3/ Don’t look back

I happen to sit down next to a jetlagged, soft-spoken doctor from Australia.

“Don’t look back,” he says.

He’s giving me advice to manage a brain injury, but it sounds more like a line from Orpheus and Eurydice. With 35 years in the field, he knows of what he speaks. Rehab taught me the same thing: comparing yourself with the way you were doesn’t help with recovery.

Little do I know that the entire 13th World Congress on Brain Injury will call up my past. A mini-quest, so to speak. (“That conference really made you question your life,” notes my daughter, Liva.)

Auguste Rodin, Orpheus and Eurydice, 1893, marble. The Metropolitan Museum of Art.


The panel begins and I start taking notes. The first lines in my notebook are already incomplete. 10% of group don’t get better in a couple of months. Large # of …

The panel started at 2:00. In square brackets I’ve written 2:18 p.m. I’m fading.

The female brain does not look like the male brain. Different risk factors and different patterns of injury … Research is at its infancy.

Again, in square brackets: 2:31, I can barely concentrate or write. So slow and takes lots of thought.

Pages one and four in my notebook are worlds apart. My handwriting is neat, but super small. I’m not capturing everything.

Headaches more common in women.

I’ve experienced this same handwriting phenomenon in the evenings when I write in my journal. My script gets smaller and smaller until I finally give up and turn off the lights. But I’m at a conference right now, for Christ’s sake! I need to write!

“Look what’s happening!” I whisper to the Australian doctor.

“Pacing is important,” he says.


Reviewing my notes, I see that by this point I’ve stopped paying attention to the speakers and am totally focused on myself.

I noticed this handwriting thing with mom when she was in the hospital. We are our brains.

Then the writing stops completely. There’s no way to get the information from my brain to my hand.

I feel like crying. I try to just listen. I receive a text message and accidentally delete the voice recording.

I have a page of random notes from my discussion with the Australian doc. Very active recovery up to five years, he says. By 20 years just about everyone has found a steady state. (I believe he added, not to alarm you.)

And then that warning: Don’t look back.

A few weeks after the conference, I’m in mindfulness class doing a body scan. When we get to our hands, I weep. Throughout my entire life, I wondered what I’d do if something happened to my hands. How would I write?

Little did I know that writing is about so much more than hands, my precious hands.


1/ My journey to the World Congress on Brain Injury

2/ Press, no press

3/ Don’t look back

4/ Pink concussions, Clark Kent and social isolation

5/ Pink survivors

Next: 6/ Sex and the brain

5 thoughts on “3/ Don’t look back

  1. Sounds like listening and writing notes at the same time is way too hard! Time for some note taking strategies – recording the discussion for playback later, getting key points ahead of time, using PowerPoint notes, voice memos, or speech to text tools (Dragon Dictation), taking a photo of someone else’s notes… just some ideas. You will find a way – but it will take practice! 🙂

  2. Maija gives great advice. Even those w/o TBI’s have trouble taking notes. Cut yourself a whole bunch of slack, and record things and put them on paper later, when you can rewind.

  3. Mara, well done. You attended the conference! It is more than I could have done. I enjoy reading your blog. Keep it up!

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