Month: October 2016

My Bowl Overflowing With Thoughts

It’s time I give you a better sense of what it was like for me in my new home: the hospital. First, however, I’ll tell you the way one doctor explained my brain problem to me. 

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“Marianne, think of it this way,” he started to say, while putting his two hands together, forming the shape of a bowl. “Most all our thoughts easily fly around in our brain. Everyone’s brain has, however, something like this bowl inside. Facts we rarely have to think about stay in that bowl. When one of those facts are needed, it quickly pops up out of the bowl, allowing the person to share that information easily. But the bowl in your brain, because of encephalitis, holds not just a few, but most all of the facts you’ve learned, and with the weight of so many, it’s hard for them to come out. Facts you have known for years, like what a car is, to facts you learned today, like what you just had for breakfast, now seem impossible for you to remember. Many facts we can hopefully get to come out of that bowl will go back in as soon as you stop thinking about them. These next few days we are going to work on ways to make facts you know come out faster and help keep them out.”

How he explained it made total sense, making me determined to start unloading that bowl.

Those last few days at the hospital were geared to help me do just that. For example, therapists had me try to repeat the names of many things they showed me: toothbrush, hairbrush, spoon, fork, Kleenex, pen, socks, clock—the list was endless. Being told what shampoo was for made absolutely no sense whatsoever, but, oh well. I trusted my sister when she tried to explain it to me before I had to even learn what a shower was all about. 

My husband, Chris, demonstrated amazing love, ingenuity, and patience throughout this time. On a bulletin board he placed pictures of my family with names attached. In this way I started to relearn the names and faces of my loved ones, hoping their names would begin to stay out of that bowl. Not easy.

I’m so thankful I can laugh at a few things that took place. For example, one day a few girlfriends from church stopped by the hospital. I didn’t really remember them all, but I trusted who they told me they were. We were all watching TV when I wondered aloud how people could be so small.

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I mean, how in the world could so many people, that were wearing weird clothes, actually fit inside that small box attached to the wall?  

Yes, you can laugh.

God was still in my heart even though I didn’t remember anything about Christ, the Bible, or what being a Christian even meant. One thing was clear, however. Something was still floating around inside my confused brain that knew the truth. I just wasn’t sure yet what that truth really was or meant, or why I thought one of my brother’s name was Jesus.     (My permission again to laugh.)

Finally, the doctors felt I was ready to leave. Eighteen days after that ambulance took me to Highline Hospital, Chris was by my side as we walked to our car, which, to me, felt like the first time ever. And today, twenty-five years later, I can still feel what that drive was like as I was nervous yet excited to be re-introduced to the world.

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Click  HERE  if you would like to read the beginning of my encephalitis story.    

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Treadmill + Math = Hope

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I’ve shared a bit these last few weeks of what went on inside that hospital when it was discovered I had brain damage from what’s called encephalitis. Twenty-five years ago is when the hospital had become my new home, since I was not remembering much of anything before the illness hit me. But what about my family and friends?  Something about having their own friend, daughter, sister, mom, or wife in the hospital, with brain damage, put a big dent in their Christmas joy. A few even told me it was the toughest Christmas season they had ever had.

Cassie, our three-year-old daughter, however, was actually having a ball. A few families from church who had children her age graciously let her stay at their homes. That sure helped to keep her mind off of what wasn’t making sense to her: me.  My mother, mother-in-law, and a dear family from church helped immensely with watching our six-month-old baby. All this comfort and support took a load off of Chris, as his heaviest problem was taking in all the information he was obtaining from the doctors. Everything he was finding out about me was shadowing him with fear and tears, since he didn’t know if I would remember what being married even meant.

I, however, had no idea what was going on outside that room. I just stayed in my bed, listening to the doctors as they tried to get my body and brain functioning as close to normal as possible. 

Happy to say, there was noticeable improvement as each day went by, showing them more and more what I could remember. For example, my dearest friend, whom I had a small inclination of who she was, came by to visit one of my last days there with a Diet Coke in her hand. I was excited when I saw that because I recognized it! I gazed up and down while as I read everything on it. Not sure what diet meant, or what pop even was, but man, oh, man, was I glad I remembered something about that can.

Were those days difficult? Yes. Sad? Yes. Worrisome for many? Yes. But thankfully, the doctors could tell that physically I was getting back to normal, so they allowed me to begin jogging on a treadmill a few times each day. I loved it! They then added one thing to that.

“As you’re jogging, look at this screen. Tell us what these things called numbers make you think.”

Up on a screen I saw…r-math-education-large570-570x200

2+2 =

4+3 =

6+4 =

9+3 =

I was a little confused at first, but it was only a few minutes until it clicked.

“4; 7; 10; 12.”

“Good job!” I then did more with longer lists. “Wow! You answer those fast.” I’ll never forget how overjoyed I felt. Giving the correct answers gave them more proof that my brain was holding memory from my past.  There was hope!

This illness could have caused many physical problems. One main factor of what effects would show was where in the brain the illness hit. Thankfully, the area it hit me did not cause any permanent physical damage. To this day, God hears me thank Him for keeping me from most of the physical problems it could have caused.

I can’t help but think how, in the Bible, Paul, himself, had a physical ailment. It shows how he was at the same time “sorrowful” yet still “rejoicing.” And that’s how I am to this day about what hit me. My brain suffered much, yes, but I do find thankfulness wrapped up in it all with the fact I stayed physically intact. But more so because God has used it to confirm I am one of His. Even though it wasn’t understandable to me at the start, I knew there was something special between me and this man named Jesus. 

We all need to recognize, like Paul, that peace can exist during a trial somehow, somewhere. It may take a while to find, but it’s there. We just need to keep our focus on Christ and what’s right in order to have joy in our ‘Why, God?’ trials.

Can you share any story of your own about how a speck of peace was felt during a tough time? We all need to be reminded that peace and trial can go hand-in-hand.

Me For the First Time, Again- part 2

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That same day I ‘woke-up,’ or the day after, in walked someone new.

“Marianne,” one of the doctors said, “someone’s here whom you knew before you got sick.”  In walked this man. 

Who is he? He’s not dressed like everyone else here. He…he sort of looks familiar, whoever he is.

“Marianne, this is your husband, Chris.”

“A husband? What’s a husband?”

I know, pretty sad. Yes, my brain was affected that much from being hit with an illness called Encephalitis. Chris was told that I was now on a comeback and the worst was over, thankfully, but still far from being out of the woods. Hard on him, of course, was the worry if I would ever remember him, how we met, and that day I said ‘I do.’

Before coming into my room, people were instructed not to cry in front of me. Since I was unable to understand how affected my brain was, they had to make everything seem as normal to me as possible. Friends and family were also told not to laugh, being I was not in control of my thoughts. I was unable to think about what were appropriate words to say, perhaps popping out a few words that were rather funny. Kind of like a little kid’s way of talking, and everyone knows how funny they can be.

Speaking of kids, the next day or two was when I was to see my own two daughters: Cassie, two months shy of being four years old, and Trina, my six-month old. I can still picture when Chris and our two daughters came in.

“They… are mine?” I believe I said, or something similar, while lying down on my bed.  Sure, Trina was too young to know what was going on, but Cassie’s shy face stood out, looking not too sure of who she was looking at. They all came closer, but since I had no clue what a mommy even was, no loving ‘mommy-ish’ feeling was floating around me. Chris slowly placed our youngest in my arms, but our usual mommy-baby love connection was no where to be found.

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I wish I could tell you more what that was like, but my brain was far from normal and could not hold onto much of what went on. 

I recently read a book about a woman who had experienced a cardiac arrest and in it she explained how she was so excited knowing her children were coming to see her in the hospital for the first time. (Great book by Ocieanna Fleiss called Love Like There’s Not Tomorrow.) While reading, I could feel a hurt deep inside, remembering back to that day when I had no joy or excitement seeing my very own daughters.

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The best word to explain how I felt back then would be awkward. My only sadness then was knowing something was odd, and that I had a lot to learn.

To be continued.

To read how this all started, click here.

  

Meet For The First Time, Again -part 1

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It’s now time to share a few facts about the illness that unexpectedly showed up that one December day twenty-five years ago.

Technically, it’s a combination of two types.

1) Meningitis: infection of the membranes that surround the brain and spinal cord

2) Encephalomyelitis: infection of the brain and spinal cord

Put those two together and that’s what I had.

3) Meningoencephalitis: an infection of what surrounds my brain and the brain itself.

All of this occurs because something foreign or something abnormal has sparked the immune system into action. This action resulted in the inflammation.

The damage may cause long-term mental or physical problems, depending on the specific areas of the brain affected. Thankfully, I had viral meningitis, which was not contagious. However, since it was a virus, there was no pill to take for it. It had to run its course—one long course.

I’m sure you understand I am simplifying this immensely, but its effects can be:

Physical (muscle control)

Behavioral and emotional (personality changes)

Cognitive (memory, speech) This is what hit me the most

Sensory (vision, hearing, smelling, tasting)

On the day of its onset, it was not yet known to what extreme these symptoms would show. After my first three days in the hospital, things began getting worse, and that’s when the doctors come to the conclusion that I had this type of encephalitis. After a full eight days went by, after I ‘woke up,’ as explained in my blog called Tired of Thinking, the doctors could tell I was done with the worst and was, thankfully, in the recovery phase.

Before I ‘woke up,’ family had been in my room off and on, but I did not remember anything about that.  After I ‘woke up,’ finally beginning to remember a few things happening, I got used to seeing different doctors coming in and out, keeping busy checking this and that about my health. Asking me this, telling me that, with the words ‘remember’ or ‘memory’ or ‘forget’ or ‘forgot’ said in almost every sentence. And as for me, my sentences often carried the words “What’s that?” or “I don’t remember” or “What’s that called?”

Since I couldn’t really picture any place or person outside of that room, I began to feel like it was my little home and all the people dressed the same were my family.

But finally, most likely the same day or perhaps the day after I ‘woke-up,’ in walked someone not dressed like the rest.

“Marianne,” one of the doctors said, “someone’s here whom you should remember from before you got sick.”  In walked this man. 

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My thoughts took over. Who is he? He’s not dressed like everyone else here. He…he sort of looks familiar, whoever he is.

“Marianne, this is your husband, Chris.”

“A husband? What’s a husband?”

– To be continued.

The Door and the New Me – part 2

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In my last writing I talked about that front door of the house I grew up in, and how it, my last few years there, symbolized new beginnings. I stepped through that door as one Marianne Houstoun and came back a different Marianne Houstoun. The second time opening that door wasn’t as joy-filled as the first time. (read my last blog HERE) This time I walked inside in such a way I never thought I would.

From kindergarten through high school I had lived in that house with my parents, siblings, and even a dog for most of those years. Thankfully, career dreams began forming my junior year of high school, and when I graduated I was determined to make that dream come true. To top that off, with the new me described in my last blog, I was ready for the world. “A career, with God by my side… LOOK OUT, WORLD!”

That is, until the following summer. I wanted to get to where I was going one morning in the blink of an eye, just to get it over with. But I also wanted it to take forever to avoid the what-ifs. The place I went to that I never thought I’d have to go. Reality hit me hard during the hour I was there, because that’s where I discovered I could no longer pursue my dream. As I drove home in a daze, I felt part of me was gone. Once home, I experienced the longest time it’s ever taken me to open that door. Me, myself, and I had left that house, but me, a rough road ahead, and my unplanned pregnancy is what slowly opened that door.

I was flooded with disbelief. “How could I have messed up like this? I’m pregnant. Why me? God, You heard me cry many times for Your forgiveness for giving in and losing my virginity. But… but why this now?” 

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Opening that door meant It was time for me to start telling the world—or at least my parents.

I knew my life was going to change when I opened that door. The only speck of peace I had when stepping inside was knowing God was still right there next to me, like it was that special door-opening-day the year before. 
But this time His fatherly arm was around me a little tighter

We all know the Lord’s plans can be difficult. However, we have to remember, as hard at it is sometimes, He will turn tough times of trials into possible blessings. Yes, blessings. Facing trials are difficult, and times do come when it feels like we’re drowning. That is, however, an essential part to grow, to mature.

Romans 8:24 is one of many verses that can encourage us.                                                     (Make sure you pay attention to the word ‘all.’)

And we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.

If you haven’t discovered this already, you will learn that as time goes by after tougher times occur, God’s plans are perfect and His fatherly, everlasting love is there to help. When God cradles us in His arms, He might not erase the tears right then and there, but believe me, His reasons are perfect as to why we need to be held. He has many things He wants to offer if we cling to Him through that fearful, tearful time.