Lucky Man* memoir of injury, coma, rehabilitation (*)

Updated: Feb 17

Bad Day

#-1 250 words

I do not remember how to live.

Doctors and nurses and therapists no longer have a specific role in my life. I am no longer in the hospitals or even in a wheelchair. I think of women. I think of Caitlin, I think of Tara, I think of Wendy, I think of Debra. I think of the other women I have known since those years. I am alive. I am a lucky man.

There are aspects of living I have forgotten, aspects out of practice having lived under various hospital schedules for years, aspects and routines I find so difficult to reinstate. I distract myself and focus only on the physical. Disregarded routines accumulate and become challenges. Disregarded small decisions become larger and pressing. When first I live with Doc and his attendants I push the necesaery ordering of time back. Now alone there is no escape and no one to please and no one to tell me to raise this foot and put more weight on that foot. Instead of breaking these usual problems of living down into manageable, simple yes and no decisions, I will transcend confusion and choose to believe any scheduling will best organize itself. Instead of going to class then home across the city I go over to Debra’s. When I have my own apartment even nearer to University I continue going to Debra’s. I stop going to class. Sleeping hours and waking hours and eating foods and times and assignments and study all disregarded become quickly chaotic and deadlines finally meaningless. I am doing well enough in class but I am not interested in elaborating or even sustaining or recovering this old role as Student. I come to that once familiar and now unfamiliar home of the University. I do not know what to do.

I have in automatic wandering come to the Equipment Room in block A of the Kinesiology Building.

Morning is gray with large snowflakes, clouds of white coming down, erasing city, ghosts of other buildings. Winter. Days before Christmas break. Time flies no matter how fun, and here, now, I muse lost possibilities, whom I would dream of being that had been diverted from any linear progression of accomplishment, but such dreams and necessary accomplishments fragile and vain and meaningless. Did I truly want to be this or be that. Architect. Writer. Husband. Father. I am sad. Students emerge out of a white cloud as they approach. Everyone is prepared for cold, wrapped in colourful shells. Everyone has their own concerns but I feel watched. I have managed to lose a single glove, a loss familiar each winter, this year a left glove, next year a right glove. I look at mitts and gloves, scarves and toques, coats and boots and summer shoes of other students, shuffling into this building built with rows of concrete blocks. I start to count the concrete blocks. I am angry. I do not know how I came here or what brings me here or even what day it is. I realize it is exam day when I see the many young students searching test lists directing to this or directing to that gymnaseum, many young students suffering last-minute anxiety attacks, many young students desperately studying, many young students mock-testing, or other routines I have never found useful even if my pride is reasoned enough to study. I walk into a great mass of shuffling students before me recognizing no others, but there is tension, heightened sensitivity, diffuse throughout this crowd. I absorb this tension, borne along by this crowd, then it flows past, and I see only students sitting down against the walls. Laughing quietly at shared jokes I do not hear that are probably about me. I want to go workout. I do not want to go workout. I want to go workout. I have been unable to sleep at Debra’s yet I am now desperately tired. I am angry. I borrow a landline phone of the Equipment Room, from Adam, a friend student, and call my Psychotherapist Olivia. She hears something in my voice, in the way I speak, in what I speak. Everyone is watching me as they wait in line to exchange U of C ID cards for wristbands to use the facility, so I lower my voice, try to be calm, to be polite, to make sense, but I find many connections, alternating between a sense of pattern malicious and unavoidable of paranoia, then metaphoric connections of plot, of narrative, of character in any story. Everyone is watching me. Olivia’s voice becomes blurred by static that only I hear. I ask Adam to listen for me. He has no problem hearing. He answers a few questions from Olivia.

Adam. Yes. No problem. Just now... he looks OK. He’s dressed fine. Sure. His father?

Olivia speaks slowly and clearly when Adam gives me back the receiver.

Michael, I’ve asked Adam to keep you company. I will phone your father, ask him to take you to BVC, the Emergency- you need help, and sometimes it is OK to get help- Please, Michael. Just wait for your father. Just wait there with Adam. Please. Please.

I give Adam the phone. No one returns my challenging stare. No one pays any overt attention to me, but this does not mean they are not aware of me. Today will be my first visit to the Psychiatric Ward, though I do not expect this, and from sedation I will not recall much of the month there. I will eventually have my first meds regime for organic brain-damage. I stand to one side and watch others, the students, the staff, and the Profs drop off ID cards for wristbands, tokens for towels. Ending this story is both the easiest thing to do and the most difficult. I have come to where I began, where there are no memories, where the words are not enough, where I have also come to the end of learning to walk again in the hospitals though not in my life. This is the easiest thing to do. I do not end, I am no longer a patient but what I become after this end is not resolved to a certain way of being, and this is the most difficult thing to do. I watch the Equipment Room counter staff at work. Cards are placed by last-name alphabetical order in a Plexiglas deck that rises from another wheeled cabinet- a series of transparent rows that are lettered in one group to left, that are marked for taken equipment to right. Scuffed Plexiglas top covers the counter. Computer terminals are to the left and right to check cards for fines or current status. Slot through which used towels drop into a wheeled laundry basket- for when not occupied with patrons, staff are washing, drying, and folding towels. Everywhere else under the Plexiglas are current papers for the building, map of Block A and Block B, schedule for the Pool, another for each gymnasium, for the Racquetball courts, for the Squash courts, for the FC, for each aerobics’ studio, for the climbing wall...

Adam folds white towels, says calmly.

Bad day.

#

Loss

#- 750 words

I do not want to remember but this is necessary to write this memoir, I do not want to think of my loss though it is easy to name and remember and number, I do not want this and perhaps this is why it has taken me so long to write. I have never accepted my injury, I am sometimes told by both professionals and friends. I do not know what that means, I reply. I think I have. This is a brain injury and every brain injury is different and so my way of accepting this brain injury is different. I do not weep, I do not complain, I do not howl against injustice or nurture bitterness. I give my brain injury and my coma and my rehabilitation no meaning. I avoid thinking of these losses and do not want to complain and whine for there are others much more severely disabled. I have lost forty-nine days I will never recover. I have lost certain physical skills and I am not able to run or play sports or climb or hike or ski or kayak or canoe. I do not have the needed balance of muscles and coordination to lift free weights but must use cable machines. I will never share outdoor recreation with children as my father did with me. I have lost physical dexterity and I am not able to handwrite or draw or paint or even talk wih my right hand. I gesture and handwrite only with my left hand and so inelegantly and not very descriptively. I have lost needed responsive balance and I am not able to ride motorcycle or bicycle. I am not able to easily cook on the stovetop or serve to the table or carry full plates or full drinks without spilling. I am not able to easily pause or turn or bend or stretch in cleaning around me for my balance does not react in time, and this is one way I fall. I usually fall at home where I am less careful, but sometimes in public I nearly fall or sit down suddenly and any ice is impassable. I can trip on the edge of carpet. If my mind wanders from the act of turning or my intention changes in mid-motion I fall. If I turn corners to my right my body seems to have lost a sense of space on that side and I bump into the wall or stub my toe. I walk slowly and do everything physical slowly and this adds up to longer days however I pass them. I can no longer walk far and I tire out easier from any common exertions, from cooking, from cleaning, from laundry. I cannot always hear and I can no longer converse on the phone easily or even when just not seeing the face of the other no matter how close. I can no longer walk and talk in friendly pace and enjoy just walking, but must plan to sit and listen to only one voice at a time. I like to sit but my partner must be speaking to my left ear and I must see her. I often listen for the high points of a conversation rather than repetitively mention I did not hear what is said. I can often not tell when it is question or comment or story or statement. I cannot hear lectures or plays or movies or television however loud and require subtitles. I like foreign films. I am not bitter. I am alive. I am a lucky man.

#

Gain

#- 1 000 words

I wonder what I gain from the injury and the coma and the rehabilitation, but this is harder to know or remember or number. I was not earning or living my life as an athlete or truly enjoying all the outdoor recreation possibilities open to the healthy. I might never have again run or played sports or skied of hiked or kayaked or canoed or climbed rocks or descended caves. I have never much desired to ride a motorcycle and have rarely used my bike. I can still bake pizzas or lasagna if not cook sauces or swiftly cut this or that ingredient and I have never enjoyed being waiter. I might never have written only by hand and possibly skill at art is ultimately in mind and in the eyes and not the dexterity of hand and gestures. And what else might I have gained is not so easy to know, for though I have no immediate existential awareness I do come to see some things more calmly and mature and informed by history. I find school uninspiring and I find women more than sex and I find memories and nostalgia even over the past few years to Before the injury and the coma and the rehabilitation and in this way I am more open to emotions, but this is later after another's death and not my own near-death. I want to be writer or philosopher now that I can no longer draw and no longer draft and no longer easily be visual artist. I was always already tending to verbal art and never wanted to be performer. I was changing possibly as any artist changes even if I was not aware of it happening. My father's younger sister went to Art College and from oil painting has moved on to printing and dry-point etching and is now fascinasted by effects of acid washes in its abstract forms and layered liquid traces. She was an artist and once as a child helped me drawing faces, helped me add shading, add shape, add depth, but I was then too young to try living models and not the two-dimensional images of photographs. She had worried what it would be like to be me her nephew as sensitive artist growing up in an oppressive scientific materialist household. She had somedifferent ideas of my father. She had these worries. I want to be writer or philosopher, but these are certainly not new ideas and not new plans and not new aspirations and whereas before I had thought my life colourless and comfortable and dull there are now an abundance of incidents to report or make into story. I never want to use my family in stories and anger them. I can use myself. After the coma I am in no rush and no anxiety about this story but only about other things, original things, childhood things, that has had the awkward timing of coming aware just before the injury. I do not want to write about those things. And so I avoid it. And this rehabilitation has given me a purpose, things to do, things concrete, things real. I can indefinitely avoid facing my childhood traumas if instead I focus on walking again. I do so. I go to a brain injury service for several years but in time I no longer want to be thought brain-injured and by now my medications are stable and I do not go to the psych ward anymore. I do not then and never will accept my brain injury. I no longer pay for this service, or rather the government no longer pays for me. I have decided to look after myself and be an adult like any healthy person. I have decided that no longer will I need the social contacts limited to the disabled. I have disability pension and then rental subsidy and while this is not enough to do everything I want it is enough to never do anything I do not want. I find one coffeehouse then another coffeehouse then another coffeehouse, this last where I become regular, become known, become friends for this is a place supported by a megachurch and named Mission, so they do not need to make much money, they do not mind me as the friendly atheist in the corner who is always reading. Staff here are usually from this church or bible college and so every day I go there I know either the person working there or the regulars or both. I go there for ten years until it is sold. I read a lot of books. I learn. I share. I meet friends who are artists or illustrators or musicians who play there and those church people who mount occasional art shows. I might have met these people elsewhere and I might have never met them. I know a woman I love who comes there when I am there and it seems the world is right, but then she dies. I want to be known as more than an author who writes of surviving a coma, but I might never be more than that. I want to write well this autobiographical work because it is not likely to happen again. I want my work to have a place of honour in my parents condo. I have these gains. I am a lucky man.

#

History

#- 500 words

I have been writing this work for many years, in fact began while still in the extended care third hospital the Warrener where I had lived for fifteen months, after the second rehabilitation hospital BVC for three months, after the acute care of forty-nine days in the coma and then early rehabilitation in the first hospital Foothills Hospital NCCU for two months, all of this now twenty-five years ago. I am a slow writer. I did not then and do not now and probably never will finish my thinking about the injury, the coma, and the rehabilitation. I have worked on this by reading old notes and abortive earlier drafts at first trying to recount exactly what happened during those weeks and months and years. I am never satisfied with this bare narrative but this is not a work of fiction where I can alter the plot, for this is as well I recall exactly what happened. I read many books over the years as I adjust to my disability, but they do not tell me how to write this story. I work on other stories. I live. I lose. I write. I pause. I write again. I have other concerns. I am even now not pleased with this work but have decided it is at least an interesting story, if compelling journal, if also not immediate due to the many years passed. I did not then, I do not now, I never will want my life defined by what has happened to me. I am told by a doctor that as long as he has known me I have not accepted my injury. I may never accept my injury. I offer this work as my acceptance. I believe it will interest readers. I have to believe this. I am a lucky man.

#

Rush

#- 500 words

I call this «Lucky*» Man, for though to others this narrative of the injury, coma, and rehablitation, is more «Miracle» I believe that is an interpretation, often religious, in which I have been and must recognize I am blessed. So might title it «Blessed» Man. I have no particular aversion to such interpretation, much as I have been told sometimes this is an «inspirational» story, but these have not been my first interpretationsthrough the months and years during and since. I prefer to interpret my survival and recovery, even to the extent I can write about it now, as a matter of «Luck». I am not lucky to suffer brain injury, subsequent coma, years of rehabiliation, at twenty-five, but if that was going to happen I have been lucky in how I recover from the injury and coma, and that the effort I put into rehabilitation is rewarded. This is not the case for all who are injured. This is a brain injury- everyone is different. I read about the night of my injury and the enthusiasm I had, the certainty I had that I was going to do something, going to be something, but whereas for some survivors of traumatic events they become more aware of their mortality and rush to do this or that thing, the opposite occurred to me. I feel then both immortal and meaningless. I feel everything I do then could just have well never been done, I feel somehow that past life trauma has returned in this life, so for many years, as history recounts, I drift and wait and read. I follow no clock or calendar. I do not rush. I read. I write but it is only now that I want to be published. I find philosophical interpretation I prefer, an equation to the back of the book, but basically the idea is that the less likely an event and greater difference in outcome determines the amount of total luck, good or bad. I have no argument with this equation. I am a lucky man.

#

*Luck

- 500 words

#

luck equation, as proposed by Nicholas Rescher, Professor of Philosophy, University of Pittsburgh:

a(E)+b(E)5[1-pr(E)] = b(E)5pr(not-E)

where E is the event

a(E) is the amount of luck involved in the event

b(E) is the difference of event occurring makes on your life

pr(E) the probability of event occurring

#

good(or bad) luck is total amount of luck involved in the event occurring plus the difference the event makes in your life multiplied by probability of the event happening- or put another way, difference the occurrence of event makes multiplied by probability of event not occurring.

#

e.g. 1: if an unlikely event (winning the lottery) makes a big, positive difference in your life, you have had lots of good luck, if a likely event (inheriting money) you have not as much luck.

#

e.g. 2: if an unlikely event (hit by lightning) makes a big, negative difference in your life, you have had lots of bad luck, if a likely event (hit by a car while dancing on the highway) you have not as much bad luck.

#

#

The following are a few philosophy books that influence my philosophical (and total) understanding of the coma:

#

The Phenomenological Mind: An Introduction to Philosophy of Mind and Cognitive Science

by Shaun Gallagher, Dan Zahavi,

Routledge, 2007

#

Self, No-Self?: Perspectives from Analytical, Phenomenological and Indian Traditions, ed. Mark Siderits et al.,

OUP Oxford, 2011

#

Subjectivity and Selfhood: Investigating the First-Person Perspective, by Dan Zahavi,

Bradford Book, 2005

#

Buddhism: A Philosophical Approach

by Cyrus Panjvani,

Broadview Press, 2013

#

Multiplicity and Becoming: The Pluralist Empiricism of Gilles Deleuze byPatrick Hayden,

Peter Lang Gmbh, Internationaler Verlag Der Wissenschaften, 1998

#

Crisis of European Sciences and Transcendental Phenomenology

by Edmund Husserl, David Carr (translator)

Northwestern University Press, 1954

#

Basic Writings

by Martin Heidegger, David Farerell Krell (editor)

Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2008, first published 1964

#

Henri Bergson: Key Writings (Athlone Contemporary European Thinkers) by Henri Bergson, Keith Ansell-Pearson(editor), John Mullarkey (editor),

Bloomsbury Academic, 2002

#

The Experiential Dimension of Advaita Vedanta

by Arvind Sharma

Motilal Banarsidass Publishers, 1993

#

Heidegger: Thinking of Being

by Lee Braver

Polity Press, 2014

#

Bergson: Thinking Beyond the Human Condition

by Keith Ansell-Pearson,

Bloomsbury Academic, 2018

#

The Fundamental Wisdom of the Middle Way: Nagarjuna’s Mulamadhyamakakarika

by Nagarjuna, Jay Garfield (translator)

Oxford University Press USA, 1995, first published CE 200

#

Jainism as Meta-Philosophy

by S Gopalan,

Sri Sataguru Publications, 1991

#

Phenomenoloy of Perception

by Maurice Merleau-Ponty

trans. Colin Smith

Routledge Classics, 2002

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Maurice Merleau-Ponty: Basic Writings

by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Thomas Baldwin (editor)

Routledge 2003

#

Merleau-Ponty’s Ontology (SPEP)

by M.C. Dillon

Northwestern University Press, 2nd edition 1998, first 1988

#

The Visible and the Invisible

by

Maurice Merleasu-Ponty

Alphoso Lingis (translator)

Northwestern University Press, 2nd edition 1969, first 1964

#

Merleau-Ponty’s Last Vision: A Proposal for the Completion of ‘The Visible and the Invisible’

by Douglas Low

Northwestern University Press, 2000

#

Luck: The Brilliant Randomness of Everyday Life

Nicholas Rescher

University of Pittsburgh Press, 1995

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