Grace: Last Wednesday, Ivan took me in for my 6-month neuropsychological evaluation. For those of you who might be wondering, neuropsychology is “the study of the relationship between behavior, emotion, and cognition on the one hand, and brain function on the other.” Don’t feel bad – I definitely had to Google that one too! 🙂 The short story is that the right frontal-lobe brain injury (TBI) I suffered at the time of the accident, combined with the damage from the 2 strokes, produces…well…issues. As in lots of issues. The projected recovery time for my level of TBI is 2 years, but during that time I am being followed by neuropsych to monitor the healing process as time passes. So, I had one test back in January before I was discharged from the hospital, my 6-month follow-up was last Wednesday, and I will have a concluding series of tests in December 2018 to determine what my final level of brain function will be, as well as to identify any permanent deficits that may remain.
So…what exactly happened last Wednesday? I had a four hour series of tests. Four hours. And by tests, I mean active tests, not passive medical testing like an MRI or a blood test or something. The questions were endless: computer tests, memory games, vocabulary, math, puzzles, and much much more….thankfully, so much more that I don’t even remember most of it at this point! I don’t think I ever took four hours of tests in college or when I started grad school, so it is both humorous and odd to me that they decided to use that method to test an injured brain. But oh well, I’m definitely not a doctor, and I digress…
Ivan: The term the neuropsychologist used to describe Grace’s current condition is a “neurocognitive disorder”–that is, Grace is having cognitive difficulties caused by neurological reasons. At this point, Grace pretty much looks perfectly fine from the outside; but this term is a good reminder that Grace still has a lot of healing that needs to happen on the inside, in her brain. At the risk of stating the obvious, this healing is physical healing–not merely emotional, behavioral, or volitional. Throughout the two-year window of time that Grace mentioned, the brain will actively continue trying to heal itself by re-establishing the complex network of connections that make it possible for the different parts of the brain to communicate with each other.
This morning, Grace and I met with her neuropsych doctor, who went over the results of the intensive testing from last Wednesday. From the tests, he was able to gather that Grace had a very high-functioning brain before the accident (I could’ve told him that ;)). He was then able to compare Grace’s current condition to her “old” condition. What we discovered is that Grace’s intelligence, specifically her language skills, are pretty much just as solid as before. The areas which have declined are her mental processing speed and visual-spatial skills. Grace is now slower at processing incoming information, and slower at producing synthesized information. She also has a hard time making sense of visual information, which, for example, means that if she looks at a menu at Peet’s, she might as well be looking at hieroglyphics.
From our therapists and other doctors, we have also learned that Grace has lost the ability to filter out extraneous information. For example, if you were sitting in a coffee shop reading a book, there might be all sorts of conversations going on around you, machines would be making all sorts of noises, music might be playing through the overhead speakers, but you would be able to tune all of that out in order to focus on your book (or you might put in some earbuds and then read). Grace’s brain has a hard time doing that..imagine if your brain was trying to make sense of each and every bit of noise, sound, information, stimuli in a crowded public space…it would simply be too much.
Grace’s sense of time has also been impaired–five minutes can sometimes feel like twenty, making it even more difficult to “survive” in certain public situations (even church..). It can also be understandably stressful to not be able to gauge how long any given task will take. You or I might think, “Today I need to do this, then that, then this, then that, and I should be done by such and such a time.” But with impaired time perception, maybe it might feel like you only had ten minutes to do your taxes!
Fortunately, with most of the cognitive “speed bumps” listed above, the neuropsych doctor explained that these are typical for people with severe head injuries. Though he can’t tell how much Grace will get back, he was fairly certain that Grace will continue to recover throughout the next 18 months or so. Grace and I, and our families, are grateful for new information and insights which will help us better understand and navigate through our situation. We are, as always, ever more and more grateful for your love, prayers, and support! And we will continue trusting in our loving, sovereign, faithful, powerful, gracious and merciful God. To Him be the glory! 🙂