Seeing my Superstar…aka Itzhak Perlman

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FINALLY!!!!!!!!!!

Do you remember who you wanted to be when you were 9 years old? Superman? Barbie? I’m not sure what age bracket you fall in so I’ll leave it at that. Honestly, I don’t even know who kids my own age wanted to be. I was already swimming around “under the sea” with my violin. I was too busy to wonder who the kids “on land” liked. But I DEFINITELY knew who I wanted to be. I wanted to be Itzhak Perlman, perhaps the most accomplished violinist of our time. Please tell me you’ve heard of him. Even if not, you’ve definitely heard him play if you ever watched Schindler’s List. My awesome early violin teacher (Shout out to Beth Elliott ❤ ) lent me a VHS of him playing a concert when I was 9, and I was hooked. Unfortunately YouTube and iTunes didn’t exist, but I scrounged around to borrow CDs of him whenever I could.

My fixation sparked a quest to figure out how to  be just like him. Obviously, step 1 was to go to Juilliard. I knew he taught violin there. When I was 10, I looked up their audition requirements and made a list of all the pieces I needed to learn to audition. I checked them off one by one as the years passed. Step 2 was to go to a real concert and hear him in person. Mr. Perlman finally scheduled a concert in our area when I was 13-ish. He sells out everywhere, but my middle school violin teacher came to the rescue (thanks, Yuliya Smead! ❤ ).  Somehow Mom bought 2 tickets, and I was beyond myself with excitement. Until he canceled the concert. He’d experienced a death in the family so it was impossible to be angry. But I knew I probably wouldn’t see him again unless I left Wisconsin (very rarely do famous classical violinists book tour stops there).

Fast-forward to my time at Eastman. ( It’s a rival school to Juilliard.) When I was 16, I’d found an Eastman professor whom I admired so much that I had to learn from him, whatever it cost. But I hoped I’d still find a way to Itzhak Perlman, too. Sure enough, he made a visit during my freshman year. That concert made much more sense than the Wisconsin one since Eastman is such a well-known music school. My dream would come true this time for sure! Nope. His tickets started at $90. The box office workers barely concealed their contempt for all my questions. Was there a student rate? No. What about rush tickets? No. Could I hang around just in case someone no-showed? The lady’s glare told me it was time to go. Insult was added to my injury since Mr. Perlman performed in Kodak Theater. I played school orchestra rehearsals there every single day, and concerts once a month too. Now he was on that very stage, shining under the same warm golden stage lights, while I was shivering in the cold marble hall outside. The marble was sound-proof.

Seven years later, I live in San Jose. Can you guess who just played with the San Francisco Symphony? Can you guess who went? Yes and Yes!!! This was perhaps one of the most ill-advised gambles we’ve made so far, but I just HAD to go. I’d known about the concert since last fall, and been saving and planning ever since. You’d think the epilepsy explosion would have dissuaded me, but no. I didn’t care how much medication, blood tests, whatever. I was going to get better by May so I could go. A semi-unbalanced obsession with that concert tantalized – but probably also motivated – me as I fought through another brutal wave of recovery. Discovering that we’d reached the end of the medication road crushed some goals for me.  But I was going to get to that concert somehow. Playing my own concerts got taken from me, but there was no way that Perlman performance was going anywhere. I didn’t even care how many seizures I might have right as Ivan rolled my travel chair into the concert hall. Itzhak or bust!

So what happened?? Yes, I had a regrettably large number of seizures in the lobby, yes Ivan gave me the rescue drug, and yes, Ivan wanted us to go home. I didn’t care. 16 years of waiting was enough. An usher helped Ivan wheel me into my handicap spot and the lights went down. Mr. Perlman rolled out – in a wheelchair. I knew he had health problems throughout his life, but I wasn’t sure how often he performed in a wheelchair. His vulnerable entrance sent shivers down my spine given how hard I’d struggled just to get in the hall that afternoon. Mr. Perlman’s first piece was the perfection I’d imagined it would be. And then my heart skipped a giant beat. He was conducting the second piece himself, but I’d assumed he would stay in his chair. Not so. He turned to the regular conducting podium. That podium was almost four feet high, complete with large steps to reach the music stand on top. Mr. Perlman dragged himself upright so unsteadily that I wondered if he’d fall then and there. Orchestra members flinched…and I think everyone in the audience wanted someone, anyone to lend him a hand. Except for Mr. Perlman, apparently. He grabbed a pair of crutches before stubbornly twisting, wobbling, and hopping his way upward. There was a final, dangerous  sway even as he sat down in the chair. After a cursory bow to acknowledge thunderous applause for his unprecedented climb, he raised his hands and began milking a marvelous orchestral performance. I only had the strength to stay a few more minutes but I’d seen enough. My Superman is super in more ways than one. I’ve never felt more inspired in my entire life.

PS. It’s significant that my first performance as a soloist with a grown-up orchestra was the theme from Schindler’s List. I think I was 12 or 13 at the time, and I remember listening to Perlman over and over again as I practiced. Since then I’ve lost track of the number of times I performed that piece…with or without an orchestra. If you’re curious, you can check out this video of me and Ivan performing a contemporary version just a few months before the accident. Throughout the years I’ve always listened to recordings from my rehearsals and performances so I could compare them to, well…Perlman. Ya gotta keep learning from the best, right?

 

Salty and Sweet

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Pre-concert Posing..;)

I can’t settle for sadness – even when I cross a less-than-ideal finish line (in my case seizure med improvement). Settling for sadness just isn’t the solution. But a positive outlook doesn’t make moving forward a great experience 24/7. I caught my breath when this picture popped up on my Facebook “memories” feed a couple of weeks ago. It was the last time I soloed with an orchestra. For those of you who aren’t into the whole classical music thing, soloing opportunities are very rare. Young musicians typically have to compete for an opportunity, and the winning pieces are complex (they’re created to showcase the both the performer’s artistry as well as their technique).

The concert above took place only a couple of weeks before I graduated. I was 22, had the best boyfriend ever, was still completely in love with violin in spite of my health science major, and would get engaged only a month later (okay, so I didn’t know that part yet!). Another chance to solo with an orchestra was the icing on a perfect graduation cake. (My piece was Lalo’s Symphonie Espagnole if anyone’s wondering). While I forgot to ask Mom or Dad to record the performance, a friend must have snapped this pre-concert picture and posted it afterward. Hence why it popped up as a memory on my feed.

That beautiful memory of a beautiful afternoon actually hurt me. The photo hurt because it reminded me of a particular type of life experience that is gone for good. In the last 18-ish months, my main focus has been discovering the “new me” and what exciting things this new me is capable of. The journey has turned out to be a dichotomy so far. I’ll never leave the accident behind, so  it’s an integral part of the new me. But the accident also gave me most of the blessings I have now, so it’s fostered my new good side, weirdly enough. That picture is the old me, on the other hand. The old me is still part of who I am. I used to think it would be better to try forgetting the old me as I transitioned to the new me. It’s definitely easier to forget than to keep cycling through emotions as old memories pop up. But I was wrong. God gave me an exciting, messy, beautiful, first 23 years on earth. They’re worth hurting for sometimes, and definitely worth remembering all the time. I downloaded that picture. It’s staying on my iPhone for good.

The Deal with Dad

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He hasn’t changed much!

It’s time for the last (but not least) post in my “Family Tribute” series. In the vein of its being almost Mother’s Day, feel free to review Mom’s tribute too!

My dad is an exceptional manager.  December 2016 may well have been the ultimate challenge in his management career. Dad was the one who sprang into action and snagged those plane tickets I referenced in Mom’s post. In fact, he snagged them so quickly that he and Mom boarded the plane only a couple of hours after the initial phone call. Riverside found Dad by Ivan’s side as they untangled a baffling web of doctors and lawyers. Dad’s tenure in resort management followed by 20 years of pastoral experience (think TONS of hospital visitations!), provided the ideal skill set for organizing such a logistical nightmare.  Speaking of pastoral duties, that’s the other December puzzle Dad had to solve. Even if you’re not a regular church-goer, it’s easy to guess that Christmas is the year’s focal point for every church. There are extra children’s programs. There are extra community outreaches. There’ s the traditional Christmas Eve service. On top of all this, our church offers an early Christmas Morning service (although not all churches do that). My Dad only began caring for Hillside (his and now our church) in Summer 2016, so December 2016 was his first chance to tackle their particular Christmas agenda. And suddenly we needed him 24/7 in Riverside, about 400 miles south of where all the Hillside action was happening. Not ideal.

Since I was unconscious for a while and then woke up with the mental capacity of a toddler, I didn’t analyze how he managed so much multitasking. I know now that he was with us almost all the time at the hospital (so NOT in San Jose), and that he stuck with Ivan through thick and thin when it came to legal and medical affairs. Apparently there were some flights and drives to San Jose so Hillside remained functional, but I don’t really remember times when he was gone. I do remember a lot of phone calls. Most of those probably involved leading Hillside in absentia. While it’s only natural that both those parties regretted an untimely separation during the busiest time of the year, the amount of love and encouragement Dad received to place family above all else – that kind of church support seems almost supernatural.

(Here’s where I offer a GIANT shout out to the incredible Hillside congregation. In case you’re wondering, none of them had ever met me at the time of the accident.)

Unfortunately, a church can be without its pastor for only so long. Dad transitioned back to San Jose while I was still in the rehab hospital, but stayed connected with all my “firsts” through FaceTime, phone calls, and WhatsApp.  He made as many personal visits to Riverside as possible. FYI, it’s no small feat to leave a congregation mid-week PLUS prepare a sermon on the go. Poor Dad also lived by himself for five months. Pardon my repetition, but I have no idea how any husband and wife could be apart for so long under that level of stress. Like Mom, he never complained. (Side note – he did develop an uncanny emotional connection with their black cat during that time. We received several cat + Dad selfies that he should be VERY thankful we deleted). Moving on from the bizarre cat relationship though, Dad’s devotion to caring for us meant one final flight to Riverside in May. He flew down specifically to drive our moving truck to San Jose. I cannot begin to imagine how stressful – and stuffy – driving an old truck up the State of California at the beginning of a hot summer must have been. I felt bad enough that Ivan dealt with all my TBI problems alone for 7 hours, but at least we had fun music and reliable air conditioning.

Our transition to San Jose returned Dad’s physical presence to both his ministry at Hillside and his relationship with us. From hanging pictures in our new apartment, to taking me on Friday coffee dates, to making it to every ER trip (as well as my Stanford and Redwood City hospital stays), Dad makes all the difference. I can guess that his undivided attention makes all the difference for our Hillside family, too. From me, Ivan, Mom, and Hillside – any deal with Dad is the best deal ever!

 

 

A Brand New Doc – But All Those Meds!

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Dinner is served…

It’s time for another seizure update! My current epileptologist is retiring in May, and we connected with my new doctor this past Monday. I had met her before in late November (the whole Redwood City team works closely together), so Ivan and I didn’t think the transition would be too awkward. Instead, we were excited for an extra in-person appointment since those always make communication more direct and accurate. Monday seemed like the perfect opportunity to share our current and long-term goals – and to keep raising my medication until those goals became reality. In case you’re wondering, my short term goals were 1) to not get triggered in the daytime if I’m wearing my protective sunglasses (yes, that still happens sometimes) and 2) to be able to go out after dark (currently I can’t do that at all). The long term goal was ZERO seizures per week (and hopefully no more sunglasses). I did pray about the appointment, but I wasn’t too worried since my goals seemed like no-brainers.

The great news is that my new doctor is delighted with all my progress since January. Going from twenty seizures a week to one or two seizures a week IS pretty impressive, after all (shout out first to God and then to my old doctor!). She thinks my current medications are the right ones for my type of epilepsy. That’s also a praise, since switching medications is really difficult for both my brain and the rest of my body. What Ivan and I did NOT expect to learn is that I’ve already maxed out the healthy dosage levels for all my medications. Basically, we need to settle for one to two seizures a week for the long haul. There’s no arguing with dead brain cells or a specialized type of epilepsy, but settling for anything less than ideal is the opposite of how I’m wired.

Don’t settle. That’s been my working motto since middle school at least – although I was a bit older when I finally put words to it. Rewinding back to way WAY before the accident, “Don’t Settle” propelled me to New York when I was accepted to study violin at one of the top music schools in the United States. Only three years earlier, a notable pre-college violin teacher told me my technique was so poor she didn’t know if I had any talent. Thankfully I didn’t settle for that.

After a couple of years I chose to move back to California for personal and religious reasons…and “Don’t Settle” moved back with me, too. I’m bad at both science and math but I wanted a stable job after I graduated college. The job aspiration led to my major in healthcare administration – a degree which falls under the “Health Science” umbrella. Somehow I survived biology, physics, and statistics before graduating. I also added biostatistics to that list once I started grad school. (I got A’s in everything except physics.)

My point in sharing these experiences is not to showcase how awesome I am; as a flawed human being, I am anything but awesome in a lot of areas. Instead, I’m sharing a few highs to illustrate God’s intricate handiwork in designing my life. God used all those “Don’t Settle” moments as bootcamp for the biggest battle yet: the accident. I didn’t want to settle either for life in a wheelchair or life walking poorly, so I developed an OCD physical therapy regime (think multiple hours a day 7 days a week), as soon as I got home from the hospital. A crippled left hand didn’t sound worth settling for, either. I never regained sensation (dead brain cells don’t come back to life!), but committed hand practice at home made it so functional that I sometimes forget I can’t feel it.

Naturally, I assumed “Don’t Settle” would fix my seizure problem, too. It had worked for everything else. Hearing that we’d reached the end of medication options caught me so off guard I had no idea what to do. Wallowing in disappointment felt well-earned that Monday night and some of Tuesday – until God reminded me not to settle. I might have to settle for ongoing brain issues but I did NOT have to settle for ongoing attitude issues. The first step in not settling was giving thanks. First of all, I needed to tell God, my family  (and finally you all), the great parts about Monday.  It was a blessing my new doctor was so excited about the progress I’ve made since January. Happy doctors are always a good sign! One to two seizures a week is certainly not the end of the world…it leaves plenty of time to enjoy fun things. Not being able to go out at night is a bummer, but at least it’s Daylight Savings Time right now. I’ve already experimented with safe daytime outings, and there are plenty more we can add to my growing list!

God’s spent a lot of time teaching me not to settle in music, school, and recovery. I guess it’s time to ask for His strength to not settle with a negative attitude, either. He knows best!

PS Super thanks if you made it to the end of this long post! 🙂

¡495 Pages in Spanish!

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Long-term memory for the win!

 

It’s a little-known fact that I studied Spanish Literary Translation  along with violin performance during my time in New York. Violin was obviously the reason I went to Rochester, but literature has always been my second love – and Spanish, my third. It made sense to start working on a translation certificate as a side gig since musicians are famous for needing the occasional financial “pick me up”.

It’s a better-known fact that I have a severe traumatic injury (TBI). I have residual deficits, but significantly fewer than predicted. My lingual abilities should be reduced,  so I’ve consistently surprised doctors by testing much higher than a normal level for grad students my age.

So what have I been doing during my six months of solitude? Reading. Reading a lot. In addition to all my English reading ( ❤ ❤ ❤ ), I decided it might be fun to check on  my Spanish skills. Ivan (always the attentive husband) caught on to my curiosity and surprised me with a copy of Cien Años de Soledad, the Nobel Prize-winning novel by Gabriel García Márquez. (The title translates as “100 Years of Solitude”.) I’d enjoyed this novel – in English – as a college freshman,  but it was my first attempt in the original Spanish. Also, I’d forgotten much of the plot, so the probability of reading via cheating was low. Guess what? Good ole’ long-term memory kicked in, and I just finished it yesterday. Oh, and it was 495 pages long. Some honest disclaimers: 1) it took me 2.5 months (slow for me) and 2) it turned into half reading “normally” and half translating (my Spanish skills are way rustier than they were 5 years ago!).

It’s an entirely unknown fact that I woke up from the accident unable to read at all. I remember one morning when I glanced around my hospital room  and was startled both that I could read again and also that I’d been unaware  I couldn’t read before. Until that moment I’d taken for granted that all those signs and labels around me were filled with jumbled, meaningless letters. I was too groggy to remember those letters actually meant something to everyone else, and too groggy to care they meant nothing to me.  Then, one morning I woke up and suddenly realized all those letters made words – words I understood. “Huh,” I thought. “I guess I couldn’t read before.” I was still too groggy to think it was a big deal and I forgot to tell anyone what had happened. Friends and family (unaware of the situation) brought me some books to read in the hospital, but it was still too much brain work to make it through even one page. I quickly gave up trying.  To go from struggling with a page of my native language to reading an entire,  complex novel in a second language is a giant gift from the Lord. I still can’t believe how much He continues to bless my recovery!

Now, to work on those speaking skills…

PS. In case you’re wondering, the title “100 years of solitude” is ironic only by accident. I don’t compare my current semi-solitude with 100 years of solitude in any way 😉

PPS. We’ll be sure to keep sharing seizure updates as they develop.

To Mom, With Love

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I’m not the only one she mothers!

No matter how much I write about Mom, I hope you realize this is only a teaspoon of what she deserves. In fact, her sacrifices could probably take up a whole blog of their own, but since she’s not a blogger (and would definitely NOT spend time posting about her own activities), my attempt will have to do.

You probably know the beginning of our story: Mom and Dad bartered for plane tickets as soon as they got a vague phone call about my accident, even though they thought I “only” had a concussion and two broken legs. Some parents might have waited to get the final prognosis, or at least settled for a flight the following day since it didn’t sound life threatening, but not mine. Mom and Dad rushed down so they could support me that very same day. Their urgency was God-given since by the time they made it to SoCal I was on life support in the ICU.

Even so, Mom couldn’t have known that flight marked the temporary end of her comfy life in San Jose…or the beginning of her calling to live apart from her husband and church for the next five months. That’s one thing I can say about Mom. From my earliest memories, she was always a devoted caregiver. She knew how to make the worst sicknesses (think chicken pox, countless flus, plus two eye surgeries) as comfortable as possible. Mom’s best medicines were extra yummy foods and fun games…medicines which always worked! Our family vacations were devoted to helping out my grandparents as they aged. I didn’t enjoy that very much as a kid who just wanted to have fun, but looking back I see a beautiful picture of Mom’s heart. I also have to give a shout out to my Dad, who was a great supporter of her desire to help.

In spite of her caregiver talents Mom is disturbed by grosser mishaps like broken bones or open wounds, so my trauma presented a significant challenge. But God filled her with extraordinary abilities as she faced extraordinary need. Mom accepted my skull fracture, half bald head, disgusting leg incisions, and infected G tube site with almost miraculous grace. I’m sure she was entirely grossed out on the inside, but she suppressed it so well that I never saw even a hint. (Side note – Ivan dealt with the most nitty-gritty wound cleaning when he got home at night, but she still had to deal with – and look at – all my problems when he was gone).

Mom’s superpowers are even more amazing because she had almost no emotional support or “me time” for 5 months. While Ivan and I were extremely grateful for her soothing presence, he was gone almost all the time working and I was the cause of all her stress. I was definitely not the outlet for relieving it. True, she got to call Dad around once a day and Anna stopped by whenever she could, but I doubt that scratched the surface of what Mom needed. Oh – she couldn’t even go to church because Ivan worked at one on Sundays and it was unsafe for me to be alone.

Fast-forward to San Jose. Mom finally reunited with Dad (hurray!!!), but her caregiver job was far from over. She and I embarked on a second voyage of doctor’s appointments and therapy visits, plus the additional challenge of seizure management and more hospitalization. While Dad and Ivan took care of as much as they could, full-time jobs obviously limited what they could do. Mom picked up the slack with the same brave commitment that she’d always shown.

To say “thank you” is not enough. In fact, my best “Thank you for ___” is a run-on sentence since she’s still working for and with us every week. One thing has changed, though. Mom is finally doing something for herself after 25 years. She was a successful accountant before I was born but gave up her career to raise her children. What was not part of the plan was her oldest child’s return to needing full-time care before her younger one finished college. However, after much thought and prayer, Mom’s accepted an opportunity to return to her field – albeit part time. She still checks on me every day and devotes extended periods to helping me on her days off. But I’m delighted to watch her begin investing in her own interests again. I love you, Mom.

 

Latest Seizure News + A Week in the Life

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Heading home from a church visit…and yay SPRING!

It’s fitting to start a new week with a new update. Y’all are more than due one – especially with all the amazing love and prayers we receive every single week! I wear a big smile as I write this. That smile is because this post is even more positive than the last (kinda) positive update we shared. All those little changes I referenced last time continue multiplying. We’re increasing my medication every two weeks (that’s how long it takes for a dose to kick in), but with each increase comes an increase in ability. This increase in ability might be something as simple as not freaking out every time my Instagram generates an unexpected flashing ad or going for a daytime car ride without an over-anxious driver (yay Mom, Dad, and Ivan!). The doctors request that a family member take me on short outings to test each new dose. My safety level at home is generally stable, so they can only know how much work still needs to be done by pushing the boundaries outside. Honestly, I hate the possibility of having a seizure in public (yes it happens and yes it’s embarrassing).  Nevertheless, if that’s what it takes to keep getting better then I’m sticking with the program. The heightened activity level also reminded us that I do still have the attending symptoms of my traumatic brain injury, so we include those factors in choosing appropriate outings, too.

Here’s a  “week in the life” snapshot, created just for you 🙂

  • High: Going to church is a Sunday morning option again
  • Low: The most recent church visit was unsuccessful, plus I skipped all Easter services to avoid extra crowds and noise
  • High: Mom and I might make a brief coffee run (think mostly to-go orders)
  • Low: My recent attempt at going to a new restaurant lasted only 7 minutes before I had to leave (this was actually TBI related)
  • High: I can watch some TV shows again
  • Low: Ivan throws a pillow in front of my face if there’s a scene with a lot of light; also TV commercials are a giant NO
  • High: I can take brief walks in our quiet neighborhood (daytime only)
  • Low: Stores are pretty much off-limits

Hopefully this gives y’all an accurate picture of our current life. To end with a Chronicles of Narnia quote: “Further up and further in!” 🙂

“I” is for Incredible!

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I hear he’s incredible at teaching, too! 🙂

“I” is for incredible and Ivan, and Ivan is the next stop on my “family tribute” series. There’s already a much-abridged summary of things he faced in Year One (if you missed it you can check it out here.) Tomorrow is the last day of his first Spring Break at VCS, and I’m beyond proud of how he’s managing a full-time teaching load (junior high and high school!), while facing our rollercoaster home life with courage and grace. To slightly alter a Taylor Swift lyric: “We don’t love the drama but the drama loves us!”. Instead of dashing off a generic “Day in the Life of Ivan Utomo” post, I’d rather draw you all a concept picture of why he’s the greatest guy in the entire world (from my perspective! <3)

 

“I” is also for integrity – which Ivan has in spades. He chose me on the deepest level that day he proposed in Golden Gate Park (San Francisco – for those who were wondering!). Since our wedding took place only days after his 23rd birthday and I was still 22, you can imagine the number of raised eyebrows. We said we wanted to be together forever, but just words won’t make dreams come true. How could we make that kind of permanent commitment so young? Our choice was founded on God’s help as well as our own love, though, and a fairly decent “starter life” didn’t hurt. I was headed for grad school and Ivan was finishing grad school. We understood each other’s fields and were enthusiastic for each other’s opportunities. We could support ourselves financially. But then the accident. Ivan had a disabled, brain-injured wife and he was still only 23. We had our first anniversary in the hospital.

This would have been a prime time for anyone to rethink his “I do”. Ivan was (and is!) extremely gifted and his whole life was still ahead of him. I was his only obstacle. Honestly, we lost track of the number of people who asked if he would stay, especially during those early months. But one of the qualities that made me fall in love with Ivan is his integrity. He had promised God we would be together forever just like he’d promised me, and he kept his word. He faced more than just living with me, though. The Bible calls a Christian husband to protect his wife and provide for her. Since we were both employed and enjoyed a stable lifestyle when we got married, that didn’t seem like such a big deal. It was more like a “be nice to Grace and keep her safe” kind of deal. But then we lost everything and it turned into a “take care of a disabled girl, pay the rent, put food on the table, finish grad school, and find a full-time job” kind of deal. “Overwhelming” is an understatement. Do you know I’ve never heard Ivan complain about that deal during our journey, not even once? He’s 25 now, his face looks more tired than it did, but he carries himself much taller. I’m pretty sure his integrity is taller, too. Ivan trusted God, and God is sculpting him into a much stronger man than I could have imagined. I admit we still have a super long way to go before a lifetime is over, but I’m positive he’ll be incredible every step of the way.

Still Okay..

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I have no idea what the total number of cards received is, but THANK YOU! ❤

Last January I remember getting a card from a little boy at Hillside. Besides a cute drawing, the only message on the inside was: “Dear Grace, I hope you are okay. Are you okay?” The card was hilariously cute and sweet…you can tell since I remember it over a year later in spite of TBI! But the kid actually had a good question.

Accidents produce trauma. Trauma – especially extreme trauma – can produce mental and emotional disorders. There is absolutely nothing wrong with this and I stand in full support of anyone who suffers these, as well as anything that offers them healing. On the flip side, though, it is possible to end up okay. Way back in the rehab hospital, both Ivan and I were interviewed by a psychiatrist to screen for developing mental health disorders. We tested as normal. Over the past year and a half there have been several other doctors who ordered psychiatric testing because they didn’t think it was possible to stay mentally healthy in the face of everything we’ve gone through. Ivan got some questions along the way, too. Although a healing TBI  changes my mood and mental processing to an extent, in the big picture I still screened negative for PTSD and its co-morbidities. Since I’ve  turned out “okay” my treatment team is confronted with the unsettling reality that science can’t explain everything about how I function. That’s because my mental wellness is based on something greater than the physiological.  Both Ivan and I believe that God will always be faithful to us. True, we can’t explain why the accident happened, but we know God has a plan…and that at the end we’ll finally understand how and why it was good. This is why we can be peaceful and even happy.  I was listening through the songs below this morning and got super inspired to write a new post (I am a musician, you know). Even if you’re not a Christian, feel free to explore and see the world through our eyes for a couple of minutes. It’s refreshing to hear a different voice capture the essence of what keeps us going.

Any real relationship is raw and weird sometimes – even a relationship with God. Catastrophe highlights the raw side, but we trust our questions won’t last forever

That is why we can trust our questions won’t last forever.

Here is our guaranteed happy ending. (Yes, the song was written after the artist heard our story, but we’re so grateful it’s sung for far more people than we could ever talk with.)

The happy ending is why we’re okay.

Let’s Hear It for the Girl!

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The journey we’ve shared with you for the past 15 months is about more than just me and Ivan. It’s about my (blog-shy) family as well. I hope to spotlight all of them in the near future, but Anna is the first one to give me the green light. 😉

The best place to start is her age. Anna was only 20 when the accident happened, right in the middle of her junior year of undergrad. Her dedication was paying off already – she planned to graduate early in spite of majoring in applied statistics (with an emphasis in biology). My only explanation for her crazy degree is that she’s super smart and super okay with studying all day, every day. These details lay a decent foundation for her side of the story, so let’s skip to the exciting parts.

December 3rd could not have come at a worse time for Anna. Her finals were scheduled for the following couple of weeks, and they were pretty intimidating. I think one was in microbiology. While the faculty at CBU were extremely sympathetic both to our tragedy and all the lectures she needed to skip, the best advice they offered was to withdraw from the semester and start again in the spring. From their perspective, such a talented student shouldn’t hazard any bad grades on her transcript – especially since Anna was headed for grad school. Their opinion made sense for most student types, except that Anna isn’t like most students. She’s stubborn as well as intelligent. Instead of withdrawing, she carved out time to study in the ICU, in her portion of midnight vigils, and in various neurological and step-down units. She made straight A’s.

Anna’s degree didn’t get any easier in the spring semester, but somehow she managed to visit almost every day while we lived in Riverside (our apartment was close to her school). We incurred an unfortunate number of urgent care runs in February and Anna made it to Kaiser for all of them (laptop in tow). As I grew stronger she took me on short outings like haircuts and ice cream runs. Wrangling a wheel chair didn’t bother her, and she also wasn’t afraid to supervise a walker or cane once I was strong enough to walk. Somehow she did well on her spring finals too.

The summer flew by since Anna was given a full-time, high intensity statistics internship, but at least we both lived in San Jose at that point. She was there for me as often as possible in spite of an unfamiliar and demanding work environment. Her return to Riverside in the fall was bittersweet, but I knew Anna was excited to finish her degree. Apparently it wasn’t enough just to be a student, though. She kept up with her summer job remotely, this time as a real contractor instead of as a student intern. She graduated in December magna cum laude – and yes, she did it a semester early after all.

Anna’s success story doesn’t even end there. She started as a full time-time analyst for a major healthcare entity last Monday, and still plans to apply for grad school this fall. Pretty impressive for a 21 year-old, don’t you think? She’s probably a little embarrassed by this post and would definitely tell you all these blessings are gifts from God. I agree with her, but I still think it takes an amazing individual to overcome devastating odds and succeed at both school and work – all while putting God and her family first. Thank you, Anna!