDs, pictures, letters, books, photo albums pile up around him and yet, he doesn’t recognize a thing. If anything, they just clutter his world like some sea-dump. He looks so alone.
The last couple of weeks have shown a dip in Vernon’s behavior again. The people who have faithfully been tending him will probably not agree that it’s a huge dip, as they have seen Vernon act similarly off-and-on all year. It seemed for awhile that his short term memory and his ability to accept the reality of the situation were brighter than they had been. I was able to have somewhat intellectual interactions with him. He seemed emotionally warmer. But the last couple of times I’ve visited him, he seemed foggy again, with his eyes mostly clenched shut.
On separate days last week, my mom and I both had arguments with him over whether he was about to give birth to a baby. We’d say no…and he’d become angry. I think he was trying to make sense of his discomfort and the setting. Yesterday, when he seemed less agitated, I brought it up again, almost as a joke, thinking he would have forgotten about that or at least recognize how silly an idea it had been. “How do you know I”m not!” he insisted. “I might be!” Never mind, then.
He’s been complaining about thirst and wanting water again. This is something we haven’t seen for awhile. When I try to explain why he can’t drink, he doesn’t remember that either. And when I’ve allowed him a couple drops, against my better judgement, he doesn’t remember to drop his chin to his shoulder like he’d learned last year. If anything, he resists following my help at all. Likewise, he insists his right hand is more useful than his left, and refuses to hold the pen or paintbrush or cup in the side he worked so long to strengthen.
He still thinks he can go home with me every time I leave, and becomes angry when I say I can’t. He believes he can walk. He believes he can work. I asked him yesterday how long he thought he’d been there. “One week,” he said.
I bought him a CD of a band that a year or so ago he remembered fondly (or said he did.) He didn’t recognize a single song.
When he called me “mother” at his bedside, I asked who he thought the CNA was. “The teacher,” he said. When I asked him where we were, he replied: “A school.”
Again, we’ve seen all this before. But whenever I see it consistently again, I realize the ‘hopeful’ time is over again and this is most likely what his life will be like till he goes. His brain just can’t make those connections and with his boring life in a nursing home, he isn’t able to improve. But even if we worked and worked on it, if we left him to his own devices for a week, it would quite literally slip his mind again.
Vernon’s condition is much like someone with Alzheimer’s. Dementia is often a symptom of Traumatic Brain Injury—if not right away, eventually.
He wondered why I didn’t bring the kids yesterday. I told him he’d been acting too mean the past few days, I hadn’t wanted them around till he seemed calmer. Vernon apologized sadly, sighing: “I don’t remember that.”
Further reading: Here is a fascinating page that explains they types and symptoms of Amnesia and memory loss.