I met Shmuel at a dragon boat festival on the Sea of Galilee. After the races were over, we sat on the grass, chatting about life, his, mine. I spoke of my career and my life changing experience.
He said, “I used to be a hand-surgeon. I once operated on an unsuccessful suicide bomber.” He chuckled. “I suggested that he consider a different career, though I suspect he didn't take my advice.” Gesturing towards his scarred eye sockets, he added, “I hope he wasn't among those who ended my career.”
I was lucky, the brain injury did not end my career as a mathematician. Moreover, the dramatic changes it brought upon me and my life included gains as well as losses. In particular, in the wake of the surgeries, I became a writer, a gain that enriches my life immeasurably.
In the blink of an eye, lives can turn upside down and insides out, a cancer diagnosis, a car accident, a stroke. Many of us survivors are fortunate enough to move beyond the initial devastation; despite our daily struggles as survivors, we lead full lives.
Us lucky ones are able to see the world with fresh eyes, in brighter colors. Though our dragon boat team lost the race, Shmuel felt like a winner by the mere fact that he was able to and did participate in the race. I too felt like a winner as I sat with him, appreciating things I wouldn't have known to appreciate prior to the brain injury. I would have noticed the beautiful surroundings, but I wouldn't have reveled in the softness of the rich green grass, the sunlight reflected on the waters, and the people around me. I wouldn't have been able to open up and connect with Shmuel.
I have several friends from my dragon boat team who are breast cancer survivors. Originally, they joined the team for physical rehabilitation. But they continued to paddle because of the joy and empowerment it brought them. Several of them proceeded to run marathons, sky dive, and travel the world, activities they wouldn't have even dreamed of undertaking before their diagnosis.
I used to enjoy teaching, but since the brain surgeries, I love it. Looking back, I don't understand what happened to the passion I used to feel as a child. How could I have allowed myself to lose it? I can't begin to imagine life without the joy and the passion I experience now, nor do I want to.
Overall, there is no doubt in my mind--the gains far outweigh the losses.
I would never wish to undo the bloody brain.