"It would be a good idea if you looked into getting a handicapped tag for your car," said the well-respected neuropsychologist in front of me. His voice had just a tinge of pity.
This statement was the second in a one-two punch that left me, and my wife, Sarah, feeling sucker punched.
"David, your ability to learn any new task was wiped out in your accident," the good doctor had just shared. "You will have an easier life by not trying anything new. Stick with what's familiar from now on."
It was early in 2012, and I had just completed hours of neuropsychological testing. As memory challenges were especially troublesome for me at this time, I had asked Sarah to accompany me to my final appointment. I knew it would be wise to have a second set of ears – and a fully functioning brain – in attendance.
My neuropsychological evaluation was just after the one-year anniversary of my accident. Just over a year prior, a sixteen-year-old driver struck me while I was out on my bike. As his auto insurance company denied any and all claims, we flew solo after my brain injury, amassing tens of thousands of dollars in medical debt. Neuropsychological testing is not cheap, but we deemed it to be money well spent.
It was my choice to go in for testing as I was on a fact-finding mission. I felt it was important to know where I stood. By better understanding where my deficiencies were, I would be better able to work on them. Recovery from a traumatic brain injury is not a spectator sport. From the get-go, I have pushed myself harder than most anyone will ever know, except my wife, Sarah.
The testing took place over two or three days. I left every day more exhausted than I ever thought possible. But it was important to me.
The numbers were frightening. I rated in the bottom 5% for verbal recall. That alone explained why I was unable to follow movie plotlines over the last few months as Sarah and I continued our tradition of dinner and a movie on Thursday nights.
In the "complex problem solving" category, I also ranked in the bottom 5% of my class. I now understood why tying my shoes took a lot longer.
We sat there, the three of us, the Doctor, Sarah, and I, letting the news sink in.
Those who know me best, know that I am a consummate overachiever. Tell me I can't do something and I'll do all I can to prove you wrong. As my mind struggled to understand the sweeping consequences of this news, I asked what I thought to be a logical question.
“Can I set up an appointment a year from now so that we can measure my progress?” I asked still looking for a light at the end of the tunnel.
His parting shot filled my eyes with tears. “There is no need to. If you have any further gains, they will be inconsequential at best.”
Have a good day.
Suffice it to say, the ride home was quiet. Brain injury is a family affair. Not only was my world rocked to the core, so was my wife’s. We were still relative newlyweds, a year prior I was a very successful businessman, and we had a lifetime of hopes and dreams ahead of us.
Over the last few years, I have seen a dramatic shift in how the medical community perceives brain injury recovery. The “old-school” says that most recovery does indeed happen in the first year. But that type of old-school thinking is slowly being replaced by an emerging body of scientific evidence that shows that recovery can and does go on for many, many years.
Over the weeks following my testing, as the emotional dust settled, we made what some may deem to be a decision that seems contrary to what was suggested. One night, in that quiet time in bed before lights out, Sarah and I marked the calendar with a list of new things to do. Together, we made the decision to venture out into unfamiliar territory at least once a month. We made the decision to embrace, rather than avoid, new things.
And since early 2012, we’ve never looked back. To share all of our life’s new adventures would fill a book. Since my diagnosis, I’ve continued to move forward with my written work, and have had pieces published internationally. My most recent book was released in early 2015, a living testament to what can happen if you don’t give up. I also started a new business just this year, one that supports emerging writers looking to have their work published. The list goes on.
We’ve done lots of exploring in new places as well. From exploring the quiet streets of Key West and New Orleans to hiking the wilderness in Yellowstone, we’ve seen and done more in the last few years than most would ever expect.
So now I’ve come full-circle to the good doc who told me to hang a “Closed for Business” sign over my life. I hold no animosity as he was doing the best he could with old-school information. Thankfully, today’s world is chock full of professionals who are compassionate and truly understand that recovery is indeed lifelong, and that even years later, measurable gains can and do come to pass.
If you – or someone you love – have been told that the window of recovery is now closed, I implore you to see it for what it is: a snapshot at a single moment in time.
Me? I prefer to think that we live in an age of miracles. Just look around you!