When I first came out of the hospital I needed a check-off chart on my wall to remind me to take medications, wash dishes, and pay monthly bills. Eventually I relearned how to maintain daily functions needed for independent living; once these supports were firmly in place, cognitive rebuilding could begin. When I came home from McLean and was unable to read or concentrate, my mother started reading to me. Whether she was just trying to fill time or whether I needed to shut other thoughts out of my brain, she would seek activities that I enjoyed. At first my attention span was quite short and I could stay awake for only brief periods (brain breakdown produces incredible fatigue, and a majority of medications exacerbate sedation), so she read a few lines at a time from materials that were not very demanding and that might grab my interest. As is the case with young children, familiarity and repetition helped, so books from my youth were recited multiple times. As I got stronger, my reading tutorials became longer and my naps became fewer, and my short-term memory began to click, which increased my ability to concentrate. When I was ready to undertake reading on my own, I requested a book I remembered fondly from fifth grade: Deenie, by Judy Blume. It is the story of a young woman with scoliosis who has to confront and ultimately accept her disability. I recall ruminating about the big print and small number of pages. I do not think I fully processed the ironic parallels between the book's character and myself, but in retrospect they are quite striking.
In the first stages of regaining brain agility, my mother and I played very simple card games, such as "Go Fish," and I spent time coloring in some childhood coloring books and creating figures from colored dough. With their symbols and numbers, cards helped strengthen my mathematics-related thinking and memory; the pictures and sculptures incited creativity. As a child, I had subscribed to Games magazine, and my mother pulled out old copies for me to do word searches and other puzzles. Once my verbal skills increased and some of my characteristic resolve returned, I began working my memory—which meant old-fashioned practice. Just as running marathons requires putting in the miles, I set aside daily time to memorize passages from authors such as Shakespeare ("my love's more ponderous than my tongue") and Eleanor Roosevelt ("you gain courage by every experience in which you really stop to look fear in the face"). I also tried to memorize weekly AP basketball college rankings (made easier by the fact that I am a diehard Duke fan).