15: My Second Life

15: My Second Life

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

My Second Life

Only by joy and sorrow does a person know anything about themselves and their destiny.

~Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

On September 8, 2008, I fell off a building on my former college campus, and I lay dying for more than six hours. Blood was filling my lungs, and I was hardly breathing. At seven the following morning, a maintenance man found me and called for help. They had to resuscitate me, and after they did, I was in a coma for more than a week.

That was how I ended a three-decade-long drug and alcohol habit. It took me thirty years to fall ten feet. When I surfaced from my coma, I was told I had suffered a traumatic brain injury. The only thing I could think of was a cigarette.

“Hey, you got a cigarette?” I asked.

“No,” a nurse said, leaving the room, letting me sit with the beeps of the machines.

I had absolutely no idea what was going on, or how badly I was injured. I didn’t know that even if the nurse had thrown me an entire pack of cigarettes, I would not have been able to go out and have one, because I could not walk on my own.

After two weeks I left the ICU and transferred to an acute care floor. They said, because of my age, I needed intense therapy. While I was in acute care, I realized what true human beings are, and I came to realize that I was not one of them. I was a fool. During this time, my family and the hospital staff would say, “Well, I hope this is it for you. I hope you change.”

One night I again asked a nurse, “You got a cigarette?”


I fell back on my pillow, and I thought about how many times I had tried to quit this life: the drugs, the liquor, the cigarettes. How many times had people heard me say I was going to quit? Not even my near death could convince them I was serious.

I sat up, and said out loud, “I’m going to change!”

When I put my head down that night, I turned away from all the nonsense that led me to fall. I could do nothing about the past, but I could change every step from here on out. It was the birth of what I consider my second life. I believed then, as I do now, that I have had two lifetimes in one over-all existence.

This second life would be built on the integrity of my actions, so every day I gave the therapist my best, and I gave myself my best. It was all I could do.

The fall on my head left me seeing double, but I had not realized it until a morning shower. My face was paralyzed on the right side, so I resembled a stroke victim. I had broken my right scapula and my right wrist. I had a scar along my ribs where a tube was put in to suck the blood out of my lung. I was in a wheelchair, unable to walk.

After about a month in acute care, I was transferred to the sub-acute floor. It would be there that I would question my entire existence as a human being. Everyone I met in sub-acute care, from patients to staff, had an immense influence on the development of who I would become, who I have become.

Every day I pushed myself both physically and emotionally. I worked hard at all my therapy sessions, did more of each therapy on my own time, and spent the bulk of my off-time in the office of my rehab specialist.

A rehab specialist is like a caseworker. It was in her office that I did an intense investigation of myself. I questioned every belief. I went above and beyond my daily therapy. During these five months, I began to reshape my belief system. I made a promise to myself, and the “new” Paul kept his promises.

The day I left sub-acute care was a sad day for me. I loved everyone there; they were my family. We would be together forever though, for my heart would carry them the rest of my life.

My work was far from done, because I had no life to get back to, so I had to build one. I sought help, and I realized that I had some emotional problems. In fact, I was an emotional nightmare. I read books about emotion.

I was quick to anger but didn’t know what to do when I got angry, until one day, when I was angry; I sat down on the floor and again talked to myself: “This is your anger, Paul, yours to deal with. No one can help you; you have to help yourself.”

The only way I could look at the anger was to write about it. When I wrote about it, I could see it, relive what I was angry about, and use that energy for a more productive outcome. With words, I saw who I was. I fell in love with words. I wrote a book about what happened to me; it took me a year.

After that year, I took a class on creative writing; I learned from other writers, and became a writer. It is my destiny, the reason I am here, and the reason I survived near death. I never question that. My TBI taught me the truth of my existence.

~Paul Ceretto

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