- The Day The Earth Stood Still
"I am fading away. Slowly but surely. Like the sailor who watches the home shore gradually disappear, I watch my past recede. My old life still burns within me, but more and more of it is reduced to the ashes of memory."
~ Jean-Dominique Bauby, The Diving Bell and the Butterfly
November 11, 2010 was a day like most others. Little did I realize that by the time the day wound to a close, I would be rushed by ambulance to the nearest trauma center with injuries that would impact me for the rest of my life. There was no sense of impending doom, no feeling of dread, nothing to foretell what the day would bring.
I was more on top of my game than I had ever been. Weeks earlier, I celebrated my one year wedding anniversary to my best friend. Though my wife Sarah and I had been a dedicated and loving couple for over a decade, raising eight children between us made living in a single home impractical. We had finally hit the point in our lives where most of the children had moved into adulthood. We were both happily and excitedly looking forward to this next chapter of our lives - our time together.
Professionally, my writing career was progressing with recent national publication of my work, my business was strong, our family was healthy and life was good.
Living the dream, I was at one of those places in my life that I have now come to cherish. You know the place... nothing significant is happening and you bask in the ebb and flow of a stunningly normal life.
By day's end however, I would be forever changed. My very soul would be autographed by the grit and asphalt of Main Street. There is nothing pretty about a cycling accident with severe and life-changing injuries. My blood, the very source of life coursing through my veins, was destined to stain Main Street in an odd parody of modern art.
Many people with a traumatic brain injury have little or no recall of the event that changed their life. I, on the other hand, recall the accident with stunning clarity.
Over the year, the memory of that day remains crystal clear. From the voices and concerned faces of the first-responders to the nervous chatter my the members to the trauma center team, I can describe the day as if it were just yesterday.
There is a bit of an irony as the lasting effects of my head injury on my memory have been among the most challenging. To share the details of a day now years past comes easy. To remember what I had for breakfast on any given day, or to recall a conversation just yesterday with a loved one - now that becomes problematic.
The beginning of the new chapter of my life as a TBI survivor actually predates my brain injury by many years. It's a bit odd to think that my brain injury actually has its roots in diabetes. Never have I read about diabetes being a cause of brain injury. In fact, you might just be privy to what amounts to a medical miracle, but I'll let you decide.
Also worth noting is my propensity to be a bit A.D.D. A month or so after my accident, a speech therapist charged with my care said something that caught my ear. She shared that those with A.D.D. who have had brain injuries very often jump into the realm of what she called "Super A.D.D." Suffice to say she was quite correct.
Both in my writing as well as conversationally, I jump around more than I ever have. Luckily, most all of the time I am able to get the proverbial train back on the tracks and move forward.
The roots of this tale can be traced back to 2007 when I was diagnosed with Type 2 Diabetes. Weighing in at 260 pounds and more comfortable with a Twinkie and a Coke than just about anything else, a trip to my primary care physician confirmed that I was a full blown diabetic. My blood sugar was off the charts, my vision was failing, and I had a veritable wellspring of other symptoms that all pointed to Diabetes.
"David, take a good look at your feet," my primary care physician said. "You have a choice, either use them or lose them." Knowing that amputation from untreated diabetes is not uncommon and having an affinity to remain solidly two-footed, I did something not many do. It's a pretty simple concept. I did what many choose not to do: I actually listened to my doctor.
Through the first half of 2007, I got healthy - very healthy. I am a chronic overcomer. Over the years, time has shown that little can or has kept me down for long. Some call it resiliency. I call it stubbornness. I would learn later that this stubbornness would become one of my greatest allies and aids to my ongoing recovery.
Six months after my diabetes diagnosis, my weight down close to 80 pounds. I was in the best shape of my life and very much on top of my game. Cycling thirty miles or so daily gave me back my life. I was always fond of cycling as a child. My diabetes gave me back the gift of loving the ride simply for the sake of the ride. With the wind in my face and the winding road in front of me, cycling remains my undying passion to this day. My story of victory over Diabetes was published nationally and I became a bit of a local poster child for wellness.
I was in better shape at forty-nine than I was at twenty-nine. You could bounce a coin off my calf. Over 40,000 miles of cycling in the short span of a few years does tend to tighten you up a bit.
And life changed abruptly in two ticks of a clock.
The driver who hit me was only 16. I met him and his mom a couple of weeks after the accident, but that is a tale for later. It was quite a meeting. This same young man makes what amounts to a cameo appearance toward the end of this tale, our lives yet again coming together at unexpected and unasked for times.
Local police estimated he was cruising along on Main Street at between 30-40 MPH when he broadsided me. He never hit the brakes. My traumatic brain injury was of the double-dipping variety. When I was hit from the right, my helmeted head went directly through the young driver's windshield. As the laws of physics are not to be broken, the momentum of his car catapulted me 50' down Main Street where my head impacted the pavement on the left side.
Brains are like Jell-O in a Tupperware container. When my head went through his windshield, my brain impacted the inside of my skull in a millisecond, only to bounce back to the other side of my skull. That same dance was repeated when I hit the street giving me the benefit of four internal brain impacts. Medical professionals call this type of injury a coup contrecoup injury where my brain essentially hit both sides of the inside of my skull..
Permanent damage to my frontal lobes was diagnosed at a much later date. In fact, a well-intentioned doctor, an expert in the diagnosis and treatment of traumatic brain injury called me "permanently disabled." You'll meet him a bit later.
The impact from the accident was so violent that my helmet literally sheared hair off my head. My helmet suddenly became the catcher's mitt for two odd and unexpected items: newly shorn hair and broken windshield glass. In fact, my wife Sarah spent several days following my accident pulling small shards of glass from my head.
There is nothing even remotely attractive about this type of accident.
And it all happened in two ticks of a clock.
Happily cycling on a near picture-perfect November day…
Outstretched on Main Street with broken bones, a broken bike, shattered helmet and completely unable to move, I awaited certain death. Oddly, as I lay there on the blacktop, pain coursing through my broken body, I was at complete peace, content with my life. My children would be in good hands. Those close to me knew they were loved. My last words to my wife Sarah were "I love you." If it was going to be my time to explore the Next Realm, so be it. Mind you, I was not happy about this possibility but I did have a stunning level of acceptance.
A mere forty-eight hours after my accident, while the events were still fresh, I wrote about my accident.
As I was casted from a broken elbow, I painfully and methodically penned my experience, one slow keystroke at a time, using a single finger. Driven by some power within me, some need to chronicle from the start, a journey I didn't even know I was about to embark upon, I did what I've done for years. I put my thoughts on paper. Looking back with the benefit of several years as a survivor, this was the first step in my new march, my first attempt to sort through all that was unfolding in my life.