I just watched Bob Woodruff on Oprah. On January 26, 2006, he and fellow ABC newsman Doug Vogt were on assignment in Iraq and were hit by a roadside bomb. Woodruff was seriously injured and just now, over a year later, he is returning to work. As I listened to him describe the way his life was affected following the traumatic brain injury he received, I saw glimpses of a not-so-distant time in my own life, and I could relate to him in a way.
I wasn't hit by a bomb, but in January 1999, my brain was attacked by Neisseria meningitidis causing bacterial meningitis, which then progressed to septicemia (blood poisoning). For two days, I was unconscious and my family didn't know if I would live or die.
But I woke up, and spent six more days in the hospital and many weeks at home, recovering. When Bob said he had problems identifying common objects, I understood. In the days following my return to this world, I had difficulty doing the simplest things. When writing words, I would come to a letter - e, for example - and I would have to stop and think how to form it with my pen. I would be in the middle of a sentence, and while I could think it in my head, making it come out my mouth was quite another matter. The thought might be in there and I'd have trouble verbalizing it, or I would get halfway through telling something and stop because the entire thought just disappeared. I had never had a problem verbalizing anything in my life, and it was frightening.
Looking back, I can tell anyone who is going through this to just have patience, it will come. But at the time, it was alarming to think I might never again be able to function as I did before. I feared that I might not return to my job as a dental hygienist, which required precise small motor skills. Not only did my recovery require patience on my part, but those around me needed a large dose of it as well. There really was nothing to be done but to give the nerve cells time to heal and relearn their functions - and nerves heal slowly. Some never do, but the body is amazing, the brain in particular, because cells can learn to do things they were never meant to, when pressed into service.
Severity of injury affects the recovery time, to be sure, but like Woodruff, one year was a milestone. It took about that long for me to say I was back to normal, or as normal as I was likely to get. I do have some residual effects from the meningitis, but thanks to my wonderful infectious disease doctors (Nohinek, Schomogyi, and Smith-Elekes in Fort Wayne, IN) and the hundreds of prayers said on my behalf, I am here and can enjoy life far better than the majority of those unfortunate enough to be overcome by this deadly bacteria.
Bob Woodruff is amazed at the miracles that have taken place in his life, and so am I. Amazed and thankful. Welcome back, Bob. You've come a long way.