It was September, 1997 and I was a grade 7 and 8 special education teacher in Toronto. It was an exciting challenge for me to find solutions to the day-to-day problems of working with students who had severe learning disabilities and behaviour problems. Despite the challenges, I loved my job and treasured the opportunity to motivate and inspire my students to face whatever obstacles may arise in their lives. My journey through life has taught me the truth behind the following quote by Aristotle, "knowing yourself is the beginning of all wisdom."
The morning of September 23rd, 1997 was full of excitement as I woke to the anticipation of coaching my school's football team to the city championships. I had to get the team fully prepared in practice so I decided to skip breakfast and left for school early that morning on my motorcycle. This was a decision that would change the course of my life forever.
My mother had arrived late that morning to the school where she taught and was preparing for her very energetic grade 2 class. Her organizing was interrupted when she was called down to the office to take a telephone call. As she rushed to the office, my mother made a mental note to speak to her son - me - about the motorcycle accident that caused the delay that morning. She smiled as she remembered my love of motorcycles and felt very reassured when she thought of my careful driving habits. I had recently completed a motorcycle safety course and my success stimulated thoughts of possibly one day teaching a motorcycle safety course. When my mother picked up the phone and said hello there was an unknown male voice on the other end of the line. He identified himself as an officer from the Peel Regional Police Department. To her shock and horror he was calling to advise her that her son - me - had been involved in a very serious accident and that she should go to the Hospital in Toronto right away.
Only three blocks into my trip that morning I was hit head-on by a careless driver smashing my motorcycle in one direction and spiraling me through the air in another. I was later told that when the paramedics arrived I was lying crumpled on the street some distance from my motorcycle, without a pulse, not breathing, unresponsive and blood was pouring from my mouth, my nose and my ears beneath my full face helmet. They immediately rushed me to the nearest hospital. During this time I was unconscious. I had seen a bright light and gone towards it. It quickly became apparent to the doctors at this hospital in Mississauga that they couldn't deal with the extent of my injuries so I had to be immediately airlifted to a trauma center in order to save my life.
At the trauma centrer in Toronto the trauma team rushed me into the operating room as they had determined that I had ruptured my spleen and it needed to be removed or I would bleed to death. During this surgery it was discovered that I had also torn my large intestine and the surgeons had to stitch this up as well. Following these initial life saving surgeries I was sent for a CAT scan which revealed there was bleeding in my brain causing increased pressure in my skull. The pressure had to be reduced to prevent further brain damage and ultimately death. So, emergency neurosurgery was performed to save my life. The neurosurgeons had to open up my skull and insert a tube into my brain in order to drain out the blood and cerebral spinal fluid that was increasing the pressure in my head.
My parents had rushed to the hospital and waited in the crowded emergency room hoping to hear something about my condition. They had been told by an attendant that they would have to wait for a doctor to come and speak with them. With a terrified look in her eyes, my mother asked the emergency room attendant if I was still alive. Seeing the fear in her eyes, the attendant replied quietly, "yes, your son is still alive but you will have to wait until more information is available." My mother's mind raced with a million thoughts as she rested against the cold, white wall in the hallway. She prayed that her son was safe and in good hands. The unknowns of the situation made everything feel out of control.
After several hours had passed a doctor finally came to speak with my parents. In a reassuring tone, he told them that I was still in surgery and that they would have to wait to find out anything more about my condition. After an endless eight hour wait in the emergency room, my parents were finally advised that I was out of surgery, for the moment, and I had been taken to the Neuro-Trauma Intensive Care Unit (N-ICU).
When my parents were escorted into the N-ICU they saw me laying unconscious in a deep coma and my head was larger than a basketball. There were thick staples in my head holding together a massive incision on my skull. I was also hooked up to a breathing machine as I was unable to breathe on my own.
My bloody and battered body was so swollen it was the size of the bed. My friends later told me that I looked like the Michelin Man.
It was heart wrenching to look at me. My face was black and blue and my eyes were swollen shut. I had to have plastic surgery to repair my broken nose, my broken jaw, my broken cheek bone, as well as the broken bone above my left eye. The plastic surgeon had to place a metal plate on my broken cheek bone to keep this bone together. The surgeon also had to put screws and wires in the bone above my left eye to hold it together.
My parents left the N-ICU for a few minutes to regain their composure. While taking a break outside the Unit, a doctor came to speak with them and advised them that their son had been involved in an extremely serious accident and they were not sure if he would make it. He suggested they go home and get some rest as they were going to need a lot of strength in the next few days to deal with this.
I spent the next two months in the N-ICU recovering from the surgeries mentioned above. As well as those surgeries, I also had to have open heart surgery as I had also badly damaged my heart and torn my aorta (the main artery that brings blood out of the heart). In addition, I required lung surgery to repair my badly damaged lungs. I had broken many of the bones in my chest and these broken bones had punctured and lacerated my heart and lungs. I also broke my knee and tore 3 of the 4 ligaments in my right knee. This required orthopedic knee surgery and since the day of my accident I have had to have an additional twelve knee surgeries to repair the damage that my knee has sustained.
As it can be seen, I sustained numerous serious injuries and I was not expected to live. However, the most difficult injury to deal with has been the damage to my brain. After being in a coma for two weeks, I was declared “brain dead” and it was suggested to my parents that they remove me from the fife support system that was keeping me alive. The doctors told my parents that I was in one of the deepest comas they had ever seen and did not think that I would ever wake up. Even if I did wake up, the doctors said that I would likely be a 'vegetable' and require constant nursing care for the rest of my life. They wanted my parents to think about the quality of life I would have wanted. The next day my parents sat at my bedside. My father desperately asked me if I could hear him and for the first time in two weeks, I moved my big toe and squeezed my father's hand.
A miracle had taken place and I survived this accident. I was given the gift of a second life and a second chance. However, when I sustained my brain injury I lost myself – I was no longer the same man. This is a common experience among brain injury survivors and it involves a conscious awareness on the part of the survivor that they are no longer the same person. This is exactly how I have felt since my accident and it has led to a great deal of emotional distress within me. The realization that I had changed so drastically as a result of my brain injury led to great feelings of anger, sadness and anxiety. I experienced a whole host of negative emotions because I had changed so drastically. I had changed physically, cognitively, emotionally and socially. As a result I was forced to start over and so began my journey of self-discovery.
It is my desire to teach others that anything is possible and to encourage people not to lose hope. Hope is a powerful energy that can carry you through despair.