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Personal Stories

Facing the Dragon: A Journey Beyond

By: Sharon Snover
Sharon Snover

Prelude

Overcoming obstacles to my learning disabilities such as difficulty with math (dyscalculia), attention and retention deficits requires me to approach learning with three criteria. The first of three criteria is self acceptance that my mind processes information differently than others. Secondly, believe in your dreams, set goals and place value on the process of the adventure, rather than a letter grade. Third, persistence, intrinsic motivation, and perceiving a failed test as a temporary barrier not a permanent defeat to the long term goal.

The head injury

I suffered a closed head injury at the age of six. While riding my bike downhill, an older boy swerves to the side of the road crashing into me. As I am ejected from my bike, my head smashes against the black pavement, then I lie there unconscious. The boy runs beckoning my father for help. My father runs fiercely cradling me in his arms like a mother holding her newborn baby.

Dad runs past Mom at the doorway as Mom follows him into the bathroom. Still breathing, my father instructs Mom to readjust the tepid bath to cold water. Still, my body does not exhibit a flicker a life. As my parents rush me to the hospital, I remain unresponsive for several days. After numerous exams and diagnostic tests, the doctors concluded I developed a condition known as epilepsy.

Returning to School

My siblings and I walked to school every day. After the accident, rather than skipping ahead of them, I plodded along falling further behind. From this day forward, I had one speed, slow. By the time I finished speaking a sentence in a monotone dragged out voice, no one would still be listening. Each day now, my head feels cloudy and fuzzy. Without my siblings walking with me, I became so lost and confused on the way to school, circling the same block several times while bursting into tears.

If I did not arrive with my siblings, the school would call my mother. Then, she would come looking for me on the daily route we walked to school. Although relieved to have her rescue me amidst this lost world I seem to be powerlessly entering, she chastised me for lagging behind. Mom seemed disturbed as I interrupted her morning whisky toddy and smoking cigarettes, already fragrant on her breath.

As the school work began, I had trouble concentrating on the board. I tried focusing on listening while looking at the teacher write on the chalk board. Although I could hear her, the spoken words sifted through one ear and out the other. Like a dense fog, no view of clarity became apparent. I remained silent hoping this blanket of dread would evaporate.

The teacher called my name three times, with a lack of response from me. Then, the classroom sounds begin to fade, as I enter this strange space. For thirty to sixty seconds, an invisible trap captured me with daydreaming (petit mal) seizures, devouring me with no escape. Any information I may have a chance to retain, became lost as I would be shut off and out from the environment around me. These seizures occurred several times a day during school.

My teacher became exasperated with me, as she instructed me to go see the school nurse. Like a fireball my oval freckled face becomes red and intense with heat, as I exit the classroom. For many years, my illness caused isolation and feeling rejected from being normal. As a child struggling to keep up with school work and peers became a monumental challenge. Therefore, what propelled me never give up?

From my personal experience, the environment of learned helplessness is as debilitating as the learning disability or consequences of living with a chronic illness. School achievement remained extremely difficult throughout childhood and adolescence. However, I leaned on faith, spirituality, my beloved father, grandmothers, and mentors who provided ongoing encouragement that I would prevail and ultimately succeed.

Keeping faith and the journey beyond

In 1972, my high school guidance counselor told me to not bother taking any standardized tests, as I was not college material. Furthermore, despite a boorish aunt who insisted I could never become a nurse, I remained steadfast in my mission to attain this goal. To develop self confidence, first I became a nurses’ aide, then a Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN) while obtaining an Associate degree in Applied Science as a registered nurse. I have worked as a critical care nurse for over twenty years, and serve on the hospital Ethics committee as a result of patient advocacy.

From 1989 to 1990, I wanted to obtain a Bachelor of Science degree, furthering my nursing education. Once again the dragon of fear devoured me, so I vanished from the university. Nine years later, I decided to try again. This time, upon suggestion of the chairperson of the program, I obtained testing for learning disabilities. In May of this year, I received the “Outstanding Bachelor of Science Student Nurse Award.” I have been accepted into the graduate nursing program to begin this fall of 2003, to become a nurse educator and nurse practitioner striving to become an expert in the field of nursing.

Epilogue

Those who do not encounter the fiercest demon known as a disability do not understand the repetition and resilience one must endure to achieve. As an adult learner into the fourth decade of my life, I faced the dragon of fear and continue attaining goals of what many perceived impossible. I am especially grateful to Dr. B. and Dr. V, for remaining constant in belief, that every human being has the capacity to learn.

Sharon Snover, RN/ BSN Nursepicc@hotmail.com

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