November 1, 2020
Good morning friends. It’s the first day (and Sunday) of November 2020. It’s difficult to believe (and sort of fabulous) there are only two months left of this crazy year. Did you remember to “fall back” an hour, ending daylight savings time? It’s always wonderful to enjoy and utilize an extra hour. Life is typically fast paced and seems to be governed by how much stuff we acquire. Use these extra 60 minutes wisely; whether it’s extra sleep, self-care or to accomplish something productive and beneficial. Use the time for you! Be sure to get outside and enjoy the beautiful day! It doesn’t matter where you live; west coast, east coast, plains, mountains, desert, or around the globe; we are all on this planet together. Let’s do our best to make life happy and wonderful. Do your best not to fall backward too far, like I did a few years ago.
Saturday, January 15, 1994, was shaping up to be an awesome day. I was enjoying a rare Saturday day off. Half time had just begun, as the San Francisco 49ers were on their way to a sure victory over the New York Giants. My two-year old daughter and I were home enjoying the morning together. I decided to take her outside to soak up some warm Southern California sunshine. I wanted to repair a couple roof tiles that had been dislodged by Santa Ana winds a few days prior. I set up my extension ladder, gathered my tools and began my ascent. I neared the top and began to step from the ladder to the roof. My daughter appeared from around the corner of the house and yelled, “Hi Daddy!” I looked to my left, smiled and waved to her. At that moment I felt the ladder begin to slide out from under me. It happened with incredible speed. I had no time to react, as the sensation of falling backward flooded my brain. I remember seeing the blue sky for an instant. Then everything went dark.
I opened my eyes and recall being face down on the hardwood floor. I thought, why am I laying here? I was in the house and had no idea why. I attempted to push myself up, but was unable to lift or move my body. I felt my daughter next to me, as she rubbed my back. I heard her say, “Daddy,” several times. It was like I was floating in a dream. My body felt numb and unresponsive. I heard the telephone ring; it was right next to me. My daughter was holding the receiver. I heard her mom saying, “Are you alright? I’m coming home.” I don’t recall if I answered the phone, what else she said, if I replied, how long I had been there or why. She later said her girlfriend called her saying, “John just called. He wants me to come over and watch Nicole. He sounds drunk.” She called 911 because I “didn’t sound right.” The emergency operator told her they had already been called and dispatched personnel. It was never determined who actually made the initial 911 call. As events unfolded that day, they all just seemed to stream together. I remember firefighters and Sheriff deputies standing in the room and working over me. I was strapped to a backboard, placed in an ambulance and transported to the hospital.
The injuries sustained by falling backward off a roof and landing on a concrete paver can be extensive and sometimes deadly. I remember being examined in the hospital ER. I thought I was fine, just a little dazed. The results of my fall included a fractured skull, concussion, two broken ribs and a fractured shoulder (all on the left side). I’d say I was lucky and had someone watching over me that day. The impact to the left side of my head caused a traumatic brain injury (TBI), with a blood clot in the left temporal lobe of my brain. I was placed in the critical care unit for several days. Two days after the fall, Monday, January 17, 1994, at 4:31am, the massive and deadly Northridge Earthquake struck. The ferocity of a magnitude 6.7 quake made the hospital I was in, 20 miles from the epicenter, shake violently. Ceiling tiles in my room fell to the floor and instruments rattled. My bed seemed to bounce as flashes of light filled my room. I heard voices and screams as nurses ran past my room. I was able to get out of bed, gather my IV and peek out my door to view the chaos. I yelled to two nurses, “Are you okay?” The two women immediately turned toward me and said, “You’re not supposed to be out of bed!” They assisted me back into bed as I offered words of comfort for them. Peace slowly returned to the hospital, accompanied by intermittent after-shocks and frightened nurses.
During a later exam I’d learn that turning my head to the side, to wave to my daughter, may have saved my life. The neurologist advised an impact at the rear of the skull, with this type of force, could have likely killed me. I was only able to remember a handful of the events that day. I don’t know how long I was unconscious, how I got into the house or other important facts. As my recovery progressed, my brain became selective in what memory remained, was foggy or just wiped away. It really is frustrating when you can’t remember parts of your life. I look at photos or someone speaks about an event I attended, but I’d have no recollection or memory I was there. It really is a challenge (and often sad), when your daughter, family or friends talk about parts of your life you should know about and cherish. There are times I’d shrug it off or just nod in agreement. I have a difficult time saying, “I don’t remember.” No one wants to seem foolish, especially when it involves important life issues or events. I was sad and often couldn’t explain why. There were times when my brain controlled me and I was just a spectator. I don’t like that feeling.
The blood clot slowly dissolved over a four to six-month period. I cautiously returned to my life. I felt good and immediately dove back into my career. What I was unaware of, or just didn’t recall, the gradual onset of symptoms of the TBI. It created stress, anxiety, irritability and depression. Those feelings often morphed into anger, which was never an appropriate response. As time passed I experienced unexplained fatigue, less motivation and struggled with sleeplessness. The physical and emotional symptoms created negative personality changes. I doubt I recognized them for what they were or understood how they occurred within me. I don’t recall learning any additional information concerning my TBI; other than what doctors told me during my initial and follow-up treatment. I’m not sure if I think too, or was just resistant. Later, I couldn’t remember what the doctors told me, as I was a confused and frustrated mess.
To this point in my career I had experienced work related trauma from some horrific incidents. The images and events associated with them were stored in my mind. Stress and anxiety were real and sometimes overwhelming. Communication in relationships was never easy for me. The effects of the TBI further contributed and compounded these issues. This ultimately lead to demise of my marriage. My uncontrollable irritability and anger typically manifested after a harsh day at work. This behavior is never good in any setting. It influenced my moods, personal interactions and relationships. I have no recollection of knowing what was occurring with my brain. I’m surprised it didn’t have a significant impact on my career. The TBI, and a second injury in October of that year, made me realize I could no longer maintain my position in SWAT. This is an assignment where ultimate mental and physical conditioning is a significant requirement. I was lacking in both categories. I needed more time to recoup and rebuild myself. I transferred to the Mounted Unit, where I was able to reconstruct my mind and body, while working without any difficulty. Not being able to remember specific events or becoming frustrated over minor issues often plagued me. The loss of memory pertained more directly to childhood or other life events. These issues would extend further over time; indiscriminately deleting, altering or removing recollection or remembrance.
For many years I never really understood the extent of my injury or how it affected me. It altered moods, changed personality traits and brought on anger without any meaning or warning. It compounded the stress and anxiety I felt at work, by unknowingly bringing those issues home. It increased tensions in relationships and daily living situations. The impact was real, but often I had no idea why or how to control the feelings I was experiencing. I felt isolated, alone and refused help; even though I had plenty of support. I believed I was fine, but no idea what havoc my behavior was doing to those closest to me. The brain is wonderful and an amazing mechanism; yet when damaged it can be a determent in many ways. It took a divorce and many years of failed relationships to bring myself to the realization I required help. Talking about events then, leave me with a blank page in my mind. I dedicated time to learn more about TBI and what many others have experienced. Knowledge is power. Doing my own research helped me recognize the effects of this injury. I was able to better understand what it may have created within me. This knowledge has provided a unique ability to know what other TBI victims endure while healing. A friend, fellow SWAT operator, suffered a similar fall during training, striking the back of his head. The severity of the injury claimed his life. I knew I had been lucky and was grateful to be alive. Now I have this opportunity to share. I sympathize with many of our veterans (and others) who have suffered concussions and brain injuries. It isn’t an easy or simple road to recovery. The difficulties are real, so please don’t wait to seek the help you need.
My childhood helped shape my mental psyche, including a bit of OCD and that perfectionist behavior. I have my Mom to thank for that nonsense. If it hadn’t been for my Dad and his awesome male influence, who knows what could have happened. The blending of childhood, adolescence, adulthood and a TBI have not fared well for my relationships. It’s difficult to discern what role the TBI may have contributed to my behavior, but I do know I was different after the accident. I believe my brain (TBI) has healed significantly over the last 26 years. The trauma experienced from this, coupled with a career in law enforcement closed my mind and locked me up. Relationship and internal struggles continued for years. Seeking counseling and therapy (including Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing therapy or EMDR) brought new joy and happiness. It unlocked many conflicts within and allowed my brain to properly process and release the negativity trapped inside my mind. I no longer feel the anxiety, irritability, anger or crazy mood swings. What I continue to grapple with is the loss of pieces of memory.
There are events in my past I wish I could change. Unfortunately, that isn’t possible. Recently we have witnessed people attempting to alter American history. Life just doesn’t work that way, plus it’s destructive. Instead of dwelling on the past and what we are no longer in control of, let’s focus on what we can do right now. I want to be the best possible version of myself today. My attention is directed at living in the present. I’ve learned valuable lessons from the past. There are good and bad parts, but each has taught me new meanings about myself and life. Each day I learn more and strive to be a better human. We are not perfect beings, but we have the capacity to learn, grow and evolve. I want to make sure I am heading in the right direction; never backwards. I am grateful every day, not just for life, but all the amazing opportunities that have crossed my path. Life isn’t about speed. Instead, use your time wisely and enjoy each breath on this planet. Be grateful, have compassion and show kindness; you never know what struggles others may have in their life. I keep moving forward with awareness. I hope you are moving in a positive direction. Together, we can each make the world a better place.
For all my fellow Americans, election day is Tuesday, November 3rd. Be sure to cast your ballot (if you haven’t already). Let’s vote for a better, safer and prosperous America. Please show your support for freedom, equality, law and order. I want to keep America great!
Please tune in and join me again next Sunday for more! The healthy life puzzle is always in rotation. Let’s be healthy and strong mentally, physically and spiritually!
Thanks for your love and support! Embrace Life! Be sure to get outside and enjoy nature!