Resilience and Renaissance: Navigating Life's Unexpected Turns

Adam Gordon Bell

Jan 2nd

Brain Injury Sparks Python Mastery

Welcome to 2024 and a new CoRecursive episode:

What if your dreams were suddenly ripped away? What if your talents vanished, your passions erased?

That’s what happened to Jason McDonald when a traumatic brain injury at 16 ravaged his planned destiny of becoming a doctor. Jason painfully rebuilt his identity from scratch - relearning to read, write, and even speak.

A serendipitous discovery of coding ignited a new passion within Jason. He dove into the world of Python, even writing a popular programming book.

His is a story of the incredible resilience of the human spirit when faced with life-altering challenges. One that calls us to embrace our own vulnerabilities as gateways to growth.

Find it in your podcast player or on the website.

Christmas Eve

The message was calm and said, ‘It’s now 3:30 am. I’m the charge nurse at name redacted. Your father said he would visit his daughter during the day and left here by taxi. He is not back and has not received his last two rounds of Parkinson’s medication. We have tried calling him, but he’s not answering.

I listened to the message on speakerphone. My wife and I are going through the same panicked emotions simultaneously. She was already planning how I would drive the 5 hours down to where he lived to search the streets for him.

This was on Christmas Eve. It was around noon by the time I noticed I had a voicemail on my phone. The message ended. I pressed 7 to save it, just in case, and I phoned my dad. He was back at his long-term care home and visiting with his sister, who had stopped by for a Christmas visit. Yes, he visited my sister, and yeah, he forgot to come back, and yes, he had missed his medication, but now all was well.

South Florida

I’m in South Florida now. My wife and I wanted to get away to somewhere warm for the new year.

The grass in Florida is different. It’s coarse, and it seems like they have to cut it daily to prevent it from becoming a miniature jungle. I’m reading an Oliver Sacks book. He has this case study of a man with memory problems:

‘Hiya, Doc!’ he said. ‘Nice morning! Do I take this chair here?’
He was a genial soul, very ready to talk and to answer any questions I asked him. He told me his name and birth date, and the name of the little town in Connecticut where he was born.
‘And you, Jimmie, how old would you be?’
Oddly, uncertainly, he hesitated a moment, as if engaged in calculation. ‘Why, I guess I’m nineteen, Doc. I’ll be twenty next birthday.’
Looking at the grey-haired man before me, I had an impulse for which I have never forgiven myself—it was, or would have been, the height of cruelty had there been any possibility of Jimmie’s remembering it.
‘Here,’ I said, and thrust a mirror toward him. ‘Look in the mirror and tell me what you see. Is that a nineteen-year-old looking out from the mirror?’
He suddenly turned ashen and gripped the sides of the chair. ‘Jesus Christ,’ he whispered. ‘Christ, what’s going on? What’s happened to me? Is this a nightmare? Am I crazy? Is this a joke?’— and he became frantic, panicked.

This man is intelligent. He can play puzzles and games as long as they don’t require him to keep a train of thought going too long. He was good at checkers but couldn’t play chess at all.

They suggested he kept a diary, but he was always so surprised by his previous days’ writing that it didn’t mean much to him. All his memories stopped at the age of 19.

Brain Trauma

The brain is so intriguing to me and Oliver Sacks is engaging because he lays down specific cases and shows specific ways that the brain breaks down. Not all at once, just slowly and in specific functions. It would be impressive if it weren’t so tragic.

My dad is different today than he once was, but he’s also the same. He needs a wheelchair to get around but, in other ways, can seem just like himself, except when he isn’t. He can sometimes take a taxi ride to visit my sister. But sometimes not, and I’ll get panicked phone calls.

Today’s episode is interesting because it shows how the brain can heal but be different and how that can change you. We all understand that who we are and our personalities are resident in our brains. But the idea that that personality could evolve, not just decline, but change is hard to deal with. If my personality is not who I am, then who am I?

I wondered, interviewing Jason, about his previous self, his pre-brain-injury-self, and what he would think of the person he has become. He leaned into his specific strengths, which shaped who he has become, and maybe that previous person wouldn’t accept the new him?

All of this is to say you should check out the just-released episode. And you should protect your brain. But if you get hit by burnout, head injury, degenerative brain disorder, or just experience the slow decline we all face as we age, know that you can fight against it, you can reinvent yourself. All is not over.

That is what episode 96 is about.




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