I arrived at the Best Western hotel on King George Highway in Surrey, B.C. on a Sunday and ate a spaghetti dinner with my family, who left once my daughter was stained red with tomato sauce.
Then it was back to being left alone in a dark and lonely space, but this time even more lifeless because the option of wandering upstairs to curb my boredom wasn’t there.
On Monday morning, class began.
I had stubbornly refused vouchers for cab rides to-and-from the concussion clinic thinking, “it’s only a kilometer away,” not admitting that was more than I’d walked in total the past few months combined.
I put on my Ray Ban wayfarer sunglasses and stepped out into the hotel parking lot, the fresh air dizzying me from the unfamiliar rush of purity.
Shoving my earbuds in deep I turned on “Blonde” by Frank Ocean at the lowest volume possible, hoping the stripped-down, minimalist album would muffle the rumblings of the morning commute.
A semi-truck rumbled past like a stampede of galloping rubber and stiffened my entire body into a panicked jolt and I jumped, luckily not into traffic.
I walked with a tense hunch looking like a Surrey-born street kid strung out on cheap drugs.
My feet dragged with a sluggish hesitation and I arrived at the clinic short of breath, sick with apprehension once realizing I’d have to walk up a set of stairs to the second floor of the shared office building.
The lights were dimmed in the lobby of the clinic and I thought, “maybe they do understand concussions…”
Inside the rehabilitation clinic were classrooms with tables covered in half finished puzzles and photocopied crossword, psychiatrist offices with shelves stuffed tight with multiple copies of both the DSM-V and “Feeling Good” by Dr. David D. Burns and an open-spaced gym with rubber resistance bands.
I retreated to a chair in the back row of the unlit classroom and waited while the seats began to fill up with other expressionless patients who hadn’t the energy to talk, either.
An overly animated Australian lady bounced into the inky classroom and lit up the wall with her projector and everyone let out a moan of subtle discomfort.
She explained, with flighty hands, how “concussion aren’t fully understood by science,” but promised that we could recover if we “followed their science-based approach to recovery.”
That approach included seemingly pointless and menial tasks like opening and closing clothes pins onto a string, hitting a hammer against a 2×4, typing on a keyboard for five-minutes, mimicking displayed patterns with red and black dominos, locating different shapes on a poster and doing crossword puzzles.
Which were all nearly impossible to do smoothly.
The next block was guided meditation and it made everyone cringe, besides me.
Next was counselling.
The counsellor looked oddly familiar and then we realized we’d graduated the same year and grew up in the same town, which made it uncomfortable to open-up about anything that troubled me beyond the concussion.
Then was a free-block where I’d splutter through the “Karma for Today’s Travellers” book by Phra Bhasakorn Bhavilai I’d brought to be at peace with my injury.
We ended the day with a low-intensity workout circuit where we’d practice balancing on one foot, intentionally making ourselves dizzy by looking back-and-forth in-between mirrors on opposite sides of the body, walking up and down stairs, pulling rubber bands, lifting 5 pound dumbbells, tossing a ball up and down while walking, weaving through pylons and ended with ten minutes of stretching.
After the six hour class, my brain pulsated like a balloon that wanted to pop, but was constricted by a bruised skull and I’d walk back to the hotel with my headphones in and eyes squinting in the sun.
The boredom of the hotel was excruciating, as I couldn’t watch TV or write and had no one to talk to, so I’d force myself to walk to new restaurants each evening.
Dressed in an oversized XXXL jacket, baggy sweatpants, a toque, sunglasses and gloves with the fingers cut off and threads dangling loosely I’d get suspicious eyebrows raised when the door’s chimed alerting restaurant workers of my unwanted arrival.
Fun for the evening consisted of buying snacks from the gas station next door to the hotel where an older East Indian lady would follow me around the store, worried that my crooked posture, twitching eyes and my somnolent stride indicated I was there to steal.
After a few days of her standing at the end of each aisle I stood in I wanted to clear up why I was here, to alleviate her worry that I was a new street kid stealing Mike and Ike’s.
When I was at the cash register I tried to explain to her that I was staying in town to be rehabilitated from my concussion and was living at the hotel next door.
But, unable to communicate, I stuttered “I’m staying at the hotel next door,” with a twitched-eye that looked like a wink and she let out a high-pitched gasp of flattery thinking I was inviting her to knock on my door after her shift was up.
Back at the hotel, my headaches were worsening and my boredom was slipping me into a dangerous bout of depression, so next time I went home I stocked up on cannabis products to keep myself busy, thinking my doobie walks would be a good way to encourage unforced exercise when I wasn’t in rehab.
One day, after smoking a joint, I walked into the hotel lobby and there were thirty-plus RCMP officers with heavy artillery and drug canines waiting for something, or as my squishy, paranoid brain believed, someone.
I quickly walked through the gaggle of RCMP officers and ran up the stairs, avoiding locking myself in the elevator with cops while I reeked of marijuana.
As I opened the door that lead to my floor, I heard the pattering of steel-toed boots run up behind me and six cops, two with automatic rifles and another with the leashed canine, ran past me and I was told to, “stay back for a minute.”
That’s when the two officers with automatic rifles raised their guns and shuffled down my hallway until an officer yelled, “stop!”
Right in front of my room!
I was dizzied and sweating from a major panic attack, mouth drier than cured leather, when the cop who told me to stop told me I could continue on to my room.
I squeezed passed the cops with their guns drawn, “excuse me,” and fumbled my keycard into the door to my room and as soon as I got in I ripped off my sweat drenched t-shirt, shoved a towel under the door and spread my feet far apart so I could peek out the peephole without casting a suspicious shadow into the hallway.
“Adrenaline,” I panicked, “that’s why every junky on COPS has their shirts off.”
The cops were still standing in front of my door and my heart felt like it was slamming against my ribcage, so I locked myself in the bathroom with my weed and fought the urge to flush it until I finally heard the hallway door slam.
I ran back to the peephole and they were gone, so I put on a dry shirt and ran back down the stairs, through the cop-filled lobby and outside to bum a smoke off someone, because I thought I was dying.
Barely able to speak to bum a cigarette, I asked a lady from the concussion clinic if she knew why the cops were here, knowing she’d have intel because she was an RCMP officer in my hometown.
“They’re filming a training video,” she replied and I nearly collapsed from relief.
Over the next two months of concussion rehabilitation, my motor skills were increasing, but my headaches, memory and speech were slow to improve regularity.
I was feeling better, but not better.
Then, one day the Occupational Therapist walked up to me with a smile and said, “guess what? You graduate next Friday and you can go back to work.”
Knowing I could barely manage this dim-lit environment with minimal noise I asked, “how does someone fail?” telling her how the majority of my problems were still present.
Annoyed with my lack of enthusiasm she flatly replied, “you have to go back to work, sometime.”
“Even if I’m not recovered?”
“Well, you are better than you were coming into this program,” she replied, as if they’d put my broken leg in a cast and that was good enough for me to start limping through marathons.
“Well, you are better,” she repeated with an annoyed smirk, “and you’re just going to have to learn how to live with some of the symptoms because it could be a long time before they subside.”
“That doesn’t sound like you’re saying I’m better.”
“Sorry,” she said, frustrated with my lack of enthusiasm of their program’s success, “but, you can’t stay here forever. This is an eight-week program and you have been here for almost eleven weeks…”
Next Friday I waited for my wife to come and pick me up, as I was still not supposed to be driving a vehicle, yet somehow okay to go back to work in a warehouse environment and operate machinery…