As you may know, I am on a lifelong journey to leave this place in better condition than I how I found it.
Journeys have roadblocks
On my way to a whiteboarding session to help a previously incarcerated entrepreneur work through some business challenges, I was struck by a motor vehicle going 45 mph.
I can hear the noise of the van crushing my hip. I can hear people scream as my body rolled through the air. I can hear my body slam down on the pavement. I can hear the strain of my voice as I began to scream.
In the ambulance, I had brief moments of clarity when they shot me up with some narcotic. It gave me just enough time to cancel the five meetings I had lined up. One of which, was a first date.
I assumed my arrival to the hospital meant good things. Greeted by a young surgeon with a power drill in his hands, I soon realized this nightmare had only just begun.
After attaching a 12-inch long drill bit to the power tool, the surgeon let me know he was going to drill a hole, one-inch in diameter, through my knee, from the left-side to right-side, all the way through.
My requests for a second opinion were denied.
Four men surrounded my stretcher to restrain the quarters of body as the surgeon placed the sharp tip of the cold drill bit on the left side of my knee.
Bone dust filled the air.
My screams reached a new level of desperation. I was sure someone would come to my rescue soon.
I noticed a man walk up to the side of my stretcher. I thought, “Finally, someone had come to tell the others to stop the torture.” As my vision focused on the man’s face, I realized it was the driver who hit me. He stood two feet from my side, watched me scream until the drilling ended, and then walked away. I would never see or hear from him again.
The surgeon returned to my stretcher. This time, with a steel bar in hand. I assumed it was for another construction project he was working on. To my surprise, the four men returned to restrain the quarters of my body so the surgeon could slide the steel bar in the freshly bore hole. The steel bar would be connected to cables on either side. which were pulled down by balancing weights. The medieval apparatus held my leg suspended in the air for the next five days.
This marked the crescendo of my painful symphony.
To say these experiences contributed to the development of inherent distrust would be an understatement.
I don’t remember much from the first two weeks. I do, however, remember screaming in pain for extended periods of time. I would scream myself unconscious.
I woke up from one of these episodes, opened my eyes, and noticed my father sitting across from me. It looked as if he had been watching, waiting for me to come out of it.
This was the first time I saw my father in seven years.
My mother walked in the room, saw my father, and sat down next to him.
“I don’t have a memory with all of us together. Thank you for being here. Thank you for doing this for me.” I said, gratefully.
Sometimes it takes a tragedy to bring the people you love back into your life.
The 40 nights I spent in the D.C. hospital felt a little longer without the company of Asia, my service dog for epilepsy.
At first, she made her way into the hospital to be with me. The nurses were nice enough to take her outside for walks. She would sleep under my hospital bed. I sensed that the sudden nature of the traumatic life events were a bit shocking for her.
Asia got sick after the first few days.
By the time I returned from my second surgery, she had been put to sleep.
At this point, there would only be one path into the ambiguous future. What I made of myself from here would be completely on me.
My body had grown weak from laying down with no physical movement for a few weeks.
I tried refusing the catheter, but after making a mess I realized I had no choice. If I had to go number two, they rolled me over until I finished.
The dignity of cleaning our own bodies and caring for our basic needs are easily taken for granted.
After three weeks of no movement, they told me I had to try to sit up straight on my own. I couldn’t just lay down in bed all day and night.
Using all my strength, baring the shock of the pains that rushed through my body, I pushed myself to sit up straight.
Sit up straight, complete.
It took a few days before I could bring myself six-feet across my hospital room. I remember how scared it felt to embark on the journey across my room.It seemed like a mile to get from the edge of my bed to the door. It wasn’t just the distance to the door. If I made it to the door, that meant I had to make it all the way back to my bed.
10 steps, complete.
The hospital was quiet at night. I knew I could get a quick chat with the night nurse at the desk down the hall from my room.
I crawled to the edge of my hospital bed, pulled myself into my walker, and began the night’s journey.
As my strength improved, I inched beyond the nurse’s desk. Taking my wide u-turn at the end of the hallway felt like I was taking my victory lap. Cheers from the crowd inspired me with the adrenaline I would need to make it back down the hall.
100 steps, complete.
In search of motivation to push further, I looked online for quotes, speeches, songs, and movies that moved me. I have Al Pacino and Eye of the Tiger to the thank for getting me through the last few weeks.
The few elements of my life I could control were food, exercise, and attitude. The hospital let me custom order my meals: eggs for breakfast, and spinach leaves, vegetables, and chicken breast for lunch and dinner.
Eventually, it was time to leave the hospital. I would require a considerable amount of physical, mental, and emotional rehabilitation.
On March 26th, 2017 I was shipped back to New Jersey in a six-hour ambulance ride to stay with my mother.
There were many unknowns.
Would I ever walk again? Would I ever live on my own again? Would I ever shower on my own? Tie my shoes?
I didn’t know, but I was going to show up to find out.
Wake up everyday, push harder than the day before, and believe in a process that wouldn’t show results for months.
100 steps turned into 200 steps. 200 into 500. 500 into two miles. I recently ran seven miles.
I never imagined an opportunity to live a pain-free life, on my own two feet, and able to care for myself.
It is easy to forget how beautiful life can be, and how fast it can all be taken away.
I found it challenging to lean into my work again. Inspiration to participate in an activity or attend an event with nice people or create a new project to help someone were quickly shut down by the defense mechanism that said, “What’s the point of even trying, Daniel? You’re just going to end up with nothing all over again.”
This evolved into an intractable roadblock that consumed me. Consumed by the roadblock by perpetuating its existence on a daily basis made it nearly impossible to reflect objectively.
When you’re in the business of helping people, it can sometimes feel like pushing a giant boulder up a steep hill. As my defense mechanism would say, “Why bother? You’re just going to get hit by a car again.”
That wasn’t a life I wanted to experience. I would have to figure out how to become aware of the self-imposed glass-ceiling my mind had architected to protect me.