Wednesday, September 21, 2011

Exceeding expectations

I went back to the rehab today, though under very nice circumstances: I was given an award for "Overcoming Barriers and Exceeding Expectations". I prepared a speech, but the other recipients didn't give one, so I kept mine in my pocket. Fortunately, I have this bully pulpit from which to spout. So here is my speech (in italics):

When I first heard about this award, I was honored and humbled.
I have jokingly referred to it as being voted "Least likely to wander the halls at” three in the morning”. Also as “the award no one ever wants to be eligible to win.”

Once I had a little more information, I was even more humbled to be selected. The idea of overcoming barriers is hardly uncommon here.  I think everyone at New England Rehab Hospital has his/her own barriers to overcome. That's pretty much why we’re here. Keeping that fact in mind,  I feel unworthy of being singled out.
As for “exceeding expectations”, the only expectations I'm honestly concerned about at this point are my own and my family’s. I know I'm not done yet. I haven't reached all my goals. What's truly unexpected is that I've been granted this opportunity to thank everyone here who has helped me get to this point. I know I have come a long way – look, no helmet – and I could never have done that without you. It's too long a list to name, including all my doctors, nurses, CNAs, therapists,  my friends, and my family, especially my wife and kids -- who have acted as therapists and coaches and cheerleaders as much as anyone. It's hard to see a rehab as a home away from home, but when I first arrived here after surgery in Boston, even though I didn't really know what I was in for, I was happy just to be back in Maine. When I went back to Boston for my follow-up surgery, I was thrilled that returning  to New England Rehab was part of the plan, to try and finish what I’d started. And when I was finally ready to go home, I was glad I'd have the opportunity to return here for outpatient therapy,  if only to stay connected to this place. You all helped make what could have easily been written off as the worst year of my life more than just tolerable; you made it enriching, enlightening, and meaningful. Thank you so much.

Gratitude was mostly what I wanted to convey, so the only thing I can think to add now is extra reflection, as I am prone to do. For one thing, three other people received this award, which was indeed a reminder of how good I've had it in many ways. Also, it was a reminder of how different everyone’s challenges are. I said recently to a friend that strokes are like snowflakes – no two are exactly alike, and I would extend that metaphor to recoveries. As much as no one I've met has been afflicted exactly the same way I was, no one has recovered in the same way, or at the same pace, either. Sometimes it’s been hard not to be jealous of someone who went home sooner than I did, or is walking without a cane or who can open and close both hands, but I've been able to hold myself together knowing there is no magic formula; it's not a matter of doing something different or more. Or maybe the magic formula is the journey itself (hokey, no?).

As for exceeding expectations, I realized there were a variety of ways one could interpret that. It's definitely a subjective determination. Or at least a matter of statistical analysis. I suppose it would be nice if expectations had been high from the get go-- exceeding a mountain of expectations would be quite complimentary. I certainly don't deny that I've come a long way, and but there have been times when it's felt like expectations were a little too high, simply because I am "young" and "healthy" – some would say I've had the odds stacked in my favor. That said, I've also had one doctor tell me that, given everything I faced (between the aneurysm, the brain swelling, the Subarachnoid hemorrhage, the heart attack, the stroke, and the need for multiple surgeries), he would've put my chances of survival at about 10%. I wasn't handed that little nugget until I'd been through most of the immediate threats, so I can't say it's weighed on me much; but it's certainly food for thought. And it provides argument for keeping expectations low – as long as I'm alive, I've exceeded expectations. I had a recent conversation with the nurse from my brain surgeon's office, and she referred to me as a "miracle" – this from someone who had really only seen me at my worst. I was also fortunate today to see the doctor of physical medicine who visited me in the neuro ICU at Massachusetts General (he came up to New England Rehab for the ceremony). He too had the benefit of offering congratulations through the rose-colored glasses of hindsight. That's generally the level of perspective I try to hold onto – keeping an eye on the distance I've already traversed. I have future aspirations, but I'm trying to keep them reasonable. You know what happens when you “expect”: you make  an ex out of pec and t. No, I don't know what that means either. What do you want from me? I have a brain injury.


  1. That made me tear up. Congratulations on your award. It all seems miraculous to me. Love you.

  2. Thanks, Ken, for exceeding expectations and for kicking a$$ on that 10%. I'm so glad none of us knew that at the time. I can't imagine the frustration when it seems too slow going, this recovery process, but I know that with every incremental bit of progress you're making you're teaching Gus and Wyatt, yet again, to stick with it when something is hard. You're teaching the rest of us too, of course. For the record, I can't hula hoop for $hit, and I haven't managed to get the hang of juggling yet either. Keep on keepin' on!
    love, Amy K.
    P.S. Jamie, your bathing suit is riding around in my car.

  3. That was beautiful. Made me tear up as well. Reality check.

  4. Ken, getting to see more of your writing in public has been such a gift. Thank you friend. EFS

  5. Congratulations Ken on your award, and your recovery so far... Everyone would have loved the speech :) Jen L.