• Notes on Cerebellum Blues, Playlists One and Two: the accident.
Welcome to my series of posts about how I got into music and songwriting and the events that ultimately led to the 2012 release of my first album. Here are the posts, so far:
If you read anything that strikes a chord please let me know in the comments section or via email. As always, thank you for reading.
For those of you who know me or have been following this blog for awhile, you already know all about my severe traumatic brain injury and how I think it somehow made songwriting easier for me. For those who are new to my tale, here’s a brief re-cap:
The accident happened in late January of 2006. I wish I could say that I was performing deep cover recon for a Navy SEAL operation or drinking Keith Richards under the table but, no, I simply fell. In the bathroom. Without a helmet. The medical reports described my injury as having been precipitated by vasovagal syncope, which caused me to lose consciousness and collapse against the bathroom wall hard enough to shatter a small part of my skull, driving bits of bone into the back of my brain, and flinging my head forward fast enough to cause whiplash. I awoke with my head wedged between the toilet and a wall and promptly threw up. Catherine and I had been to a questionable culinary event that night so I thought I had food poisoning, and once I was pretty sure I was done being sick, I tried to stand up, but I was surprised and mystified at how hard it was. I felt as though I were made of metal and the floor a magnet. But I finally made it to my feet and thought that if I could just get back to bed I would wake up in the morning and all would be well. Of course, I fell again, a fast spinning fall, and I hit the ground on my back and my head bounced off the floor, which, luckily, was carpeted. Catherine awoke with a start and though I explained to her with calm, perfect clarity what was going on, she looked at me with fear in her eyes and called 911.
I spent the next six days in the hospital and then six months at home recuperating. My injury was small, but complex. The bits of shattered skull had been driven through the dura, which is the membrane surrounding the brain, and into my cerebellum, causing a hematoma (which simply means blood on the brain). The biggest risk in the days right after my fall was that my brain would swell, but it did not. In fact, one doctor even said I’d be able to make the ski trip I was planning, although in hindsight I think he was just trying to make me feel better. Little did I know I would feel positively awful for about a year and suffer constant sensations of dizziness and lightheadedness to this day.
I hate hospitals. I hate the smell, the harsh light, the tension of worrying about seeing something truly awful or hearing a scream or both. Being a patient makes hospitals even worse, but also somehow better. You feel safe, you’ve made it, you’re going to be okay. And they’re going to give you drugs to make you comfortable, right? Not in my case. From the moment I entered the hospital I kept thinking I would be given a shot or a pill to make me sleep or, at least, to no longer feel so sick and dizzy but hours passed before I got anything. Ultimately the drug the hospital settled on was Ativan which, I admit, worked wonders. But nothing made me feel better than Catherine’s presence.
From the moment she called 911, Catherine was with me. She did her best to help me answer the barrage of questions from the paramedics, road shotgun in the ambulance, walked alongside my gurney as I was transported from the ambulance to the emergency room and then to some kind of special room that wasn’t quite the ICU but certainly for higher risk patients, stayed up all night that first night as I was shuttled between CAT scanners and other devices. In my room she made a home out of a corner chair and monitored the nurses and me and my meds and everything else. In all the days I was in the hospital, nearly a solid week, she left only to run the few blocks to our apartment to shower, but only when my parents were present for a bit to look after me, which was mostly every day. If she slept at all, I was barely aware of it and whenever I awoke there she was.
Waking up. I did that a lot because I slept so much, probably 20 hours a day, punctuated by brief periods of wakefulness. I dreamed a lot, too; strange, vivid dreams. I only remember one. I was catapulted to an island that was a mashup of Las Vegas, a Maldives resort and a Thomas Kinkade painting (for the light). It was so real and fantastic I remember trying in vain to get a newspaper before I was catapulted back so I would have proof I had been there. But sleeping never felt good, I could never get comfortable, every change in position triggered dizziness and even when I lay absolutely still I “moved”. It was awful.
Depression is a very real worry for anyone who has had a traumatic injury and I was certainly depressed but far less so than if Catherine had not been there. I can’t imagine the strength she had to have to put on a bright encouraging face for me no matter the news, which careened from “you’re going to be fine” to “we’re concerned you might go into cardiac arrest”.
After six days, I was finally allowed to leave the hospital but only after Catherine assured the staff she would be with me 24/7. They did not doubt her for a minute, how could they have after all she had done? I left the hospital in a wheel chair and climbed into my parents’ car and headed home where I went straight to bed and stayed there for several more days, weeks really. Catherine placed a trash can by the bed because I was sick so often and tended to my every need, even giving my sponge baths, since I could not shower on my own. No food stayed down long, save for yogurt and oranges and Ensure drinks, and nothing tasted good. And there were so many doctor appointments, none of them encouraging, a few heartbreaking (and wrong, thankfully), and there were therapy appointments (physical and mental) and Catherine drove me to all them, plastic bags at the ready. My parents helped a lot, too, driving me places and staying with me to give Catherine an occasional break. After a few months, Catherine’s parents flew all the way from the East Coast to visit, several friends came by, but mostly it was Catherine and me just getting through each day. As I got a bit better, we started to go to movies and for walks and even out lunch at the local Johnny Rockets, where the staff was unfailingly tolerant of my odd twitches and tendency to have to leave unexpectedly. As I got better still I would go to my local coffee shop and read the paper. After six months I went back to work part-time, but even though my creative abilities seemed heightened I was mostly unable to work effectively and after six months I chose to go on full-time disability.
There’s so much more to tell about that year of 2006 but the only story that really matters is how Catherine helped me, which is a story I could write 10,000 pages about and still not do justice. I did write a song about her and and of all the songs I’ve written it’s the one that means the most to me. The song is called Coming Together (By Falling Apart) and I tried very hard to write it so that it would be as beautiful as Catherine and, though I didn’t achieve that, not even close, that’s okay because it was an impossible task and all I could do was try impossibly hard, which I did.