Last week, Ashley and I were away on vacation and I had one goal in mind – to relax and forget about the everyday grind for a while. Out of the gates, 2015 was fast and furious with the surgery for my regrowth, to returning to work everyday with an occasional “day off” for my followup doctors’ appointments. It was definitely time.
We had kicked around some ideas of where to go, but we settled on the El Conquistador in Puerto Rico. The resort is located in Fajardo, about 45 minutes outside of the bustling city of San Juan. As you head up the driveway to the property, you are surrounded by sprawling acres of golf courses, tennis courts, palm trees and other natural vegetation. Then suddenly, the resort appears right before your eyes. Growing up, I have had the luxury of traveling to some great destinations over the years, and this one ranks up there with the greats.
Aside from being a phenomenal vacation, the trip also provided me with time to reflect on the past. We left on July 2nd, which happened to be my seven-year “brainaversary”. In comparison, these two days could not have been any more different. This July 2nd, I was elated and jubilant; then, I was uneasy and wracked with emotions. Two days later, on July 4th, Ashley and I watched a magnificent firework display from the balcony of the lobby with other guests of the resort. And as I stood there watching the fireworks going off over the water, I had a flashback to July 4, 2008 while laying in my hospital bed watching the firework over the New Haven harbor. I remembering enjoying that night, feeling happy with the prognosis I was given and the great strides I was making in my recovery, yet it was still difficult as a hospital was the last place I wanted to be that night. The feeling I had this year is hard to describe, but there was a definite sense of joy and relief as I watched the fireworks right before my eyes over the waters of the Caribbean. This was where I wanted to be and to have come so far made me proud.
Two days later, Ashley and I hopped on onto the first ferry over to Palomino Island, a private island owned by the resort. Guests ride the high speed ferry from the marina to the island and within 15 minutes, you step off into another world. There was a definite calming sense from being one of the few people on an island in the middle of the ocean so early in the morning, but we wanted to pick the best spot we can find. When we found our spot on the beach, I took it all in; I found myself reflecting once again. But I learned a few years ago that you need to realize that it is okay to reflect and actually process what you went through, so I did. I went back to July 6, 2008.
Throughout the past seven years, this was the scariest day for everyone involved. Ashley had been at the hospital with me on July 5th for a visit and we were all smiles. Though I was unable to communicate with her at that time, I was so happy to have her by my side, spending time with me. Not less than 12 hours later though, I was being rushed into the OR for emergency surgery. I had done a complete 180 and was manifesting symptoms similar to a stroke. The right side of my body had gone lifeless. Would I make it out alive? Would I have permanent side effects that would leave me a in a vegetative state?
Flash forward to the present day, I looked over to my left and there was Ashley, right by my side again. I am so fortunate for her. And as I stared at the aqua blue water, it was hard to believe that I had come this far. I experienced a rush of gratitude to be so blessed to experience all that this beautiful life has to offer. The beginning of the year proved that life isn’t always easy, but whether I’m preparing for surgery or floating in the Caribbean, isn’t it amazing to just be here? To be fully functioning and experiencing each moment makes it all worth it.