How I came to love my damaged brain
My pre-Stroke tragedy
On a Thursday afternoon, August 14 2008, a young woman on her
cellphone ran a stop sign and smashed her blue car into the driver’s
side of my white minivan. My three daughters were secured in their car
seats in the back. All that I had to secure me during the crash was a
faulty seat belt. My head rocketed to the steering wheel, and the
air bag didn’t deploy. I’ve seen this scene replay like a PTSD soldier,
re-traumatized by memories again and again. Eventually I did get over the car accident. Now it just appears like old movie snapshots buried in my
My right carotid artery was injured by the ‘blunt force’ trauma from
my own seatbelt. No-one, neither my doctors or my brain surgeons, knew what caused my stroke. Lying in the hospital bed, towards the beginning of
2009, I had a feeling that my faulty seat belt was the reason for my stroke.
I checked my girls’ bodies to make sure that they were safe and unharmed,
and I gathered them in my arms. But, I did not check myself. I remember
that I cuddled them in the grass near the wrecked minivan.
I didn’t go to the emergency room, because all that I wanted to do was
get my precious daughters back home. The policeman was finishing his
report and I asked him, “would it be okay to take this wobbly wreck
of a vehicle and get my children home?”
“Yes”, he said. I was driving in the downtown area and all the while
the minivan was shrieking, bent metal on metal. I remember seeing
a young woman on the sidewalk put her hands over her ears.
Later, instead of getting checked out at a hospital, I phoned the
driver’s insurance company, I took the Saturn to the body shop, I went
to get a rental car, I packed for a late summer camping trip, I fed
my girls, I did internet business from my home office, making sure
that my clients were satisfied, I loaded up the minivan. And, I remember my ex-wife yelling at me. Why? Because I had been a slave to her. Because
I was a slave to my workaholism. And then we headed to the Smokey
Mountain National State Park near where I live in Asheville, NC.
On route, a police car stopped me because I was going too fast on the
way to Pigeon Forge, TN. As I drove through the National forest I
began to go crazy. Once we arrived at the campground, I obsessively
locked and unlocked the minivan, locked and unlocked, locked and
unlocked it. I felt very anxious for some unknown reason. I was paranoid.
The ex-wife and eldest & middle child trooped down a 45 degree slope
to our camp site. I had to carry the cooler, the sleeping bags, a
tent, the food and the baby. After we set up camp and ate we went to
sleep. Suddenly before dawn awoke and began shouting to my wife “Let’s have sex!”
My daughters were in the tent. How could I know. My neck’s artery was
‘woken up’ by the newly-formed blood clot that was going up
to the left hemisphere my brain. Thus began an amazing change. My true
emotions, long hidden by my workaholism, began cascading out of my
shattered brain, exposing the erroneous persona masks I had worn for so
long. I lost my logic and my manners. I cried a lot and professed my
love for nature, pretty women and my stillborn inner child.
After we returned from camping I began to change even more. One
afternoon, I jumped out of the car in my driveway and grabbed my
neighbor, who who is 6′ 3″and weighs about 180 pounds (I am 5’10” and
155 pounds) and twirled him above my head going ultra-speedy. I began
meditating. When I looked into a mirror in the closet I saw a flip-book of
all the many different personas I had developed over my lifetime. And,
I saw my monster. It was hiding behind my back. All the pain that I
encountered in my life was stuffed into my monster. At that time I
wrote in my journal, “…The Handler [persona] places the [inner]
Child in medical coma to prevent abuse & damage.” Little did I know
that I would soon be in a medical coma for ten days.
A couple of weeks later, as a migraine roared through my skull, I pinched
my eyelids shut and lay down. Then for Thanksgiving, I drove down to
Tybee Island for a holiday weekend with my daughters and my wife. I
was feeling exhausted. I thought, “maybe I am stressed out by the
pile of orders on my website. The road trip. Entertaining the kids.” I didn’t know it, but this was a precursor of my stroke.
On December 3, 2008, the full force of the stroke hit. I suffered a
horrible massive catastrophic stroke. My conscious mind didn’t really
‘know’ that I had a stroke. As I fell out of my office chair, I was
telling myself that It was a stomach flu. One of my daughters who was
sick and propped up on the couch wanted some water. I commando crawled toward her, across the floor to the living room, an then I fainted. Waking up, I found my head floating above my four-year old’s lap. My eyesight was freaky: my wife was at the front door, looking horrified, floating with pieces of the furniture. I thought, “I’m in some expressionistic
painting”. There I was with a pale white face and a drooping lip and a
floppy right side of my body and nearly unconscious. My middle child was
cradling my head and she told my ex-wife that she was looking after her
Daddy. I fainted again, twice, three times.
My blood clots went through my neck’s artery and stopped up my blood
vessels in the left hemisphere of my brain. The first brain surgeon said to my parents, “your son has had a fist-sized hemorrhage in the ventricle and
basal ganglia of his brain”. After two brain operations, surgeons thought that I would not awake from the coma, or, if I did, that I would be in a vegetative state for the remainder of my life. At the time the doctors didn’t
know the origin of my blood clot, my stroke.
My second brain surgeon wrote, “Carotid dissection,
and indeed all arterial dissections, can “smolder” for days, weeks,
even months. That is to say, the injury to the vessel can occur at one
point in time, but may not progress to the point that it is
symptomatic. During that time there may be other circumstances that
may keep the abnormality from being overtly manifest. Then, as time
goes on, the various stresses upon the wall of the vessel cause
progression of the nascent defect of that blood vessel.”
What he was saying in English was that my damaged carotid artery
was attempting to heal by forming clots. These in turn broke off and shot
off to my brain.
After days in the Neurological Intensive Care unit, I awoke from the
medically induced coma, and found I was paralyzed on my right side,
unable to speak and had half of my skull removed. This would have
been devastating for anyone – but for me, a father of three beautiful
and active girls, a writer by profession, and the founder and owner of
a small business, the implications were even more dire. How was I
going to take care of my daughters? How was I going to continue my
Since, we are telling Jewish jokes, I will tell you a lovely story about myself :
So what would have happened if the brain surgeon said, “no, I refuse to operate on your veggie son”?
So what would have happened if my ex-wife said, “No! Don’t operate! (She could have lived on my life insurance for ever).
So what would have happened if I had lived a third world country with no access to health care
So what would have happened if I lived in 1980’s America (when little could be done to help person with a stroke like mine)?
So what would have happened if the nurses been unable to prevent bed-sores and I got an infection and had to have an amputation?
So what would have happened if I didn’t have access to Physical Therapists?
So what would have happened if I hadn’t been a super-fit man?
So what would have happened if I had not invented my AlonTree products?
Dayenu! It would have been enough for us! (Jewish sarcasm).
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