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Jack Sisson's TBI Blog

A hug is duct tape for the soul.

April Textures, photo copyright 2007 by Jason Antony (vancanjay) of sxc.huThe New York Times has established a "wall" around some of its content, requiring that you pay a fee in order to see that content. This brief article is behind the TimesSelect wall, but if you can get to it, it's an interesting illustration of how suddenly, unexpectedly, and, well, weirdly TBI can strike.
[A decade ago,] Philip Vanaria had gone for a walk in Greenwich Village, where he had lived most of his adult life. A friend wanted ideas for his birthday, which was coming up. At the corner of Hudson and Morton Streets, he called her from a pay phone.

"Hello," she said.

Something jolted Mr. Vanaria’s elbow. Then it shot into his arm. Waves of pain ran along his arm. He nested the phone on his left shoulder, cranked his ear down.

"I said, 'I think I’m having a heart attack,'" he recalled this week.

He was just about to turn 47, the hour of life when the body becomes a permanent suspect in acts of treachery. To calm himself, Mr. Vanaria reached for one of the posts next to the phone, and gripped it. He screamed. Someone was shooting him dead, a machine gun, it was the tail end of an era of drive-by killings, he was being riddled with bullets. He looked into the street to see his murderers.

No car. No gunmen. No one.

Then he realized that he could not let go of the post. Panic and pain ripped through his body. His arm fought with his fingers, which were locked onto the post by an invisible force. He unclenched his grip and pulled away.

A man stood nearby. "What’s happening?" he asked Mr. Vanaria.

"You don’t understand," Mr. Vanaria said. "I was being electrocuted."

In a daze, Mr. Vanaria walked away. Who do you tell? The police? The Fire Department? He walked to the firehouse of Engine 18 on 10th Street, spoke to a battalion chief, who brought a crew to the corner. Someone touched the phone with a metal tool, and it sparked. The firefighters cordoned the intersection and called Con Edison. The electricity was measured at 90 volts.

The fire chief urged Mr. Vanaria to go to the hospital. Instead, he wandered up to St. Francis Xavier church on West 16th Street. Later, he went to St. Vincent’s. They asked him his date of birth. It took him a while to come up with it.

He had, he learned, suffered a brain injury. He had literally been fried.
Lest you think a TBI comes just from obvious trauma: a gunshot wound; an automobile crash; the explosion of an IED beneath your armored car on a lonely road outside Baghdad... No, it can come at you just from the simple act of picking up a telephone receiver.

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