Thursday, April 7, 2016

Traumatic Brian Injury

It's been almost three years since the accident.
Three whole years.

Not a single day has gone by that I don't think about or miss how things were before, but I rarely tell anyone.  Riley has been my miracle and holds me the days that I get down about it and just miss my senses or feel stupid.

I don’t remember the accident really... I was longboarding at night with my brother using the jeep headlights for light and crashed on the skateboard. I fractured my skull had bleeding and swelling inside my brain and lost my ability to smell and taste. I had blood and cerebrospinal fluid coming out of my ear and developed a nasty bruise behind my ear. The summer following is a blur. Dizzy. Painful. Light hurt. Noise hurt. I watched a season, maybe more than that... Of Vampire Diaries. . . but I couldn't tell you the plot or even the characters now. My memory is in fragments. I was deaf in one ear and everything, everything was harder than before. 

I remember going to church after the accident and being so dizzy and broken. It was fast sunday. I told myself I couldn't live like this for another month.

A month past though. I lived. I keep living. I saw improvements slowly. I would rub my fingers together on one hand and hear them on one side, but nothing on the other. After two months, I could hear my fingers rubbing on both sides. It was slow. Learning was harder. Reading was harder. Speaking was harder. I felt so limited and self conscious and dumb. 

I had a bottle of lavender by my bedside. I would try and smell it everyday at home. Nothing. Nothing. I stopped trying after awhile it was just depressing. 

I didn't know if I should go back to school or not. I just felt handicapped and didn't know if I could do my classes. I went back though to finish out my last year of college. My personality seemed different, I laughed less and wasn't as reckless. Which is probably a good thing. My roommate from before the accident, Ashey, told others I was different and slower. I cried in classes more than once.

I met Riley though, he said we met on his first day back. I don't remember that, but I do remember the second time we met and everyday after. He is my miracle and gives me a reason to smile and laugh every day. I truly believe God put him in my life to help me through and forget myself. 

Living without smell and taste is still really hard. People say if they couldn't taste they would "eat so healthy!" But really... Try living here where food cost are outrageous and "healthy food" is over double that. Do you really want to spend all that hard earned money on food that you really can't enjoy? If it wasn't for Riley I would just eat chips every single day. Texture and temperature is all I got, and visual which is good.  My brain can't tell the flavors. But my mouth reacts to sour and tons of salt. I love hot sauce too. It burns my lips. I put tabasco sauce on everything. Even on my oatmeal, just to enjoy it and for a sensation.

Our culture is so food oriented. Its unbelievable. We eat and have dinner parties and get together and eat and cook and talk about diets and what restaurants are the best and your favorite thing to cook and cravings. Food sustains us and is a topic of discussion every single day with everyone. I just pretend and go along with it, I try to block out the pain and hurt and the void from missing that sense and ability to relate.  

I miss smelling way more though. . . I think this surprises most people. Smelling goes hand and hand with memories. Hiking in the mountains without the smells of the outdoors is so different. A bonfire without a smell isn't the same experience. I miss hugging someone and smelling them, or the smell of sunday dinner after church. I wish I knew what I smelled like... If my clothes really are clean and if my towel is sour or not. I use to love to pick out the best smelling shampoo or would put lotion under my nose to smell it all day... but picking out new deodorant and soap and showering is so hard. I normally avoid those isles in the store even. 

I've learned only true friends and family tell me if I stink. True friends ask you if you put on deodorant today, or that your skirt smells like mildew or that you should brush your teeth. Pee yew. I appreciate these more than people know, and the best compliment is that I smell good. 

I decided to eat my shampoo one day after my accident, I figured if I couldn't smell or taste it. . . might as well. It still burnt my esophagus on the way down. I don't recommend trying it. 

Some days are harder than others. I know another lady that has this problem, she got ran over by a car. She snorted little bits of cocaine (under the direction of her doctor) to try and reestablish connection with the neurons and brain. It hasn't worked out for her. I still have hope though one day technology will advance and regrowing this nerve will happen. I got a blessing I would get it back one day, so maybe. If not... I'm way pumped for the resurrection. Hopefully, they have fresh peaches in heaven.

I know I am rambling on. I haven't even got to the coolest part. I was writing all this out on tuesday and was feeling depressed and alone. I was working with Brian and just cried in the library and feeling sorry for myself. 

The library closed for devotional and I wiped my face and put on a smile. I met Riley and we walked together with Brian to attend devotional. It was Matthew S. Holland & Paige B. Holland speaking (the apostles son). His message was just for me. It was so inspired and I felt God's love overcome me and I knew how much Heavenly Father loved and knew me personally. It was as if his words were coming from the savior directly for me.

These were the words that spoke to me, and I want to remember forever. They are also great for anyone that has ever had a trial and things haven't worked out and you can't understand why:

I feel impressed to say that someone is sitting in this audience right now who is struggling with the fact that despite believing the gospel with all of your heart, and striving to live as best you can, you are not happy now. Instead, you are really quite sad, even down-right discouraged.

 I also feel impressed to say that if the person I have just described is not you, it just may be you at some point, or possibly several points, in your earthly journey. To my friend struggling today, and those who might struggle in the future, let me spend the remainder of our time together teaching one final principle.  I will do so through the story of the Provo Tabernacle.

The old tabernacle in Provo was completed in 1898. It took years of sacrifice and effort to build it. Then, for more than a century, it stood as the ecclesiastical, communal, and cultural heart of Utah Valley, home to hundreds of thousands righteous Latter-day Saints. 

Blessed and dedicated for a mighty and sacred mission by George Q. Cannon, the tabernacle has received virtually every prophet of God from Lorenzo Snow to Thomas S. Monson to bear powerful testimony of the Savior. Even before it was dedicated, the tabernacle was put to sacred use by the Church, serving as home to General Conference in 1886 and 1887 when the Church was facing challenges with federal polygamy raids—the only time the Church has, since the move west, held its church-wide conference outside of Salt Lake City. 

This is to say nothing of the thousands of stake conferences held there for nearly a century and a half.   

I attended dozens of those conferences myself. Twice a year, for many years, both as a young boy and an adult, I climbed up the old spiral staircases to sit in the expansive balcony and be taught by inspired leaders. It was also the site of other memorable moments, like a regional cub scout essay contest, my seminary graduation, a moving patriotic service, sensational concerts of sacred and secular music, a heartwarming National Day of Prayer event, and more than one funeral of someone I loved and admired deeply. Like thousands of others in the Provo area, I absolutely treasured that building for its historic beauty and looming role in my spiritual and civic development.  

Thus it was nothing less than a personal and public tragedy when, during the night of December 16, 2010, the tabernacle caught on fire and was almost destroyed in its entirety. That evening, the tabernacle had been bustling with activity for the final rehearsal for a Christmas concert called Gloria, a musical retelling of the life of the Savior. With the hall filled with flowers, wreaths, and Christmas lights, many of the performers noted how magical everything felt, and how strong the Spirit was. In the days preparing for that moment, the composer, Lex de Azevedo said repeatedly how much he felt “God was supporting the endeavor”[15]

But as the rehearsal proceeded that night, a light fixture left too close to a wooden speaker box in the attic continued to heat the wood until it ignited. Though alarms went off, the slow-smoldering fire tucked up in the attic went unnoticed, and the alarms were dismissed as false[16]. Several other suspicious warnings were investigated through the night, but the fire was not discovered until 2:43 a.m. by a security guard. Within minutes firefighters were on the scene. But it was too late. 
With a full concert set in place, as well as its unique spiral staircases, exquisite hand-carved rostrum, scores of historic benches, and an attic chock-full of 130-year-old 2-by-10 trusses, the tabernacle was one gigantic tinderbox.  

Consequently, once this four-alarm fire got going, it burned so fiercely that arriving crews could not safely battle it from the inside. Instead, the best they could do was fight the flames from outside. Thus, they trained their hoses on the building’s gorgeous and beloved stained-glass windows, blasting them into shards. 

By 4:30 a.m. hundreds had gathered at a safe distance, watching in grief. Many were openly weeping. By 8 o’clock, the roof had caved in, and virtually everything on the inside steadily burned into a pile of charred rubble and ashes. Ultimately, all that remained was the historic structure’s brick shell.

Immediately, the community was awash in grief and confusion. I confess, I was too. How could this happen? Wasn’t this a good building, even a great building—dedicated and blessed for protection? Why would the Lord let this happen? And why now? It was Christmas! And a tireless and devoted cast was ready to perform their hearts out there in a musical tribute to the Savior for hundreds of guests. Why on earth would heaven have not protected this divine edifice at this moment of all moments?

It did not make much sense to any of us, including Buddy Richards, the stake president who oversaw the geographic area of Provo’s Tabernacle Square. The morning of the fire, Buddy was among the emotional masses who came to watch and grieve over the tabernacle’s smoldering embers. He was just incredulous. It all just seemed so wrong. With his heart breaking, he walked around the perimeter of the building asking himself, over and over, how could this have happened?  And, then, looking through one of the blown-out windows, he saw something that caught his eye and stopped him in his tracks. Resting on a pile of debris was a painting.  Around the edges, it was charred to a crisp like every other solitary thing in that building that wasn’t completely incinerated. But what was preserved, traced out almost to a “T,” in seemingly miraculous fashion, was the unburned image of the Savior.  
As he sat there, thunderstruck over how miraculously preserved this image of the Savior seemed to be, having rested on a wall that was now nothing but a pile of burnt rubble he felt as if he was being drawn into a conversation with the Lord. Suddenly, in his mind’s eye, he was picturing the Savior addressing him saying, “Buddy, do you know whose house this is?” President Richards then heard himself saying, “Yes, it is Your house.” To which the Lord responded, “Then what business is it of yours if I want to remodel it?”

What President Richards got by impression early on, though only “through a glass, darkly”[17] was something President Thomas S. Monson brought out in big, bold, prophetic relief, eight months later at General Conference: 
“Late last year the Provo Tabernacle in Utah County was seriously damaged by a terrible fire. This wonderful building, much beloved by generations of Latter-day Saints, was left with only the exterior walls standing. 

After careful study, we have decided to rebuild it with full preservation and restoration of the exterior, to become the second temple of the Church in the city of Provo”[18].

Did you hear the audience gasp? I remember the moment so well. I was one of the  gaspers. In fact, I was a gasper who quickly dissolved into a bawler. With tears streaming down my cheeks, all of my questions here were fully and finally answered. The tabernacle had not been cast off and ruined forever. No, in a most startling way, it was being transformed into something even greater and more glorious.  

Within weeks of President Monson’s announcement, a monumental effort got underway. Other nearby buildings were purchased and demolished. An adjacent underground parking lot and block of city street were acquired. An internal scaffolding was erected and shotcrete applied to shore up the strength of the tenuous brick walls. Most striking of all, the foundation was dug out and cleared away, while the newly shored-up brick walls, weighing roughly seven-million pounds, were, in a feat of engineering genius, suspended on 40-foot-high stilts made of steel without shifting an inch to the left or right. This allowed for a far stronger and more expansive substructure to be put in place—providing new earthquake resistant foundations, two levels of underground flooring, and a massively extended parking lot. Concrete walls were then poured where old wooden wall used to stand. And when a new massive steel beam skeletal structure for the whole building was added to that, a stunning new central tower was added to the roof—something that was part of the old tabernacle when it was first built, but had to later be removed for safety reasons.    
Other finishing touches included new grand and spiral staircases that rose far higher and more ornately than anything previously in the tabernacle, new stained glass in beautiful pastels of gold and green, deep woven rugs and dark rich woods, in rooms with vaulted ceilings and soaring gothic arches throughout. 

On the outside, lush flower gardens, trees, walkways, and a Victorian pavilion with a fountain and gazebo. The picture is one of utter and complete transformation, inside and out.

Consider the building’s new-found reach. In the two weeks preceding the dedication, an estimated 841,000 individuals came to view this spectacular new structure—an audience vastly larger than was set to attend the Christmas concert the fateful night of the fire. 

Six years ago, the flames that ravaged the Provo Tabernacle appeared to have ruined—if not completely destroyed forever—one of the loveliest and best things in all of Utah Valley. But just the opposite was true. Those flames were purifying and preparing the tabernacle for something even more extraordinary. 

Ultimately, the tabernacle was intended for a much grander, even celestial purpose. Well, brothers and sisters, so are you!

This principle has been captured neatly by that great, inspired Anglican intellectual, C.S. Lewis who said:

“Imagine yourself as a living house. God comes in to rebuild that house. At first, perhaps, you can understand what He is doing. He is getting the drains right and stopping the leaks in the roof and so on: you knew that those jobs needed doing and so you are not surprised. But presently He starts knocking the house about in a way that hurts abominably and does not seem to make sense. What on earth is He up to? The explanation is that He is building quite a different house from the one you thought of—throwing out a new wing here, putting on an extra floor there, running up towers, making courtyards. You thought you were going to be made into a decent little cottage: but He is building a palace. He intends to come and live in it Himself”[19].

If you are feeling broken down and beaten this morning by a debilitating disease or death of someone close, a grievous sin or gross injustice, a case of bad judgment or an unexpected rejection by the love of your life, or any one of a host of things agonizing or tragic, do not despair! No matter what has happened to you, hold on! In fact, be of good cheer, for this thing will work for your good, as “all things” do for those who love the Lord. The Lord has declared, “Behold, I have refined thee, but not with silver; I have chosen thee in the furnace of affliction”[20]

Yet, the same Lord who may occasionally subject you to the refiner’s fire is the same Lord who will pull you through on the other end, strengthened, purified, beautified, and joyful, deeply, supremely, and eternally joyful.

As George Q. Cannon, who dedicated the Provo Tabernacle, and whose namesake is on this building we sit in today, once put it: 

“Our God can be trusted to the very uttermost. No matter how serious the trial, how deep the distress, how great the affliction, He will never desert us. He never has, he never will. He cannot do it. It is not His character. He is an unchangeable being; the same yesterday, the same today, and he will be the same throughout the ages to come… We may pass through the fiery furnace; we may pass through deep waters; but we shall not be consumed nor overwhelmed. We shall emerge from all these trials and difficulties the better and purer for them, if we only trust in our God and keep his commandments”[21].

To all of you dear young brothers and sisters, but especially those of you who awoke this morning feeling wrecked and ruined, or weeping over some fiery furnace of affliction moment, my message to you is this: turn to that great and glorious Star of Gladness, the Savior of mankind, and be glad yourself. Be glad because “He lives, and loves you to the end”[22]

Be glad because His greatest desire and animating aim is to bring you to the point that you might share in every good thing He has, every richness, every glory, every joy. The Star of Gladness is fashioning you into a star of gladness. I know that this is your true destiny. You are made to be happy. And, you will be happy to the extent that you fix your gaze and chart your course by the incomparably brilliant and loving light of the Lord.  

I know that with Christ as your shining zenith Star, the darkest days of burning, bereavement, and burden, simply cannot last. Without fail, you will be given “beauty for ashes, the oil of joy for mourning, [and] the garment of praise for the spirit of heaviness.”[23] This is your promise and your potential."

These words struck me so powerfully. I bawled too and just knew of Heavenly Father love for me. I thought about my accident and knew I was much like this tabernacle. An accident happened to me but for a great and wise purpose. I can already see how the Lord is rebuilding me too and my structure and nature is completely different and greater than before. I have every reason to be happy and grateful. God lives and loves us and is truly a master builder. 

Link to Devotional:

1 comment:

  1. Thanks for sharing your great thoughts, Alyssa girl. I'm so glad you blog! My blog is taking a long nap and needs to be rejuvenated. Oh! And loved this devotional! Thanks for sharing it so I could pay better attention to it! I miss BYUH.
    But this morning before school started I went and visited my mom and my sister and nieces, and that was so lovely. I love being near them. And then I took one of my nieces to school and it was fun. And I get to have my own home and animals here, which is quite nice too. And there's no cockroaches! Yes!
    Love you friend.