Saturday, November 26, 2011

It's my 30th Birthday!

So, I won't be saying a lot.
It wasn't till August that I realized I was turning 30. I thought I was turning 29. I somehow lost a year...? Was it the coma?! Cause it only lasted 8 days! Doing the math though, 2011 subtract 1981 equals 30. Well damn it! I hadn't even started to think about planning it.
I also don't particularly care for making decisions. I tend to put them off. That's what I did, I put off party planning. Then I panicked, then Troy and my good friends, Lindsay and Katie, planned my small vegan potluck. Keeping it small because I get really tired in groups. And then I get frustrated and have no fun.
Keeping it small for my brain.<thumbs up>
I'm also not cooking anything, my friends are all bringing vegan dishes!
I love my friends! I'll be sure to take pictures of the food! Possibly recipe I allowed to do that?
I'll also say, I truly don't feel thirty! Twenty-two...twenty-four...maybe! But not thirty! My mom had 4 children already! I have zero human children.
I keep hearing that this generation is doing it differently than past, so I suppose I shouldn't worry about not having 'accomplished' anything. I can't help but feel like I need to accomplish something.

Friday, November 25, 2011

My Brain Injury Details: Right Frontal Lobe

My occipital lobe and my right frontal lobe were damaged in the crash.
The frontal lobes affect your personality and is the emotional control center.
They control motor function, problem solving, spontaneity, memory, language, initiation, judgement, impulse control, and social and sexual behaviour.

For sure my motor function was, and still is, affected. My balance isn't quite right. I can no longer walk by myself with both our dogs together, without somehow loosing them, or falling over, or getting knocked over when they see a squirrel. I spent some time at physiotherapy and exercise therapy at Wascana Rehab, working on motor function.

Problem solving was a problem.
There were many puzzles I had to try to solve during my occupational therapy.
There was more than one that I could not figure out! That was one reason I was excited for my second neuro-psychological assessment. Turns out the psychologist never had me redo any of those puzzles, though I did kick that test in the balls!
My brain function has improved greatly! (feels really weird to be writing that...) My memory has also gotten a million times better!
Christmas 2009, holding a puppy
I do recall little moments from Christmas that year, after the hospital. I remember being at Troy's uncles place, and being super confused when I interacted with Troy's ex-sister-in-law.
Why is she here?! It really stuck out in my brain.

I remember a moment at Troy's aunt and uncles farm, and holding a puppy. (I love dogs, in case that wasn't clear!) Other than that, I remember waking in my hospital bed at Wascana Rehabilitation Centre and being so confused!
Why am I here?! 
Lucky for me, Troy told me each day why I was at the hospital, especially while at the General Hospital, it wasn't as often at Wascana. Gah, I love that guy!!
But day-to-day was harder. I couldn't remember what I did moments prior. My mom gave me a little notebook to keep notes with me. It was handy for a long time. I had many notes and lists.

Language was also an area I was having a tough time with. When speaking, I had to think about the physical mechanics of speaking. How do you make a long 'a' sound? It was exhausting!!
It took awhile to say anything, and often, really often, I would just plum forget the word I wanted to use. Sort of like the word is almost at the tip of my tongue...but it's further back, sometimes way further back.
My occupational therapist and speech language therapist said that I can try a similar, but different word when that happens. For example, if I can't think of the word 'chair', I can say 'sit-table'. Okay, yes, not perfect, but way better than what I was coming up with. Which was nothing.

Silly story!

Troy and I had started renovating our kitchen when we had crashed, so there was lots to talk about once I was well enough. We were chatting about the changes, and I said, "Could we get a new oven-head?" Troy replied, with a wry smile, "Yeah a 'range-hood' would be good. " It was really cute.

Mid-November 2009 till mid-January 2010 are lost somewhere in my mind. Six-months prior to the crash is really jumbled. It's a good thing I was in the habit of writing events on a calendar, or I wouldn't know if we went hiking in Manitoba before or after visiting New York City.

Troy tells me that one day he was with me(sans trach now), in my hospital room with my grandma, and I asked Troy when we could be intimate again. He assures me that my grandma probably didn't hear . . .or she pretended not to hear. Either way! Who talks like that?! "Be intimate"'s actually rather adorable.
So that would be an impulse control problem.

Initiation is not a problem. My motivation to be 'normal', for sure helps in that area. I have no problem starting a project. The example given to me at Wascana, is that often the brain injured can see and recognize what needs to be done(ex. house needs to be vacuumed), but they often don't seem to realize that the vacuum cleaner needs to be taken out of the closet.

Now, whenever I can do or remember something that I couldn't before, I say "Yay, brain!!!".
Gotta celebrate the little victories!

Sign Language

I had a tracheotomy on December 9th, 2009(4 days into the coma) because I still wasn't breathing on my own. I couldn't speak without covering the hole in my neck. Apparently, I'm told, because I have zero memory of this entire period of my life. But I hear it was gross to hear me try to speak(once I was awake).
Without speech, normally communication is really tricky. Luckily, I went to an elementary school, Wilfred Hunt Elementary, with a hard-of-hearing/deaf program. There was an interpreter in each grade, signing everything that was said.
I picked it up, I thought it was uber-cool, and got a couple of American Sign Language dictionaries. I started to learn to sign along to my favourite songs(that's right, sign, not sing). If I'm being totally honest, when I was 14, it was country. Alison Krauss, namely.
I used some sign language with friends in high school, but eventually I started to hang out with people that didn't know any. So I let those skills drift away, so I thought.
I was 28 when I was in the hospital, I will say it had been at least 10 years since using any sign language. I'm told once I was conscious and trying to communicate, I quickly figured out I couldn't speak, so I started signing.
The brain is so cool! My sister, Mallory, was the only one in my family(or Troy's family) that knows some sign language. She knows the alphabet and a few words. She interpreted for me a lot. My family bought a dictionary for at the hospital. My parents good friend, Jo Brown, also helped interpret. Jo has a hearing aid, and her son is deaf, so sign language is something she's experienced in.
Troy learned 'toilet' and 'no'. Key stuff.

Cute story!
One day at the hospital(again, don't remember, but I'm told), I was 'visiting' with Mallory.
I signed, "G", "U", "M". Mallory said, "No Alyx, you can't have any gum."
I replied, signing, "no, you". She had coffee breath and I hate coffee. It was pretty funny!
The nurses and doctors were also limiting my water consumption. I would get a wet sponge to suck on, because they were worried I would choke if given more. Fair enough. My sister tells me I had gotten flowers from my good friends, Sherri and Jeff. Apparently, I feigned wanting to see the flowers up close, so Mallory brought the vase to me. I pretended to sniff the flowers, then proceeded to try to drink the water out of the vase. Mallory took the flowers from me before I could get any! Imagine!
I wish I could remember this stuff.
Even once I could speak, I still used sign language. I sometimes lose words, it's much better now, but for a while it was tough. For whatever reason, I would sign to wait-staff as I was ordering food. Really Alyx?!
For a long time, I had to think about the mechanics of speaking, like how to shape my mouth to make a certain sound for part of the word I was trying to say. It was exhausting. And even though I don't know every sign there is, it still took less energy to finger-spell everything.
Never mind that no one knows sign language! <eye roll> Oh Alyx!
I still use sign language a lot. I've gotten into the habit of replying with "true" and signing it at the same time. It's been a very useful skill and it's so awesome my brain somehow remembered!
As I was building my signing skills again, I was on, and found this amazing sign language guy! Inspiring! Enjoy!
ASL Black Eyed Peas

Thursday, November 24, 2011

My start to plant-based meals

I ordered Colleen Patrick-Goudreau's The Vegan Table in August 2010. I never really thought I used this book often, but I recently lent it to a friend, and I miss having it. There's at least 20 recipes I've fit into our regular rotation of meals. 
For a long time, our goal was to try a new dish each week. It's been exciting, and so amazingly delicious! 
I also love the way she winds compassionate-thinking through the recipes. Lots of cooking tips, which is invaluable to me! Remember, I never cooked anything besides Kraft dinner or toast! Troy did all of the cooking. We ate: meat, cheese, bread, carrots, potatoes, corn, and green beans.
I kept a list for the first eight months of being vegan and I added 42 different foods to my life.
Don't get me wrong, I  ate other vegetables before, Troy just didn't. Troy has helped me, but I knew I had to learn to cook. That's what I did. With my severe brain injury!

I also got Alicia Silverstone's The Kind Diet. I loved her book, and the recipes were unusual, but great! Her Chocolate Peanut Butter Cups are The Best! Better than Reese's. Yeh! I said it! And I mean it!
The first half of the book is spent on explaining why being vegan is where it's at. (And it is-btw!)
I appreciated the way she set up 'flirts', 'vegans', and 'superheroes'. I spent about 4 months transitioning, or 'flirting'.
My first official vegan-day was September 12, 2010.

Please also know, that being vegan is not synonymous with perfection. I made a ton of mistakes! Some, I was not aware of till later, and some I knew. I still make mistakes. I have learnt a great deal!

So, I went to the nutritionist at my doctor's office with The Kind Diet in tow. She got me set up with an organization that helps people with cooking. They're called HELP, or Home Economics for Living Project.  I had a private vegan cooking class! I learned to make pizza, black bean soup, and bean dip. It was awesome!
Unfortunately, there are no vegetarian or vegan cooking classes offered in Regina, Saskatchewan. So that was it!

In September 2010, I got Simple Little Vegan Slowcooker by Michelle Rivera. More soups and stews that I can leave to fill the house with that mouthwatering aroma. It's seriously so good that I am salivating thinking about it! Fiesta Soup and Vegetable Stock I use often. The author recommends making your soup stock and freezing it in ice cube trays for later use. Pretty clever, I must say!!
I measure the stock as a cup of soup stock is 8 cubes. It's pretty simple. Course, I have a severe brain injury, so I have it marked on the freezer bag of soup stock cubes I keep. It's pretty straight-forward for half-measures and quarter-measures and such. Plus the house smells delicious and I use up vegetables! Win-win-win!!!

My Brain Injury Details: Occipital Lobe

All brain injuries are different. It's the brain, it controls everything, so anything can be affected.

My brain injury is from a vehicular collision. It was moved front and back in my skull, damaging my right frontal lobe and my occipital lobe. The occipital lobe is at the the back of your head. It controls visual information. So it makes perfect sense that I was seeing double for a few months, while my brain was creating new pathways.

There was a time, after my first neuro-psychological assessment, that I was worried that I couldn't accurately recognize colours anymore.
            I love painting!
I have gotten pretty skilled at seeing a colour, and being able to see how much of which colours make it. I was worried I could no longer do that. Especially when the brain specialist was telling my family and I, the results of that two-day long assessment.
<sigh> Seriously, two days!
He said I did poorly on a colour test.
Bummed, I later discovered it was the test that, for example, the word blue would be coloured red, or green, or yellow, and I would either have to read the word, or say the colour I was seeing, can't recall now. . .
So not at all what I first thought(Hooray!), and I just had to practice to relearn my painting skills. Like everything else! Practice.
Isn't the brain cool?!

Seeing double was terrible!
It had an affect on everything! My vision also got a lot worse with the injury. I had to get a new prescription for my glasses, and I saw an opthamologist for my double-vision. Amazingly, I was given these little plastic film pieces to be placed on the lenses of my glasses. These were called 'prisms'. They broke up the light differently, so my brain could better interpret what I was seeing, singularly. It was pretty amazing!
Before I got the prisms though, riding in the car was the worst. For whatever reason, objects further away were worse for being...straight up double! I would just look around inside the car. This also helped with my anxiety and vehicles.

I wore the prisms for the next few months, and in April 2010, I took them off, and I've been golden ever

I saw the opthamologist again, and he told me my brain was all healed!
I told him that it's a bit more complicated than that. ;)
I go again in the new year, to see if anything has changed.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Beginning To Bake

I began implementing little changes to my life to get to transition, I was 'pre-transitioning'. So to speak. I started with eating fruit first in the morning. This was also the time we started to use up our cruelty foods(milk, eggs, flesh, cheese, mayo, etc). Lucky for me, Troy was very understanding that this new lifestyle required all animal-based foods out of the house. Especially at first, when I'm cleaning that stuff out of my body! I'm told that cravings are common, so best to set yourself up to succeed. (I learned that from my time spent working with rescued pit bulls, a very valuable life lesson!)
In June 2010, not too long after reading Skinny Bitch and Skinny Bitch In The Kitch, I ordered The Joy Of Vegan Baking by Colleen Patrick- Goudreau.

My mom's side of the family is Hungarian. I'm not sure if all families of Eastern European descent have this same love of baking that my family seems to share...they're really into their baked goods! I couldn't imagine life without baked items. My first challenge was to find vegan versions of the baking I grew up with. Colleen's book was is amazing!
I learned a ton about baking in general, and vegan baking especially.
Just so we're clear: I didn't bake or cook prior to becoming vegan. But vegan baking and vegan cooking is fun, tasty and exciting! It's really great cognitive therapy too(reading recipes, following instructions, etc) and I love sharing what I do with people!
I have bought 10 copies of her baking book, in total, so far, for friends and family. I bought the book so they can bake vegan-style and have food that I will eat. I didn't buy it for them with the intention of 'turning' anybody.
I started with learning the art of vegan baking for my new life. It's been delicious! I've learned how to deal with my brain injury and the baking, and most of these tips come from Colleen's book! Like, having all of the ingredients on the counter, and putting them away as I use them. I have had vanilla extract left on the counter when I'm ready to put it in the oven more times than I care to admit.
The same goes for cooking. I have forgotten garlic, and it wasn't good!
No music is also a rule. I somehow mess up whatever I'm making. Which is really disappointing because I love rocking out, nope, folking-out while I am doing anything(I adore Ani Difranco!). If there is silence, the house feels really lonely.

Coma then Skinny Bitch

My husband, Troy, and I were in a car collision December 5, 2009. We were struck by a speeding, stolen vehicle driven by a guy without his driver's license. The driver and his fellows ran. (He was caught later that day.) We were removed from my 2004 Toyota Echo Hatchback using the jaws of life. I was in a coma for 8 days. I had a tracheotomy because I wasn't breathing on my own. Once I was conscious and able, I started my therapies. Physiotherapy, speech language therapy and eventually occupational therapy and exercise therapy. I had to relearn everything. Walk, talk, print, simple math. I seriously appreciate each of these so much now!
Five months after the coma , April 2010, I was browsing through hair magazines at Chapters for my sister's vow renewal. I had also just stopped seeing double from my severe brain injury(!), so I was reveling in being able to visually focus on print! Not happy with the hairstyles I found, I walked over to the books displayed on a table. Skinny Bitch was one of the many.
I bought it.
Awake, with 'coma hair',  no trach or feeding tube
I had lost a lot of weight in my 8-day coma, and it took me about a month to start eating solid food again. Over Christmas, our families would mush up my food and hide the decadent chocolate treats for fear I would choke. More weight came off. Once back to eating solid food like an adult, I ate whatever was offered to me(what's another piece of pie?! She almost died!). I gained it all back, plus some!
So, I picked up Skinny Bitch. I just want to say, I had no idea it was all about being vegan!
Seriously. No idea.
I began to read, and I thought it was such a funny, and well-written book, that I ordered a copy for my mom and my sister and 4 of my close friends. Then I got to the animal stuff in the book.
Boy Howdy, was my face red?!
But, once I read, I knew in that moment, that my life was changed forever!
Back in high school, I was a vegetarian. Actually, I was vegetarian till sometime in my second year of university. I met Troy(now husband) and I went back to eating animals because it was easier. Seemed simpler, and I was drunk, and I wanted that beef jerky. (Where were you, Tofurky jerky, when I needed you?!)
In high school, when I began learning about being vegetarian, I truly thought being vegan was too extreme! I never bothered learning about milk and eggs, and if I was told, I probably blocked it out. The brain is a very powerful thing!