When life gives you lemons … DANCE!

The wedding was only few months after the accident. I know I was there, but have no recollection of the event other than the image of the plants and bricks and sunlight inside of Edmonton’s Citadel Theatre. I believe that’s where the wedding was held, but I’m not sure. Sometimes memories from those days get mixed together and I can’t be sure if what I remember is accurate. I have no idea where the reception was held. I kind of remember the bride and groom, he a close friend of mine, but not clearly.

Recently I was chatting with my good friend Melissa, who plays a fairly major role in The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain, and she reminded me that I was her date at the wedding. So I guess she drove, likely in her funky little, red Kharmann Ghia. I loved that car. But, again, the rest is a blur. I don’t remember her picking me up. I don’t remember the meal. I don’t remember the first dance. I don’t remember what I wore or arriving or going home.

Then Melissa said, “That was the day you wouldn’t dance with me.”

I sighed when she reminded me. Because I did remember that. I’d danced with Melissa many times in the past, at many weddings and pubs and parties. She was one of my dearest friends and there had been many chances to dance. But the stark memory of why I didn’t dance with her that day was clear.

I was so self conscious about how my friends saw me. I wanted to be the old me, but I wasn’t. That was clear. I couldn’t speak well, stammering and stuttering, mixing up words. I was always tired. I couldn’t think straight. My face still drooped and I walked with a pronounced limp.

I didn’t want to accept that I was different. I didn’t want others to know I was less than what I’d been. I was so self conscious.

But I was wrong. I should have danced, just like John Woloski danced with his therapists after a stroke. I didn’t. I sat at at table and watched Melissa dance with other friends.

The story has a happy ending, though. Years later I was with Melissa at another wedding. Hers. She and her new husband were beautiful, with never ending grins. I remember everything about that day. Yet one memory stands out. That is when I had the chance to dance with her, in her wedding dress, with that smile and luminescence. It’s a memory I don’t mix with others. It is clear. Time heals. And so does dance.

So dance. Dance like John Woloski. Life is too short not to dance.

*****

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 program “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.

Want to learn more? Email info@allanboss.ca  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to his book, The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain.

“Updrafts,” the story of an accident, a brain, and a recovery featured on CBC Ideas

A doctor or a therapist — I can’t remember which — came to my hospital bed to assess my condition. She handed me a pen and asked that I write my name. Sure, I thought. No problem. But when I tried to hold the pen it felt odd. When I tried to write my name I couldn’t do it. All I could write was a scribble.

I was 24 years old and I couldn’t write. I could barely hold a pen.

So it’s not much of a leap to understand that twelve years later when the phone call came my breath stopped. The pitch I’d been working on for over a year was accepted by the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation radio program IdeasThey hired me to research, conceive, write, record and narrate the program about my recovery from brain injury.

I began writing the story as an essay for an undergraduate creative non fiction narrative workshop lead by Stephen Hume. (Four years after my TBI I was accepted to the Writing Program at UVic. I tell the whole story in The Memory Box.) When I completed the essay, a Canadian literary magazine accepted it for publication in a special issue about survivors, but then the issue fell through and it wasn’t published. C’est la vie.

In the fall of 2001 I used that essay as a basis for my pitch to Ideas. And it worked. They commissioned me to create a program.

It was a bit gut churning to interview folks who where critical to the story, but with whom I hadn’t spoken in years. And I was both intimidated and invigorated stepping into the CBC studio with producer Dave Redel and sound engineer Bob Doble to bring the fragmented, time twisting and turning and structurally “messy” script to life.

Following the broadcast in 2004 the show titled Updrafts won nominations for several broadcasting awards, including: The New York Festivals, The Peabody Awards, The Gabriel Awards, and the Prix Italias. Retired Ideas Executive Producer, Bernie Lucht called updrafts, “one of the finest ever aired on Ideas.”

The beginning of a journey can’t predict where you’ll arrive.

Here are a few short segments from the CBC Ideas program, Updrafts.

*****

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 program “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.

Want to learn more? Email info@allanboss.ca  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to the book, The Memory Box.

Memories

I can think of a hundred great memories that only involve me. At least a hundred.

One of my favourite memories was a long run at Lake Minnewanka, near Banff, Alberta. It was about 10 years after the accident.

After overcoming the hemiparesis I began running as a sport and was training for a race. (I never really raced. I sort of participated in organized runs.) I was training for a marathon (42K or 26.2m) so I planned a long, slow jog of 35K along the lake shore. The rocky trail headed up the mountain, then extended along a shale slide, and finally came back down, twisting and turning beside the lake.

As I ran further and further away from populated areas, I also ran deeper and deeper into bear territory and Lake Minnewanka is Grizzly Bear country. So every minute or so I’d let out a loud WHOOP! to alert any nearby bears that I was coming. I wanted to warn them and provide ample opportunity for them to move off before I arrived.

Just after I let out a whoop I ran down a small hill and came round a stand of lodge-pole pine and there stood three Rocky Mountain Goats, just a few feet away. If I would have reached out with a stretch I might have been able to touch them. They looked at me as though to say, “Why are you yelling?” The goats weren’t dangerous and they weren’t scared. I watched them for a couple of minutes and they watched me and when then they moved casually up the hill I continued the run.

If I would have been with others, talking and laughing, I might not have had to yell whoop, but I also likely wouldn’t have seen those goats. They would have heard a group coming and likely would have left before we arrived. The goats make a beautiful memory. Life should be full of beautiful memories.

So I like being alone. Maybe it’s because after the TBI I was alone a lot.

I’d lost my driver’s license. I’d lost my job. I’d lost some friends (and kept others) but they all had lives beyond me. And most of the time I was at my parents’ house which was locate on an acreage far away from urbanity. During the day both parents worked so there was no other choice but to sit alone in that place.

I won’t say I didn’t feel sorry for myself: I couldn’t write; I couldn’t read; I was constantly in pain; I had trouble walking for longer distances. So I watched TV — a lot. I ate — a lot. But I also used the time to reflect, to plan, to consider, to focus, to meditate. I used the time to find purpose. I used the time to discover myself. I used the time to play guitar. After a while, I learned to love solitude.

Being alone is a great thing. It gives you time to get familiar with you.

So give yourself the gift of a day alone. If you wonder what to do, there are so many things: Go for a walk. Bake a loaf or bread. Sing. Write in your diary and plan for the future. Exercise. Set some goals. Read.

But do your best to avoid the bears. Goats are fine. Just avoid the bears.

*****

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., wrote/edited four published books, completed four marathons and his CBC Ideas program “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. 

Want to learn more? Email info@allanboss.ca  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to his book, The Memory Box.

Help!

A close friend was in the vehicle. He couldn’t find me after the crash. He ran about, spun on his heels, but he couldn’t see me. What he could see was a house. He ran there to get help. Someone was home and they phoned 911,

It was a small town, so I imagine you could hear the sirens almost immediately.

Someone, I’m not sure whom, found me in a ditch some 30 feet away from the upside down vehicle. The paramedics began assessment, then treatment and moved me from the site to a gurney to the ambulance and then to the small local hospital where the team identified that my injuries were beyond their ability to treat in that facility. Another, or the same, ambulance took me to a better equipped hospital in a nearby city. There, a bevy of doctors and nurses and orderlies looked after me, staying close by my side to make sure I remained alive.

My family came as quickly as possible from a province away. They remained there for a week until my condition stabilized and I was transferred to a yet bigger hospital in my home town.

My mother said the stream of friends through that hospital room was endless. People she’d never met showed up and tried to make me laugh. Ron came every day.

During my stay in four different hospitals over a four years period, a cluster of professionals, friends and family supported me. They drove me places, took me with them, fed me, clothed me, helped me walk and learn speak and write, patted my back, and gave me hope.

Why am I telling this story? Simple.

You can’t do it alone.

Accept advice. Accept support. Ask for help. Ask for help. Ask for help. People want to help. They will do whatever they can to help.

You are not alone.

So tell me … who will you ask for help 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, completed four marathons and his CBC Ideas program “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.

Want to learn more? Email info@allanboss.ca  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to his book, The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain.

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