What if the person driving to work was not the same person who was pulled from the wreckage a few blocks from home? Imagine not one crash, but two. One resulted in the obvious and immediate crumpled car. The other crash resulted in an internal and devastating injury that is difficult to see without the assistance of medical equipment, radiologists, and neurologists.
Now imagine that the crash did not take place on a road, but on a complex system of neural highways. Nearly invisible neural highways carry the very identity of a person — the ability to think, feel, breathe, move, recall, speak, hear, smell, and touch. The thing we call a “self” is found in the pathways of neurons we so simplistically call the brain.
I have been in such a “crash.” My collision however was initially caused by brain cancer, a disease that sought to crumple my neural pathways, rob me of my identity, and end my life if possible. Cancer treatment caused further damage to my brain, but I survived.
Your “mental vehicle” may be running at top performance or you may find that it’s slowing down with age, disease, or injury. Your mental “GPS,” or memory may be faltering. Some of my brain healthy friends tell me they sometimes forget why they walked into a room. I smile. I know what it’s like.
Prior to the discovery of my brain tumor, I completed my graduate studies, worked for one of the largest management consulting firms in the world, and started a company. I thought that excessive work, high income, and lack of free time defined success. Leisure travel was an inconvenience because it required a detour from work and travel along paths that led away from success.
During a gap between projects, I spent a little time visiting family and friends. The route I selected for the trip home required that I drive through a mountain pass. As I was driving up the mountain, my tires lost their traction on the icy road; my car began a rapid, uncontrollable, diagonal slide toward the bottom of the mountain; and my eyes began seeing images that I knew could not possibly exist. Then, everything went dark as my eyes abruptly transitioned from seeing strange images to seeing nothing. A few seconds later, my car slammed loudly into something, and the uncontrollable descent stopped abruptly, but my blindness continued a little longer.
In hindsight, the crash was not as severe as it seemed to be at the time. Neither my car nor I sustained irreparable damage. The black ice, slide, and collision definitely startled me, but in the big scheme of things, nobody was hurt, no property was destroyed, and I was able to drive down the mountain to ask for help getting through the mountain pass.
Days later, when I returned to Minnesota where I lived at the time, my two roommates thought I had an inner ear infection because that would explain my very evident hand, leg, balance, and motion challenges. My roommates recommended that I see an ENT doctor. The doctor confirmed I had an inner ear infection that would explain the symptoms I reported except for the strange images and the blindness. The doctor recommended that I have an MRI of my head.
If you are not satisfied with your new normal, what are you doing to change it?
Thanks to Frank Pray for guiding me during the creation of this post; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, who made it possible to include the pictures and text in this post.