Wednesday, January 11, 2006

Five Years

Five years ago today I was preparing to leave the hospital. It had been my home for the prior three months. I was recovering from massive internal injuries sustained in a head-on collision with a logging truck on October 17, 2000. Although I had made considerable progress, as evidenced by my return home, I was not well. I still had four huge screws extending from my pelvis, large external wounds from my pelvis exploding out of my body and a colostomy. I could not yet walk on my own and would still need home care twice a day for the foreseeable future. I was, in short, a mess.

It should be abundantly clear that this was not a happy period in my life. I still live with some of the ramifications today. This is not, however, a bad thing. And I realize that I am starting in the middle of a complicated an lengthy series of events, but five years is a nice round number and one in which I chose to reflect upon today. Before you go all feeling sorry for me or even pile accolades on me for my bravery in persevering I need to make clear a key factor: This wreck was completely my fault.

My life has been a series of bursts of initiative that indicated great promise. However, nothing ever seemed to work out. There was no reaching of any ultimate goal, no happy endings. It was hype followed by failure time and time again. I really felt, at times, as though I was cursed. I knew that I had some issues with procrastination, laziness, envy, etc., but always felt like I was an essential good person. I always meant well. Eventually, my intentions were not being reflected by my actions, but I didn’t see it until disaster hit me squarely in the face.

Being confined to a hospital bed for three months gave me ample time to think. At first it was just disbelief. Not that I had survived, but how this could happen to me. The magnitude of my injuries, at first, did not fully sink in. Additionally, for the first five weeks (in ICU), I have very little memory so that my initial confusion was considerable. I had a lot to sort out – I didn’t (and still don’t) even remember the crash. I was not exactly what you would call grateful.

That came later, and by the time it was time to go home, I had realized just how lucky I was and that my prognosis had improved remarkably. Still, I couldn’t help thinking “why me?” The answer? I had no business driving that morning. You see, I had fallen asleep at the wheel while driving my then 13 year-old son to school. I was far too tired to be driving and I knew it. (I’ll spare you the suspense, my son walked away with minor injuries – physically anyway). I was endangering not only myself, but also my son and everyone else on the road at the time. I didn’t mean for it to happen, but when it comes right down to it, I am responsible.

As I am for everything else that has gone wrong in my life. Yeah, that’s right, everything. Again, I didn’t intentionally plan for things to go bad, put I also didn’t intentionally plan for them to go right either. I did not take precautions, I did not prepare, I did not work hard, I just expected. Samuel Goldwyn said, “the harder I work, the luckier I get.” I can’t begin to relate the golden opportunities that have crossed my path. I never appreciated them, never worked to nurture them, always took them for granted. I just deserved it – dammit! And so it should be... right?

My attitude was the problem and that stay in the hospital was a wake-up call. Now five years later, I am 95% back physically and 1000% mentally. I was humbled and given another chance to try it again. I wish I could say that life has been smooth sailing ever since, but this is not the case. It took some more reinforcement or practice of my newfound humility by reverting to my old attitude of entitlement. In other words, I was not quite done self-destructing. However, with each consequent experience came new wisdom and strangely enough – retroactive wisdom. That is, wisdom can still be extracted from my past experience and applied today. Although experience facilitates wisdom, it does not guarantee it.

Life is good today. I sure don’t take it for granted. Indeed, I am grateful every time I take my morning constitutional (no more colostomy!). And that’s just the beginning. It blows my mind that it took half my life to figure all this out, and it’s not like someone could have told me – I’m sure several have tried. I do not regret my past nor do I have to be defined by it. It got me to where I am today and it could have been oh so much worse. The best part? Just as I was responsible for the misery that my life was, so am I the bliss that it is.


The Zombieslayer said...

Well, glad you learned from it. That's amazing looking at the picture you survived that wreck.

Anonymous said...

This post is so wonderful! Thank you for an enlightening post.

I congratulate you for coming so far both physically and emotionally. That is to your credit.

Lucy Stern said...

You really are lucky to have survived that accident. I'm glad your son was not injured. Sometimes it takes a great tradegy to make us come around. I am glad that you learned from it. Now you have a chance to help other poeple survive their misfortunes. You are very blessed.