• How independent are you?
I am able to attend to my personal grooming needs (Thank you, therapists!) 99% of the time. I might decide the extra effort isn’t worth it, or if we’re in a rush I might ask for help with some buttons or something, but I am so thankful to be able to do most of these things by myself. I am unable to drive and unable to work at present. When I am in public I am always accompanied. Whenever we’re together my little niece or nephew holds my hand so I don’t fall down.
• I have heard you called both “Ann” and “Ning” – what is your name?
My full name is Ann Thien Ning Tan. Before my injury I most often went by one of my middle names, “Ning.” After I got sick and moved back to the D.C. area I started using “Ann” more often. I like both names and answer to both, so please feel free to use either.
Do you seriously laugh that much?
Yes, I do laugh that much – after all, “a cheerful heart makes good medicine.” Laughing makes this situation more tolerable, and it also puts friends at ease when they see me for the first time post-AVM and are not sure how to interact with me. The laughing does not mean I do not understand the gravity of my situation – I feel it more than I care to show – it just makes it go by faster.
• What do you do with all that free time?
It is true that I am unemployed, so the hours I would have normally devoted to the office are now unspoken for by Corporate America – however, these hours are not “free.” There is a TON of physical training to do to meet the demands of public and private life. And lots of "projects" come my way.
• If you are disabled, how do you write?
I am cognitively intact but physically impaired, so the challenge of writing is largely physical (e.g. looking at the screen, pressing the right keys). This exercise is admittedly self-serving in that there is a large emotional component in writing all of this down, as well as the fact that it’s good reading and writing practice. Since this is my story and I know it well, content creation is relatively fast – but when I have tried to do other, more mundane things, like online banking or administrative correspondence, I have not been successful.
• What’s that thing on your neck?
This question came from a young friend (4 years old) over the lunch table. At first I thought, What thing? And then I remembered that I’ve got a few weird things going on in the neck region, so I thought, Which one? But then I realized he probably meant the big one, so I told him it was the hole the doctor made in my neck to help me breathe. The hole in my neck (officially called the “stoma”) was one of the first pieces of physical evidence that convinced me that a medical event had occurred in my life. It is also a readily visible attribute that people can fixate on, and often do.
• Did you lose your brain?
This is another question that came from a young friend – this one was 3, I think, and asked me this question with earnestness pouring out of her big brown eyes. I had never met her before and she knew me only by name. I knew she had been praying for me, and her question seemed like a very natural one. “No, sweetheart,” I assured her, “I didn’t lose the whole thing – just a little bit.”