How Did We Get Here, Anyway?

5th Anniversary — Part 3

The fifth anniversary of my acquired traumatic brain injury was an important milestone for me because so many times in the past five years I found myself alarmingly close to death. I had for a time lost the ability to read and speak, but mostly I suffered tremendous chronic pain, fatigue, and respiratory distress.  With the blow came a severe whiplash that resulted in cervical and spinal injuries that made normal living impossible.  The total effects were wide ranging and long lasting, yet I am so much better than I was.  On this anniversary, I hoped to finally see changes that would persuade me that the worst was truly behind me, and that I had a chance at a full and final recovery.

Despite the mounting fatigue as the week progressed, everything was going un-characteristically well.  Particularly considering that regulating my emotions had been one of my biggest challenges, especially mid recovery. Although I had a terribly upsetting encounter just Wednesday evening with my daughter, I made it to the gym the next morning in time to train.  I forced myself to show up, partly to prove to myself that pain and emotions do not rule my life.

My trainer usually arrives after I do, but on this morning she was already on the gym floor.  She had recently acquired a new client, and had trained her just the hour before, as was anticipated from our scheduling.  Despite being tired and upset, I was eager to get started, because we had a busy day ahead of us, with travel that evening and then more travel hundreds of miles in the opposite direction the next day—and my trainer was also aware of this from our scheduling.  We had a backyard party to attend Friday night with friends, and then on Saturday, the actual five year anniversary date, September 15, we were due at my parents’, because my father had fallen that week and dislocated his right shoulder.

As we entered, my trainer saw us and smiled, but did not make eye contact.  She was engaged in speaking to another member who did not fit the description of the woman she said she would be training. Yes, she told me all about the woman.  She did things like this, that seemed rather unprofessional, but I was busy doing my reps, so I let her talk. I wasn’t too surprised to see her chatting, even though she wasn’t set up for my session, when she had always been before.  I got on the treadmill next to my husband to warm up.  I started my settings with the incline set to 2.0 as she had instructed, and began walking.  I was eager to talk to my trainer, who had signed herself up to join us in a 5K and was confident she could get me running a 5K within the next five or six weeks.  I wasn’t ready, but was hoping she could help me jog a slow mile that day, a goal partly initiated by the upcoming anniversary.  I needed hardcore evidence that I was indeed on my way, and this would surely convince me.

It was unusual that my trainer did not come over to us on the treadmills.  Even though it was now time for my session to begin, she continued talking to the other member.  I looked at the heart-rate monitor that she had usually set for me, and as I walked, pressed buttons until I figured out how to start the stopwatch.  As I increased my speed gradually, I started to loosen up.  I was even beginning to feel a little better, distracted from the upset with my dear daughter.  I was proud that I was walking at a 4.0, which my trainer said was a slow jog, especially following the fatigue from the steep bike hill.  I couldn’t wait for her to come and check my numbers, and tell her about my goal to try to jog a slow mile that day.  Jogging would be the ultimate, because for many years it looked like I would never run or jump or even golf again.  I knew that if I could “jog” a slow mile, the impossible had become possible.

Ten more minutes passed, and my trainer was still across the gym yakking with the other lady.  I started to feel irritated, and said to my husband, “That’s kinda rude.”  My husband didn’t seemed bothered—but then, he wasn’t the one waiting to train.  Another two minutes, and I started noticeably looking over at her to get her attention.  She saw me, but kept right on talking to the other person. In fact, every time I checked, it was my trainer talking, not the other member.  This didn’t really surprise me, because it was fully in keeping with my trainer’s personality.  Among other things, she was the kind of person who asked how you were feeling, then spent twenty minutes or more telling you about her headache or her allergies or how she insisted her son go to football practice even when he was terrified.  Still, ignoring me seemed unnecessarily offensive.  I said to my husband again, “That is really so rude of her.”  This time, he nodded in agreement.

This all would have rolled right off me, so eager was I to finish this session, but then my trainer did something really offensive and a little out of character.  I say “a little” because she was typically one to enjoy her power.  She also loved an audience.  In fact, there was no mirror in the gym that she could keep from looking in…at herself, or to see who was watching her.  She flirted, and would always yell at me like a drill sergeant when weight lifter-guys were near, smiling and winking.  This didn’t bother me.  It actually made me glad I was “old” and happily married.  Whatever.  I just wanted to walk at my old pace, and I still had a long way to go.

The thing that really got me was that from across the gym, she yanked her outstretched thumb like a hitchhiker, motioning with it and a crook of her head to have me come over to her, near the mirrors.  I hit “Stop” on my treadmill, and walked over to her.  She threw down the Bosu ball, in a rather twisted act of seeming aggression.  I looked up, puzzled, to see her face beaming.  “That was kind of rude,” I said.  Still smiling, she said, “What?  That lady wanted to Ta-ALK!”  “Yes, I noticed,” I said both seriously and generously, going along with the blame she was placing.  “But, still, you could have told her I was waiting.”

“She KNEW you were waiting.  I told her!  What was I supposed to do?”

This conversation continued with my saying that it would look more professional and actually make her look better if she excused herself because she had a session.

My trainer was dramatic.  She said, “But the lady needed help.  She had questions.  I needed to help her, just like I help you.  She was asking me about her knee!”

“Well,” I said, “Then why doesn’t she pay for a private session like I’m doing?  I wouldn’t delay or interrupt her paid session, or anyone else’s.  But, really, it was up to you to excuse yourself.”

My trainer seemed shocked that I could not be humored.  She started arguing with me about time, pointing to clocks and insisting she was a mere ten minutes late.

I pointed to my stopwatch and said, “I have 17:58.”  She argued.  I said, “it’s a stopwatch!”  I qualified that I hadn’t even started it until several minutes into my workout.  She kept fussing at me.  I held my ground with generous spirit, I thought.  I did not want to argue, I wanted to begin.  We stood there for five minutes doing this, until I said, “Okay, now it’s 23:58.”  She finally began.

“Okay,” she said, “Get on!”  We had tried this with poor results, and I was shocked that the day had arrived to return to the Bosu balls, but I cooperated.  I lifted one foot and then the other, and immediately lost my balance.  “Try again,” she continued.  I tried, and had slightly better stability. “Now, bend—.”  I fell again.

“I can’t do this,” I said.  “Here,” she said, handing me a pole.  “Wait,” I said. “I can’t work like this.  I’m upset.  You’re being harsh.  I feel too bad.” She started fussing at me.  “This isn’t good for my health,” I said, “I can’t focus like this.”  She continued arguing, justifying, rationalizing.  “I don’t care about her knee,” I said, “I JUST WANT to get my workout in!”

“You’re NOT going to divorce me over this?!,” she said dramatically.  I found it an odd thing to say, and excessive, but she was giggling.  Then she got serious, “Now, take the pole.”

I took the pole.  She helped me find my balance and had me plié on the balls with the pole to steady me.  I did them while she complained and insisted that I should not be upset and that she was being altruistic in helping this random woman on the floor, delaying my session, that it was no big deal, even though she was fully aware of all my issues AND my schedule for the weekend.  Before I knew it words were flying back and forth, until I felt completely provoked while trying to do my reps, and muttered under my breath, “no wonder you’re divorced!”

“What?” she said.

“Nothing,” I replied, “I shouldn’t have said that.  I didn’t mean it.”

As soon as I said it, I knew it was wrong.  I now felt as if she had drawn me down to her level.

Yet, she was engaged in battle and didn’t seem to hear me.

She barked harshly, “DO YOUR REPS!” and left the mirrors.

I continued doing my reps. When I finished them, I looked around, not knowing where she was.  I started another set.  She didn’t return.  I finally realized how ridiculous it was, to have a personal trainer that I was paying for in a facility I was paying to use, when she was late for and now completely absent from the session.  I stopped in frustration and went over to my husband who was still on the treadmill.

“I can’t workout like this.  I can’t stay here now.  I have to go calm down.”  My husband seemed to understand more than he seemed confused, but he also seemed somewhat puzzled.  I left the gym, only to return to see my trainer approaching my husband to begin his training session.  Her behavior only grew worse throughout the morning, and I had had it.  I left the gym, got my things from the locker room, and was on my way out the door when the counter girl spoke to me.  I felt embarrassed, so I explained that there was just a little mix up, could I perhaps explain briefly to the manager.  “Sure,” she said, and out came the manager, who invited me to step into her office.

On my way in, my trainer ran into me, as if she was lurking to see what was transpiring.  I wanted to be civil, and so I graciously said to her, “I’m about to explain my side of this to the manager, but you are welcome to join us because I won’t be saying anything I wouldn’t say to you directly. You can explain your side.  I don’t want you to worry.”   My trainer instantly accepted my invitation, then joined me in the manager’s office, now sobbing.

I felt pretty frustrated too, but nothing worth sobbing over.  We ended up going on and on and around and around for two full hours. It was difficult not to get distracted by all the sobbing, but we tried our best to stay on task.  The drama never stopped.  Still I thought we were civil and could move forward as adults.  That wasn’t to be.

Despite both the trainer and the manager telling me I was 100% right and that they were both glad I spoke up, and despite my saying what I learned from this is that I better not express any complaint whatsoever…despite their insisting, “No, you should,” that they were glad I did…the long and the short of it is that they decided that they “were not the right fit” for me and my husband…that I would complain “no matter what.”   Consequently, with the manager’s supervisor’s approval, they decided to address this issue by revoking our membership.

How they made this leap in logic is beyond both my husband and me.  When I questioned it, the manager said quite curtly, “No, I know you don’t understand,” in an emphasis and a tone that suggested I am incapable of understanding.  As if she were a bouncer in a bar, and in the business of cancelling memberships, not sustaining them.

I have met this moment before.  It is the moment of deep prejudice against sufferers of head trauma.  It is ignorant and outrageously unfair, and it appears to originate out of an egoistic need for ascendancy.

Clearly, one of the worst and most destructive things a person recovering from severe head trauma can do is engage in petty disagreements with anyone, especially and most particularly if the opposing party is aware of that person’s head injury.  Those are battles a concussed person will never win, even when they should, because no un-injured person will ever respect a concussed person’s point of view.  Uninjured people tend not to respect the head-injured because they don’t understand that maybe, just maybe, they still have wits enough to perceive correctly and accurately, that they actually can still think quite clearly.

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© Debra A. Valentino, all rights reserved.

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