On Friday, June 29th, 2018, I was going to fly to visit my parents. When I got to my gate, I started to sweat uncontrollably. They called my group over the PA system, and I felt weak as I stood; my backpack was suddenly hard to lift.
I remember I thought everything would be fine once I got onto the plane. Maybe, I could take a nap. So, I hefted my backpack, and I started to walk down the jetway. The floor seemed to shift, and I focused all of my energy on putting one foot in front of the other. However, I stumbled and fell to the ground. Someone told me not to move. Then more people began to speak to me; I assume they were first responders because someone placed a crash pad underneath me and put a neck brace on me.
I said something along the lines of “I can’t miss my flight.” At which point, one person laughed and told me not to worry.
“You could always catch another flight,” he added.
After that exchange, I don’t remember anything since I had passed out. I was taken to George Washington University Hospital in Washington D.C. The airline, Jet Blue, called my mother and told her I had fallen down and missed my flight. However, those were all the details she had been given. Based on the limited information, I think my family had assumed I slipped, fell, and might be injured, but I would be in shape to continue my travels later that weekend.
However, this was not to be the case.
I had a ruptured brain aneurysm which had resulted in a subarachnoid hemorrhage. There’s conflicting information about mortality rates and the ability to make a complete recovery, but the outcome typically isn’t good.
Later, when I discussed the matter with my neurosurgeon’s physician’s assistant, I recall him saying something to the effect of “one-third of people die on their way to the hospital, and another third die at the hospital.” The final third suffer a setback which precludes them from recovering close to one hundred percent; I realize that’s three thirds, but it just goes to show you how lucky I was since I’m predicted to make a great recovery. Had anything been different concerning my schedule, I probably wouldn’t have lived.
In the film Fat Man and Little Boy, about the building of the first atomic bombs, J. Robert Oppenheimer says, after remarking about the beauty of the landscape: “A few miles closer to the sun, a few miles further away, none of this would be here. Just a cloud of gas or a block of ice and nobody to enjoy it.” He’s talking about how life exists on earth solely because of its exact location in the galaxy. Similarly, had I boarded the plane, been at home, been in the restroom, etc. none of the scenarios would have played out well for me. It’s tempting to consider the various aspects of the situation and try to reconcile why it might have happened. This can be a frightening rabbit hole to go down. The important thing, however, is the aneurysm happened, and now there is an opportunity to make the most of the situation.
It reminds me of a quotation from the film The Edge. Charles, Stephen, and Robert are stranded in the Pacific Northwest, and Charles advises them on what they need to do to survive.
Charles: You know, I once read an interesting book which said that, uh, most people lost in the wilds, they, they die of shame.
Charles: Yeah, see, they die of shame. “What did I do wrong? How could I have gotten myself into this? And so they sit they and they… die. Because they didn’t do the one thing that would save their lives.
Robert: And what is that, Charles?
During the last year, writing had become an important part of the recovery process. It gave me a goal, focus, and allowed me to stay engaged. I remember reading Stephen King’s memoir in which he discusses fear as to whether he would be able to write again after a car accident. Thankfully, I’ve discovered I still have the passion for writing and the ability to do it. By the way, in no other way am I comparing myself to Stephen King.
The experience has been difficult and overwhelming, and I continue to struggle at times, but I have had a great support system and continue to adjust. Writing, and the people I’ve been lucky to work with, have been helpful beyond description.
Andrew Davie is the author of All Due Respect Books’ latest release, Pavement.