After my head injury I had learn how to: walk, speak, write, run, and everything having to do with coordination; all over again. This took years of work, frustration, and tears. Many of us take these things for granted but every movement our body makes is a neurological event in some part of our brain. Everything was just so difficult; I was all of a sudden a poorly wired house. All my limbs flailed all over the place with no rhyme or reason. I just couldn’t move well no matter how hard I tried. When I got better at orchestrating my movement, it was delayed and jerky. I still have moments when I feel as if I have to put thought into placing one foot in front of the other because something just shorts out. My friends think I speak more loudly with my hands when I talk than with my mouth; this was as if I was screaming; my limbs were all over the place. My friend Bonnie always used to tell me when I was being interviewed on TV, for a news worthy event because I was a Facilitator for The Gay and Lesbian Alliance at Salisbury University; “Don’t move your hands so much.” I would laugh and think, she hasn’t seen anything.
I became the biggest klutz, tripping over my feet and falling here and there, besides having seizures that sometimes would result in a trip to the hospital. I would try things like carving my mom a giraffe with an Exacto knife and slice my hand. You all must be thinking, “What the hell was your mom doing?” She was trying to have a peaceful day and read, no she wasn’t asleep or on drugs or drinking herself into some coma, just in the other room escaping for a short moment. She realized quickly I was being too quiet and came walking into the kitchen as I was walking out with blood dripping everywhere. Guess whose Exacto knives? Yes my brothers.
One day I will never forget it I was riding down an alley in Lewes and as I came to the street I couldn’t decide which way to turn so I fumbled and ran right into a parking meter, my bike threw me, and I hit my head and fell. Laying in an oil slick in my new coat and on top of that I had a seizure, not a very big one, actually I didn’t become unconscious this time. As I think about it, how incredibly foolish can you be? A friend came along and went to get my mom. Thank God, she wasn’t upset about my new clothes getting messed up; she was very kind and understanding. At the time ruining my new clothes was one of the worst parts of this situation for me, besides the absolute humiliation of having to tell people I was really going very slow as I exited the alley. I mean I was so klutzy… you say, “How Klutzy were you?” I went to the hospital emergency so often they literally kept my file out waiting for my return. The nurses would say to me with disappointed faces, “Amy honey, now what happened?”
After being in the hospital so much I was absolutely fascinated with doctors and medicine, I dreamed of being a neurosurgeon at age nine. Over the years, I realized the only thing I would be good at would be lobotomies. Since they went out with the 60’s I don’t think there is much of a market for that kind of work. I would be the poorest neurosurgeon in the country. Think about it; I am in surgery and I say to the nurse “Scalpel!” she gives it to me and my hand jumps… “Oops, another lost soul.” This kind of spasm is something that I deal with daily, my hands twitch for no reason usually at the worst possible times.
My mornings are spent trying to get a cup of coffee and pouring it in what appears to be my mug, which suddenly becomes the counter. The other morning while trying to eat Captain Crunch, I brought the spoon to my mouth, my hand twitched, and it was all over my shirt. I have wasted more sugar and coffee on the counter than I want to think about. This would have been a perfect tactic to get my money’s worth out of a law suit, “But, Your Honor the amount of money I will spend in a lifetime on Sugar In The Raw and Starbucks is insurmountable; I am suing for a million dollars.” If you have any idea, what both of those products cost and the amount of them I use daily you too would be concerned about my financial welfare.
I never really comprehended what life was going to be like for me while I was a child. Kids just don’t think about those things. I was too busy trying desperately to be the same kid I had always been and not even fully understanding my limitations or maybe not wanting to know that I know had limitations. I actually consciously thought about how I needed to get back to where I was, at times to devastating frustration. I would ask Mom in tears after having a seizure, “Why me?” She answered this only twice because I quit asking, “You have to stop feeling sorry for yourself.” I could understand everything I lost but never realized that I may never get them back. This was probably best, so I never gave up. I would try to walk and fall, I would try to color and not be able to control my hands, and I would want to go out and play and couldn’t do all the same things. I was relentless at trying, and everyone watched and bit his or her lip, hoping in their individual agonizing wait for the real Amy Kratz to stand up.
Little by little, I regained my coordination; I couldn’t ride a bike the balance was difficult; this was my very favorite thing in the world and this took some time but finally came back like other things that I worked for. I wasn’t as graceful as I used to be though, my hand eye coordination was gone and I had real problems with balance. My family, God bless them bought me a three wheel, low lying bike, it looked like a Big Wheel but with a metal frame. We called it the “Kratz Mobile”, it was bought on my way home from the hospital. They had a wheel chair at home waiting for me but I believe they saw the joy in my face when I found this in the store and it was a relief to them that I didn’t have to sit in a wheelchair, as I had for so many weeks and somehow for some miraculous reason I could ride it. I didn’t have to balance it like a two wheeler. I was photographed on it in the Coast Press, a newspaper in Lewes, and I have many pictures of me on it over the course of two years. The day I came home Uncle Don and Harry put it together and padded around the handle bars, gave me a seat belt and it was somehow my new legs. I could scoot around the house or outside with it. I loved that thing. What grace I seemed to have on it, why I could do this I will never know but it became a symbol of my existence for the past 31 years. Who would have known how incredibly significant bicycling would be in my lifetime.
I never knew I would have to ride a bike for a good part of my life and I rode it everywhere. I rode to the grocery store with a backpack and could only get a couple days worth of food, I rode to and from work at midnight, to school, and somehow I situated my life so everywhere I really needed to go I could ride my bike. I somehow always found places to live where I could to everything by bike. I don’t think this was really a conscious decision; I only recently realized that I had conveniently done this for many years. It became something that I just did subconsciously. Although I knew I had the shortest route to any destination mapped out consciously, I mean I used to think of chores and things I had to do in visuals of what street I should go to get to the next place, crazy the things you have to do in life to manage your own reality. I was used to doing this that even when someone drove me I would tell him or her the quickest way, as if the amount of traffic or shortcut to anyplace would really make a difference to them. A good friend called my bike “Freedom” it really was that to me it was the way I realized all my dreams getting from one place to another. For me to go places is so very crucial to my feeling of independence, and it probably is for everyone. I somehow every day, well most days found it as normal as walking.
It had its disasters too. In February 1997 as I rode home in the pouring rain one night in Salisbury after work at The Peninsula Regional Medical Center it was 11 p.m. and I was hit by a car, they didn’t see me. My coworkers at the emergency room asked, (it was the first question out of their mouths) “Did you have a seizure?” This really put me out of commission because I hurt my back very badly and to this day suffer with it. It also scared me to the point where I was afraid for a while to get on it. I was in a lot of pain, I had bad dreams, anxiety, and depression all over again. The symptoms of loss of control, I had them all. Talk about a setback, this put me in a position of feeling afraid of the thing that I believed was one of the greatest inventions in history. How could I be free if I couldn’t get around and if I was so afraid to get on that dam thing?
I became depressed and fearful in a way I had not felt since 4 years earlier when I broke my knee at the hospital after falling down a flight of stairs. The knee injury four years earlier was actually the first time I suffered this type of depression from a seizure or related event. I had panic attacks and didn’t want to get too far away from my home where I felt safe. This kind of response after having a seizure is pretty common and even though I didn’t seize it was from my misfortune as a child that I rode this dam bike all over the place. It all was the same as far as I was concerned.
This is just another wound from the almost 30 year injuries, although this kind of fear I had never experienced. This was all new and incredibly unsettling. I worked hard to get over this. I quickly found a way to overcome out of sheer necessity. Fear was an all-new experience I had never understood fear quite like this, this was crippling fear worse than the fall down the stairs. I felt more disabled than I had felt in a very long time or ever wanted to feel again. This became another mountain to climb after a lifetime of climbing Mount Everest. I did get back on my bike and soon moved to Minneapolis and rode it all over the city.
I went to the grocery store one hot summer day and unfortunately this day I was very hungry, never go to the store hungry we all know what happens. Well I bought all these groceries and after they were bagged thought, now what the hell do I do with them? So I pack my backpack like a professional outdoorsman and I got on my bike, I lost my balance, and fell flat on my back. Mind you, I had a full pack and two or three bags hanging on each arm strap. I am so very frustrated that I pick myself up, pick the backpack up, and throw it into the side of the store screaming some obscenity. Boy did that make me feel good! As I am regaining composure, if you really can after such a spectacle, I look over to see a homeless man sitting on a bench in front of the store, with his mouth to his chest; he looked afraid and astonished yet he was kind enough to ask if I was all right. I was too mad to speak.
I then saw two people I know in cars drive right by me and as I try to wave them down, they left without seeing me. Frustrated to tears I manage to get on my bike with as much grace as one can muster after making an ass out of myself; with my unusually heavy pack, crying, and peddling as fast as I can, in the heat of the day. I was almost home and I feel this cold something dripping down my leg, I look down to see cottage cheese sliding towards the peddle and into the street. I can only laugh at this point, as tears streamed down my cheeks; I think of how ridiculous I’ve become.
Shortly after this I took a philosophy class call “Tragedy and Comedy” and the whole premise of the class was that comedy originates out of tragedy and tragedy is at times best illustrated and understood through Comedy, you know like the old Laurel and Hardy films, the Three Stooges, Charlie Chaplin and the like. While taking this class it all came together in an epiphany one day struggling with the concept of the whole idea. I stood up and said, “I think I get it!” I then tell my cottage cheese story and we all laugh, the professor applauded me on and life seemed no less tragic but a lot more comical from then on.
Well I can walk now, talk, comb my hair, and brush my teeth instead of my nose; most of the time, but now I have an infestation of ants on my counter. I gave up the neurosurgeon idea and decided I had better do something that I could actually be successful at; working with people was where I landed. Not such a bad place to land I must say.