29: A Tougher Course

29: A Tougher Course

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

A Tougher Course

Green is the prime color of the world and that from which its loveliness arises.

~Pedro Calderón de la Barca

On February 8th, 2012 my ride to work involved a work truck, an ambulance, and an orange helicopter. While driving to my job, I was involved in an accident and instead of going to work I ended up at Sunnybrook Trauma Center. I was informed that I had six broken ribs, a flail chest, a broken collarbone, shattered scapula, fractured vertebrae and a traumatic brain injury.

Once I was discharged from the hospital, much of which I don’t remember, life was a lot different and very scary. The world was in such a big hurry and I just happened to slow down. I can’t recall all of the adjustments that were made, most of which fell on my spouse Leeann and my family. I know that I slept on the couch for two months because I couldn’t walk up the stairs to my bedroom. I couldn’t get to the bathroom. My balance and poor vision put me at risk for falls and injuries. I was completely disoriented and couldn’t remember where things were in my house or what time of day it was.

I don’t remember much of those initial five months, but I do remember the doctor telling me that I might never golf again. That’s when physiotherapy and occupational therapy became more important to me. When asked by these professionals what my goals were, I replied, “To prove you all wrong!” I was determined to become just as skilled a golfer as I once was. It was a good thing that I had a left-handed swing because the limited mobility of my right arm would have ended my game for sure. Instead, my mobility improved with a golf club in my hand, a more natural movement I suppose.

I grew up playing golf with my grandfather. I used to putt into his shoes in the living room. I first swung a club at the age of seven and I got my first 9-iron about a year later. As I got older, my game became more aggressive and competitive: my motto was win at all costs! After all, the loser had to buy the beer at the 19th hole. The golf course was my escape from the world’s problems.

After eight months of rehabilitation, my occupational therapist suggested that we head out to the driving range. I thought, “Well, it’s about time!” But reality set in after I hit four balls. I threw my clubs on the ground and said, “I don’t hit the ball like this; let’s go home.” But since I’m not a quitter, I got back out there with my rehab therapist and friends and learned patience. I hit more balls each time and slowly gained the confidence to play again.

My neuropsychologist introduced me to another brain injury survivor who took me under his wing and taught me a valuable lesson: “Who you were before is not who you are now,” he told me. “So play to your ability.” I joined a group of gentlemen who all have brain injuries, and we hit the indoor golf simulator once a week. Once summer came, we joined a golf league. Was I the same? No. I had a changed game. In fact I remember one afternoon when the four of us were approached by the golf marshal. He may have thought we were drunk. Little did he know we were just four guys with brain injuries!

I used to play with friends, but now I play my best ball with other survivors. I beat my occupational therapist twice and my rehab support worker. Driving a golf cart had to be approved by the OT. When teeing it up, it now involves one eye closed, balance check and a lot of muscle memory. I have to pay more attention and the result is not as far or as straight. Heck, I don’t even know where the ball is going sometimes. Double vision makes the putting game interesting!

I enjoy the game more now than I ever did before. I am slower and less competitive. It’s now a form of entertainment, exercise and fun. I take more time to be respectful and patient with others and in turn, others enjoy golfing with me. Golf helps me with my rehabilitation as well because it improves my balance, vision, and concentration. It also helps with my mood and my sleep. Golf keeps me social and it makes me keep my emotions in check. Finally, where the 19th hole was the “beer hole” now it is just the hole for bragging rights.

What does my golf game have to do with my recovery, you may ask? Well, a lot. My game uses all the drive and determination that helped me move forward with my brain injury. I was told that I would never play again and today I can keep up with the best of them. When on the golf course, I have no worries, no pain and no injury. When playing golf, you focus on just hitting that little white ball. I have learned to be patient, to accept my limitations, and to enjoy life, because you never know when it might be taken from you.

What’s next for me? Ten years until the senior tour!

~Jay McLaughlin

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