This article is to show people that one can have an idyllic life, but a major incident can turn your life upside-down, and having the right attitude can bring your life back to great things. Your incident doesn’t have to be the same as mine, you could lose a job, a life partner, a parent, a close friend, a limb even, but staying positive is the recipe for success. As a result of my incident I’ve lost almost everything on that list, bar my partner or my limbs, but my attitude has been one of the key elements to my recovery.
This article is going to be a condensed version of the book I’m writing (working title above), the rough draft is being broken down by “early life, injury, recovery”. I’ll talk mainly about parts two and three, but I would like readers to know that this isn’t an attempt to get pity or donations to my gofundme, but rather just to show people the impact of staying positive. It’s okay to feel sorry for yourself, but don’t dwell on it, your attitude is the only way to make things better.
I began my career as a postdoc in the Hothkiss Brain Institute, University of Calgary, using my PhD in cardiorespiratory physiology & immunology from University College Dublin and quickly figured out that it’d be difficult to make the money I was hoping for through research alone. Another postdoc in the same institute, who had been there for ten years, earning basically the same money as myself, had a joke that was shared amongst many colleagues “What’s the difference between a postdoc and a large pizza? The latter can feed a family of four!”. This reason was one of my main inspirations when I would regularly (politely) argue with anti-vaxxers on Facebook, those who had seen a few YouTube videos and suddenly knew it all and thought that “big pharma” was just out to make money; if they knew how little we scientists often get paid they’d change their minds quite quickly. Bizarrely, my online efforts paid off BIG: a guy I knew posted a pro-vaccination message on Facebook, and a female friend of his replied, “you owe me a bottle of wine”, as he had posted something similar before. I then responded, “if a bottle of wine is all it takes to get you vaccinated, I’ll buy it!”. Turns out she hadn’t really been vaccinated, I think her mum (a nurse) might’ve been anti-vax, so I politely disagreed with her, and that was it. A few months later I got a call from that guy saying that girl I spoke with about vaccines would have to vaccinate her son to allow him into a particular school and she would like to chat with me to set her worries at ease. All went well, I followed our call with a well-laid-out email answer to her questions with useful information, then I contacted her the day she and her son had gotten their vaccinations, making sure all went well, and asked if I could address any further concerns. We’ve been going out for around seven years since; the years of small salary have certainly paid off!
Hoping to make the most of my qualifications, but also earn a reasonable salary, I came across an interesting job I’d never heard of before, where I could still be part of science but actually make a livable wage: enter the glorious world of medical science liaisons. I spoke to a few recruiters, and they told me it’d be difficult to get one without first doing medical sales, which I then looked for, but those same recruiters then told me it’d be as difficult to get a medical sales job in Canada while still a temporary foreign worker. So, I then got a job selling those devices that print the red indicia on envelopes that indicate that the postage has been paid. As soon as my permanent residency came in, I was hired as a sales rep for KCI within three weeks, was one of the five reps in Canada who earned a trip to gorgeous Nevis after my first full year, so at least my partner could finally enjoy all the hours I put in! KCI made the most of my education and had me doing an occasional talk, so when an MSL role for Northern Europe came up at KCI, based back home in Ireland, I had to do it. I loved my time as an MSL, had some amazing trips across Europe, even got to visit Africa, and made some great friends within the company and many of the KOLs I worked with; if you don’t already know, although most of the HCPs you work with are amazing in many ways, they’re all just ordinary people. KCI changed quite a bit when it became part of 3M around 2020, the big difference for me was going from a company of five thousand to ninety-five thousand, but they never got away from their “patient first” ethos, so a big part of me was sad to hand in my notice at the end of 2021. A good friend of mine invited me to be the CMO of his startup in Florida, I went to check the place out in late December before moving there full-time in January. I met for dinner with him and his wife on December 23rd, but later that night I fell to the ground from three floors in our hotel, landing on my head.
My watch stopped on impact.
I thought strongly about getting it repaired, but I’ve decided to hold on to it. I’m thinking that once I can return to work, and be a contributing member of my family again, I’ll frame it, just to remind myself where I’ve come from, in case I ever get too cocky in the future.
The medical staff in Orlando did some amazing work, I was in a coma there for roughly three months, then got an air ambulance back to Calgary to continue my recovery in the same hospital I did my postdoc in, where I also received amazing care, was in an altered state of consciousness for a while, then came home in late July. Ever since then, I’ve been doing 20+ hours of therapy and exercise per week, slowly relearning how to walk unaided, speak properly, and sing (I was a singer in a rock band in Dublin about 10 years ago), just the everyday basics. I never realized what infants must go through when they learn many of these basic skills at first!
When I need to lift my mood, I read through the list of donors on the gofundme and just beam; my partner runs it, but I believe one of my Brazilian MSL colleagues from 3M set it up initially. Given the volume of therapy and exercises, I must go through daily I won’t be able to return to work any time soon, I don’t think my brain is quite ready for that yet anyway, but I’ve put my name forward to return to proofreading/editing scientific articles from non-native English speakers to try to make a few bucks. Unfortunately, the travel insurers I had at the time of my accident refused to pay my significant bill in Florida because I was “attempting suicide”, despite having a beautiful partner, a wonderful stepson, dream job, I would have no reason to try that. Luckily my partner had also added me to her insurance in early December. I believe they are in discussions now.
Not to end on a sad note, I shall conclude with some positivity. My partner has a very good job, works mainly from home, and still has the time to look after 2 dogs and 2 kids (her 10-year-old son and myself). Since my injury, I’m a much more positive person, a closer partner, and a far greater stepdad, and am making the most of every gift I’ve been given. As I said, even in a terrible situation, good things will eventually happen, as long as you have the right attitude – It Gets Better.
Ted O’Connor, PhD
After earning his BSc (HONS) in Physiology at University College Dublin in 2008, Ted O’Connor earned his PhD in cardiorespiratory physiology & immunology at the same institution in 2012. He briefly tried being a postdoc in Canada before switching to sales for a few years, through which he ended up becoming an MSL with 3M, covering Northern Europe. Since his injury (detailed above) he has been recovering in Canada with the hope of returning to being an MSL once he’s fully recovered.
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