Friday, March 6, 2015

In Jenny's Eyes

Jenny is home, and healing. Last week, when I went to see her, there was nobody home. Swelling at the incision sites had sunk her into severe pain and she had to go back to the hospital for a few more days. But this week, starting over again, we had a great visit, walking very slowly by the river and catching our breath.

"You've lost weight," she says. She has, too. Between us, maybe ten pounds were actually shed—hiking and dancing on my part, hospital food on hers.

The reality of this experience is beginning to sink in. Neither of us can really fathom what might have happened if we had gotten on that plane together as planned. And we can't quite get our heads around how divergent our adventures were.

Or how transformed we each are.

She has these incredible scars tracing all over her head, which you can't really see under her new pixie haircut. Underneath, there are severed muscles and floating plates of bone, like in a newborn baby. But the great revelation to her is how incredibly interwoven we humans are with one another. "It is like we are all one person, with all these different bodies." She describes the ripple effect of how her crisis has changed her family, and how her community has wrapped itself around her with support. "I didn't know how loved I was."

I touch her head gingerly. "It's like you've had a trepanation," I suggest. She agrees.

Brain surgery, her doctor says, will temporarily lower your IQ by about fifteen points. Thank goodness she had such a mind to begin with...she feels stupid but you would never think that, being around her. I had a brain injury a few years ago and understand what she is going through. Not being able to think right, forgetting things, making mistakes—it's frustrating.

Her happiest news was a conversation with her art teacher, her sensei. Although doctors cannot predict whether or when her optic nerve will heal and she will see colors right again, her teacher has seen many, many artists restore, if not re-invent, their vision after harm. The brain works in mysterious ways. And the brain of an artist, even more so. And a compromised brain can be unpredictably brilliant. Neuroplasticity is a wonderful word.

To me, it seems the colors that escaped from her brain have been wandering around her face. When I last saw her in the hospital, I thought the colors of the bruise around her eye were as gorgeous as anything I'd seen in Europe... fuscias next to warm oranges, sunset hints of green.

And when I saw her today, her pale-blue eye filled with orange-red blood, I was as impressed as I had been at the sci-fi costume ball I had attended at Carnevale.

"People pay good money for contact lenses that look like this!" I said. "You are brilliant! You made it yourself!"

She was tired and needed a nap. When I hugged her goodbye, she pushed me away laughing. "You're fondling my scars, thats creepy!" I couldn't help it. She is incredible. 

And I am so happy and grateful for everything that was, is, and will be. 

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