70: Butch

70: Butch

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


Our greatest weakness lies in giving up. The most certain way to succeed is always to try just one more time.

~Thomas A. Edison

I remember it as if it were yesterday, but it occurred so many years ago. Maria, my speech pathologist, was practicing with me for a very important phone call. “All right, say it again,” Maria would repeat time after time, trying to help me with my rate, tempo, speed, as well as my nerves.

Months prior to these sessions, few thought I would survive, much less be practicing for this phone call. I had been severely brain-injured in a robbery when one of three thieves shot me in the head. He thought he had eliminated every witness; he was wrong. I had to relearn to do so much: walk, talk, and do so many things that normal people take for granted.

Almost fourteen months since that eventful night, I was practicing for the phone call that I would make to explain my situation to my first teacher in college since the shooting.

Maria handed me the telephone with a comforting smile after dialing the number. “Hello . . .” I muttered nervously, “my name is . . . Mike Segal and I . . . am going to be in your history class this . . . summer.”

I was so very nervous. My body was drenched with sweat. But I slowly went on to explain my situation and the fact that I might need extra time to take exams. I never expected the response I got.

“Come on, Johnny. I know this is a joke.”

I broke down sobbing and screaming, “Mister, I wish this was a joke!”

Seeing my reaction, Maria quickly grabbed the phone and sternly said, “This is Maria Dantoni. I am Mike’s speech pathologist at Del Oro Institute for Rehabilitation.” She quickly repeated what had happened to me and said, “Mike was very proud that he finally might be able to resume his classes. However, he appears to be very upset by what you have just said. What did you say?”

The history teacher was crushed. He thought it was a joke and explained to Maria, “Ma’am, when I was in college a few years ago, my roommates and I used to play practical jokes on each other. We still do. I could have sworn that one of my old roommates, John, was just playing a joke. I am so, so sorry.”

I was still sobbing while Maria was listening to his explanation. Many people, I would imagine, would have remained crushed after hearing his response. But I refused to let his comments permanently get me down.

I showed up in room 112 on a warm summer evening to begin my classes with Mr. Butch Johnson as my teacher. It was not simply a question of taking the class; for me, it was a huge hurdle as it would determine whether or not I was cognitively and physically ready to resume my college life, as well as get on with my life in general.

And Butch Johnson was wonderful. He made sure I understood everything in his class. Whatever I needed during the first week of class, he made sure I received it. After one week, we were scheduled to have our first exam. The closer we came to the exam date, the more nervous I became.

Finally, the test day arrived. I was so nervous sitting at my desk before the exam. It had been well over a year since I had taken a college exam. What kind of grade would I make? Would I do okay? I became more and more anxious.

Butch (he had told me that I could call him Butch, rather than Mr. Johnson) handed me the exam first. I looked at it. It consisted of a variety of short answers as well as several multiple-choice questions. Since I was not sure of the first answer (a fact that did not ease my nerves) I went on to question 2, promising myself to return to the first question before I turned in the exam. I was busy trying to answer the questions when I noticed people turning in their tests. When I finally finished my test, the classroom was empty and all the other students were gone.

Finally, about thirty minutes after the bell had rung, I limped up to his desk to turn in my exam.

The next evening at school, Butch passed out the graded exams. I was so fidgety and tense. I thought, “What if I failed? Maybe it was too early for me to try school.” I was full of negative doubts.

Just then, Butch came to my desk, handed me my exam with a smile and said, “Congratulations, Mike.”

I looked down at my desktop and saw a red letter “C” written on my test. Before the shooting, I would have been very upset with a “B,” much less a “C.” But I was smiling from ear to ear with that passing grade. I had done it. I had passed my first exam!

After that first test, I made all “A’s” in that history class. But I was most proud of that first “C,” as it showed me, as well as so many others, that I was ready to return to the world.

Four years after that first history class, I graduated with honors from the University of Texas at Austin. The moral of this story is not just about an injured teenager returning to college. Rather it is the lesson that everyone should always try to do his best. I’ve learned firsthand that excelling in life is not vital, but trying is! Sometimes, a “C” can be just as precious as an “A”!

~Michael Jordan Segal, MSW

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