On the tenth day, I am grateful to Doctor Jabbour.
When I was 18 months old, I had viral spinal meningitis. It was bad – I was in a coma for two weeks. The doctors really didn’t have any good news for my parents, and at one point told Mom to expect the worst. They had done everything they knew to do.
There was one doctor, a specialist they had called in, who said he had an experimental treatment option – mom and dad had to sign papers. The end result was that I came out of the coma, but not before my hearty stopped and I quit breathing for several minutes and sustained some brain damage.
I had to learn to talk again. I was way behind on everything, and my motor skills were crap. I had seizures pretty regularly until I was 10 or so. My hand and eye stuff didn’t sort itself out fully until I hit puberty.
In fact, up until puberty, I was sorta a sickly kid. My last seizure was at 13.
The bright side of all of this, however, was Dr. Jabbour.
Dr. Jabbour was a Pediatric Neurologist, and what’s more, he was MY Pediatric Neurologist. I saw him every three months or so until I was 13, and regularly after that until I graduated high school.
Because I had a neurologist, my ADHD was diagnosed and treated at a time when that diagnosis was rare. Because I had THIS neurologist, however, I learned coping mechanisms and he refused to let me use my diagnosis as an excuse.
By the time I hit puberty, most of the seizures were gone, and my EEG scans were near normal, so we spent most of our time working on the ADHD stuff. Mom would take me to the appointment, and then we would talk with her in the room, and then she would leave and he would just talk to me. When the door closed behind her, he would open the top drawer of his desk and pull out a bowl of Peanut M&Ms, a “secret” treat we would both eat while we talked.
The biggest gift Doctor Jabbour gave me was how he reframed my conditions for me. He insisted that I understand that I had a brain that was not broken, but different. I was different, he said, the way left-handed people were different. And just like being left-handed in a world designed for right-handed people was harder, it was going to be harder for me as someone who had a different brain than it would be for everyone else because this world wasn’t built for people who had brains like me.
The key, he told me, was to understand it wouldn’t always be like this.
“Because one day, you will get to make your own world. You can hire someone to do the things that are hard for brains like yours. You will be able to carry a calculator. You will marry someone who likes brains like yours. You will live in a house that works for people with brains like yours. You will be able to organize your work in a way that makes sense to you. And if they won’t let you, you can start your own company and then do it.”
“But before that can happen, you have to get through school. My job is to help you get through school so you can do all of that. Right now, you have to figure out how to live in their world so one day you can build your own world.”
He did. And I did.
A few years ago, it occurred to me what a huge gift Dr. Jabbour had been to me. The more neuro-divergent folks I met, the more I realized just how rare it was for kids with issues to be told they were special, that they could thrive, that they had the ability to create a world that worked for them. So I googled his name, hoping I could find an address or something so I could tell him how much it meant to me. But it turned out he had died the previous year after a long and distinguished career of helping kids like me.
So I never got to tell him. But I really wish I had. But the next best thing is telling every neuro-divergent kid I meet what he told me: You aren’t broken – you’re different. Like being left-handed is different. This world wasn’t built for you. But if you can figure out how to survive long enough to build a world that works for you, everything is possible.