IT COULD HAVE BEEN A LOST 2 WEEKS. INSTEAD, IT TURNED INTO A DISCOVERY. AND I ENDED UP FINDING PEACE - AND, PERHAPS, MYSELF - IN MY INTENSE RECOVERY FROM A CONCUSSION.
It was one of those seared-forever life events. Dr. Teena Shetty, the concussion expert at Hospital for Special Surgery - with a gentle smile that belies her steely serious eyes - warns me that “you can either follow the advice and treatment I’m about to tell you, or you will come back in 6 months and ask me to fix you, and it will be too late. And I won’t be able to heal your brain.”
Yikes! Talk about getting my attention.
What followed was advice that took my breath away, and, I’ll admit now, was uber-difficult for me to wrap my head around (no pun intended). Said the good doctor: As of now, you will clear your calendar for the next 2 weeks …. And at least for the next week, no reading, no TV, no movies, no screen-time of any kind, no caffeine, no exercise. You will sleep as much as possible. And did I mention no screen time?
WHAT???? I remember making some feeble attempt to explain my jammed “next 2 weeks” … daily newscasts, our weekly Up Close program, our annual Operation 7 Save A Live campaign kickoff and the taping of our one-hour special on fire safety, and anchoring our coverage of the Inauguration.
After I had listed all that, Dr. Shetty looked sternly at me again and repeated her mantra that I could listen to her now or pay the price later. Of course there was really never any choice - not if I cared for my family and my job, both of which I want to be operating at 100% for many years. And so began what would become an amazing experience - frightening and sobering, but also enlightening, clarifying and inspiring.
For the first week - except for doctor’s visits that included an MRI with me wearing a "Silence Of The Lambs" kind of face mask to scan my brain for 45 minutes - I slept. A lot. Over the first 5 days I slept an average of nearly 15 hours a day. (Typically I sleep at most 6 hours a day.)
What my brain needed, the doctor explained, was to heal by harnessing all the chemicals and energy that it usually taps to think. I had one job: Let my brain focus on fixing the concussed (injured) muscle.
And so that’s what I did. My eyes stayed shut for much of the day - even when I wasn’t sleeping. The image of my brain healing, and me being 100% for the people I love and who love me … all that propelled me forward. That was my main thought. And my second, third and 10th thoughts as well. And I approached it with the kind of workaholic fervor that I had approached my daily life before my most-public slip on the ice. (I posted my slip and fall on Facebook the day after it happened - which brought lots of comments from many who had experienced a concussion but didn't follow their doctor's orders!)
The bottom line for me is that I listened to my doctor’s advice. Millions of people get concussions in the U.S. every year - most are sports-related, but slipping on the ice ranks right up there with the non-sports-related concussions. And the recovery worked! I’m back at work today and feel great.
And I'm forever grateful to the remarkable Dr. Teena Shetty and her caring staff at HSS. I felt as if I had a team of partners, walking me through this whole process.
But there’s a bigger bottom line for me from all this. Staying home, getting tended to by my family…. Being read to every night by my 7 year old daughter .. My wife Kathleen making soups to keep me nourished and healthy .. Spending in-the-moment, completely present time with them .. doing nothing… all of that was so completely different for me. The last time I had taken two weeks off work was in 2007, so that was a new experience. But this obviously wasn’t a vacation.. This was a forced slow down. On all fronts. And I found in that a new and different kind of peace. My family did as well.
And so my challenge going forward is how to embrace that - the slow-down - when I’m not going full-throttle at work. That was my big discovery - that it’s OK to not go full-throttle when I’m not at home. That in fact it can be just as healthy as eating my daily bowl of broccoli or my 45 strenuous minutes of cardio. And for that I am in a most profound way grateful for this otherwise scary concussion experience. It has turned what could have been a kind of lost 2 weeks into quite a find.
I’m back. The same -- but I hope better, in every sense.