I am … a Survivor.
In August 2013, I was the absolute picture of health. I was an avid long-distance runner and was succeeding in my career. Although I have no recollection, on the morning of August 4, 2013, I called my wife, Jessica, to tell her that something was wrong. I eventually learned that I told Jessica that she needed to return home as soon as possible because I was having the worst headache of my life. Jessica returned home to find me on the floor of our kitchen, unable to move, and in severe pain. Jessica called 911 and I was soon on my way to the nearest emergency room. On the way from the ambulance to the emergency room, I suffered a seizure. The doctors thereafter determined that a Grade 5 AVM in my head had ruptured and therefore, I was having a significant brain hemorrhage. In anticipation of the fact that my brain would need room to swell as a result of the hemorrhage, my surgeon removed the right side of my skull and stored it in my abdomen.
I remember becoming aware of my surroundings sometime in the Fall of 2013. I found myself in a hospital room, a place where I had never spent a night before. I had no idea what was happening but one thing I noticed was that I was never alone. I was constantly in the company of my wife, my parents, my in-laws, friends and my doctors. I soon came to understand that something severe had happened to me and that I had a lot of work in front of me in order to recover. I soon began to be brought by a wheelchair to a host of different types of therapies, including physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy. For the first time in my adult life, I was completely dependent on others. As hard as it was, I tried to treat therapy as my job and gave it my all every day. I soon came to understand that I had spent a month in an induced coma in order to allow my body to rest and start to recuperate. One of my early memories was a nurse informing me that I weighed 119 pounds. This meant that I had lost about 30 pounds from my normal weight. I remember eating heavy foods, including ice cream for breakfast, in order to replenish my depleted body.
The experience of being hospitalized was terrible but certain things made it tolerable. The terrible part was that I had very little say over what I was doing day-to-day and was very confused as to what was happening. The thing that made it tolerable is that my wife made sure that I would never find myself alone in the hospital. I had a constant stream of visitors from different parts of my life. People were extremely gracious and always brought something nice to make my day little bit better. As I became more alert during my time in the hospital, I started to desperately miss my two sons. When I was well enough, my wife brought my sons to visit me. The person that they came to see was a shell of his former self and I cannot imagine how frightening it was for young children to see a parent in such bad shape. I befriended many of my therapists during my hospital stay and tried to make the best of the situation. I remember one trip that I took via ambulance to New York City in order to have the piece of my skull from my abdomen reattached to my head.
Following that surgery, I continued to rehabilitate and was finally released from the hospital on December 5, 2013. My return home was a tremendous benefit to my recovery. I had a very strong desire to be able to play with and care for my children. My wife had become my full-time caregiver. At the time, I hated that she had to do that. She is somebody that had worked extraordinarily hard to achieve her dream career and I hated the fact that her career now had to take a backseat to my recovery. The reason that this was hardest for me is that I had always been the biggest supporter of her career and now, here I was, dragging down all that she had worked so hard to attain.
Almost immediately after my release from inpatient treatment, I started to participate in outpatient therapies at the same hospital where I had last been in inpatient. The therapists were truly the cream of the crop and gave me a lot of confidence that I would be able to recover. All of them were seeking out the latest and most innovative treatments and I could not believe some of the therapies that I was participating in. For example, on certain days, I would have electrodes hooked up to my body in order to deliver electrical stimulation to my body which had now lost its connection to my brain. While it never felt great and sometimes felt painful, I tried to believe in my therapists and tried to be brave. A big reason that I was able to deal with eight hour days of grueling therapy was that I often thought of my wife and how much I loved her and knew that I would have to endure pain and difficulties in order to allow us to live a life remotely close to the life that we had always dreamed of living. One of the hardest parts of therapy for me was the fact that every single thing I did was being tested and monitored. Although I now I see why that was necessary, at the time it became very humiliating and frustrating.
At the beginning of the year 2015, I was feeling much better and decided that I would take the tests necessary to resume driving a car and would begin to consider returning to work. I practiced driving and, although I was extremely nervous, I passed my driving test on the first try. I returned to work on May 11, 2015. The feeling of returning to my career was extremely emotional for me because, at one time, it seemed like something that was so out of reach. Returning to work was not easy. Just like the rest of rehabilitation, with patience came success. One of the hardest parts of rehabilitating from a serious illness is the fact that you often feel that it is you against the world. Although I certainly felt that way at times, I eventually came to realize that this mindset was not helpful. What was helpful was waking up each day and methodically counting my blessings. I lived in a beautiful house, was recovering well, had the most beautiful and fantastic wife, was the father to the most perfect little boys, had the most amazing family, and was fortunate enough to have the opportunity to get better and live my life. Although I get tired at times, I know that I still am in the early stage of my recovery. There is no limit on how far I can take it.
People often ask me what I have learned from this experience. All that I can respond to that question is that I understand that life is not supposed to be easy. Although it is not always easy, what is most important, are a couple of things. First, it is imperative to face adversity with your chin up. Second, during tough times, it is most important to surround yourself with the best team you can find. Third, you should never underestimate how important it is to have a smile on your face. Smiling makes you approachable. The person that approaches you may be going through a hard time and may be under much more difficult circumstances than you are experiencing. Fourth, try to take an inventory of your blessings every single day and really think about all that you have to be thankful for. After all, we are all still here together and that is a beautiful thing. Life is very fragile and we should all try our hardest to be good to each other. All we have in the end is whether people remember us as a good person. If the answer is yes, then your life has been a success.