Brain Repair

September 21, 2005. I awoke in the hospital and knew immediately why I was there. My first thought was: “Wow! Am I ever lucky. I made it 66 years before this finally happened. Margaret and I had been hit head-on on the highway just north of Oak Harbor the day before. She had internal injuries, a broken neck, and was bruised from head to toe. I had a collapsed lung, a fractured talus in my foot, and although I didn’t know enough to think about it at the time, a bruised brain. To add insult to injury, when we read the newspaper account of our accident it referred to us as “elderly”.

In my mind I hadn’t even reached middle age the day before that accident. In the almost 13 years since our accident I have regained quite a bit of my mental abilities but unfortunately, I have lost more of them to the ravages of time. I accept the fact I am now “an old guy”.  The physical injuries caused us to be confined to our home for most of the next two or three years and although we kept our business going from home, we finally sold what was left of it in 2011. I was faced with trying to find another source of income in case either or both of us managed to live 20 or 30 more years.

I had realized a few weeks after the accident my brain was not working properly. I was experiencing a “mental fog” sensation every day until about noon when my mind seemed to clear. When I read or talked about anything complex I experienced extreme mental fatigue after only a few minutes.  I could still read or think but it required great effort. A psychologist told me the best way to get it working better would be to challenge and exercise it. I bought a mental exercise CD and it was extremely boring. I bought and read at least three books about the brain and how the brain works. I had heard a lot about the financial crash which started in 2007 and I was curious about what was behind it so I bought several books including “The Big Short” and pushed myself to read and understand them as much as possible. I then bought some books on how to design websites and spent a year learning to use HTML. I did not record the duration of my reading attempts, but I started reading only a few minutes at a time and then starting again after relaxing a while.  Over a period of a couple of years I built up my ability to concentrate on something non-stressful for longer and longer periods. For over three years after the accident I was unable to deal with anything stressful for more than a few minutes before being hit by extreme mental fatigue.

Four or five years after the accident I was contacted by an investigation agency in California I had worked with when we were operating ION. They asked if I would take over the job of sales manager for their business in the state of Washington. They did not have any business in Washington and wanted me to find out if there were enough customers to make it practical to open offices in Washington. I was paid by the hour and could work as many hours as I wanted, up to 20 hours a week. I worked at this for several months until it became apparent because of the nature of the workers comp insurance program in Washington it would not be worthwhile for them to expand into Washington State.

Reading several books about the 2007 financial crash piqued my interest in trading financial instruments. I took several weeks of hands on trading of stocks, options and futures.  After several months of trading I accepted the stock market is not a safe place for an individual to do mental exercise. My problem with the mental fog every morning had diminished over the years since the accident and it is only noticed occasionally now in response to traumatic or very stressful activities. The long periods of concentration at the computer required for trading resulted in muscle tightness and pain in my neck and arms which was probably not related to my brain damage issues.

Although I knew I still had some mental limitations from the accident it was difficult to identify them as separate from the reduction in self-confidence I had experienced post accident.

I decided to see if I could learn enough about real estate to get a real estate license. I studied for the Washington State exam online and passed the test with no problem which was helpful for my self-confidence problem. In three years, I learned enough about real estate and the market to earn a pretty good income during 2015 and the first half of 2016. Having been self-employed in my own business for many years, I found working as a real estate salesperson less than ideal.

My lack of enthusiasm for the business and the rising cost of living in the Kirkland area led us to decide to return to Arizona where we owned a condo in Gilbert. When we left Washington, I walked away from three or four transactions that could have resulted in at least $40,000 of commission revenue if I would’ve stayed for the rest of the year. Some people might consider leaving forty thousand dollars on the table to be a sign of a mental deficiency and if that is the case, I had that mental problem even before the accident. Money has never come ahead of living life my way when making decisions.

Upon arriving in Arizona in mid-2016, I immediately attended the necessary classes, took and passed exams required by the state and got my real estate broker’s license. Not being one to try to get by doing only the minimum, I attended numerous extra classes and responded to every “how to make money in real estate” I saw. By the time I obtained my broker’s license I had determined being a realtor in Arizona was probably not worth the effort. With 2,400,000 housing units in the state of Arizona and 73,500 real estate salespeople there appeared to be a real estate salesperson for every 32 houses. And in addition to this glut of real estate people, since the crash thousands of investors and get rich quick artists have descended upon the state for the fix and flip and wholesaling opportunities. I could have stayed in real estate and possibly made decent money, but I had sold door to door when I was in my 30s and selling real estate would have been very similar. The other reason I gave up on real estate is there are almost more vendors trying to get money out of the real estate salespeople than there are real estate salespeople.

During the years I sold real estate and was not finding that industry to be something I love doing, I watched the online employment services and from time to time, submitted an application for a job I thought might be interesting. I was in my 70s by this time and out of the five applications I submitted with all the necessary supporting documentation, I only received a no thank you letter from one of them. The other four didn’t even bother to acknowledge my existence after looking at my resume and realizing how old I had to be.

In the fall of 2017 I learned Arizona allows anyone with a clean criminal record and a Bachelor of Arts degree to get certified as a substitute schoolteacher. I have been substitute teaching for about three months total and it is encouraging to know there is something to do even after you’re too old for anyone to consider hiring you as a regular employee. About the same time I discovered substitute teaching, I applied for a Christmas season call center job with Macy’s department stores and was hired. This involved a two-week training which demonstrated I do not have the mental capability needed to compete with young people using computers. Whether this is because of the accident, my age, or just my general mental abilities I don’t know. It was very helpful learning there are some things I can’t do even if I try hard.

I am still constantly looking for new opportunities and challenges, but I have rationally regained most of my self-confidence. I am no longer seeking brain exercise like I did the first eight or ten years after the accident. I feel as ready as I will ever be at my age or older for climbing the next hill. I accept when you are over the hill the choice is between resting or climbing the next hill.