73: New Life in New York City

73: New Life in New York City

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

New Life in New York City

The essence of all beautiful art, all great art, is gratitude.

~Friedrich Nietzsche

A-Rod, in his fifth season in the Bronx, was on deck to face the Angels. The crowd, at this point still enamored with their two-time MVP, erupted in a rousing ovation. But it wasn’t long before Rodriguez showed signs of fatigue. Yup, he was struggling. To make matters worse, Andy Pettitte was pitching wild and couldn’t seem to keep anyone off base. The Yankees had won the previous eight games in a row, and this was one of the last ever to be played in the iconic old Yankee Stadium. The energy and tension were palpable among the fans.

Rich and I were on a newlywed high and no loss could dampen the joy we felt as we huddled together in the stands, sharing plans for a future nursery in our new home and reviewing a to-do list for our dog, Moses. What a summer this would be! At thirty years old, I was already a VP and rising star at a top New York City public relations firm and I was excited about a trip I’d be taking for a client the very next day. Rich, an aspiring singer/songwriter, softly sang one of his new melodies into my ear. It was a night to remember.

Or so I imagine. I have no real memory of that evening or of many of the days and nights that came before and after it.

I am told that Rich and I were at that game. The date was July 31, 2008. The final score was the Los Angeles Angels 12, the New York Yankees 6. It was a devastating loss. As we were driving home, an 18-wheeler on the other side of the median jackknifed over a concrete wall and crashed into us. Six weeks later, I awoke in a strange hospital bed. My husband had been killed in the crash. Our one-year wedding anniversary had passed while I was in the coma.

I’ve been trying to determine what I could share that would be meaningful for whoever is reading these words. Are you a fellow survivor, family member, caregiver, professional or someone who is facing some other kind of adversity? Are you someone who is looking for a reason to keep moving forward? Since sustaining the traumatic brain injury, I’ve met some incredible people, perhaps like you, whose stories of strength, resilience and survival have given me both a reason to keep moving forward and a purpose.

I had to make physical and psychological adjustments to the injury, including dealing with cognitive issues and community reintegration. The physical adjustments were enormous. On the day my mother arrived at the hospital, a doctor told her that I had severe injuries to every part of my brain and that I would never walk or talk again. For six weeks, I was strapped to a rotating bed in order to protect a fractured vertebra in my neck. I wore what is called a halo, which is a metal brace screwed into the skull to keep the bones in the cervical spine stable. At one point, it became infected. Believe me, there was nothing angelic about that halo! Just before being discharged, I finally took my first steps into my dad’s arms.

As for community reintegration, I reached out to people who had been part of my life before the accident, including my high school prom date, my first intern, business partners, neighbors, colleagues and editors with whom I had worked. Unfamiliar but apparently dear friends visited me in the hospital and sent me cards and flowers. I made it a point to reconnect weekly with a person from the past. I asked each one to tell me who I was. The person they described is whom I now refer to as Angela 1.

The fact is, Angela 1 died after that fateful Yankee game. On the same night, Angela 2 was born. Angela 1 and Angela 2 are very different people.

Angela 1 was a young executive, a new bride and a proud owner of her first home with her first true love. She was unaware that life can change dramatically in an instant. She had memories, a clear history and believed she had a clear future.

Let me introduce Angela 2, who began as a depressed, medicated young widow, without a career, home or independence. As of this writing, Angela 2 still gets lost frequently, sleeps a lot and moves slowly. But she is a rock star who has recovered and grown beyond anyone’s expectations, including her own.

Once I was able to embrace these two selves, I stopped trying to wear the shoes of Angela 1. They simply don’t fit anymore. Instead, I wholly love and inhabit Angela 2.

I am a big believer in expressing gratitude whenever possible. I’m confident that my life before the accident was filled with as many blessings as it is today. It’s just that Angela 2 is more focused and aware of them now. And I no longer have the dubious luxury of sweating the small stuff. After surviving the enormity of what happened, everything else pales in comparison.

Being on a disability schedule has provided me with an opportunity to grow in ways that Angela 1 would never have had the time to explore. For example, I am able to take classes at a spiritual center where I’ve strengthened my spiritual muscles. I’ve learned the powerful tool of meditation. As a result, I have successfully navigated my way through anxious moments and situations by quieting the thoughts, stilling the body and relaxing the mind.

I have also learned that by concentrating on the blessings, more blessings come, and that expressing gratitude attracts more reasons to feel grateful.

After the car crash, gifts from across the country poured into my hospital room, and later, to the rehabilitation center where I did my outpatient therapy. At the time, I experienced a mounting anxiety about keeping up with writing all the thank-you notes as Angela 1 would have. Only later did I finally recognize that I was the recipient of an outpouring of love. Only then did I allow myself to truly receive the blessing and experience the grace of genuine connection. Angela 2 is happy, present and determined to keep moving forward.

~Angela Leigh Tucker

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