It was two years ago today that I was in a near fatal car accident that caused me to be in a coma for three weeks, suffer a severe Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) and a broken femur, shattered pelvis and injured neck. In those two years a lot has changed and I just wanted to put together a little summary of what happened, how my recovery is going and thank the people who have gotten me this far. My life was forever changed that day (and the lives of others) but I’m just glad I have a life. It’s not a perfect life. But it’s a life and one I’ve fought hard for. I’ve been writing regularly (creatively) and blogging and my goal is to someday get published. I think one of the keys to my recovery is recognizing that writing and my voice play a very important role in said recovery. And on that note that is why I wanted to write this all down. I’m also working on a memoir so this is like the Cliff’s Notes version of it.
Let’s rewind the clock to September 15, 2016: I was driving by myself in Iowa to visit friends and I was hit by another car. The other driver was also injured but not as severely. I don’t remember the accident at all. I don’t remember even leaving my apartment that day. My psychologist says I remember everything I’m going to ever remember. Which means I won’t ever remember the actual accident (probably not a bad thing). I don’t remember even being in Iowa (at all). I was airflighted to the University of Iowa Hospitals and was there for two weeks while in the coma after the accident. While there they performed surgery on my left femur and inserted a titanium rod beside the femur to support it. Since I came out of the coma in October (close to Halloween) I remember telling my Mom I should be a pirate with a peg leg for Halloween (with my titanium rod). My leg looks normal by the way, the rod is just internal but that just lets you know that I had to work to recover lots of things but I never lost my sense of humor! There’s even a story about me flipping off a co-worker, pretending I had a secret to tell him and I wanted him to come closer and then I flipped him off! I have no memory of this because I was still technically in the coma but that was a sign (for those who were in the room that day and know me well) I was coming out of it!
Once I was stable enough they transported me in an ambulance to a hospital closer to where I’ve lived for the past 16 years. I was in the coma for another week at the hospital near home, before I came out of it. Because of the severity of the accident and head trauma and the fact I was in a coma the entire time, I don’t remember being in Iowa at all. Thankfully the line from the movie “The Field of Dreams” “Is this heaven? No. It’s Iowa.” was true for me. I survived the accident and successfully visited Iowa and not heaven!
The past two years have been a series of ups and downs that I never thought would happen in my life. In addition to all the injuries I mentioned before, the Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) also greatly affected my hearing (see this scholarly article for more about it). Once I came out of the coma it took a little while for the medical staff and my family to realize that I had completely lost my hearing. I just instinctively started reading lips, so that’s how I was able to respond to people without hearing or communicating through sign language. For the first 6-7 months after the accident I was completely deaf. I have gotten some hearing back but it’s greatly compromised. It’s not necessarily a hearing “loss” it’s very much due to the brain injury (I haven’t necessarily lost hearing but my brain is not processing the sound correctly). I can’t hear music (my brain just processes it as basically what sounds like metal on metal noise) and voices are incredibly distorted. We don’t know if this will ever change or get better. When it comes to the brain changes and progress is so individual it’s hard to predict. Currently I do wear hearing aids, use closed captioning and read lips. I learned some American Sign Language (ASL) in the hospital. However, since I mainly interact with hearing people I’ve kind of forgotten a lot. I’d like to learn it again. After I came out of the coma I was at one hospital for about a month then I was transferred to another local hospital for a month. I was at the new hospital for their regimented therapy program which included speech, physical and occupational therapy. Once that month was done I moved to a transitional care facility housed in the hospital designed for hospital patients before they transition back into going home.
During this time my parents had temporarily moved into my apartment to be near me while I recovered (since at that time they lived about 200 miles away). Once I was ready to go home I went back to my apartment with my parents caring for me. After about a month of living there we found a new apartment nearby that was larger and would eventually allow us to get a dog (Selby hadn’t entered the scene yet). Even though I was out of the hospital and out of transitional care, I was still in very regular physical, speech and occupational therapy. I had an appointment of each of those therapies once a week for about 6-7 months. I discontinued occupational therapy first (and no this has nothing to do with working or jobs, I didn’t think it did but you would be surprised how many think it does), then physical therapy. I kept up with speech therapy for longer but I’ve stopped that as well. This whole time I’ve been going to a psychologist and that’s the one therapy I continue on a regular basis. I can’t speak highly enough of it. My sister is in the field so I feel like I should have been more enlightened regarding therapy but I really wasn’t until I went to my own psychologist. I always respected the field but now I feel like I understand its value a bit more.
My parents have now decided to move here permanently and live with me. So we moved into a house together and besides the strangeness of living with my parents again after years of living on my own and being independent it’s going swimmingly. A little over a year ago we got my sweet little cocker spaniel puppy, Selby. If you’ve paid attention, you know how nuts I am about her. I even started an Instagram account for her (because why not) @selbysweetie.
When I start to talk about Selby I think is when I can mention how I feel I’ve coped with the trauma, the pain and the changes. When I first came home I read. A lot. Over 200 books in 2017. Now it seems 2018 is the year of writing for me. I started a blog (2 actually) and the main objective of the main blog is to get me to write regularly. Its as if I came out of the coma only to realize my purpose was to write and I had been wasting time. For the main blog I write a short story every month so at the end of the year I will have a collection of 12 short stories.
I also want to make sure to mention the people who’ve been with me throughout this process. This has been hard on my parents, sister, niece and nephew, especially. They have changed and altered their lives so much to accommodate my needs and I truly can’t express my appreciation for that. Hopefully they know I would do the same for them. In a heartbeat. My aunt and uncle were also incredibly helpful to my parents and Selby rewards them every time she sees them with puppy kisses. My friends who I was going to meet, I truly can’t imagine what this was like for them. And we had started a nice little tradition of gathering yearly in Iowa in September. I think this accident put a kibosh on that, but hopefully we can find a new tradition.
One thing I’ve learned about TBI is that the recovery and the changes are never really over. So in two more years I may have another update!