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A Doctor's Circuitous Journey Back From Her Own Brain Injury

July 20, 1998

On July 11, 1988, Claudia L. Osborn, a Detroit doctor, was hit by a car while riding her bicycle. At first it was believed that her initial cognitive difficulties were a normal part of the healing process. As it turns out, the accident had caused profound brain trauma.

In "Over My Head: A Doctor's Own Story of Head Injury From the Inside Looking Out," Osborn, 43, chronicles the process of rehabilitation, recovery and finding a new life. Here, the prologue:

March 8, 1989

NEW YORK

Hello. . . . I'm in a phone booth at the corner of Walk and Don't Walk.

--Anonymous

*

A blast of music from WABC-FM blew my eyes open. I lay still, fully awake if not informed by what I saw. My eyes surveyed the room searching for a hint of something familiar.

Nothing.

I struggled upright, my protesting back announcing the quality of my sofa hide-a-bed, reached out, and tapped the clock radio into silence. Traffic noises wafted in through the open window, so I knew I was in a city.

If I had thought about it at all, I would have been surprised at how someone as curious as I am by nature could feel so little interest in waking up in a clearly alien place. Yet I sat quietly, devoid of wonder, serene in my disorientation. The most familiar part of waking up was its unfamiliarity. I was accustomed to it. I had become one of the fortunate few who could be catapulted through a time warp and arrive unruffled in Never-Never-Land in the 23rd century. I wouldn't know it wasn't a typical day.

*

Rustling noises behind me caught my attention. A sleepy face appeared over the back of the sofa and mumbled, "Good morning."

Lori. I knew Lori. We had been roommates at Vassar years ago. Apparently, we were again.

Drawn by the noise of traffic and the billowing curtains, I struggled free of the covers and went to the open window, leaning far enough out to make Lori gasp. Forty-three floors below, tiny people scurried and toy cars multiplied to jell traffic.

"Manhattan," I said. "I'm in Manhattan."

"Right," she said. "It's not Tuesday; this can't be Belgium. How about closing that window."

I realized I was shivering.

"This must be wintertime," I informed her.

"Whatever," Lori said absently as she headed for the bathroom.

I returned to the sofa and snuggled under the covers, seeking warmth, not wanting Lori to feel hurried to free up the shower. I lounged contentedly while she moved briskly about the large, airy studio apartment. Notes on the end table by my sofa bed spelled out the directions to 24th Street under big block letters:

BE THERE 9:45 A.M.!!!

I should start to get ready. It was almost 6:30.

"You have your keys?" Lori said. "Remember, I won't be home till late this evening, I have a long deposition today, but the doorman knows you if you have a problem."

"Is it with a doctor?"

"No. Are you listening? You're sure you're set for the day? Money? Directions? My phone number, in case?"

"I'm set," I said. "I have everything written down."

It wasn't as if I didn't know my way around. I'd stayed in this city many times . . . maybe years. I was adept at navigating the streets and subway system.

She was cramming files into an already-bulging leather briefcase.

"All right then, as long as you're sure," she said.

"I'm glad it's not a doctor," I said. "You'll win the case, Lori."

"From your lips to God's ear. See ya." And she was out the door.

*

I arose and began my own preparations, striving to imitate the efficient routine I had just witnessed.

I put my suitcase on Lori's bed and opened it. Nice. Marcia would have packed everything I needed. Blouses were neatly folded on top. I put one on. Underneath were little piles of underwear. Deodorant, shampoo, miscellaneous toilet articles were tucked in on the side.

Shampoo. I needed to shower. I closed the case, put it under the bed, went into the bathroom, took my blouse off, turned on the water, and stepped into the shower. Damn. No shampoo. I stepped out of the shower, dripping wet, returned to the main room, but couldn't spot the suitcase.

It was OK. I'd use Lori's shampoo.

I lathered and rinsed my hair several times before I felt assured I'd remembered to use the shampoo, but as I towel-dried my tangled hair, I realized I had missed the conditioner.

From the bathroom doorway, I spotted the suitcase sticking out from under the bed. I opened it and took out underwear, stockings, and another blouse and dressed myself, putting on the shoes I had worn yesterday. Then I took a pair of wool slacks out of the suitcase and, after some difficulty getting them on over my shoes, removed my shoes and finished my dressing.

As I dressed, I checked then rechecked the notes on the end table so I could remember why I was alone in this strange apartment in this strange city. They also reminded me about food. A note from Lori suggested I have a bagel and orange juice. I went into the tiny kitchenette, buttered a bagel and poured some juice. Then, satisfied that I had done everything I was supposed to do, I locked the door and left.

*

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