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A wake up call

A reflection on how a traumatic brain injury dramatically shifted my perspective on life

It seemed liked any other morning. I woke up around 5am so I could eat breakfast and digest before my anticipated workout class at 6am. The night before I remember telling my boyfriend I was tired and should have taken a rest day but already booked it and couldn’t cancel it unless I paid the late fee. That, of course, was something I refused to do. I’d rather be tired then waste $20 and stay in bed. The morning of, I sat in my usual spot, on the left most cushion on my couch, eating my breakfast and being mindful of how I was feeling. It was then that I remembered mere glimpses of my dream from the night before. I had been in the hospital and I nonchalantly thought “Hm, I would probably be a pretty good patient. Probably would be pretty quiet and in the mindset of doing all that I could to get better”. That was all I thought before my mind moved on to something else and the details of the dream left my conscious thoughts. After finishing my coffee, I left my apartment. Before I closed the outside door, I realized I forgot my heart rate monitor so I ended up running back to get it inside. I looked down at my watch as I started off in a jog and acknowledged I had plenty of time to spare. From there I made my way down Sullivan Street, crossed over Canal and as I approached the Roxy Hotel, was pulled left because of what looked to be obstructions straight ahead. As I crossed the street, jogging down the east side of Church Street, I approached my old yoga studio. Before I knew it I felt my body slam against what looked to be a person in blue scrubs. The next thing I remember is stumbling to my feet and someone asking if they should call an ambulance. I fell back to my hands and knees. At that point I realized blood dripping out of my left ear and not being able to hear clearly from it. I looked down and stared down as I remained on my hands and knees, wondering what in the world just happened.

After a few moments I realized I should attempt to text my boyfriend to make sure someone know what just happened, despite not fully knowing myself at this point. I looked at my screen of my phone and the light made my head pound. I managed to send a text reading “There’s been an incident, I’m on intersection of white and church”. A few minutes had passed at this point and I was starting to feel like I was going to pass out. I looked towards the street praying that the ambulance would get there soon. After what felt like an eternity, it came. The two EMTs, one woman and one man looked at me and had what I perceived as zero sense of urgency. They asked me the standard neurological test questions of what year is it, where are you, what day is it, whose the president. All could be answered fine. From there they thought absolutely nothing was wrong with me but mentioned “to be safe” they would bring me to the hospital. It was in the ambulance that I quickly began to feel extremely nauseas and felt as though I was going to lose consciousness. I then pleaded for the guy to please call my boyfriend to let him know where I was going and to please meet us there . He grabbed my phone, used my Face ID and called him on speaker to let him know. The next thing I remember is being pulled out of the ambulance and hearing them sharing a variety of codes that I had zero understanding of other than my blood pressure being as low as 45 over 70. I was transferred onto a trauma stretcher where a dozen people surrounded me, each one performing different tasks. One put an iv, another drawing blood, another putting a neck brace, another starting an ultrasound. They cut off my leggings and top, which I initially wasn’t thrilled about, but as I stared at the ceiling tiles I realized it didn’t matter. I continued to stare, wondering what was going to happen to me and in shock over how I was there in the first place. I realized in that moment that we can’t control the outcome of our lives. We aren’t meant to. That while I didn’t understand it then, this accident happened for a reason. I turned left instead of straight and forgot my heart rate monitor, leaving two minutes later than I would have otherwise. The exact location I was at 5:51am on September 4, 2019 was precisely where I was meant to be. It was a wake up call, an event that made me shift course.

After my CT scan, I was rolled back into the emergency room where on the way I saw my family walking in from the hallway. I was happy to see them but also felt like it was a waste of their time and felt bad that they drove all the way into the city. “I just hit my head, I’ll be out later on” was what I told myself. Shortly after I would soon realize I underestimated my injuries, big time. The next five days, I laid in the ICU, nurses coming in every couple hours to administer my anti seizure medication and test for signs of neurological issues. At multiple points, nurses panicked as my heart rate fell as low as 39bpm. Given my cardiovascular shape, they quickly realized that was part of my normal along with my strikingly low blood pressure that had been captured earlier. Majority of those days, between 20-24 hours, I was sleeping or at least closing my eyes. I didn’t want to eat. That, amongst everything, scared me the most given my normal appetite. The Friday night numerous people came to visit, I had been transferred to a normal room. I felt terrible that day and could barely keep my eyes open. My friends and family were all there, waiting at the doorway of my hospital room. I had been moved from the ICU to a regular room for monitoring that morning. I felt a twinge of guilt for them coming all this way and me not being able to say hi or make conversation. Again, I felt guilty for inconveniencing those who came. For stealing a part of their day. It was no big deal, I just hit my head, right?

The next few weeks I would spend at home in NJ with my dad. It was in those moments that I truly realized the severity of my injuries. I could barely walk up and down the stairs without feeling like I ran a marathon. My legs ached after being in a hospital bed for 5 days straight. The forward fold with palms on the ground that had been attainable a few days prior, transitioned to barely being able to touch my knee caps. I alternated between sleeping and eating. That was about all I could do for the first two weeks. Somewhere in those first couple days I realized I couldn’t smell. It was when I was making breakfast and I put the cinnamon to my nose for whatever reason. I grabbed a candle, then a few other things in the fridge to double check what I feared I had just realized. It made sense since I had experienced a change in taste since the accident but hadn’t fully attributed it to smell. Upon realization I talked about it with my boyfriend and realized I hadn’t thought I smelled in the hospital after not bathing for 5 days. God, how wrong I must have been on that one.

My healing was slow. Some days it felt like I was never going to get better and others felt like I could take on the world. There was so many moments spent contemplating, simply because I couldn’t handle the screen time of the tv, phone, or noise that came with them. Those moments led me to numerous realizations. It was time for me to leave NYC. I felt it for a while, but refused to acknowledge it fully. I didn’t want to make the change and uproot my living situation again, just two short months after moving from Gramercy to SoHo. But I knew it was time to go. I moved to NYC for independence, to focus on building my career. But what I realized was I no longer had anything anchoring me down in NY. Yes, I had a job there but my mindset had shifted. In those moments in the ER and ICU, I realized the things that mattered most to me; my family, my friends, my health. Whether my productivity peaked or I achieved xyz at work didn’t necessarily matter in those moments. For 3.5 years I had made work my top priority, pushing down my family, friends, and health on my list of priorities along the way. As a result of this accident, I realized I needed to reprioritize that list. New York had offered me so much space and time to grow. But that time had run its course and the next chapter was ready to begin. The accident made me realize how quickly our lives can change. The lack of control or illusion rather that we have over our lives. Those moments made me realize the things I would regret if I was to no longer have more time in this lifetime.

If September 4th was my last day here, I realized how much I was missing out by focusing so much of my energy on societal norms and finding “success”. None of it mattered, rather none of it mattered more than the relationships and love shared with all those in my life. This realization was profound and hit me over and over and over. As I healed in NJ, no part of me wanted to head back to NYC. I enjoyed being around my family, my friends, and in nature, away from the chaos of the city that I once loved. I shared this realization 5 weeks after my accident with Tyler. We were sitting in our tiny 1 bedroom apartment in SoHo and I was having a tough day. I wasn’t feeling good, my head hurt, and I was feeling pretty down. As I lay there with a lump in my throat, I started spilling out the realizations I had come to accept earlier. With hesitation “I don’t want to be in New York. I’m done living here. I just don’t know what I’m doing anymore”. His advice was simple “Focus on getting better. Once you do that, then circle back to this feeling and we can move forward from there”.

I wrote the above a few weeks ago after a suggestion to “mind dump” on the accident and the few weeks following. I share this because this exercise allowed me to process things in a way I hadn’t previously. It offered me the chance to make realizations and connections of prior thoughts and emotions. It allowed me the opportunity to compare the changes that have occurred in my self and witness the small bouts of growth that have been made.

Since then, I’ve taken the jump and moved back to NJ. It wasn’t an easy decision due to the implications moving back included, but as I write this I feel that it’s the path forward. Part of the final acceptance of this change came from journaling. The ability to write, unedited, has time and time again been an extremely useful tool for me. Regardless of the magnitude of the decision, it has led me to find clarity and move forward.

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