A True Story of Getting a Second Chance at Life

Get comfy! We’re gathering here for another story time installment of “Darn It, I Almost Died! Phew—I Didn’t.” (We might need to workshop that title.)

This is a doozie of a true story from a friend of mine. Please pay attention to your feelings as you read about his experience, because I will ask you five reflection questions afterwards. Here’s my interview with him…

Hello friend! Can you tell us your story?

A couple of days before Christmas, six years ago, I was having a celebratory dinner with my family and I brought a glass of wine to my lips. As I sipped it, I felt a little popping in my head. And I thought, that’s weird. I went upstairs to take a quick nap and this huge, gigantic headache came on.

I ended up going to two emergency rooms, where they drilled into my skull. And they told me I had had a stroke where the blood vessels exploded. They told me I needed brain surgery in the next two days, and if I didn’t, I probably wouldn’t live.

So we went down the brain surgery path(!), and it went very well.

Upon doing the surgery, they found what they called an egg in my head, in the middle of my brain. They thought it was a cyst, the size of an egg. They did scans, and it was not cancerous. They didn’t know what caused it.

My neurologist—who happened to be the top neurologist in the area, who happened to be on call that night and was the guy who did my surgery—he was a no bullshit kind of guy, he said, “you won the lottery.” (I have vision deficit now, but other than that, I’m healthy.) He said, “the fact that you are alive today, that basically just doesn’t happen in these kinds of cases.”

It took me six months to go back part time to work after physical and occupational therapy, and it took me three more months to come back full time.

Do you feel like you won the lottery?

I felt like I received the gift of feeling more in tune to people and energy. I think it slowed me down, and that was healthy for me. It became a huge perspective shift. I feel like I got a second chance. My two kids were very young at that point and I think I was hellbent on being a father for them and being alive and recovering. They were my focal point in my recovery. And I think I feel super grateful, even every day still, because just being alive and just being able to be here with them—like when I’m putting them to bed at night, because we still have a little ritual. Some nights, I just appreciate that I’m fucking there, like sitting on the bed with them.

How do keep it fresh—do you have to stop and actively appreciate that you’re alive, while you’re sitting on the bed with your kids?

I think something that was interesting for me coming out of this is we all know, in our minds, that we’re going to die. That’s a very quick intellectual thing: we know people don’t live forever. But to me, this was a visceral body experience that I was like, holy shit, and I think that’s what keeps me much more connected to it, is that experiential part. It’s not to say, every day, every moment of every day I’m in gratitude bliss—that’s not true, but I think it does make me more aware. I think for me, it’s like, I went so close to the edge of the cliff, that it changed me.

Have you made different decisions in life because of it?

I think so. It wasn’t like a gigantic, I quit my job and went to Bali. But I think I definitely, when in doubt, err more towards “be in the moment,” “be grateful,” “small things matter,” “life is short.” Planning for something 15 years from now—it might not happen, right? It doesn’t mean don’t plan, but it means a healthy balance of awareness that stuff may never happen. You know, do now—make sure we do now well, do more experiences, do more laughter, connect with the checkout clerk because that that’s the moments of joy, right? Those are the moments of joy we know we can get. Everything else is on layaway.

5 reflection questions for those of us who have not had emergency brain surgery:

True Life or Death StoriesWhoa, right? Does this story grip you like it gripped me?

We’re all susceptible, aren’t we? One minute we’re having a great time with family and pinot noir, and the next minute our brains are being drilled into places where uninvited eggs have taken up residence.

  • How would your perspective be different if you had the gift of a “second chance”?
  • What things would you be particularly grateful for, like how my friend was appreciative of getting to tuck his kids into bed?
  • Would you be inclined to slow down? What would that look like? What might you have to gain and lose if you took things a bit slower?
  • Are you putting joy on layaway? What are some examples of how you might want to do now more fully?
  • Assuming you aren’t “close to the edge of the cliff,” like my friend was, how can you use this uncomfortable awareness of your temporariness to live with more intention?

I want to thank my friend for letting me share his story here. People who’ve had brushes with death possess a keen awareness about the preciousness of life, and we have so much to learn from them. We need constant reminders that we are finite, don’t we? Let’s go do now well, shall we?

Jodi Wellman

P.S.: Check out (okay, and maybe preorder) my upcoming book, You Only Die Once: How to Make It to the End with No Regrets!

P.P.S.: Let’s do Instagram together!

P.P.P.S.: Oh and just in case you missed it… I’d love you forever if you took 16 minutes out of your life to watch my TEDx talk!

 

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