It was an ordinary New York summer night in the East Village of Manhattan. The sun had almost finished tucking itself in for the night, behind the city skyline. The damp summer heat misted the smell of garbage that seeped into our pores as a good friend and I maneuvered from patio to patio, eating and drinking our way to the next adventure. The day was over, but the night was young, so we marched south on First Avenue until we came to a short set of stairs illuminated by a red neon sign.
We took our seats at the bar to greet a friend of ours who was tending that night. Three glasses were placed in front of us, and a green bottle was tilted to stream whiskey into each one. Glasses in hand, we clinked them together and quickly shot them back. Enduring the burn of the whiskey, the bartender collected the empty glasses, forced an inhale through his teeth and in the dim lighting of the Three of Cups Lounge, said “Okay… What are we drinking?”
The Three of Cups is a tarot card said to be of celebration and accomplishment. Traditionally, the card features three young maidens facing each other with goblets raised in a toast of joy. The ground is covered with fruit and there is a general sense of abundance and happiness, and wreaths of laurels wrap each of the maiden’s heads, symbolizing victory and success.
Through the crackling of some old speakers, Frank Sinatra sang, “That’s life… That’s what they say. You’re riding high in April… Shot down in May.” It was April, and I had found a way to make a living by working bars and parties, which was exactly what I wanted to be doing at that point… I was riding high in April 2011, and May was on its way.
Shot Down in May
On the night of May 7th (early morning of May 8th), everything changed in a brief moment. I still have no memory of what happened that night. However, the result of the brain injury that I sustained has changed the trajectory of my life entirely… for better or for worse.
I am often asked whether I believe that my accident, as well as the painful and difficult trials that followed, happened for a reason. This is a question that I cannot answer. My brain injury does not define me, but it is a part of my story. Qualifying the positives and negatives of it is irrelevant to me.
The fact is that I was inches away from death three years ago and that I have endured severe damage to my brain. This is not a bad thing. It is not a good thing. It is just a thing. It happened and I recognize that I am extremely fortunate to have survived.
Charles Darwin once said, “It is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent that survives. It is the one that is the most adaptable to change.” To bring Darwin’s idea to the individual level, I would include that luck is a huge factor. After initially surviving any severe injury, survival becomes a day-to-day endeavor. Adaptation is one thing that every single survivor I’ve had the pleasure of meeting is skilled at. Survivors are forced to adapt.
I have made several brain injured friends since finding myself within the field of neurorehabilitation, and some of them are as tough as nails. As I wrote in my New Years post: “It is the trials that improve a person. It is the difficulties that one truly learns from. That is why good schools are difficult schools. That which threatens your life tries you. It tries your will and ability to survive, and if you live through it, you learn… you have to. You have an idea of what it was like for you and how you made it through. You become mentally stronger.”
I too have adapted and continue to adapt. I was living a different life when I sustained some serious injuries, and I’m very grateful that I am still alive to tell the tale. But that’s not all. That is only part one and two of my three-part story. It is the “Lights” and the “Coma” of “Lights, Coma, Action!”
It is surreal to think about this three-year journey since that fateful day. My Diffuse Axonal Injury (DAI) left me with less than a 10% chance of ever regaining consciousness. Yet, somehow, after twelve days, I woke up. Each day since has come with challenges as well as small victories. As survivors, caretakers, and family members, we keep adapting. We adjust to a new way of living. Thanks to the support and sacrifice of my amazing mother and so many incredible friends, family members, counselors, therapists, and medical practitioners, I am where I am, years later, writing and speaking in an effort to improve neurorehabilitation.
My brain injury does not define me, but it is a part of my story. Qualifying the positives and negatives is irrelevant to me.
Possibly the most meaningful event in the past year was in the show of support that I received to complete a successful Kickstarter campaign for my upcoming book. I cannot thank you all enough. The value of that campaign was hardly monetary and much more about how, together, we can improve the lives of survivors. Through support, strength, hope, and advocating for further research into neurorehabilitation and brain optimization, we are improving lives.
With the momentum from Kickstarter, I hit the ground running, speaking to groups and organizations, including the chance to deliver the keynote speech for the Neuro-Optometric Rehabilitation Association last month. The reception that I have been getting has been incredible, and I may have an opportunity to influence legislation to really change the current model of neurorehabilitation in the future. I will update the blog as this develops.
Raise Your Cup
I have never been busier in my life. I readily admit that I sometimes miss those days, living it up in New York City. I was busy then too: a different kind of busy. Those days were really good times and I am so glad that I had them and even more appreciative that I am fortunate enough to be able to tell these stories. My mother likes to say that I was “livin’ la vida loca,” meaning that I was living a wild life. I had found a way to support myself in an atmosphere where people feel good, which was exactly what I wanted to do. So much of my experiences during that time made me who I am and prepared me to meet the obstacles that are coming.
As I reflect on the three-year anniversary of my traumatic brain injury, Frank’s lyrics echo in my mind, framing the life-changing events that were soon to come my way. I was most definitely riding high in April 2011, and I was seriously shot down in May. I am eternally grateful for the incredible support of all of the doctors, nurses, counselors, friends, family and to every one of my readers. Three years later, I am humbled and grateful to be able to celebrate the new heights that I am now climbing. Let’s raise our cups… Here’s to next year. Cheers!