Leslie Lambert: 'You are a different person'
Leslie Lambert talks
of life after brain injury
On waking up in the morning, those of us in normal good health have abilities that are all but instinctual: knowing how to take a shower, for example, or how to get dressed; how to make breakfast and the routine of going to work; navigating the workday; planning an evening and getting dinner together.
Life no longer has such easy familiarity for former Portola Valley planning manager Leslie Lambert, who recently retired after 20 years in Town Hall. Her retirement was voluntary, but it was also necessary.
On an evening in January 2011, Ms. Lambert, 54, fell to the sidewalk outside her Mountain View home and suffered a traumatic brain injury and cerebral hemorrhage. Exactly why she fell is not known, she said in a recollection provided to the Almanac, but before the accident, she said she not infrequently felt dizzy when standing up or lying down.
Since her accident, she's had to relearn how to cope with waking up, getting dressed and walking. She did not recognize the alphabet. She had to revisit phonics. Multi-tasking is out; she needs a calendar to know the day of the week. To concentrate, she needs curtains drawn, shades down and deep quiet. She was a very accomplished writer on the complexities of urban planning before the accident, but now it can take her all day, she said, to write a substantial email.
"It's a chore for me to comprehend," she said. "You have to be strong and it takes will to move it forward."
After months of rehabilitation, she returned to work in August 2011 on a half-day schedule with responsibilities related to her old job. That, too, is over. On May 29, she suffered a brain seizure on the way to work. She managed a safe stop but had another seizure on the way to the hospital. She remembers none of it, she said in an interview.
"I think I had the angels help me," she said, referring to how she slowed and stopped on the side of the road. "I don't remember putting the car in park or the CHP or the ambulance."
With the seizure, she lost ground so she's back to relearning. "Ehh," she said. "I did it before and I can do it again."
She used to enjoy speeding around in sports cars, biking, tobogganing, skiing. No more. No more glider flying either — or as she put it in an email, to "fly in one of those planes that you fly after it lets go of the plane that has an engine ... darn, can't think of what that is called, it will come to me."
Ms. Lambert has retained her way of taking herself lightly. "Be grateful and have a positive attitude and remember to have fun and lots of laughter," she wrote. "You have your own journey to make and a gift to give. Your life is different ...You are a different person."
Her retirement was arranged by her husband Terry and Town Manager Nick Pegueros. "While I am not thrilled with this decision, I understand I agreed to it and know that it is the right thing for me and for the Town," Ms. Lambert wrote in a June 13 email.
She probably composed that sentence in the morning. "By 1 p.m., the fog starts rolling in, making me feel inefficient," she said. "By 4 p.m., my day is actually virtually over. My husband says (he) regularly needs to finish a sentence for me to find the right word that I'm looking for."
"It's so difficult (to read)," she said. "I just sit there and stare at it. I can't comprehend anything I'm looking at."
Some days are tougher. "When you push your body beyond its limitations, you may well experience something akin to circuit overload and (an) uncomfortable heaviness comes over you," she wrote. "The need to lie down and rest is overwhelming, mental exhaustion leaves you confused, spacey, and faint and the smallest frustrations make you feel emotionally wrung out. This opens the door to other emotional responses such as grief over your losses or diminished abilities."
She misses work. "The retirement thing is difficult for me," she said. "There are so many people that I admire and that I love to deal with and work with. ... I loved doing what I was doing, but I'll get better and I'll find something to do."
A pleasure to work with
Asked to comment on Ms. Lambert's retirement, Councilman Ted Driscoll replied: "I would be honored to, because I think VERY highly of Leslie."
"She has been a great pleasure to work with," Mr. Driscoll said. "She often had to deliver sensitive or tough messages to homeowners or applicants, in person or by letter, and she always managed to keep things constructive, rather than confrontational."
Jasper Ridge Preserve Director Philippe Cohen complimented Ms. Lambert on her listening abilities. "But for me, my favorite thing about her is her ability to laugh," he said. "Even recently, given all the physical pain and the enormous disruption she has had to endure, she continues to find reasons to laugh. I think that speaks volumes about her real character."
"It is a challenge to bridge town bodies, volunteers, and residents," Planning Commissioner Leah Zaffaroni told the Almanac, "but she did so with grace and professionalism, and developed uniformly positive relationships. By doing so, she helped to oil the wheels of productivity and keep our mostly volunteer government running efficiently."
"Leslie has been my teacher, my mentor, and my friend from the moment I was hired over 13 years ago," Planning Technician Carol Borck said. "I am so grateful for Leslie and all the support she has given me over the years in so many ways. She is the kind of person who cannot be replaced ... and while I do dearly miss her, I celebrate her accomplishments and wish her much happiness in retirement and any future endeavors."