September 22, 2021 was a beautiful, sun-splashed, fall day, with low humidity, comfortable temperatures, and gentle breezes. My friend, Tony, and I planned to ride the Northwest River Trail from Columbia to Falmouth and back. I was fueled and had two, 28 oz. bottles of fluids that I drank on the ride.
As we approached Marietta, just before crossing the tracks, I noticed a problem with my eyesight, took my sunglasses off, and kept riding. There’s a section of the trail that requires the riders to take some back streets in Marietta before connecting to the final section that passes below Chiques Rock.
The last thing I remember is turning to go down a small hill. Tony told me he looked back and I simply fell over. He told me that he and a bystander bandaged my elbow and knee and that I rode the final three miles back to Tony’s car. I have no memory of anything until I walked in the door and my wife asked me, “What happened to you?” My answer of “I don’t know” triggered a trip to the ER at UPMC in Lititz, where the diagnosis was a concussion and four bruised ribs, and the start of a journey that I’m still on.
For the past year, I’ve had a constant headache, my eyes have had difficulty focusing, and I’ve had balance issues. I believe I’m closer to finding a way forward but thought I’d share some learnings on this strange anniversary.
- I’ve learned about the emotion of “acceptance” – the center of all emotions. The message of acceptance is “It is so, even if I don’t like or endorse what’s happened.” It’s not capitulation but is a space for re-orienting and exploring new possibilities.
- I’ve learned that the medical business has a different value proposition than I experienced when I was younger. “Corporate” medicine is built on how many patients a doctor can see in a day. What I’ve experienced – for the most part – is waiting weeks to see a doctor who only has 5-10 minutes to see me, quickly diagnoses what’s going on with me, and prescribes some procedure or specialist, without looking at my situation holistically.
- I’ve learned that I have to create my own team who will advocate for my best interests. My wife, Sally, has been my greatest champion and her patience and willingness to do whatever it takes is something I can’t imagine not having. I’ve found a doctor who practices Direct Primary Care and has become my quarterback. That single action has given me a renewed sense of hope.
- I’ve learned that concussions are cumulative in effect and that I’ve had more than I thought. I estimated I had had 8-10 over my lifetime, but a doctor told me that, if I was a catcher in baseball, every time I took a foul ball off the mask, I probably experienced a concussion. Playing tackle football without a helmet and banging heads at wrestling practice probably didn’t help, either.
- I’ve learned about aging in a way that has helped me achieve peace around the inevitability of breaking down. I’m not expecting myself to be 35 or even 55 anymore – even though my mind sometimes creates that illusion. I no longer stand on the tub to change the bathroom light and am much more likely to ask for help.
- I’ve learned that, in spite of all my family and friends wanting to help, that this is a journey taken by the self and God. As Jesuit theologian and scientist Pierre Teilhard de Chardin wrote:
“When the signs of age begin to mark my body (and still more when they touch my mind); when the ill that is to diminish me or carry me off strikes from without or is born within me; when the painful moment comes in which I suddenly awaken to the fact that I am ill or growing old; and above all at that last moment when I feel I am losing hold of myself and am absolutely passive within the hands of the great unknown forces that have formed me; in all those dark moments, O God, grant that I may understand that it is You (provided only my faith is strong enough) who are painfully parting the fibres of my being in order to penetrate to the very marrow of my substance and bear me away within Yourself.”
I hope that I have several more years in me. I hope that I may be rid of this headache that has become a constant companion. I hope that vision therapy will correct my eyesight and that I may be able to read normally again. I even hope that I’m able to ride my bike again. But for now, it’s one step at a time and a reminder that, when I become frustrated, angry, or resentful, I am able to recenter myself and call on acceptance to explore what’s next.
September 22, 2022