Mark Palmer of Sacramento, California, read my column a couple weeks ago concerning a man who experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Palmer emailed to tell his own TBI story.
In a telephone interview, he said, “About 50 years ago, when 15, I was riding in a car with a friend who ran a stop sign and a Detroit city bus hit us in the side. I remember very little about the accident and only remember a couple incidents during my three week coma. The most significant thing I remember (in the coma) was, around the clock, nurses reading the get well cards from my paper route customers. If you think people in a coma never hear anything, that’s a myth.”
He said he was discharged after learning to walk and feed himself. There wasn’t any rehabilitation program for people like him in 1964. He and his parents thought the “whole ordeal was over,” he said, the minute they left the hospital.
His high school teachers continued giving him the grades he received before his traumatic brain injury, which was a disservice to him, he said. In his high school English classes, no matter how hard he tried, he would always end up failing his weekly spelling tests. So he gave up trying. He later flunked out of the University of Michigan.
His story could have ended there, but Palmer didn’t. He began fighting through and slowly overcoming or adapting to his limitations, including left-side paralysis. He took an IBM clerical job.
He said, “I wasn’t smart enough to know how restricted I should be. I just kept plowing through and kept pressing on for more functionality. The injury has been a gift to me.”
He called his injury a “gift” because his path to become functional would become an ingrained character trait-and, in time, lead to his vocation.
Palmer became a noted technology industry “turnaround executive” who did for businesses what he was doing with himself. Now retired at age 65, he manages the Realistichope.com website for people with TBIs. In part, on this website, he allows affected people to share their personal stories in order to encourage others and build hope. Rather than treat brain injuries, he helps people realistically live with them in community with others.
He said, “Fifty years later, (the TBI) is still a big part of my life, but not as a negative.”