Every Day Above Ground

The Abstract MIrror

Every Day Above Ground

This is a story about perspective – and how a sudden traumatic event shaped my perspective, my outlook, and my general attitude toward life.  Surely this is also a story in-part about acceptance… acceptance of disadvantages I faced following this traumatic event, and a different brain that I would now have for the rest of my life.  I have honestly never actually sat down and written about this.  I would love for my story to inspire and/or influence an Abstract Mirror reader’s outlook on life in a positive way without having to undergo the long and difficult convalescence that I did, following this event.

I spent the first 16 years of my life growing up a pretty normal young man (I’m 39 now).  I played sports as a kid… musician as a kid… and by the 2nd grade I was even tested & placed into my public school district’s Challenge Program, which is like an honors program for the “gifted” kids. I was a pretty smart cookie from early-on!  I was just over two weeks away from finishing my sophomore year of high school when The Event came suddenly.

The Event

It was the night of May 31st, 1998.  Around 25 of us youngsters from my high school were enjoying a bonfire about 200ft off a long, windy backroad in town.  Much of this 35mph backroad looks like a rollercoaster which often tempts many to drive way too fast on.  Shortly after midnight, our bonfire dwindled and it came time for us all to head on home.  I was in one of the first cars to leave, riding shotgun in a little Toyota Celica convertible with the top down, being driven (responsibly) by my good friend Jennifer from school.  We had backed down the short dirt drive and out onto the asphalt road, and that driveway was just over the crest of a hill there on the main road.  We were stopped – shifting from reverse into drive when a Ford F-150 pickup truck travelling an estimated 90mph (in a 35 zone) came hauling ass over the top of the hill, right at our tail while we were stopped there in the lane of travel!  The driver of the pickup – a sober 20-year-old guy who was home from the military for the weekend – flew over that hill crest, saw our car out in the road, slammed his brakes, skid for 150ft and was only able to slow to a speed of 80mph when his truck SLAMMED into the back of our convertible.

The metal from our trunk crushed forward and hit the back of my head, fracturing the rear of my skull in two places.  The hit to the head had knocked me unconscious instantly.  Unfortunately, my seatbelt habit at the time was to buckle-up once the vehicle I’m in begins moving forward.  The vicious hit to the head sent me flying out of the convertible and through the air onto the oncoming lane’s right shoulder, where I landed on my face which fractured my forehead and broke my nose.  The truck that hit us then drifted across the road, right over to where I had landed and ran over my lower back before coming to a stop directly above me.  This caused me to begin leaking spinal fluid.  My driver, Jennifer, already had her seatbelt on at the time.  The collision caused our convertible to fly up and hit a tree on the right shoulder before it landed upside down, crushing Jennifer’s jaw into the pavement.  Like myself, Jennifer had also been knocked unconscious immediately from the severity of the collision.  My best friend Brandon came and pulled me out from under the truck, and he later said that it had looked like a firework had gone off in my face.

Jennifer and I were both airlifted to the trauma center 30 miles away at Harborview Medical Center in Seattle, where I was rushed into surgery and remained in a coma for almost a week.  Trauma doctors said that I officially had a 15% chance of survival with my sustained injuries!

I had several more surgeries during my recovery and was able to return to school the following year to begin my junior year.  I didn’t understand why I was suddenly failing most of my tests in class.  I came back to school just trying to be a normal student again… studying the curriculum and taking the tests… but I had no idea why I now could not recall what I had just studied in-order to answer test questions.  This was causing me a great deal of frustration.  Then, I soon was sent to the Evergreen Hospital Brain Injury Clinic for several rounds of testing, where specialists later learned that I had indeed suffered significant symptoms in the cognitive region from the traumatic brain injury, resulting with short-term memory loss.  I had to begin doing memory therapy exercises a few days a week there at the Brain Injury Clinic for the next couple of years.  In school, I basically went from the advanced Challenge Program down to the special ed learning center program.  Again- this had caused me a lot of frustration and I even had to begin some anger management counseling sessions as a result.  I was young and there was just a lot I didn’t understand as I had tried to return to being a normal kid after this horrific crash.  This is where *acceptance* began to come into play.  I had to learn to accept the new me, and the new disadvantages I had now faced with a learning disability.

As of 7 years ago, I have now lived my life once-over again since the time of the crash.  The most honest and important thing I can say is- that over these years, I have just been so incredibly grateful to still be here after clinging to life in the ICU and officially having a 15% chance of survival.  As you might assume, I can affirm that having this experience really has truly given me that natural appreciation to be alive here on this Earth… every experience I have… every great person I encounter… every time I get to do something fun… every time I get to enjoy my surroundings or take-in the beauty of nature and the outdoors;  I always remember… that could have been it for me at 16 years-old… that could’ve been the end.  Sure I still to this day struggle with some short-term memory loss, but ultimately things could have been sooo much worse.  I am literally a walking miracle.

“We cannot change the inevitable. The only thing we can do is play on the one string we have, and that is our attitude. I am convinced that life is 10% what happens to me, and 90% how I react to it;  and so it is with you… we are in charge of our attitudes.”

I’ve seen too many folks who think that life is just so terrible.  Granted, yes- so many people out there have absolutely unfortunately suffered many different struggles which I have never known myself; but, you’re still here!!! …and for most, life has not been nearly taken from you against your own will.  It is an experience that changes you forever, but you won’t truly feel this unless you’ve been through it… or maybe if you’ve heard it through someone’s story like mine.  Everyone has a story… and my story ends with this:

Every day above ground – is a good day.

Thank you to The Abstract Mirror, just for what this place is.  Thank you for being a place where we can reflect on our stories, have a place to share them, and hear others’.

 

 

Written by:  Laith B.

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