True Story: I Got Hit by a Bus
I was recently having a conversation with a group of friends and business connections and mentioned a little bit of my story after my accident, and was met with “what accident?” in response. It turns out, many of my connections don’t know my story. The short version is: I was in a terrible car wreck just after high school and it changed my brain. Pretty crazy, right?
In this episode, I will tell the story of the day I got hit by a bus. I’ll take you through the events as I remember (and as I was informed of afterward) so you can get a flavor for it. But, because I can’t simply tell a story without a lesson, I want to make sure I round out the story with a question on legacy. Look, we all think we carry a certain weight or value with others – they would miss us if we died, right? Well, what would your legacy truly be if you died tomorrow? That’s what I want to challenge you to explore after my story. So get ready. Take a listen and don’t forget to subscribe! [Subscribe Here]
I had a plan. In high school, I wasn’t interested in sports. I was interested in the future. I wanted to be grown up and powerful already – whatever that means.
Life doesn’t always give us what we want, right? I was going to be a high powered, world-famous architect. I was going to design the next run of architectural marvels across the globe. I wasn’t supposed to be a speaker. I wasn’t supposed to be here. In fact, at a couple points in my life, I wasn’t sure if I was supposed to be here at all.
I was supposed to be different because I worked for it. It wasn’t until a school bus changed my mind.
After high school, I was accepted to engineering school but my recently divorced parents put me in that grey area where there’s no money for college, but they make too much money on paper, so there’s no financial aid either. Bummer, right?
I planned to take year off of school and work and hopefully get to school the following Fall semester. Just before Christmas, my girlfriend at the time took us through an intersection and derailed that plan. You know how they say (whoever THEY are) that accidents happen closest to home? Well, this was three doors down from my house. There was a yield sign that separated the traffic in a sleepy neighborhood in the suburbs of Chicago, and we (as usual) didn’t obey it.
She looked left, everything is clear, and I looked right and saw a school bus coming at me at 40mph.
I’m going to let you in on a little secret, in those moments, your life doesn’t flash before your eyes. You don’t even have clever or wise words in those final moments.
Literally, the moment before impact was “brake foot” motion and the words, “whoa, whoa, whoa!”
When I come to, I’m firmly situated in the car, and the car is in the neighbor’s lawn. I got hit by a bus. Seriously.
I look around, and see there’s no glass left in this coupe, not realizing a bunch of it is lodged in my skull. The passenger door is crushed across my lap, and my seat has been pushed a little more toward center.
I look over and see her looking at me, blood on her face. We are totally cool. We got this.
Ever the hero, I tell her, “Don’t worry, I’ll get you out.”
Quick sidebar –
1 – I have aphasia which means I can hear the words in my head that I want to say, but my brain will not let my mouth make them. So instead, I moan.
2 – it’s comical that I would suggest my rescuing her in this situation. Think of it like you’re armpit deep in quick sand and the person over there in the distance twists their ankle. You thinking you’re going to escape the quicksand and carry that “injured” damsel to safety is ridiculous.
I don’t know this yet.
I pull the handle on the car door. It doesn’t open. Again, I’m not sure I’ve noticed this yet, but we’ve just been t-boned by a school bus. I’m wearing the passenger door like a pair of pants. Nevertheless, here we are. I remember the doors lock automatically, so the door isn’t opening because it’s still locked.
DUH. That MUST be it. I take my finger and slide the lock to the unlocked position – again, failing to recognize the position of the door handle relative to where it should be…to function.
When I wake up again, my senses are playing tricks on me. I can see she’s missing and her door is open. I look around and through blurry vision, I make out flashing lights, a school bus, and emergency humans. I can’t hear or feel anything.
I’m out again…
I’m awake again, this time I can’t see anything, but I can hear people talking and yelling things to each other. I can feel hands on my neck, but this moment is short-lived. I’m suddenly awakened by this maddening, violent sound that penetrates my bones. There’s a light beginning to spread near my feet and my brain puts the light and sound together.
They’re cutting the door off with the jaws of life.
I don’t remember coming out of the car. I don’t remember the flat board or the conversations the EMT tried to have with a guy that moans and blacks out without warning. I remember seeing the sky just before I saw the roof on the inside of the ambulance.
I remember telling my mother, who had miraculously arrived at the scene and calmly came to the ambulance to share her love and encouragement, that she better burry and get to the hospital because we’re going to get there before her.
Even strapped to a board, bleeding from the head, I am giving instructions. I feel like I was born with marching orders. Not for me… for everyone else. Kind of a “Here’s how this is gonna go” memo for everyone to follow along. You ever met someone like that? Raise your hand if you know someone like that. Keep them up if you know that’s you.
Okay, so we get to the ER and they’re cutting off my clothes, and glass is pouring out onto the floor. We move to a new section. They cut off more clothes and more glass pours out. I must bleed glass shards. Perhaps something happened and I’m not a superhero that bleeds glass instead of blood! What will my name be? The Glass Man? Captain Windex? The possibilities are truly endless…
I don’t know how long it’s been since impact, but they’ve successfully re-located my limbs and after a CT and x-rays, are removing the glass shards from my skull.
At some point during all of the “pampering” in the ER, my brain decided we were safe. This isn’t good. I don’t know this at the time, but I’m about to find out. You see, when trauma happens, the brain goes into shock. It turns off pain receptors, floods the body with adrenaline and endorphins, and diverts all resources to basic survival – heartbeat, breathing, senses (the best it can do at the time).
When it gathers enough evidence to support the claim that it is, in fact, safe, we leave DefCon 1 and return to normal protocol. Guess what happens when the brain decides we can start feeling things again?
WE FEEL EVERYTHING AT ONCE.
But that’s not the most interesting part of this story.
Sometimes the brain operates like an old tube TV. You know the one you could bang on and enhance the picture from time to time… always running the risk of hitting it a little too hard and permanently screwing up the screen, right? Well, my brain took a pretty brutal hit that day. Think of it like this:
Imagine an egg floating inside a jar of oil. When the jar is stationary or moves within a reasonably hurried pace, the egg moves, but stays happily floating in the oil. Now imagine taking that jar and hitting it hard enough on something to crack it. The egg will crack on the opposite side because it slammed into the inside wall of that jar. That’s what my brain did. My perfectly mushy, teenage brain slammed into the inside of my skull so violently that it caused a severe left brain contusion. Essentially, I bruised part of my left brain so badly, it died.
The interesting part of this story isn’t the rapid recovery or the fact that I really didn’t break anything (just a lot of dislocations), no, it’s the fact that in that collision, I lost my math. My brain stopped mathing. What was once easy math, was suddenly Greek. What was my life was now impossible because I couldn’t read my own drawings and finish my own equations. I mean, I got hit by a bus, but this wasn’t supposed to happen!
What happened instead was different. My right brain overcompensated and I discovered musical talent. I discovered my imagination was different – more like it used to be when I was little. I discovered creativity, art, appreciation – I found myself more drawn to possibility rather than probability.
I had to choose differently now. I could now choose differently now. And that’s the thing about legacy – you can be an active participant in it. You’re creating your legacy in every interaction and conversation you have, whether you are aware or not. You can either be passive and let it happen, or you can be active and consciously create it. The choice is yours.
What would be my legacy if I died in that wreck?
“He was a dangerously smart kid who died too soon. Had a rough relationship with his father, held grudges, used his quick wit and sharp tongue to protect his heart and destroy any and all who challenged him. He will be missed.”
Think about your own for a moment. If you were to die today, what would your legacy be? And this is different from a eulogy. A eulogy they read at your funeral to highlight your “best of” material – what you’ve done, where you’ve been, who you were on the surface, etc.
Your legacy is what people FEEL when you’re gone. What you leave them with.
What is YOUR legacy right now?
Is it what you want?
Better question: is your eulogy a PR stunt?
“Gary was a great man. Always generous with his time and his wisdom. He wanted to make the world a better place, and believed everyone had the capacity for greatness. Gary was social and loved entertaining his friends and family as often as he could – believing family is the most important thing on Earth. He will be missed.”
Sounds good, right? Fairly typical? It’s something you’d hear at a funeral, right? Yes?
“Gary was a pain in the ass. He wanted to make the world a better place for himself and he micromanaged everyone and everything until we were all exhausted. He liked to push his agenda everywhere he could, and was a frequent flier on “stir the pot” airlines. Whether it was arguing online or in-person, he was generous with his time and his opinion. The only time Gary was truly happy with himself and his family was when he was experiencing life through bourbon flavored glasses. He may have had the best intentions, but he did more harm than good. He’ll be missed, but only briefly.”
Think about this for a moment. Which one is a Eulogy and which one is a legacy? More importantly, which one more accurately and honestly describes you? This is heavy stuff. This is the hard truth I mentioned when I first got up here. There’s good news though.
Awareness is everything.
I invite you to change your definition of legacy and become an active participant in it. Because busses are lurking around too many street corners, and a moment’s lapse in judgement could take away your chance. Become the man you were born to be so when the day comes for you to leave this earthly plane, you leave a legacy you are proud of.
Please share this episode with people to spread the word that your life and legacy aren’t
finished no matter how badly your life path is derailed.
Also, share it to help others be aware of menacing school busses lurking around street corners.
You can never be too careful.