How a ‘Minor’ Head Injury Had a Major Impact on My Life

I awoke not knowing where I was. I felt tired but perked up after seeing familiar faces around me. My eyes turned to a nurse who had started to speak.

"You're in Mass. General Hospital, Mr. Freytag. You were in an accident. Do you recognize these people?"

Funny thing, I didn't really hear her say I was in an accident. I was more interested in the second half of the statement. Of course I knew these people. They were my family and friends. Why would she ask such an obvious question?

I found out that I had been in a bike accident and suffered a head injury. I had fallen, fracturing my skull and knocking me unconscious. I don't recall how I fell, and the one person who found me didn't see it either. I also suffered a seizure and fairly extensive bleeding. My biggest mistake? I wasn't wearing a helmet.

At the time, I didn't see a reason to wear a helmet. People will say that's just stupid, and they're absolutely right. But I was 31 years old and felt like I was bulletproof. I just never thought I would get hurt. Unfortunately, I had just found out the hard way how wrong I was.

I was in Boston and training for a marathon at the time. I would ride my bike to work or around the Charles River as part of my cross-training. The day of my accident, my roommate knew something was wrong because my dog was not taken care of and my bike was gone for an unusually long period of time. He called my parents, who, in turn, called the police. I didn't have ID on me, so I was declared missing for about a day and a half. It wasn't until later the next day that they found out where I was—in the hospital. The terrible thoughts that entered everyone's minds, especially my parents', must have been horrendous. I simply can't imagine what they felt, and don't want to try.

When I awoke, I really didn't know what happened to me and truly didn't understand it for almost two weeks. I didn't remember that I was training for a marathon. I'm not even sure I knew how old I was. I was so messed up, when asked what people's last names were, I grew impatient and distant. Not understanding why I didn't know, I would bark out, "They know their name" and dismiss it.

The diagnosis was minor head trauma. To me, it sure felt major. I spent six days in the hospital and the next two weeks recovering. I regained my physical abilities quickly, and my mental abilities about 98 percent. Over the next year, I would chip away at that last 2 percent. I wasn't allowed to drive for almost nine months because of the seizure. I had to take frequent naps because the simplest tasks would tire me. I even had to attend speech therapy sessions. I had to learn how to read and write again, because even though many words looked familiar to me, I wasn't grasping them quickly. In many ways, my life was starting over.

My deficiencies in writing, speech and grammar were, without doubt, the most noticeable. Some of these are still noticeable today, though usually only to me. It's something I've learned to live with, and it actually reminds me of what I've overcome and keeps me humble. As an example, I may use the word "bike" instead of "boat." Both begin with the letter B, both have four letters and both are a type of vehicle. Another example is at times I will type a W instead of an M (or vice versa). My brain relates the two images together because they are virtually mirror images of each other.

Ironically, my profession is graphic design, which combines text and images. Not only did I have to learn how to read and write again, but I also had to relearn my job. It was difficult to do my job at first, but luckily, I didn't lose my talent and was still able to design and draw exactly as I used to. Well, "exactly" is not the right term—but at least close. Eventually I would become a perfectionist about my work. I would become more creative and more efficient, one of the many changes that I now consider a good thing.

Though it's been eight years now and I've fully recovered, I still struggle with the diagnosis of this as a minor injury. Physically, I have little evidence of the accident. I had 40-plus stitches on the right side of my head at the time, but the scar is mostly covered by hair. Internally though, this was a pivotal point of my life. My life is now categorized into two areas: before the accident and after, but I choose to focus on the latter.

Since the accident, I've moved to a small town for the improved quality of life. I've taught myself to play guitar, even though it's only for my own amusement. I'm remodeling a 19th-century home and have learned that these types of projects can be the secret to a good life (something my grandfather first taught me). I'm close to my family and can watch my niece and nephew grow up, which is a priceless endeavor. And I've even met a woman to share my life with—one who, coincidentally, eventually became a nurse. All of these changes have had major effects in my life. And they all came about from something labeled "minor."