I had a Grand Mal Seizure (tonic-clonic) last week. Apparently 10% of people will have one in their lifetime. My neurologist was explaining this to me last week and flippantly commented, “So if there are ten people out in that waiting room, one of them will have a seizure.” My wife, not missing a beat, said, “So as long as Scott is in the room we should be ok.” I love her.
The seizure took place at the medical clinic where I work. I have been told that I smashed my head against the wall, tried to bite my good friend and doctor, attempted to spinning back-kick another doctor, developed a case of Turrets, and basically held the medical office hostage. There is some speculation that I stopped breathing at one point. I woke up on a gurney, then in the ambulance, than at the hospital. I have significant short-term memory loss and have no remembrance of the situation. Weird.
Every so often we are reminded that we are not immortal. A little over a year ago I had a major traffic accident on a prairie road in the middle of nowhere. Other than some broken ribs, I walked away unharmed. After that accident I spent some time reflecting on the fact that my life was spared because I turned left (into oncoming traffic) instead of the logical choice, right. I spent a few months practicing the techniques I teach others, and was able to glean some healthy insights.
People have asked me since if I learned anything from these experiences. I have. Coming out of the hospital, after two days in the overflow wing that I shared with three female senior citizens I learned that old women really snore, and do vile things to a bathroom if left unattended. I also learned that I have been taking time for granted and have become lazy. When I am tired it is far easier to watch television than do something productive. It is tempting to waste my life on things that don’t matter. I am a driven person, but can truly be lazy between dreams. The older I grow the easier it is to sit around, skip my martial arts classes, and sit around with a remote control in my hands. Because I have a bad knee it is a simple thing to find a pseudo-sensible reason for my lethargy. And the clock continues to tick.
These are lessons one would expect to learn from any near-death or feels-near-death experience. The world is replete with stories about how the accident survivor felt they had a fresh start, a new chance and opportunity. This is, it would seem, a natural and hopeful response to these things. What I didn’t expect was to lose my short-term memory. I didn’t expect to forget where I lived, where my son’s bedroom was, how to put a key in the lock, and virtually all the meaningful experiences I have had in the recent past. I cannot remember Thanksgiving three weeks ago. Apparently we went out to the lake the next day for a picnic. I could not remember how to check my email, how to Skype, how to do case notes at work. I had no idea how to edit this blog. I actually phoned Godaddy and had them walk me through it. The first morning back at work I had four clients I apparently knew well but could not, for the life of me, remember their names.
It all started when I woke up in the ambulance. I felt normal, clear, and wondered why I was so vigorously strapped to the gurney. They asked me the normal questions – name, address, did I know what happened… I got the first one right. I knew my name, why would you ask me something like that? My address, what is my address? Something felt wrong. It was as if I had a space in my head where my address was supposed to fit. It is hard to explain to someone who has never experienced it.
I am back at work today. It only took me thirty seconds to remember which key opened the front door. I watched my wife drive away (my license is suspended for thirty days) and then nonchalantly stood by the door. And the clock continued to click. It eventually came to me, all of a sudden, that it was the weird flower key that stuck out like a sore thumb. I got my inner office door opened in only two tries.
This is very frustrating. I still remember what I have learned, still can engage clients in counseling. In some ways I am more in tune with counseling than I ever have been. I feel like I am at the top of my game, until you hand me keys. I will not remember certain details, and will not know I do not know.
This is very hard on my ego. I get paid to be smart, to be present, insightful, intuitive, engaging. If i let myself dwell on this, it will be easy to become anxious, or depressed, and begin to panic. And therein, as the bard would tell us, lies the rub.*
I teach people everyday to control their emotions before they become controlled. I am an evangelist for CBT, REBT, DBT, psychoanalysis, etc. I believe with my whole heart that this stuff works. Of course it is one thing for me to believe this works for other people.
It is another thing altogether to believe this works for me.
“Physician heal thyself.”
- Losing The Narrative (andrewsullivan.thedailybeast.com)
*stolen from “Inside Man“.