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Gary Horton: Why not live your life fuller?

Posted: April 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: April 9, 2014 2:00 a.m.

Followers of this column know that five weeks ago my daughter, Katie, was struck by a motorcycle in Jaipur India while visiting with family and friends for what was to be a special Indian wedding and 14 day tour. Katie was hit on the 2nd day and suffered severe traumatic brain injury (TBI.) She required cranial surgery, was comatose two days, spent six days in the ICU, and subsequently required 16 days of hospitalization to recover sufficiently well for the 24 hour jet trip back home.

Through providing 24/7 assistance care to Katie, our family experienced first hand how brain injured patients “reboot” and progress through the very challenging stages from coma to semi-consciousness, to “dream walking,” finally full consciousness and full recovery of self, for those lucky enough to achieve it.

Katie lucked out and so did we: She’s now back at home, physically strong, and is quickly regaining her pre-accident abilities. She noticeably improves every day and it appears she’ll be one of those few severe TBI patients who will get back to fully “normal.” We are blessed in her recovery.

But this is where, in Katie’s case, there appears to be a twist. TBI recovery is part re-birth and part “born again.”

The brain heals and “fires back up” in interesting patterns, not necessarily sequenced in logical order. The patient essentially takes what he or she gets as it comes, and with therapy works to connect all the dots of memory and skills back as they should be. Interesting things pop up in the process.

Katie is vividly recalling life memories from first, elementary school years, and, as she progresses, now through high school and college days. It’s as though her full memory is recovering in chronological order, and she’s able to look back on herself and past actions almost as a third party observer. Most of us don’t get to, or have the mental fortitude for such self-analysis, but it seems Katie is being force fed a replay of significant past moments – and she’s staying up late telling us all about the significance of this and that event.

This might be an unexpected blessing of a tragic accident. A chance for self-review coupled with a pivot point for self-renewal. We might all benefit from such a process – but without the head trauma, of course!

Katie frequently says she would have done certain things differently. She would have held back less and pushed herself more. She wonders why a person or situation intimidated her in the past and recognizes certain opportunities were either lost or non-optimized, often because of hesitation or timidity. Katie is smart and did well in school and in college. Still, looking back, she sees many points where given a second chance she would summoned up more confidence and direction towards her goals. Today she sees those that once intimidated her as equals to be related to without fear or discomfort.

It could be that the part of Katie that just sidestepped grave misfortune is urging Katie to learn from the past to make most of the future. Life is short and we really only get one go to do, achieve, and enjoy those things which are of meaning to us. Katie sees she’s getting a rare second chance at life, and this profound realization has her reconsidering how things should be for her, going forward. “Why can’t I?” and “Why not me?” keeps bubbling to the surface. “Why not try?”

Indeed, for one who has just sidestepped death, most everyday fears fade in significance. Why be intimidated by a job, or in a class, or in an interpersonal matter? Why not push, try, and reach farther? What’s to lose if we fail?

It’s not, after all, “the end.” The great thing about life is that while we have it, we can always get up and try again.

Katie is getting an automated front row seat at this renewal process, but actually, self-assessment and self-renewal applies every bit as much to each of us if we hope to make the most of the time we’ve got.

So why not finally meet and greet that new neighbor down the street? Why be shy when we know friends make life better?

Why not finally take those classes required to upgrade our skills and get that promotion?

Why not reach out to that person who’s caught your eye, but perhaps you felt was outside your league? Why not try, and what’s really to lose anyway?

Why not forgive that family member you’ve long been at odds with? Why not more fully express your love for spouse, children and friends? Why not soften hearts instead of hardening them?

Why not volunteer at the Senior Center or the homeless shelter? Why not donate time at HMNMH or volunteer as a docent at one of our parks?

Why not learn piano or guitar, why not sing in the choir, why not give that speech, or take that tough assignment?

Why not give life everything we’ve got with each moment we’ve got?

Katie is a walking, talking miracle reminding us all that time is short, life is fragile, and we can either make the most of it or not. We surely wish her accident hadn’t happened, but the silver lining in that dark cloud is not only that she will fully recover, but that life itself will mean so much more for her and for each of us.

We don’t need tragic accidents to benefit from self-renewal. So why not reach higher and stretch further? There’s truly no loss in trying.

Gary Horton is a Santa Clarita resident. “Full Speed to Port!” appears Wednesdays in The Signal.


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