Brain Injury Recovery is Like Hauling a Triple Across Canada … And Back

Published Categorised as Brain Health, Writings

Recovery from brain injury is a long haul. It’s like being a trucker driving an over-the-limit 40 m triple road train loaded up with gold-containing ore, from the far eastern tip of Newfoundland to the far western edge of Kluane National Park and Reserve in the Yukon, who travels smoothly and happily in the early stretch until he lumbers onto the old ferry that belches black exhaust and takes an hour to undock. But driving on land again, his optimism flows back; he believes his trip will be mere weeks.

The blacktop whistling underneath her wheels at great speed, she accelerates along the road the shipper has programmed into the truck’s shiny GPS. The only problem is is that the far back trailer in the triple has a tendency to yaw, sometimes sway so far over, it almost topples her off the road. She wrestles with the steering wheel, knuckles white, palms red where fingers dig into it. But she straightens the train and is soon out of New Brunswick and crossing Québec. Smooth sailing!

And then fatigue sets in. Ontario goes on forever. He is tired; his eyelids droop. He wants to stop. But the shipper has put on a clock, and every time he stops, it ticks down faster.

And then she’s through Ontario. She flies through the prairie provinces and angles northwest up the Alaska Highway. The scenery is strange, bereft, not anything like she’s seen before, but home is not far off once the gold is unloaded.

He enters the barrenness of the Yukon and bounces along into Kluane National Park, gravel chips and tar bits chinking the windshield. He’d been warned about that, about how that would signal the closing down of the time clock. He accelerates; he’s desperate to get to the destination on time.

Suddenly there it is. The weigh station. She stops with a hiss of the brakes and a flurry of dust. She steps out of the cab, and the lonely silence slams into her chest. She sucks in a deep breath, walks round the cab, and peers at the digital readout on the weigh scale. It says: wrong load. It says: you’re carrying granite not gold. It says: wrong destination.

He tears the back trailer of the triple open, and glassy quartz winks out from the boulders and rocks of granite that fill the trailer. He slams the door shut, bends over, and upchucks. He looks around for help, for another soul, for a sign. But the place is empty, devoid of even an eagle screeching against the burning sun in the Yukon’s high, thin air.

Ramryge angels at Gloucester Cathedral, England

Brain injury grief is

extraordinary grief

research proves

needs healing.

She climbs back into the cab and decides nothing for it but to return to that misdirecting shipper. But when she turns the truck back on, the GPS’s pixels flash on and off individually and in rectangular chunks. She smacks it. It flashes bigger chunks, meaningless chunks of streets mixed up. Then suddenly it shows the way. With great effort she turns the triple around on the two-lane highway and heads east. That’s where Newfoundland is, right? That’s where the shipper is.

He is lost. He finds himself somehow at the bridge to Dawson City. He decides to stop relying on the shipper’s GPS and to follow the sun instead. The sun is south, always south, and after midday, it should be behind him.

The triple eats up Megameters as she zooms along the paved highways. The GPS conks out completely, and many days are filled with slashing rain, thundering clouds, and black skies that obscure the sun. She stops at the first of many shippers for guidance. She figures shippers must know each other, have some sort of loose network. But they don’t. Still, they take pity and give out scraps of old maps. Sometimes, they take some of the boulders she’s hauling, enough that she is able to unhook the last trailer in the triple and turn it into a turnpike double. She uses their maps until they fall to crumbs under her booted foot glued to the accelerator. Then she looks for another shipper. And in between she takes pit stops and rest stops and every now and then a sixteen-hour sleep stop.

Suddenly he’s in Ottawa; he’s pulling through a gleaming chain-link gate into a new shipper’s. They remove a trailer, decreasing his haul to a semi-trailer. They provide a new GPS and a cell phone in case of emergency. He grins thanks; but they’ve turned their back already, dandruff falling lazily from their full heads of hair onto cotton-clad shoulders. Never mind. They’re busy. He gets that. He skips into the cab and roars out of there. They had said: your home destination no longer exists. But he doesn’t care. He’s happy to know at last that he’s not alone, that help is a phone call away, that they’ll direct him well.

She drives west again, maybe to Alberta, maybe to Nunavut, maybe to the far northern reaches of Vancouver Island. The new shippers hadn’t exactly specified where west. But she has confidence in them, and she cannot wait to find out.

His good mood evaporates as he jostles with Ontario drivers who think cutting right in front of a huge truck without a signal is a good thing, as he grumbles at the Ontario government who refuses to make the main highway between Ottawa and Toronto — Highway 7 — four lanes, as he screams at another reckless driver passing on a solid yellow who upon seeing the truck barrelling down on him swerves back into his lane causing the mayhem he watches in his rearview mirror.

The GPS dies again.

He calls the shipper.

Voice mail. No problem. She leaves a message and hits the road again. After awhile, she tries and tries again. Over and over, unavailable. The road no longer looks full of hope but a monotonous, seamed, cut-up blacktop; the sun a scorching harlot guide. She turns off the paved road onto one of southern Ontario’s many gravel roads. She handles the semi with ease. She brakes and watches the plume of dust dissipate around the cab.

He steps down onto the slippery gravel. He has no plans. He is lost, the only certainty is that he can’t leave the semi. He leans against its engine, unheeding of its heat. Tired of staring at the stones under his feet, he lifts his head and sees amongst the bare branches across the road a forsythia, a forsythia covered in flower after flower after flower after flower of bold yellow, a forsythia blooming in March in southern Ontario.


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