Lakeview Neuro Rehab
Excerpt from Forgetting to Fly (Chapter 18: Meeting Pam)
Working in a Nuero Rehab center was much different than teaching art in a public school. First, my patients were all ages in the same class. My youngest was twelve and my oldest was in his ninety’s, although age had nothing to do with their mental capabilities. My art classes were voluntary but as soon as the word spread, I had ten to twenty people in each class. I put up a list on my art room door of my up-coming classes and the sign up would begin. It was first-come-first-serve and I was in business. I quickly learned that most brain injured people couldn’t do the lesson if it was too detailed so I threw out all my ideas and started over.
Re-group and simplify.
Still many of my students couldn’t understand the easier directives so I let that go as well. I soon understood the things they needed to work on were ‘sequencing’ and ‘motor skills’ and if they didn’t comprehend the exercise, they would still have fun with others in the art class. I had many regulars in my art classes: A young man who was walking down the beach with his grandmother, and struck by lightning; a boy who was shot in the head in a drug deal gone bad; a little girl almost drowned in her back yard pool; a teen who got on the back of her drunk boyfriends motorcycle and promptly ran into a tree; and then there was Pam, a beautiful young mother whose brain was deteriorating for no apparent reason. The doctors had no idea why Pam’s brain matter was turning to mush. They had performed many tests to no avail. There was still no diagnosis.
Pam was different from the rest of my patients. Her mind was sharp, still smart, still loving toward her family and still loved art, but for some reason her body was giving out. Her parents, Judy and Bob, lived outside Chicago and visited her frequently. They brought Pam’s young daughters to visit her whenever they could. I can’t even imagine the pain of seeing your gorgeous, talented daughter go down so fast without a reason. Pam was having a hard time walking when I first met her and was soon in a walker, then a wheelchair. She would wheel herself into my art class every day. I would be preparing for class, and she would help me set up the tables, pour the paint wash the brushes. She felt good just being in the creative environment. She had grown up with art all around her because her mom was an expert spray-paint artist and had commissions all over the country. Her parents would come to my art room first, to find Pam when they visited the rehab center. They knew she would be here. Art was a way to help her forget her sad and scary circumstance.
My art room was large and had four stark white walls, like blank canvases just screaming for someone to paint on them. When I learned what Pam’s mom did for a living I invited her to teach my patients how to spray-paint the walls. She agreed and the designing began. We brainstormed and the patients came up with the conception of large Greek columns with ivy that framed each wall. Judy worked with Pam to organize the classes, and over several weeks their artwork became a vital part of the patient’s lives. They actually had a vision in their mind that was becoming reality. The room was transformed into a European patio and the feeling was no longer empty, but inviting. Each person signed the area they painted and was proud of their accomplishment.
On Easter day of 1997, Pam lost her battle. She died of a brain disease that was still not determined. All the people in the Rehab center were devastated. Pam had left an imprint on all the lives she touched. A plaque was put up in the Art room during a ceremony in remembrance of Pam and her family. A few days later I went to the funeral held just outside Chicago, with a doctor friend who also worked with Pam. We both wanted to support the family who loved her so much. As we walked into the front door of the funeral home we were met by a large, framed picture on an easel of Pam kissing a baby deer. She looked beautiful and healthy in the picture and I knew she was that way again in heaven.
The story of the doe was told in the service. Pam, her husband and their three young girls lived on a beautiful widespread property. One morning Pam saw a mother deer bring her baby to the edge of her lawn. Pam knew instinctively that the mommy deer was sick and Pam would take care of her baby…and she did. Pam made a nest for the doe and nurtured it until it grew up enough to go out on its own. Pam’s love for animals was obvious and the picture with the doe displayed her loving nature.
During the ceremony my doctor friend all of a sudden appeared overwhelmed. She leaned over to me and whispered in a low, shaky voice, “That’s what did it… Oh my God… that’s what happened.”
“What?” I whispered, trying not to disturb the speaker.
“Pam had close contact with the baby doe, and got a brain virus from the deer. That’s what killed her.”
We we’re both stunned. She grabbed my hand and held it tight. The funeral went on, while I felt the hand tighten in mine. Many friends and family members were speaking of Pam’s attributes, everyone crying while we sat there in total shock.
I look back on it now and realize it was a blessing. The large framed picture placed on an easel, right there for all to see, was the answer to the obscure puzzle that had alluded the doctors all along. The baby deer, who Pam saved, was the reason for the brain virus and why she was taken to heaven earlier than expected. Without the picture we never would have known.
How mysterious is God’s intricate workings?
Stay tuned for more stories from the LakeView Neuro Rehab art students.