Inside the Live Wire, it was dark and dingy, and the music was cranked to 11, just the way I remembered the place. Only half of the six red vinyl booths were occupied. Five friends and I took the one at the far end of the narrow bar. It wasn’t much of a celebration, but it was the closest thing to a party I’d been to since I’d fallen from a skateboard and landed in a coma, awaking 19 days later with a piece of my skull missing, scars on my arms, and a plastic pipe in my throat. Two days before entering the small bar in North Park, my doctor had said it was all right to consume an alcoholic beverage, and that is what I was there to do.
“Your tolerance will be way down. A half of a beer will feel like three,” he said. Heading into the bar, I was nervous. Nurses had told me I would never be able to drink again, others said I should wait a year, and most all of them warned me that drinking might induce posttraumatic epilepsy.
The nerves remained as I ordered a Bud Light from a dark-haired, tatted-up female bartender. They were there after my first sip. I did my best not to think about the anxiety. Before I knew it, my beer was gone. My wife Aimee asked me how it tasted. She had a smile on her face but worry in her big brown eyes. I had grown accustomed to that look. I reminded her for the millionth time that I could no longer taste or smell. She asked how it felt going down. I said good.
I felt at home sitting in the bar, talking about movies, music, and life. It had been four months since the day I left the house with my dog’s leash in one hand and my skateboard in the other.
That day was September 22, my second wedding anniversary. It was hot and cloudless, nearing five o’clock, an ideal time to take my dog Artie to the park. It was something I did nearly every day, and I had the routine down. I stuffed the essentials into my army green messenger bag: blue ball, water, treats. I put Artie’s leash and harness on him, then placed my bag in the front basket of my old Schwinn and hopped on. Holding his leash in my left hand, we coasted down the driveway and onto the street. Fifteen feet from my house I squeezed the brake and turned back. I wanted to skate instead. That decision changed my life forever.
I grabbed my board and Artie’s leash. The brown dog had some energy. Just moments after leaving the house, he was pulling me at full speed on the rough and rutted pavement. The wheels didn’t seem to be gripping. I had speed wobbles. That day, construction trucks and a Bobcat cluttered the street. They were tearing up asphalt to replace water mains. I directed Artie toward the sidewalk.
Artie was again running at full speed. I crouched to steady myself. Fifty feet from my house, my wheels stopped at a crack. I didn’t. Flying through the air, I looked at my right hand clutching the leash. That was my last memory before the right side of my forehead met the pavement.
A neighbor, Laurie, found me in the street, clawing at my head, screaming in pain. Artie stood next to me. There was no blood. No sign of injury. Laurie told me months later that I begged her not to call paramedics. I just had a headache — I wanted to go home and sleep. Then I vomited on myself, and she dialed 911.
When the fire department arrived, I refused service. I said I was fine, and I couldn’t leave my dog. I threw up a second time. The firefighters forced me inside the truck and took me to Scripps Mercy Hospital.
I had already been admitted by the time Aimee arrived. She sat next to me on a bed in the hallway. She says that I was alert and oriented. I knew I had fallen, but I assured her that I wasn’t injured and insisted on going home. I was taken to get a CT scan. The scan revealed bleeding and bruising on the frontal lobes of my brain, and I was moved to the intensive care unit trauma room. Twenty minutes later, Aimee says I turned into a different person. I was disoriented and combative. As time progressed, my confusion turned violent. I fought the nurses. I ripped out my IV and stabbed a male nurse with the point. Aimee says it took nine people to restrain me and enough sedatives to tranquilize a horse.
Intensive care nurses ushered Aimee and my sister, who had driven down from San Marcos, out of the room. When they returned an hour later, I was in an induced coma; a blue breathing tube was inserted into my mouth, and a “tap” had been put into my head to measure the intracranial pressure, which was high due to swelling in my brain.
The intensive care unit would be my home for the next 19 days. All I have to go by are the passages in Aimee’s journal and the nightmarish visions I had each time they tried to lower the sedatives and wake me from the coma.
Day 1: If the brain swelling goes down he will be here three days, best-case scenario. Worst-case scenario, he might have part of his skull removed to allow room for the swelling. Doctors said this is a long road to recovery and we are at the beginning. They put a tap on his brain to measure the pressure. The reading was 30. Normal is in the low teens.
Day 2: I signed a release for them to put a direct line into his carotid artery for medicine to control the swelling. They said they have begun aggressive medical treatment. I have decided to sit next to his bed full time. I am now going on 36 hours with no sleep. I have weird chest pains. I feel like I am in a dream.