Looking back I realize that certain choices made all the difference. These are some of my realizations.
I’d been in the hospital for over one month, in coma for most of that time. I have only a few memories — visitor’s faces, mostly — from the weeks, months, in the bed. This one is the most important: I remember sitting up in the hospital bed and saying, I’m 24 years old and I’ve done nothing with my life.It wasn’t that statement but the subtext that was critical. The unspoken thought beneath those words was: it is time to do something.Life had been a failure to that point. It was time to change.I didn’t know how. I didn’t know what. I simply knew … it was time to change.
I was determined, but couldn’t do what I wanted to do. My mind and my body were separate. I’d want to ask for lunch but would say my shoe needed to be tied. I couldn’t drive. I couldn’t put on my jacket. I couldn’t walk for more than about 100 metres without getting tired. I couldn’t work. I couldn’t support myself.
Doctors and nurses and therapists were imperative. Family and friends were crucial. They provided in so many ways it’s impossible to list them all. They provided shelter, clothing, cash, taxi service, meals, laundry services, a home, comfort and love. My friend Ron visited the hospital every day and always provided a laugh. Family said the hospital room was a constant stream of my friends. I relied on them; that made all the difference.
The Doctor asked, Do you have any problems?I can’t play guitar, I said.Well, she replied, base your recovery on your guitar. The right side of my body was paralyzed. I was having difficulty with manual dexterity and depth perception. After the brain injury I slept up to 18 hours a day; my body needed to recover. But when I wasn’t sleeping I played guitar.I played guitar all the time. I needed to improve, after all, it was a gauge for my recovery. I relearned how to play the instrument. And I recovered.
One night, about three months after the accident, I wandered from the bedroom in a stupor. I was incoherent and mumbling. Mom asked what I needed. I slammed my fist on the table and said, I need a piece of black paper and some white pencil crayons. She asked why. Angrily, I said they were for an art project and they were essential.
Ok, Allan, mom said, I’ll get them in the morning; the stores are all closed now. Go back to bed.
In the morning, at breakfast, she told me the whole thing and asked why I wanted the black paper? I had no idea what she was talking about. I had no memory of the night.
She shrugged it off, laughed, and said, Do you still want me to get the paper and crayons?
No, I said, but if there’s any coffee, I’d love a cup of that.
I needed to lose weight, work on coordination, and heal lungs suffering from years of smoking.
The bike cost $500. It was the all the money in the bank account. The first route was about 1.5 kilometres. I rode it every day. The more the body responded to exercise, the farther I rode: 5km, 10km, 15km, 40km.
Within three years I rode 115km in one day on steep, high altitude, roads in the Rocky Mountains: from Jasper, Alberta, up the mountain to the Angel Glacier, out to Athabasca falls, and back.
That night I ate a healthy supper beside the fire, played guitar with a fellow camper, and then slept long and deep in the fresh, cool, mountain air. Exercise. It is the fountain of youth. It can be the catalyst to recovery.
The most important realization is that everyone is different. What works for me, might not work for you and vice versa. Just always keep positive. Thrust your chest out, pull your shoulders back and toss your chin up. Be proud of even the smallest forward step and even the stumbles; for those are learning experiences.
While this isn’t a definitive list or pedagogy the realizations are another tool for use in recovery. Here they are again
You can heal yourself. Start today.
In the spring of 1990 Allan Boss was in a motor vehicle accident. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. The attending neurosurgeon informed his family that he would never walk again or talk again. He recovered and finished three university degrees including a Ph.D., has written/edited four published books and his CBC Ideas docudrama “Updrafts” about recovering from brain injury won nominations for multiple international awards including the Peabody and the Prix Italia. He is currently writing a non-fiction book about his recovery.