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Blog: Survivor Stories

'Judging' Her Progress - How a Nebraska Judge Found a New Normal after Aneurysm

July 31, 1985, looking at the ceiling from the hospital bed, now in a regular room, not ICU.  I am thankful that I am going to live.  I look around, there are flowers, someone sent me flowers.  But no one arranged them, they are haphazardly stuck in a vase.  Weird.  That is just not right.

I look at the menu.  Try as I might, I cannot read it.  The nurse comes in.  Strangely, she has two eyes, a nose, and a mouth, but I cannot figure out what she looks like.  Panic seeps into me.  What have I lost?  How much have I lost? 

Will I be able to care for my two kids?  Will I be able to drive?  Will I be able to practice law?  Is my life as I knew it over?  Will Rich still love me?  How will we pay the bills?  Rich walks in.  I recognize him. In his presence, I am calmer.

The neurosurgeon said that the first week there would be daily improvement, regular improvement for three months, at 6 months improvement would continue, but at a year I needed to start accepting the loss, although improvement could continue for up to 3 years.  I translated his statement into “I will not know what I will be able to do for a whole year!”  Then he stated that he believed I would be able to return to my profession, law practice and county attorney as he believed the cognitive portion of my brain had not been injured.  Good news.  He told Rich to go to the library and pick out any audiobook with a legal subject.   Rich did.  I listened.  What a happy moment when I realized I understood it and was ready to take the information and act on it.  My brain in that area worked!!!!

I still could not read.  I could just pick out words. It was better and I could think legal.  What joy!!  Rich and I hopped on the plane for Nebraska, and home.  People still floated by me rather than walking.  I still had trouble with recognizing people.  I could read sentences, but very slowly.  I could not sort a junk drawer.

Before I left the hospital, the Doc told me to go back to work as soon as I was strong enough.  “What if I cannot do it?”  His advice was to keep at it for 6 months.  Then ask a close friend in the legal field.  That friend will tell you how you are doing.

I followed his advice.  I went back to work, walking my two-year-old to the sitters and then walking on to work.  I walked to the courthouse.  I got “on my horse and rode again”.  It was frightening.  I would go home exhausted from the strain.  I did visual therapy with a speech therapist.  What a wonderful person.

At 6 months, my judge friend told me I was fine, and I was fine.  At one year, the governor of the State of Nebraska appointed me as a county judge in the 13th Judicial District of Nebraska.   Twelve years later, I was appointed to serve as a district judge in the 12th Judicial District.  I served as a judge for 22 years.  I still do not read a fast as I did.  Reading a fax was extremely difficult because of my lack of visual closure.  I cannot assemble a toy at Christmas time without help from another person.  I am terrible at deciphering diagrams.  I am thankful that my brain was able to compensate for my losses. 

My personal dreams were fulfilled.  Rich stayed with me.  My children grew up to be responsible adults.  We were able to pay our bills.  And the most amazing part is my professional dreams came true.  I was able to serve and serve well the people of Nebraska for 22 years in the judiciary.  I thank all the good people who believed in my ability and were not dissuaded by my lost ability.  I would not wish a brain injury on anyone, but a brain injury is not the end of one’s life, it is the beginning of seeing and experiencing life in a wonderful new way.

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