1.Drive less while it is snowing.
Okay, that’s not realistic, so it should really be something like: Always check the weather before you drive four hours in the middle of winter to visit your friend Jen in Bend, Oregon, in the middle of the pandemic.
However, let’s go back a little bit because there were other ways to perish on this arduous trek to find Jen. From New York to Oregon, you first took a flight across the nation. With the five-hour travel, your life was also in danger as you inhaled the same stale airline air as everyone else.
Do you recall being warned to keep a minimum of six feet between you and other individuals in order to avoid contracting COVID? then perhaps pass away? The final phase of your journey was a four-hour drive, which was both silly and appropriate.
Since it is during this stretch of road from the coast of Oregon to Bend that your car slides on the snow and ploughs into the guardrail. You are involved in one of numerous car accidents in the area, only 30 minutes away from Jen and her husband, who decided to move into an Airbnb in the city permanently after the first significant snowfall of the season. This is why you should always check the weather before you drive. (During the pandemic, when there was a tension between the boredom of remaining home and the dread of contracting the disease, people did it.)
You have pictures of the bloodshed and general mayhem, and much later—after everything is more or less over—you happily exhibit them to curious onlookers while kind of sadistically observing how they tremble and quiver and ostentatiously express their gratitude that you are still alive.
Step 2. Make a contact you can rely on for emergencies.
especially if your family is a few thousand kilometers away in the Philippines. Your flat mate Miya, who is currently back in New York, is your emergency contact in this situation. You are amazed by the extent people go to merely to phone Jen, who is the only person you know in Bend, and you never gave any consideration to how the police identify persons after a vehicle accident, particularly if the victim is from out of town.
This is how they recognize you:
You live in New York City, which is on the other side of the country, according to your driver’s license. Other choices? Your work identification card, which you fortunately were too lazy to put back into your rucksack when it rolled out onto the car floor, reveals that you work for a global news media organization.
They dial the company’s Hong Kong branch number. You have no notion why, by God. Is it the fact that you’re Asian?
They are connected to HR by the Hong Kong office, who then connects them to your boss. Your emergency contact is found by your boss. Calls Miya.
On Facebook, Miya calls your mother. She was probably added by your mother a few years ago to monitor your life.
At two in the morning, your mother, who never uses the silent mode on her phone and generally drives you crazy, answers the call. at Manila.
By late morning, your parents sob fully inform both of your brothers that you were injured in an accident and may not make it home alive.
Your brother calls Jen on Facebook after conducting a search for her.
Jen is a few kilometers away from you, at the top of a black diamond ski slope, when she receives the call. She was perplexed and a little worried before this because you were meant to arrive last night, but you never called to say you arrived. She left you a voicemail that asks, “ARE you still alive?” She and her spouse discuss delaying calling the police for a few hours. Maybe the battery in her phone is just dead. Perhaps she simply fell asleep and forgot to text. Bzzzt, incorrect Skiing is the quickest method to down the mountain and get to the hospital. Her husband remarked, “I’ve never seen her ski better.”
Step 3. Consider that you are 32 years old.
Normally, it’s difficult to forget how old you are, but when you awaken in the hospital a week or so after the accident, you turn to Jen and ask for confirmation. I believe I’m 32.
Your doctor has by now informed you of your traumatic brain damage. Your nurses and all six of your speech, occupational, and physical therapists want to make sure you understand that you have diffuse axonal damage, which means that a lot of the nerve tissues that connect your brain to your body were torn during the crash. You always get stuck on the word “jiggle” in medical contexts.
One sign is forgetting entirely how to publish a video to Instagram. You’ve recorded yourself six different ways while laying in your hospital bed, the TV on but muted in the background, colors reflecting on the planes of your face, and saying, “Hello everyone, I’m alive but I have a Trau-ma-tic brain injury.” You know how to make a recording.
You don’t remember how long you switch between the camera, your photo collection, and — what app again posts stuff to the internet? — but after a while, your brain starts to hurt from the effort (and based on how energetic you were in the beginning, you can charitably assume it was a solid five minutes), and you give up.
The destroyed neurons in your brain cannot be replaced by new ones. Utilize them or lose them. You had no notion that your brain was like an annual dental plan.
Hon, are you okay? says a nurse as she enters. viewing your sad expression, you’re angry and frustrated that posting a video online is. So. Hard.
You recall watching your parents enter the room as you were sitting in your wheelchair and grinning as if they had just popped by for breakfast after they had flown in from Manila. You are in a state of shock at this point, which makes it difficult to faze you, and you only have a partial set of marbles.
The inability to distinguish between reality and dreams is another early indication. Once in a dream, one of the Selling Sunset’s leggy real estate salespeople asks you to her wedding when you’re horseback riding on the beach. You blink, certain that your horse was standing by for you to mount just two minutes prior. Are we by the beach? you inquire to the nurse who enters your room to take your blood pressure. No? You certain? Okay.
Step 4. Take advice from your speech therapist. Particularly when she makes statements like: You’ll never return to work again.
If Disney ever develops a movie about corporate America, she doesn’t sound like a Disney villain in your opinion, but right now, you’re kind of living in your beat-up brain. She has you read science papers appropriate for primary school because you told her you earn a profession by producing science podcasts, and they go like this:
You: The average heartbeat at rest is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Your therapist: The average resting heart rate is how many beats per minute.
Your therapist: It’s alright, read it aloud once more.
You: The average heartbeat at rest is between 60 and 100 beats per minute.
Now cover that sentence with your hand, your therapist says. What is the typical heart rate during rest?
Having a TBI makes it difficult for you to remember facts. Your therapist queries: What do you do? Are you a journalist? It’s possible that you won’t be able to return to work.
There is a slight chance that you won’t be able to perform the same way you did before, if you don’t totally recover, your speech therapist may gently warn you of this. Memory is a challenge. And don’t you need that for your work?
Perhaps that is how it is after all. You aren’t really certain; in fact, you can’t even recall what the average resting heart rate is. You will never be able to work again, but the main point remains the same. You’re all destined to spend the rest of your lives in your parents’ house, living off of their money and time like a parasite as they move closer to retirement, and spending your evenings huddled in wheelchairs in front of the TV.
Like helium escaping from a balloon, you imagine life pouring out of you. As painful, dramatic, and bloody as life's beginning was, life's end was a non-event.
But it’s not at all related to employment. You misplaced something important. You are altered permanently. You and the world will no longer have the same perspectives on the world. You can still picture a nurse entering your room, sitting on your bed, and asking, “What even is normal?” What the hell does that even mean? You are who you are, and being alive is a great blessing.
My memory of that hospital day is hazy. However, it’s still the only time you’ve thought about killing yourself. not directly. Maybe if you simply died, like a package of unopened salmon fillets, and were thrown away. Like helium escaping from a balloon, you imagine life pouring out of you. As painful, dramatic, and bloody as life’s beginning was, life’s end was a non-event.
It’s the only occasion, though.
Step 5. Don’t follow your speech therapist’s advice.
When you make a phone call to your friend Stephanie, a neurosurgeon, your mind is already filled with visions of spoiled salmon.
Some TBI patients lack the ability to plan ahead or envision the future, two tasks that call for the executive function portion of the brain. And right now, that’s the area of your brain that’s missing. You choose which clothing to hang up and which to fold in drawers as part of your speech therapy exercises. Future employment opportunities are covered in a college-level course, but your brain is locked in second grade. Will you visit the Philippines once more? Will you abandon everything you’ve achieved in the United States? Will you remain in your parents’ home? You are unable to consider these questions at this time. But you are knowledgeable enough to think gloomily about fish that has gone bad.
Speech therapists are called nonsense by Stephanie. They are considering their bottom line. They will offer you the worst-case scenario because they are being unduly cautious. They always make conservative estimates because they don’t want to get sued. But in my line of work, I’ve witnessed much worse. And I’ve seen folks bounce back. Just keep reading! Read for practise. Read every word. Follow the speech therapists’ instructions on the exercises. Do your best. Work on memory exercises if you want your memory to get better. Your brain is constantly evolving; repetition will help it to adapt. You only get out what you put in. Okay? I must leave.
Step 6. Always make time to move.
Your physicians advise you that you have the rest of your life to recover but that the best time for you to relearn all you’ve forgotten is just six months from now. No pressure, then. The destroyed neurons in your brain cannot be replaced by new ones. Utilise them or lose them. You had no notion that your brain was like an annual dental plan.
Although you can never get your neurons back, the brain can create new neurons since it is always developing, changing, and reorganizing neuronal connections. You can gradually learn to recall facts and remember what the average resting heart rate is if you keep practicing anything until it becomes second nature, like playing scales on the piano or repeating the multiplication table ten times.
Your brain heals at a faster rate six months after a TBI, much like Superman might after being exposed to solar energy. You put all of your effort into your therapy sessions, read every magazine in your Airbnb in Bend, take out books from the library, complete a 60-day Duolingo streak, and download an app with various brain exercises to enhance your memory, focus, and problem-solving skills. In order to practise focusing and paying attention to two distinct things at once, your speech therapist helps you read an article from The New Yorker while listening to music. In order to imitate rodents on the pavement and people blocking the road while gawking at the Empire State Building, your physical therapist created an obstacle course in the gym using chairs and yoga blocks spread throughout the floor to help you get ready for the streets of New York City.
You eventually reach the graduate lesson on climbing stairs. Your occupational therapist simulates small talk with a hair stylist since your brain can’t process normal speech quickly enough. (And what do you respond when she asks why you use a walker?)
You once believed that speaking, walking, and reading were all simple tasks. It turns out that three decades of living are difficult to distil into a few months, and you have to start somewhere (you’re a journalist, you talk for a living!).
Step 7. When everything becomes too much, close your eyes, take yourself to a godforsaken location outside of everything, and picture the beach. Or some lovely, overused location.
Your speech therapist — you’re making it seem like your speech therapist has 10 different personalities, but in reality, you’ve only had five, so to avoid introducing a new character every few sentences, you’re just going to call them all “your speech therapist” — anyhow, your speech therapist, whose iteration this time is a hokey, crystal ball-gazing, maple granola-from-scratch-making hippie (you’re in the middle It will communicate your wellbeing to the rest of your body if you tell it that you are in a serene environment. even though you’re not actually.
A week before the accident, before the trip to Bend, you find peace on the Oregon coast. You were in Lincoln City, which was chilly, untamed, empty, and characterised by the reliability of the breaking waves. At the end of the earth, all that is left is you, and life, with all of its responsibilities, slips away with the tide when you are there.
You’re in really bad shape for a human, so you think about this place a lot. For example, if you saw someone in the hospital, you might avert your gaze, offer platitudes, and then retreated gradually in search of the closest fire exit. You don’t have any wounds that are bleeding, and you didn’t break any bones or torn any skin, but you need a granny walker to go around because you’re a walking danger to both yourself and society. You teeter anytime you get up since your brain controls balance and coordination; as a result, you have a hospital wristband that indicates you are a fall risk, and shamefully, nurses are required to watch you use the toilet and take a shower.
You have to relearn how to walk since your muscles are weak. Your physical therapist, who is also an amalgamated clay monster because you have seven of them, has a metronome to remind you how quickly you should be moving when you place one foot in front of the other. You inform him that since you reside in New York City, this is the normal rate of walking for tourists and grandmothers, and you have occasionally wanted to shove one or the other in front of oncoming traffic.
He says naively, “Hopefully other New Yorkers will be understanding.”
My memory of that hospital day is hazy. However, it’s still the only time you’ve thought about killing yourself. not directly. Maybe if you simply died, like a package of unopened salmon fillets, and were thrown away.
Additionally, you have terrible double vision. Your neuro-optometrist predicts that everything will clear up in two months. Otherwise, you’ll always remain this way. In all honesty, either choice is viable.
To help you focus on a single image, a nurse advises you to get an eyepatch. You imagine yourself as a badass war reporter like Marie Colvin or a drunken pirate like Jack Sparrow, which makes this seem incredibly cool on paper. However, you also wear glasses, so the nurse simply binds the right side of your frames with medical tape, making you appear to be a fifth-grade victim of bullying. This makes you want to hide yourself away.
You ask your mum to cut your nails for you like a sad little toddler because you can’t cut your own nails since you might have survived a car accident only to die by unintentional nail cutter stabbing, mistaking one of two toenails for the genuine one. She does such a bad job because she’s worried about hurting you (you should have extremely short nails; if you’re not bleeding, why bother?).
You’re on the Oregon coast at sunset, wrapped in a cozy sweater while you huddle next to a sand dune with a Thermos of coffee, the frigid waves smashing in before going back out to sea. Sure, it’s embarrassing, infantilizing, and rather depressing, but all that doesn’t matter right now.
Step 8. No, you don’t need to get your eyes examined; it’s totally normal to see death everywhere.
You and your parents take a plane to Ohio a few months after the accident so that you can continue your rehabilitation there. It was becoming more and more expensive to stay at an Airbnb in Bend, and you probably don’t have the money to do so. Even though you’ve taken innumerable flights, the one from Oregon to Ohio stands out because it nearly kills you.
You are being overly dramatic, I admit. You may believe that you avoided death by surviving the accident, and that someday God, Allah, Buddha, or the Grim Reaper will appear waving a pink slip and apologies for the mistake, claiming that they should have taken you years ago.
You can’t escape the lingering specter of death. Your Airbnb’s too-quiet setting next to a hill without any streetlights feels like the ideal backdrop for a serial killer’s next crime since it holds the promise of unsettling things. The shower, which has turned into a dangerous place for you ever since your occupational therapists warned you that your balance issues could cause you to slip and crack your head open like an egg, crossing the street, your dad slamming on the brakes too suddenly, or banging your arm.
You are certain that the aircraft will crash during the tense flight to Ohio. You used to have an odd love affair with turbulence, relishing in its violent ebbs and flows. Now, you can tell when the plane is about to crash into the sea because every abrupt jolt, bump, and violent change signals this to you. No, the following. The universe is simply balancing its assets and obligations, so it’s okay.
Your body is still on guard and continuously bracing itself to protect you, and you later learn that this is all a typical PTSD response. You eventually adopt a Zen attitude towards death and are prepared to confront it head-on the next time you catch a glimpse of it in the corner of your eye.
Step 9.Always pay attention to the signs since it’s a maxim in life and fiction that once you hit rock bottom, everything only gets better.
When you finish reading Klara and the Sun by Kazuo Ishiguro, that’s the first indication that things are improving. Do you still recall it? Not completely. Goddammit, it’s the first book you finish despite taking you two months to read and having a robot as the protagonist who makes the writing sound like it was written by a sixth grader.
Your vision improves. You’ve been training your eyes for months by watching a ball on a string move like a curious cat. (Although it may seem easy, try it when you see two balls on two strings.)
You start to walk a little bit faster in Ohio. You may not be New York City quick just yet, but you still beat a 10-year-old and consider it a win.
However, the true indication that you are improving is when the Ohio little town begins to suffocate you. You’ve always jokingly claimed that you suffer from agoraphobia, or the fear of wide, open spaces, but in reality, whenever you enter a suburban area with homes that have washers and dryers, yards, countless acres of corn fields or a massive Walmart, you begin to feel a gnawing sense of helplessness, as if an alien is about to rip itself out of you.
Now, you can tell when the plane is about to crash into the sea because every abrupt jolt, bump, and violent change signals this to you. No, the following. The universe is simply balancing its assets and obligations, so it's okay.
Now that the pandemic has reached the stage where a vaccine is available, it is the height of summer, and most people have made the decision to go on and start fresh. You start choosing disputes with your parents, and the first time you can think quickly enough to defend yourself and fire back some arguments makes you deliriously happy. (For months, you did nothing but sit there numb, your mind unable of assembling a refutation.)
They claim that New York is not the greatest place for someone with brain damage because you still use a cane and your parents have paranoid thoughts about you being pushed in front of a subway train because you move so slowly. Maybe we can get you something like a cane sword, a friend says.
However, there are also other things. Good things that you never anticipated, like the brunch scene in Columbus, Ohio, which you assert is far superior to that in New York. You spend Mother’s Day with your mum in person for the first time in over ten years, and you give your dad a tiny celebration for his 60th birthday (you need a second opinion because of your brain damage). For many years, you hadn’t attended your family’s birthday dinners at home.
You don’t want to ignore these warning indicators. You hoard them in the same way your mother hoards used shopping bags and outdated makeup bottles because you feel like you could be okay after all when you hold them near to you. Okay, I never know when I’ll need all of stuff.
Step 10. Don’t imagine that life is easier because you nearly died; you don’t actually receive a free pass.
Because you believe that life is some sort of meritocracy, it’s kind of bad. It’s the “almost” bit that makes you feel like a failure, not that almost dying has any real merit. You nearly got to Hollywood. Your novel is almost done. You nearly died.
When you eventually make it back to New York, the weather is once more chilly, and the wind is biting. However, you believe you are unstoppable. You were flipped inside out and improperly shut down, but you survived, and nothing in this city, not even its enormous rats or absurd flat prices, could possibly harm you more.
But after returning to work after a disability leave, you are let go in less than a year. Your lower back is always irritated, and you never fully recover from the nerve discomfort. You are constantly in pain. Even after a 7 train that is ready to depart the station, you cannot run. Your right hand also never fully recovers, so at best, your writing appears to be that of a highly talented six-year-old. One drink of wine puts your balance perpetually out of whack, so walking straight requires 50 times as much energy. For fuck’s sake, even your hormonal acne has returned in full force. If it weren’t for chocolate and cheesecake, or even better, a chocolate cheesecake, you wouldn’t have survived in the first place, despite your dermatologist’s advice to cut back on dairy and sugar.
You can’t believe this stuff is still on your plate. You have already made ten times your debt to society. Don’t you deserve some peace so you can spend the rest of your life with adorable pups who never get older and just spit rainbows? Life itself came as a surprise because you were ready for an end and had accepted death so thoroughly.
All of your friends marry in the same year; some have children, others lose them, and others purchase homes. They also get new jobs and hair. You too? You relocate to your first flat by yourself. You take a solo trip across Europe before returning home to Asia to continue your travels with friends and family. Your physical therapist is both encouraging and appalled by how badly your body has been harmed by all the vigorous walking and, at one point, an eight-hour motorbike trip that left you in such agonising pain that you thought you could be returning to the scene of the accident. But hey, you travelled through rural Vietnam on a motorbike.
One moment you are ecstatic to be alive and the next you are miserable, lost, and without purpose. You are now deep inside life, without a life jacket, rather than coasting along its edges. To be absolutely honest, there are moments when you miss having a break from daily responsibilities. Sometimes, it’s impossible to picture life any other way.
You’re making an effort not to think back to the year you were barely alive, but you know it won’t be long before that happens. You’re doing your own nail trimming till then. maintaining your Duolingo streak. likewise, avoid driving in the snow.