As part of an ongoing series looking into the experiences of those who have sustained brain trauma, Brain Trauma Foundation spoke with renown actor and comedian Larry Miller. Following a fall in 2012, Larry suffered a life-threatening brain injury, including entering a coma and being placed life support. Miraculously, Larry woke from the coma on his own, and has worked extensively in rehab and therapy to regain cognitive functions on his way towards a full recovery.
Note: Brain Trauma Foundation does not endorse any opinions or medical claims from Larry Miller, and was not involved in medical care or decisions.
READ LARRY'S STORY, IN HIS OWN WORDS:
I’m still not even sure I fully know what happened to me. What I do know is that I’m very lucky. People die from what happened to me – cracking your head like a walnut, getting an operation to intentionally take the top of your skull off so your brain can start to heal. And then intentionally being in a coma so my body could start to heal. People often don’t heal. People often die. But I didn’t. I came back. I’m blessed and I’m very lucky and I’m very aware of that.
Larry credits much of his recovery to his faith and immense family support, including his wife who stood by his side daily.
From the day I went to the hospital, my wife was there all the time. She would get the kids ready for school, then come to the hospital before going to work, get the report from the doctor, head to work, get the kids back from baseball or football, and then go back to see me for another couple hours. And by the way, I was in a coma. I wasn’t responding to her when she would sit there and talk to me.
After 10 days in the coma, my wife went home around midnight, and like always, got into pajamas and made herself a drink that she was too tired to actually finish. That night, she yelled at God. She walked out onto the terrace next to our bedroom and screamed out, “Take him now or give him back. I just can’t do this anymore. Do one thing or the other, but do it now!” And then she fell asleep, and got up at 6am like every day before, and took the kids to school.
That day when she got to the hospital, the doctor, who was filling out a form on a clipboard, turned to her and smiled. He said, “Mrs. Miller, I have great news. Larry came out of the coma last night. And I think he just might heal completely.” She looked at him with an open mouth and he repeated the good news, but this time she stopped him and asked what time I had come out of the coma. He answered “midnight.” She couldn’t speak, and instead the doctor asked her, “Is this when you yelled at God?” Touching her shoulder, he continued, “All wives do it. They all get angry at one point and scream to God. But I have good news for you. You’re the first one it’s ever worked for.”
The doctor took my wife to see me, warning that I was conscious but still very, very weak and unable to speak. We looked at each other. I was weak, but I remember this. She said “Hi honey, good morning. Are you ok?” I reached out my hand – which was attached to every machine in the world – to her, and squeezed it three times. This was always our little affectionate signal in public, how we said “I love you.” She squeezed it back four times, meaning “I love you, too.” And that’s when she started crying.
When she walked back to the doctor’s station, he gave her the box of tissues, and she wiped her eye and said to him, “I’m glad it worked, but when I was yelling at God, I wish I had asked for some new furniture, too. As long as he’s listening and willing to come across on a few things, why not some new furniture, or at least to redo the kids’ bathroom.”
Larry continued by explaining his awareness of TBI before and after his experience.
I knew nothing. Nothing of it at all. Whether concussion in sports or any other kind of TBI, I had no idea. I met a lot of people in the various rehab places I recovered. Whenever I left, I was very clearly aware that not everyone else was leaving. But I was. I was very aware of that.
I really liked the folks I met. I knew there were a couple of people in that first rehab house who were never going to be able to leave their beds. There were veterans who had been hurt in battle. We would have breakfast together every day at the dining table, and I really liked them. You feel an instant bond with them. They’re at their computers or in their beds, and they’re trying to recover, too. I always knew what a blessing it was that I was healing when others were not.
People over the years have written that they felt guilty. I didn’t feel that way. I just would look up and say, “Please help me be worth this.”
I look at all the other patients differently now because I know them. They are my brothers and sisters. A smile and a nod and a good wish to these folks means a lot. So give that a try to everyone out there. Don’t look away and go to a magazine rack. Look them in the eye and say, “Good luck to you.”
Since his recovery, Larry has advocated for TBI support and funding.
I feel touched being involved. I was asked, along with another patient from the second rehab house I stayed at, to testify in front of the California state senate. Those are some pretty official folks. They get stuff done. I testified in the Chamber and was very enthusiastic. I told some of my stories, and said how they need to pass the bill because folks – even children – were being asked to leave the rehab house because they couldn’t afford it anymore.
I remember saying to them, “Folks, I have to tell you that it’s really wrong, and I think it has to stop…If you don’t get more money to them now, there’s a kid that will have to go home and sit in a chair by the living room window and stare out all day. I hope you never go for a walk with your dog and see a kid sitting and staring out the window. You can keep the kids and adults in these rehab places until the rehab people tell them to go.” In closing I pleaded, “I don’t know how you do business in here, and maybe you don’t even know how you do business here. But please do this and please do this now.”
A few days later the doctor called me and said, “We got the bill passed.” But the bad news was that about four more steps needed to happen for it to start working. I’m going back in October and hopefully it’ll get done.
In closing, Larry emphasized that recovery is never over. TBI will be with him forever and it is his duty to keep pushing himself.
I need to be doing rehab seven days a week. It will be forever. After three years, I owe it to myself. And as I do that, as I keep getting better and forcing myself to do more, and if I keep doing my job, it helps everything.
Larry is currently working on a one-man show based on his experiences with and recovery from TBI. Stay updated at LarryMillerHumor.com, or follow on Facebook @LarryMillerHumor or Twitter @LarryMillerShow and @LarryJMiller.