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Thursday, 7 July 2011

My Brain AVM Story: Dark Humour

Sometimes dark humour helps...
I mentioned elsewhere how my sense of humour is kind of dark. I come by that honestly, and it came in handy when I was in stroke rehabilitation, after my brain AVM surgery.

All names are changed in this entry.

Summer in Penatanguishene General Hospital


At PGH, I was the youngest person there by at least 30 years for all but 3 of the weeks that I spent there. No one had heard of a brain AVM; some residents had had a stroke, but most were recovering from hip and knee replacement surgeries. The only real contact I had with young people was when one of the nurses who was just a bit older than me took me on outings with her friends (wheelchair and all); we went to the movies, to her place to hang out with her friends, and even to see her husband play in his band. Dad came to take me home every weekend, but it was really nice to get out with young people. I wouldn’t have had much of a summer without Callie and the generosity of her family and friends.

Arts and Crafts in Ottawa Rehabilitation Centre


At ORC, the demographics were different. Many more people were closer to my age; Helene and Tracey were both younger than I was. Several people were getting physiotherapy and occupational therapy after vehicular accidents. Many people, some younger than I, were there to recover from stroke, brain injury, or other related neurological conditions. Again, no one had heard of a brain AVM.

A group of us ate meals in the cafeteria and hung out together when we could. One night we all got bored and decided that we’d go to the Arts and Craft session that was being run by volunteers. They were doing Christmas centrepieces that night, making us glue little bits of Christmas paraphernalia to a rolled-up scroll with a ribbon on it.

Angela (my best friend at Rehabilitation Centre #2) looked over at Nick halfway through. Nick was in his mid-thirties, and trying to regain use of his dominant arm. The rest of us had been diplomatically silent about the fact that he’d abandoned the instruction sheet and was just gluing tinsel and Christmas cut-outs and glitter randomly all over his centrepiece. But Angela's stoke had made her pretty blunt.

“Nick,” she said. “That is God-awful. Seriously, what are you doing?”

“It’s horrendous, isn’t it?” said Nick, shaking green sparkles onto a line of glue. “I’m going to give it to my mother. And if she doesn’t put it out every year, I’m going to act all huffy and insulted that she didn’t put out the decoration that I made just for her in rehab.” He grinned widely.

“You’re a terrible son,” I said.

“Oh, most definitely. Someone pass the stickers, please.”

Cry or Scream


We found ways to make ORC fun, but by definition it wasn’t really a fun place. Some of the people were recovering from some pretty devastating stuff. None of it was joking material, but there were quite a few that joked anyway. Not all the time. But I saw that dark humour that I’d used (still use) to make some situations in my life easier to deal with.

There’s a beautiful sequence from the television show “M.A.S.H”., where Hawkeye explains that if it seems like he’s cracking a joke every time he opens his mouth, it’s because he’s trying to keep from screaming. That quote is never very far from my mind. I wonder how many people are actually doing this on a daily basis, whether they realize it or not.

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