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Thursday, 30 October 2014

Fuzzy Math

By Maureen Browning

As I walked to school one very cold February morning in 1951, I couldn't stop thinking about my mother. She had been tired lately and was usually lying on the sofa when I got home from school. She was expecting a baby soon.

After the pledge of allegiance to the flag, our morning of spelling and reading classes passed quickly and soon it was lunch time.

After lunch, we lined up to get our snow pants, coats, hats, neck scarves, mittens and boots from the cloakroom. We dressed beside our desks and lined up out in the hallway to go outside for a short recess.

It was windy and much colder than I had expected. A few of my friends and I huddled together around a corner out of the wind next to the brick wall of the schoolhouse. We shuffled our feet around on the snowy ground trying to stay warm.

When the bell rang for us to line up at the entrance to file back into the school, I stepped away from the building, slipped on some ice that had built up next to the foundation and brutally smacked the left side of my head on the corner of the brick wall.

Stunned, I lay there for a few seconds before I slowly got back up onto my feet, then hurried to get to the line forming to go back inside. Nothing hurt much then but by the time I entered my classroom, the left side of my head throbbed.

The next thing I remember was sitting at my desk trying to concentrate on our fourth grade arithmetic lesson. The teacher was demonstrating borrowing in the subtraction process involving hundreds and I couldn't follow along. I was only three desks back from the chalkboard but the white numbers on the board looked fuzzy – so fuzzy I couldn't read them.

Dizziness set in, followed by a pulsing headache and then the nausea.

I remembered the time when my friend, Harriet, threw up on the floor in class before telling the teacher that she felt sick. I wasn't going to do that so I raised my hand and told the teacher I had a terrible headache and felt very sick. She knew I lived just two blocks from school and that my mother was there, so she sent me home.

I made it inside our back door but not up the three steps into the kitchen. I yelled out for my mother and then collapsed onto the steps.

I woke up in a dark room in the hospital with a very cold rubbery ice bag wedged between a pillow and the left side of my head and I could hear voices repeatedly calling my name and asking me to open my eyes. The voices echoed and sounded far away.

A few days later, I was able to stay awake for longer periods of time and the sleepiness, headache and nausea gradually went away. When I was able to stand and walk without feeling dizzy, I was discharged from the hospital.

X-rays had shown that I had a skull fracture – the temporal bone on the left side of my head. I had to stay home from school for several more weeks, sitting quietly in a chair or lying down to let the bone in my head heal.

Finally I was back in school and on April 3rd my sister, Candyce Josephine – Candy Jo – was born. When she came home from the hospital, I held her every chance I was given. I adored her and loved her more than anything imaginable.

When I entered junior high school two-and-a-half years later, I struggled terribly with algebra and geometry. I received special help and the teachers could never figure out why I had so much trouble.

The same difficulty followed me into high school. My math teacher there provided me with extra tutoring after school and still, I earned nothing above a grade of D.

It wasn't until college when I took a psychology class that touched on brain injuries that I wondered if that slip on the ice in fourth grade may have resulted in some permanent left frontal lobe damage.

Years later, my research convinced me that the brain swelling I experienced from that fracture very likely contributed to my inability to process the mechanics of algebra and geometry, which I now believe led to my fuzzy math dilemma.

[INVITATION: All elders, 50 and older, are welcome to submit stories for this blog. They can be fiction, non-fiction, poetry, memoir, etc. Please read instructions for submitting.]

Posted by Ronni Bennett at 05:30 AM | Permalink | Email this post


Maureen, What an interesting and well-written story.

I hadn't heard about research showing that a serious brain injury could cause problems doing algebra and geometry years later.

It's such a good thing that you told your teacher that you felt sick when you did and that you were able to get home before passing out.

So glad it affected only your math skills and not your language skills. Imagine not being able to write well, as you do, and struggling to get the words out.

What an awful thing to happen to anyone! Good thing it didn't affect you worse than it did. Thank you for writing about this.

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