2012: My Accident in Indonesia (What Really Happened)

Me speaking at the event in Surabaya, Indonesia in April of 2012

Me speaking at the event in Surabaya, Indonesia in April of 2012

I don’t remember much about it at all except for the fact that I am certain someone stopped my fall. Oddly enough, no “one” did.

I had just arrived in Surabaya, Indonesia to offer the keynote speech at a banquet of global disaster response practitioners. I was exhausted but beyond honored to have this opportunity to visit Indonesia once again.

It was a welcome reception for my dear friends at a Surabaya based humanitarian organization that brought me to their offices shortly after arriving from the airport. It was a crowded space and it was great to be reunited with friends from around the world.

And then it happened. I took a step where steps were located that wound down around a corner to street level. I don’t remember much about the fall except for the initial impact to my head which then sent me reeling another 5 or so feet landing on my rib cage where I had thought someone had broke my fall. I was sure of it.

The initial impact to my head was after about a 10 foot drop, then hitting my head so hard I flew another 5 feet. Apparently some in the room who witnessed it thought for sure I was done.

I was in shock. If it weren’t for that someone breaking my fall, I am certain that I would have been done. But, witnesses told me that no one broke my fall.

Immediately after the incident I remember two things. The first was my dear friend David Bopp rushing down the stairways to me to assess the damage. With David, I was in good hands. Being from the Army, David had led a lot of missions in the last gulf war and none with incident. He expected the worst when he got to me.

The other thing I remember was a small Indonesian man, who happened to be the personal driver for one of the businessmen who was heavily involved in the work of this humanitarian organization. With extremely broken english, he wanted to literally pick me up and carry me back downstairs where I could be more effectively looked at.

I remember how determined and concerned he looked. Amidst my shock, I was moved by the act of this fellow human being.

Being a Simonsen, my father taught me one thing about pain and that was this… what’s pain? Growing up, we learned to tolerate pain and move on. With this fall, it was nothing different. Though I would find out later, there was something different about this, I was one blessed man.

After David initially checked me out, I got a ride back to my hotel to get some rest. Should I have gone to a hospital to get checked out? Certainly I am sure I would have if being close to home, but being thousands of miles away in a foreign land, I just returned to my room to do what no one should do after significant trauma to the head, I fell asleep.

The initial shock had yet to wear off as I felt extremely numb. I hadn’t even begun to experience the pain that was about to be unleashed with my ribs. Besides, it was showtime. That same night, I and a few others in town for the event were to be interviewed live on the local radio station.

Everything was a haze.

Being in the company of ex-military was my blessing that week as they seemed to be the only ones with any type of pain medication I could take that would take the edge off once the shock gave way to sheer pain.

But, what is pain, anyway?

I made it through the week and my speech went off extremely well. God is good and He definitely carried me through that week and to be honest, He also must have had something to do with breaking my fall that Sunday evening in Surabaya.

The trip home was brutal. With a little cough developing from the travel, that was no friend to my what I had already diagnosed as a broken rib or ribs. With lodging issues in Singapore, which is where my flight leaving Surabaya took me, I was forced to spend the night in the terminal.

I think it was one of the longest nights of my life. The pain was severe. I feared every cough. My head was just one long dull buzzing noise.

Thank God I was able to run into my friend with access to the travelers club lounge before that next flight departed. That at least gave me enough time to grab a bite, sit in a comfortable chair and to be quite honest for the severe pain I was in.. grab a stiff drink.

Little did I realize at the time, what happened in Surabaya would take months for me to even begin to somewhat recover. For one, a broken rib alone can take a couple months to heal. And, without health coverage, I didn’t dare get checked out. In retrospect, I sure wish I would have. (Though I eventually did visit a clinic that pretty much confirmed what I had known.)

Yet, I figured I knew what was wrong and there was nothing they could do for me other than time and patience. But months after the rib(s) healed, the post concussion syndrome remained.

Night after night and day after day, I just remember sitting in a dark room in my house listening to classical music. I couldn’t look at a computer screen but for a few moments enough to do my job before my head would just check out. I was a mess and it seemed to get worse over time.

Being this was my fourth or fifth concussion over time (I lost count), there was no telling how long this bout with PCS would last. I was desperate to feel better, yet I had no control over time. If anything sobering could lead to a deep sense of darkness and despair, this was it.

And this is when my depression began to fully set in. I was no longer myself. Those next several months were some of the darkest days and nights of my life. When the depressed become desperate, the desperate become reckless.

If I could extract from my life a season of life and live it all over again, those next few months would qualify as a prime candidate for a donor match.

I was reeling. But in this and through this, someone was praying. In retrospect, I am certain that whoever was praying for me during that season was the same person who broke my fall that Sunday evening in Surabaya.

Yet, my journey felt so alone during that season. I felt so isolated inside my head. Did anyone have any idea what was going on within me? Whoever was praying must have. They endured a lot to pray me through those next few months. If anyone never gave up on me, whoever that person was during that season was they.

And whoever it was, I would not be here today if they had not continued to pray. I guess I have not fully pondered this until now. Frankly, it’s sobering. Certainly I do this not to over dramatize the experience, but rather instead to simply seek to understand the experience. My life began to find salvation that night. Though, it had to get darker for me to finally and fully begin to see the light ..or perhaps to actually appreciate the light.

I guess they’re right when they say it always gets darkest just before dawn.

Life before that Sunday evening in Surabaya was in trouble and I didn’t know it.

As I look back now over three years later, I am just now beginning to pick up the pieces to both what had happened that April week of 2012 as well as what that week had spun into motion within my own life. Five months later in September of that year, my life would change forever.

I woke up.

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