It’s a cliché to say every day is a gift, but every day I have lived past July 17th, 2008, has been bonus life. Or, to use the jargon of video games, my “1UP”.
If I am still alive when this is published, it will have been 15 years since I was in a hit-and-run bicycle accident that nearly cost me my life.
I had been working in IT at the time, but volunteering to run camera every Thursday for a multicam live-to-tape shoot the local community television station was doing of the municipality’s weekly concert series. It was something I enjoyed doing, which was significantly different from my paying gig.
That summer, I had been trying to get in shape, so I had started riding my bicycle to these shoots when it appeared the weather was going to be amenable. One thing I hadn’t taken into account is how early it starts getting dark less than a month after the summer solstice, and I found myself riding home after all traces of sunset were gone from the sky.
The last thing I can remember before I lost a few days of consciousness was deciding to make a right turn into a park, as that looked safer than taking the busy thoroughfare adjacent to the bike path I was on. Nobody was supposed to be in the park after sunset, and there is a gate midway through the park that was usually closed to prevent traffic from cutting through it.
The resulting accident was so bad that I was airlifted out. Great, I finally got to ride in a helicopter, and I wasn’t even there to enjoy it. I was even in a coma for a while.
The worst of my injuries was a concussion and subdural hematoma. The result of the craniotomy is the left side of my skull has some textures that are still odd to the touch.
From what everybody told me once I was on the mend, it was seriously touch-and-go there for a while. Odd, but I am embarrassed my short-term memory was impacted for a while, and I kept “relearning” the reason I was in the hospital. I think I can empathize a bit with dementia patients now, as I discovered first-hand just how stressful it is to experience such information anew each time. You get the full, blunt impact of that trauma over and over.
The doctors were even concerned as to what my personality might be like if I recovered enough to be discharged from the hospital. Apparently, the nature and extent of cranial injuries such as what I incurred often result in unexpected mental issues.
Lucky me, I ended up just as crazy as I was before. I’m just surprised I didn’t emerge from this with any new neurosis, as I had many people tell me I should have been killed. So many, in fact, that I started to feel a weird kind of survivor’s guilt about it for a while.
My recovery went as well as I think it could have. Needless to say, my hard drive got a bit scrambled, and there has been some lingering memory loss. There are some moments and people from my life before the accident that are now purged from my memory. I can sense where something is missing, which is unnerving. Trying to focus on the lost memory is like finding yourself unable to focus on an image. I can even tell where a thread of related items is gone, as it makes sense that not being able to remember a person would impact my recall of events associated with them.
There was also an issue with my hearing, as I deaf in my left ear for a while afterwards. The doctors would not hazard a guess as to whether my hearing would be restored, but the problem gradually corrected itself over the next couple of months.
The bigger problem for me was music, one of my favorite things in the world. The ears simply pick up sounds, while our ability to filter out certain frequencies and interpret that as “music” is part of what makes us human. It’s why animals don’t understand music. And for a terrifying couple of months, all music sounded nightmarish to me. I cried with relief the first time my mind processed the sounds correctly, and I feel no end of relief that issue hasn’t returned.
It was decided it would not be best for me to return to the high-stress world of IT. After a few months of recuperating at home, an employment opportunity became available at that community television station I had been volunteering for.
Thus began roughly eight years of working in what had at one time been a dream job I thought would always be out of reach. I edited a lot of video, created animations and even did a fair amount of graphic design. I also won a ton of awards for my work, which is not something that happens in the world of IT.
As the years passed, that dream job started to feel like any other work and I knew it was time to move on to something else. I had been wondering for some time whether I was functioning well enough to return to IT. And so I returned to IT, thanks to a friend of mine from a previous employer who had transitioned to the company I now work for.
I used to get a lot of questions about the accident. Most of them concerned what I remembered about the impact (nada). Many people asked whether I was angry, and whether I wanted justice for whoever was responsible.
You see, although nobody turned themselves in, the evidence shows I hit the ground harder than I could have on my own. Basically, I had some “assistance” to cause that much of an impact.
And, at first, it did used to nag at me what might have happened. The most likely possibility is it was a vehicle taking a shortcut through the park, and probably driving fast because it is closed after dark. I seem to recall the gate I mentioned earlier was open that night but, honestly, details like that are a complete blur by now.
What used to most bother me was wondering if somebody hit me intentionally. I’m not arrogant enough to think I was targeted personally, but it doesn’t take a stretch of the imagination to picture teens doing something this cruel for a laugh.
Regardless, I’ll never know what happened and I soon stopped caring. Since the accident, I spent years in my dream job, I went to Iceland and I have happy co-habitated with three awesome cats. Best of all, it has been fifteen more years with my wife, my favorite person in the world.
I think I’m the only person I know who doesn’t have a bucket list. I largely live my life in the moment nowadays. There are still better days and worse ones, but every day since that accident has been pure icing. I am the most fortunate person I know, and I envy no one.