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BY: SAM SIGNER

Sam Signer, A Story of PerserveranceIn 2006, I wrote a story of my experiences (OBIA Review – After The Fall) concerning a serious head injury I sustained. Well, much has happened since then and I recently realized, during these reflective times, that I have been suppressing many of the details of the accident and the aftermath. In fact, I pretty much wiped out 3 years of my life! The actual moment of the accident has come back to me. I remember the terror, in that fleeting, life changing moment, of flying through the air, trying to brace myself for the impact. They say that your life flashes before you during these moments, well, mine didn’t. It was raw fright, uncertainty as to what was going to happen and hope that it would only be a bruise or two. I could feel the pain again of that chunk of concrete hitting the back of my head and recalled my morbid thoughts as I started to lose consciousness. There was also the adrenaline surge and the totally unacceptable image of losing contact with my family. In my last letter I said it was terror that forced me to my feet. It was terror, but, not about losing myself—it was terror about losing my family.

My wife, Eva, has now been filling in some of that three year gap— reluctantly. I guess she is not anxious to relive it, nor, cause any angst for me. However, I have a strong need to know. One of the things she told me was that during that first year I relived the accident frequently and would wake up in the middle of the night, screaming. An uncomfortable feeling as I must have scared her to pieces. She was there for me, though, and always comforted me back to sleep…and I’m sure I was the only one sleeping after that. Not certain how many times this happened, but in the first few months it was very frequent.

At home, simple tasks were difficult. Just trying to pick up an item and carry it somewhere was a problem. According to Eva, I tried to be involved in everything, many times to my detriment, because of the severe dizzy spells that followed. I had been the household cook before the accident, but that would be a really dangerous activity now, so my new job was to set the table. That didn’t work out well because every time I picked up a spoon it would slip out of my hand and drop to the floor. The kids were watching this activity, and after 3 or 4 spoons hit the ground they started to get somewhat upset. Eva, without skipping a beat, asked them if they were going to join in the game too. So they reached in, grabbed some spoons and dropped them on the floor. They were happy to play this ‘game.’

There were other incidents as well. My fine motor skills were obviously shot and there were lots of things—basic, normal, everyday things I could not do. I am not one to lie around the house and, every morning I would get up early even when I wasn’t heading off to work. Hurdle number one—I was unable to do up the buttons of my shirt. Sometimes I managed to do a few but I couldn’t place them in the correct hole. It was quite a sight, and, although you can get away with it in front of your kids once or twice (they would just laugh thinking it was silly), many repeats of this incident caused them to get upset and ask what’s wrong with Daddy. Once again, my wife to the rescue. She told me to come downstairs with the shirt unbuttoned. I didn’t feel too comfortable with this but I knew she had something ‘up her sleeve.’She turned it into a learning experience for my son, who, at this age was not able to cope with buttons very well. He was very proud that he was ‘being trained’ to handle the buttons by practicing doing up Daddy’s shirt. The situation was saved, once again, and my embarrassment on hold. This story was related to me…I have no memory of it and that is probably a good thing.

I am trying very hard to bring the memories back and although painful, very necessary to my overall healing. It is not a very pleasant feeling knowing those 3 years are missing and sometimes I get very emotional about it. It helps and it hurts when Eva tells me another ‘out of memory’ story. I try to remember but mostly it does not come. The brain can be a very compassionate and caring piece of equipment. It sometimes prevents you from seeing things so that you can cope with difficulties. If I was fully cognizant of what was happening it would have been very debilitating and I may never have reached the level I am at now. There are many episodes I suffered through in those first 3 years following the accident. I fell down the stairs many times, had all sorts of nightmares about being in a dark room and unable to find my way out, constant nose bleeds from medication to quell the severe headaches, crying for no apparent reason, being so totally and utterly lost while driving that I had to get assistance from my wife by cell phone (speed dial essential here) and much more. The ‘lost’ moments were probably the worst, being in a trance-like floating mode that I had experienced many times in the first 2 years of recovery. Very frightening for me and for my wife as well as she couldn’t be sure that she would find me. During those times I would grab the cell phone and use the speed dial. Actually it didn’t matter which button I pressed on the phone as all of them connected to a single number—Eva’s. When I reached her she would appear very calm even though, in reality, she was as panicked as me—maybe even more so. She would tell me to pull over to the side of the road, stop, and read whatever signs I could see. While I was doing this she was running to get a friend of hers at work to go and help search for me.

Although I knew that getting lost was my new norm I still tried to do things as before. Sometimes, acting bravely, I would try to surprise Eva and pick her up at work, but this rarely worked out well. On more than one occasion I ended up very far from where I should have been, sometimes ending up at a school she hadn’t worked at in many years, or in another town many km away. I realize that I am very lucky to, first, beat the odds and survive the accident (less than 10% are able to say that), second, be able to perform many of these tasks again, differently, but with good results, and third, most importantly, to know that the family remained an intact unit, and although there were some losses along the way, have survived it. I still get depressed sometimes when I feel I am not appearing totally normal to the public, like having to wear a ridiculous looking black visor to protect against the affects of the fluorescent lights (only effective for a short time). This is, I know, a small thing as I have received other gifts as you will see.

My recovery period lasted about 3 years and after playing approximately 250,000 games of Solitaire on the computer to get my dexterity back I looked for a diversion—partly to stop the carpal tunnel syndrome I was starting to experience from mouse overuse, and also just looking for more stimulation. I had a piano at home purchased in hopes my kids would eventually learn to play. As you can guess it was pretty dusty from non use. I could read music and knew where the notes were so I decided to fiddle around. Well, that was not a very successful experience as I could not seem to handle the keys very well. I dismissed that thinking I just needed to persevere, the same way I did with Solitaire (had trouble moving the mouse when I first started). It never worked for me even though I tried for 1 hour every day for more than a year. I was not interested in becoming a piano player but it was unacceptable to have something taken away because of this accident. Depression started to creep in again and Eva was once more to the rescue. She bought me an electronic keyboard (the piano at home was a real one), with all sorts of gizmos and gadgets on it, hoping it might hold my attention. What a surprise I had when I tried to play it! I could press the keys down properly. They were spring loaded, equal pressure required, and light unlike a regular piano. Using the background simple rhythms in the machine I was a one fingered marvel.

Now some of the bizarre stuff started to happen. I went out and bought a music book hoping to learn a few songs. I opened the book to a piece and I started to hear the orchestra playing in my head. Not only was I listening to the song, I could specifically tell you in detail the part each instrument was playing. I turned on the piano and tried to use the stock background rhythms in it, but that was not acceptable to my ‘ear.’ Digging in, and with the help of a friend, I discovered that you could actually do your own background parts and record them as tracks, integrating them into a song. Well, I started to do my own arrangements with a lofty goal of 40 songs. That was about 600 arrangements ago! It was great. I grew out of the keyboard and had to buy a more sophisticated one. I’m actually on my 4th keyboard in 4 years. People started to hire me to play at events and in restaurants. I was having a great time and what a gift.

Well, the strangeness got stranger, and this has to do with my memory loss. Two years ago, during the Winter Break, I decided to do some new arrangements. I went out and bought a music book, opened it waiting to hear the orchestra playing. Well, I got a surprise. Yes, I heard the orchestra playing—actually I heard about 4 orchestras playing—same song, different arrangements, all mixed together and I couldn’t shut it down. I was awake for 3 nights, the music pounding in my head, and then, suddenly it stopped. I heard nothing. I sat down at the keyboard and played an original piece off the top of my head. Over the holidays I wrote 20 original songs, and then realized they were part of a story and began work on a musical (total now for that is 40 songs). The originals kept coming in a wide variety of styles—jazz, ballads, Latin, even a waltz! I even instinctively knew what the title of each song was. Sometimes Eva would tell me the title was not good, but, for some reason I could not change it, insisting that that title must be attached to that song. Now we enter the Twilight Zone. About 10 months ago I was listening to one of the songs I wrote, not an unusual activity as I always look to improve them. It sounded so familiar— not the melody but the emotions behind it. I had a very queasy feeling listening to it, and then, as usual in my pieces the main instrument switched and it sounded as if one was in a floating trance-like state. The song ended and I had a look at the title. It was called The Lonely Highway and after piecing some information together with Eva realized that this was a story of lost memories. The memory of being lost in the car. I checked some of the other pieces and found one called Through The Mist. Apparently I told Eva many times that I felt like I was in a fog, mist all around unable to see or hear clearly. Many of the other songs had meaning as well and I am slowly regaining my memories lost through the music.

Over the last while I have made 14 CDs— all my original arrangements and my own creations—performed and recorded by me. I no longer hear the music in my head but I am drawn many times to sit down and write a piece, which usually reveals another lost memory. In total, over the past two years I have actually written 160 songs—no not songs— musical stories each revealing something that my brain was recording during my recovery and was not available for me to view. I don’t know what the future holds for me but you can bet that any curves coming my way will not bring a halt to things. I don’t expect my life to ever be the same—it isn’t—and I know that I have to live with certain ‘disabilities’ for the rest of my life. But, I will consider these difficulties only as temporary setbacks. When my son was quite young, I remember him trying to accomplish a task and not being very successful at it. I thought that he must be very frustrated and would soon give up but he surprised me.

HE TOLD ME THAT THERE IS A SOLUTION TO EVERY PROBLEM. IT IS JUST A MATTER OF FINDING OUT HOW TO GET THERE. HE WAS RIGHT.

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