A story of a traumatic event that may have ended, yet saved my life.
In this world of good and bad, you could be doing anything when life decides to take something from you. My entire life, I played soccer. In 7th grade I played on a highly selective club team, and by 8th grade I became a State Champion in the sport. This was the foundation, seed, and water for my growing identity as a soccer player. The next few years, I traveled across the U.S. playing on countless green fields in places like Philadelphia, PA, Dallas, TX, Park City, UT, San Diego, CA, and Cherry Hill, NJ. Soccer differed between regions and each city had different teams, different styles of play, and a different air. I favored going to California because the teams were always competitive and fast, and their team would flow with ease and aggression which made them hard to play against. Win or lose, those games rewarded me with adrenaline, a sense of purpose, and self-esteem that I craved. Soccer was my friend, my ambition and my passion. As I grew older, I showed more and more potential as a player. I was intense, unwavering, relentless, and always making it hard for the other team to breathe. Thanks to skill, experience, and an ability to lead, I was also selected as captain of my High School team Junior year. This flattered my self-concept, and further fueled my burning passion for the game as it's not often that third year students become captains. What began as a seed in my core had grown into a large and beautiful willow tree at my core where I say in the still shade. Waking up, my identity as a soccer star was deeply imprinted in my brain. Emails and letters from colleges showing interest in my ability turned into text conversations with coaches, and invitations to become a college prospect. I could not have been happier with where I was. This wasn’t even my senior year, which meant I had an entire year to look forward to.
On December 17th, 2017, I led my team through a warmup, gave a motivational pregame speech, and took the field with the same intensity and flow as always. The game was physical and players were taking every opportunity to push and shove, drawing small fouls every couple minutes. We were up three goals at halftime nevertheless. I was going off, scoring one goal and assisting two others, expecting to add another win to our undefeated season. Ten or so minutes after the second half started, the ball came sailing through the air toward where I was. On the ground, I made the decision to go for the ball. I admit, I regret this moment more than any in my life. I shuffled to my left, squatted down, and jumped to meet the ball with my head, but I was too late. As I swung my head to give my team the advantage of this opportunity, my head hit something solid. What followed was to me, the sound of a window shattering, and to the crowd watching, the sound of “a baseball hitting a bat.” I hit another player. After the blackness receded from my vision, I was on the ground having a hard time breathing. As I layed on the cold grass I felt the cool grass with my hands. It felt different. I brushed my face with my hands and arms behind my head, then stared at the sky. As if fate was saying something, as if the sky widened and said “there’s more.” I questioned if there was more to my career, or if there was more to my injury, to no answer. Euphoria and adrenaline filled my veins. The world too, seemed brighter but I made myself seem as healthy and calm as I could in hopes of avoiding making a scene with the athletic trainer. I knew that what just happened might affect me for the rest of my life. My dad then drove me to my high school where I could be evaluated by a trainer for my injury. My perception was beginning to fade slightly, and I began to cry. Fearing the worst would come, I began to think about how it would feel to lose my beloved soccer. My dad reassured me that it was just going to be a bump in the road, but that I was strong and I’d be back playing the sport I love soon. I stepped out of the car off balance then pushed through the gym doors. I was visually distressed and helpless. The sound of a basketball game and the crowd cheering pierced through my ears and damaging brain. We didn’t know then, but my skull was beginning to fill with blood from the impact with my brain. My mind rang with noise and my vision started to blur as I felt myself lose focus in front of hundreds of people around me. I swung my head around frantically as I looked desperately for medical staff.
I eventually got a trainers attention, so he took me to the athletic training room to be evaluated for a concussion. He began asking me questions about how I was feeling, and having me follow his finger with my eyes. I somewhat downplayed my symptoms because I didn’t want anything to be wrong. I didn’t know the trainer well since he was new, and although I became increasingly nauseous and emotional (even throwing up), the trainer wrapped up his evaluations, and diagnosed me with a minor concussion because of how well I seemed to perform on the evaluation. “Go home, sleep it off, and take it easy,” was what I was told by the medical staff. Another trainer, who I became close to over 3 years was there. She was off-duty, but she was at the game, in the training room, and desperately concerned for my safety. She knew something was wrong by the way I was acting, and when my parents and I walked out of the room under the assumption that I was fine, she pulled us aside.
“There’s no way I’m letting Seamus go home tonight,” she said.
“Throwing up is a sign of a pressure difference in the brain, and he needs to go to the hospital to get an MRI and see if anything is wrong.”
All I wanted to do was lay down and go to sleep. I wasn’t concerned for my health, and I especially didn’t want to get poked by people in robes. I responded defensively and angrily.
“I threw up because my stomach hates subway. I only need some rest.”
She wasn’t convinced.
Despite my whining and pleading to go home, once my parents agreed, we drove to the hospital. After we checked in, we had an unknown wait in the brightly lit waiting room. This 3 hours was the most distorted three hours I’ve ever experienced. Sitting in the waiting room with a blank expression, I began wondering the extent of my injury. I became very irritable and anxious as other people’s conversations began to echo around in my mind, and I began to feel out of touch with reality. Words I spoke seemed out of place, loud and ambient, and the brightly lit room was now becoming darker, darker, and darker. 3 hours later, an MRI scan was taken of my brain. Not a second after the scan completed, it was like the entire hospital was on code red at 1:30 AM. 3 hours of waiting turned into doctors and nurses on overdrive, rushing to get my vitals and to put me under. I looked up at the surgeons and began cracking jokes as they filled my bloodstream with anesthesia. Pins and needles throughout my body turned into light turned into darkness. Had I not received the surgery within 6 hours, my brain cavity would have filled with blood, circulation would have been cut from my brain, and I wouldn’t be here today. I’m not religious necessarily, but at times I believe something greater looked out for me that night. Like nature or the stars in the universe has a plan for me. If Iliniza Imerman, the off-duty trainer, had not been there, I would have gone home that night and passed away in my sleep. When I came to, nurses were putting an I.V. solution in my left forearm, and taking blood from my right. My head was in severe pain. I spent the next two weeks in this hospital eating jello food, and spent the next month and a half on hard pain pills. After what happened, I was left to my own devices. I was no longer a soccer player. I no longer felt like anything. A cliche sob story, maybe. Big time soccer star that lost his entire career. I felt that the tree that once grew so magnificently was ripped from me, uprooting the ground where it was once placed and nurtured in my core and foundation. I was extremely depressed for a long time, and the psychological as well as physiological effects of the head trauma created new life circumstances for me. A new life in itself. It’s at times like these, at immeasurable lows, where one may ask themselves,
“Why did this happen to me?”
At first, I saw this negatively and grieved deeply. But as I live, I realize things about myself, gifts or virtues if you will, that I would have overlooked or not even developed had it not been for the injury.
“Did this happen in order to make me a better person?” and,
“What is the universe trying to teach me?” are among the questions I began to ask myself a few months after
The past year and a half I’ve devoted my energy to building my identity and how shaping myself into an optimist with a range of values to offer others. I grow more trees in the space left to me by the absence of soccer with the relationships I make, and the things I learn in college. There are those who say that our identity is fixed and we can’t change what we become, but I know that no matter how low you are, no matter how sad the story or how lost you are, you can always plant more trees and get back up to change your situation.