42: Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

42: Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

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

Right Where I’m Supposed to Be

Wherever the art of medicine is loved, there is also a love of humanity.

~Hippocrates

At about the five-year mark after my sixth concussion I received a request from my stepmother, Shirley, to answer a survey on Facebook. The questions on the survey were designed to help people get to know family and friends better, asking questions on topics not likely discussed in person. She and Dad had married in June of 2005, only two years before, so we were still getting to know each other.

The one survey question that really got my attention was, “If you could be anywhere in the world right now, where would you want to be?” My first inclination was to pick one of the locations on my bucket list. Then I gave the question a little more thought and realized there was only one right answer: I am right where I am supposed to be.

In February 2002 I was spending a long weekend at Winter Park, Colorado. The conditions were icy, so I had not skied all weekend. But with a few inches of fresh snow the morning of my scheduled departure, I ventured onto the slopes, hoping to eke out a few good runs. Midway down the mountain on my first run, I stopped to enjoy the beautiful snowy scenery. While standing crossways on the slope, I somehow lost my balance and fell backwards, hitting my helmeted head on the icy ground that was barely cushioned by the new snow. I had an immediate headache, and while trying a second run I developed nausea, so I decided to call it quits and head back home.

I had an uneventful ninety-mile drive, but the next days and weeks were anything but uneventful. I had suffered a concussion, the end result of which was residual cognitive problems and issues with my vision. I spent weeks going to rehabilitation, didn’t drive for almost eleven months, and couldn’t fly my pride and joy, a four-seat Cherokee airplane. I had a ten month supervised return-to-work trial that was unsuccessful, ending my eighteen-year career as a physician, the last three in charge of a medium-sized medical clinic in Colorado.

Losing my medical career, as well as the relationships I had with my patients, coworkers and many friends post-TBI was difficult to deal with. I was also dealing with the possibility of permanently losing my ability to fly, as I had not been able to pass the Federal Aviation Administration’s medical examination since my injury.

While I was actively recovering from my traumatic brain injury, in 2005 my father sustained his own TBI. Dad fell while climbing down from the roof of his motor home, where he’d been repairing a leak. He fell headfirst onto the ground. Initially, it appeared he had only wrenched his neck, but over the next days and weeks we learned he’d fractured his neck and sustained a TBI. Even though I couldn’t practice medicine, I was able to act as the medical liaison for my family, interpreting complex test results and medical forecasts, making Dad’s recovery go a little more smoothly for my stepmom. Ironically, my TBI had allowed me to be available to help care for Dad during his hospitalization, affirming my belief that I am right where I am supposed to be.

As time has gone on, it is even more evident that I am on the right life path. As a physician with a traumatic brain injury, I’ve had many opportunities to educate medical professionals, the lay community, people with brain injuries and their supporters and caregivers about dealing with the consequences of this devastating injury. This has led to the publishing of a book based on my presentations, which has helped countless additional people navigate this journey. As a practicing family doctor, I always loved educating patients and the community on health-related issues, so providing brain injury education continues to fulfill that passion for me.

I believe without a doubt that my traumatic brain injury was a gift. It didn’t seem so at first, but it resulted in me being “Right Where I’m Supposed to Be.”

~Cheryle Sullivan, MD

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