*This is a repost of an old blog post to commemorate the 4 year anniversary of my freak accident.
In Fall of 2013 my life was pretty awesome. I was living in San Francisco near several good friends from college. I loved my job at Google. And I had ample free time for fun. On a ordinary Sunday afternoon, after grabbing breakfast at my favorite neighborhood diner, I was back in my apartment. As I was opening my living room window –something I had done hundreds of times before– the glass shattered. I was shocked. When I looked at my arm which had gone through the glass, I was terrified.
This is what I saw, except with blood shooting out like water from a punctured balloon:
Two of the fingers on my right hand were completely numb and I was screaming obscenities as if that would relieve the pain. My friend called 911 and a team of EMTs showed up within 5 minutes.
Upon seeing the ER Doctor, I was informed that I needed surgery to remove the glass from the wound and to repair my arm. I was alone in the hospital for the next several hours waiting for the microsurgery team. I kept thinking to myself “be nice to everyone and try to be funny, so they’re more inclined to help.” I made sure to avoid considering the worst case scenario.
The surgeon explained to me that my ulnar nerve was completely severed as well as a few tendons and some muscle belly. He asked if I was right handed. I am. He said they could put my nerve back together but it would take at least a year for it to regenerate. I signed some releases and was wheeled to the operating room.
I can’t remember how I felt when I woke up, but I remember speaking with my surgeon. He explained that the repairs went smoothly and that I had been exceptionally lucky. I didn’t feel lucky.
He explained that the ulnar nerve runs parallel to a major artery and that given the accident, my artery should have been completely severed and I probably would have bled out. Fortunately, my artery was inches away from where it is normally found in humans. Go figure. Having the awareness that I could have lost my life, I was overcome with emotion. I felt tremendous gratitude that I had health insurance from Google and access to world class medical talent.
The next day, I was released in a full arm cast that prevented movement of my right arm. For the next 6 weeks, I was bedridden. I could hardly do anything useful for myself or others. Feeding myself, bathing, and walking around had all become challenges. I moved back home to Brooklyn so my family could care for me.
In the years that followed, I learned several valuable lessons, some of which are below:
Asking for help – People love giving help but hate asking for it. By asking for help you facilitate personal progress and you’re also giving someone the fulfillment of helping and having impact. You also practice vulnerability which is a key component of human connection.
Taking things for granted – You never know what you have ‘till it’s gone. It took several months for me to regain functional use of my arm. Now I take time out of every day to appreciate being able bodied. I see beautiful things. I walk and explore. I smell and taste delicious foods. I enjoy the sound of music. There are plenty of people that can’t do those activities. Now I regularly make sure to savor those simple, profound pleasures.
Meditation – Physical therapy is painful. Recovering from trauma is stressful. I developed a daily meditation practice to lighten the load. The amount of health and happiness benefits you get from just 10 minutes a day is astounding. Meditation is the easiest thing you can do to significantly improve your life.
How quickly everything can change – Most of Life is beyond your control. Years of careful planning can be undone in a split second.
Don’t wait to pursue your dreams – Nothing is guaranteed. Life is short. There is no better time than now.
Confidence – Confidence develops as the result of action and experience. The knowledge that I overcame this crazy accident makes any new undertaking or challenge seem a little less scary.
Don’t take 'No' for an answer – Several surgeons and physical therapists told me 3 months into my recovery that I wouldn’t progress any further without additional surgery. I kept pushing and progressed. 6 months into my recovery I was told the same thing. I kept pushing and progressed. I was determined not to have a second surgery, even if this meant two hours of painful physical therapy everyday for 2 years. I am proud to say that 4 years later, the mobility I’ve recovered in my arm is greater than what all the medical professionals told me was possible.
I am phenomenally lucky – To have made a strong recovery. To have the love and support of so many amazing people. To have health care. To be alive.
Your greatest challenges are also your greatest growth opportunities. We all experience trauma in Life. Know that post traumatic growth is possible. Turn negatives into positives whenever possible.
Always be grateful. It's a much better choice than being bitter, sad, or any of the other negative emotions you can choose.
Today, my life is pretty awesome again. I live in my hometown of Brooklyn, close to my amazing family and friends. I’m living my lifelong dream of being an entrepreneur. Had it not been for that freak accident forcing my hand, I’m not sure I’d be a coach, Cannabis leader, author, etc. right now. Life can be pretty funny.
In his memoir, Man’s Search for Meaning, Holocaust survivor and psychiatrist Viktor Frankl explains
“Everything can be taken from a man but one thing: the last of the human freedoms—to choose one’s attitude in any given set of circumstances, to choose one’s own way.”
Choose resilience. Choose gratitude. Choose yourself.