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At the time, my wife did not know if I would live and, if I did live, if I ever be able again to walk, talk or think beyond the capabilities of a two-year-old.
Two weeks earlier, I was heading back home from Staunton, Virginia, after photographing a high school football state championship football game when my Harley-Davidson encountered a black cow on a dark road and he crash left me with multiple broken bones in a mangled right leg, a disfigured right side of my face with a dislocated eye and massive brain trauma.
Doctors repeatedly prepared my wife for the worst: If I lived,, I could lose my right leg and my right eye and the odds were strong that if I ever woke up it would be with the mind of a two-year-old with no idea who I was, who she was or any memory of life past.
Last week, we talked over dinner at a restaurant in nearby Christiansburg. One of the discussions was what to do for Thanksgiving. Since I had no memory of Thanksgiving a year earlier I promised her that this year’s Thanksgiving “would certainly be better than last year.”
Then my wife caught me completely flat-footed by saying “there is no way you can make this year’s Thanksgiving better than the last.”
Thanksgiving morning a year ago, she said, was the day I opened my eyes, looked at her, squeezed her hand, knew her name and talked for about five minutes before lapsing back into unconsciousness.
“I knew then that you were going to make it,” she said. “It was the happiest Thanksgiving Day of my life and one that I will never forget.”
Sadly, I cannot remember that day. The first day I remember was the morning of Dec. 4, 2012, when I woke up in the rehab unit, saw a nurse taking my blood pressure and asked where I was and what had happened.
Since that time, I have been through months of rehab, physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, evaluations and re-evaluations by neuro-psychlogists and more in a recovery that continues. I can walk on the leg that orthopedists had to rebuild, see through the right-eye that sits in a socket fashioned from materials other than bone and see the world with a face that looks pretty much like the one I had before crashing it into asphalt late at night.
My memory comes and go and balance is still a problem but one of the doctors at the hospital called me “a walking miracle” when I checked out and left under my own power on Christmas Eve of last year.
So my wife and I head into Thanksgiving on Thursday with much to be thankful for. I am thankful to be alive, to have survived the odds and overcome the pessimism of those who told my wife that I would be dead or disabled or a vegetable.
Most of all, however, I am thankful for the love and support of Amy, my wife of 33 years and one who never left my side during those days and weeks in intensive care and the trauma unit. We will celebrate 34 years of marriage next month, a union that many predicted wouldn’t last when we tied the knot in Alton, Illinois, in 1979.
The last year has not been easy. I have tried more than once to continue writing a column for this web site but have had to pull back because of complications that come from the long and continuing recovery of what doctors call “TBI” (traumatic brain injury). My right leg — held together by braces, rods, pin and screws — is not fully up to speed and still bothers me. The right side of my face remains numb from the surgery to rebuild it.
But I am here and thankful to be so. Thanks to everyone here for the support and patience as I continue to struggle to get back up to speed..
But thanks most of all to that woman who was at my bedside on Thanksgiving morning a year ago, whose face I saw when I woke up and whose name I thankfully knew. I don’t remember what I said that morning but she said I told her I loved her.
I did, I do and I will continue to do so for the rest of a life that could have ended a year ago.
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