July 2017 Rorie Lee
February 26, 2018
Rorie Lee July 2017
Rorie with her service dog, Ziva.
photo by Ross Goldberg.
In 2003, Rorie Lee and her husband Ross Goldberg realized their dream of moving to Maine and buying a house in Scarborough as Rorie started a position as a medical education specialist and family medicine residency assistant program director.
Rorie grew up in northeastern Pennsylvania with six siblings. Her father was an elementary school teacher and principal. She herself has always been involved in education: she has taught in public schools, graduate education programs, and has over 20 years of medical education experience. In addition, she holds a bachelor's in English and a Master's in Education from the University of Pennsylvania, and a Master's in Public Health and PhD in health studies from Temple University. Rorie was always well organized, high functioning, and spent her life meeting and exceeding expectations.
On March 12, 2008, Rorie was supposed to head to Gorham for a presentation. Before leaving, she went to take the dog out and grab the paper. Despite wearing ice traction devices over her boots to prevent slipping, both she and the dog fell. Rorie woke up lying in the driveway, unable to move. She could hear the dog and feel him breathing on her face, but she couldn't see anything. It took her a long time to move and roll over. Her entire focus was on getting back to the house because she knew Ross, who is self-employed, was on the phone and would have expected her to have already departed for work. If she didn't make it back to the house, it could have been hours before she was discovered.
Rorie followed the dog and crawled up the driveway, struggling to open the front door. She told Ross that she had hit her head. Her left hand was black and blue, she couldn't find her glasses, and as she sat on the couch she kept sliding to one side, unable to sit up straight. In her mind, she tried to go through everything she would need at the hospital (ID, insurance card, etc). She spent the day in the Emergency Department, where they told her that she “just” had a concussion and should go home, rest and to follow up with orthopedics regarding her broken fingers.
Pressured by her supervisor, Rorie returned to work two days later. She struggled immensely and doesn't remember much of that spring. She had to type with one hand due to her fractured fingers, and she remembers spending long hours at home trying to catch up on work projects, but never managing to get there. She could no longer prioritize tasks, getting dressed was difficult, and trying to initiate work projects was extremely challenging.
In December, Rorie's neurologist sent her to New England Rehab for a neuropsychological evaluation. The test was painful, frightening, and overwhelming, but at the same time it was comforting because the results validated all of the challenges she was having. She could not walk in a straight line, she had residual balance and vision issues, hearing challenges, trouble with initiation and attention, and more. Where she had always been highly organized, she now couldn't pay bills, had to check and recheck everything, and became obsessive about reviewing things over and over again. Rorie's whole sense of self had been tied up in her professional identity and she was having trouble reconciling these changes, so she started seeing a psychologist to help her come to terms with her new life.
At the time, Rorie was one of the instructors for the University of New England and Maine Medical Center's online master's program in medical education. She worked part-time on short-term disability and a couple months of long-term disability before the insurance company declared that she could work full-time with accommodations. Rorie continued going to speech therapy and the local brain injury support group while trying to manage work. After her employer discontinued her accommodations without notice, started the disciplinary process for dismissal, and hired someone else with the same position description but a different title, Rorie left work permanently. She was told she could apply for unemployment and was kept on as an inactive employee for a few months while she looked for another job within the organization. Eventually Rorie and Ross were unable to afford the COBRA insurance payments.
Losing so much of her self-identity and financial security as a result of her brain injury was a humbling experience that shook Rorie to the core, but she has come out on the other side with a different and positive view. She is a better and happier person now, she says. Joining her local support group enabled her to connect with other survivors, which allowed her to understand and move forward. She joined Brain Injury Voices, a survivor-led education and advocacy organization; as a result she can teach again, can help others, and can use her skills that are still there, just a little harder to access.
The most challenging thing Rorie has ever undertaken is to live a full life after brain injury. She turned her focus to the inside, to who she is and what is important to her. Her brain injury has not changed her worth as a human being, but she is not the same person she used to be. Rorie credits her incredibly supportive husband Ross, friends and family from Voices, her remarkable service dog, Ziva, and learning to meditate, focus inwardly and slow down with helping her have a full and rewarding life.Rorie also has a renewed focus on one of her greatest passions: quilting, which she sees as a good analogy for her life with a brain injury. Before her fall, she had cut out pieces to make placemats. When she got well enough to return to quilting, she could not figure out how to put them back together. Quilting has helped her immensely with order and prioritizing, as well as enabling her to leave a tangible reminder of herself with family, friends, and the organizations she donates her quilts to. Rorie eventually learned how to sew both her life and her quilting pieces back together, a metaphor for how far she has come and everything she has accomplished.