It was a day like any other day. I got ready for work. As usual, I rode my motorcycle there. I drove around the hairpin turn that lies in front of the emergency room at Saint Benedict's Hospital where I worked. I arrived 15 minutes early, as usual, and I rode up and parked in the parking spaces up in front by the admission doors. The day was as mundane as expected. Nothing exciting or out of the ordinary had happened. The Psych ward was about full. Almost half of those patients were minors. I went to my shift change, learned the medical history on my patients, and then began to gather the supplies necessary for my Group Session.
The patients filed in to attend the first group session of the day. I was handing out supplies and manuals to document the progress of the patients' recovery from whatever crises had caused them to be admitted into the hospital in the first place.
This routine had been repeated daily for eight years. Every day had been painfully identical: I arrived to work at 3:00 in the afternoon and worked until 11:00pm and then went home. I lived only 10 minutes away. As expected, my shift went painfully slow.
At 11:00pm, my shift relief failed to show up and relieve me. I was required by my employer (and the law) to stay on the job for the Second Shift. I then started working that Second Shift. I thought the First Shift was long, but the Second Shift felt longer because it was all-day. At lunchtime, I clocked out to get off of the hospital grounds. I drove down the road to McDonald's. Before I drove back, I removed my helmet to place my lunch into it to shield my food from the wind, thus, keeping it warm during my ride back.
As I rounded that hairpin turn a car pulled out right in front of me, causing me to lay the motorcycle down. The bike pinned my right leg under it, and then dragged me 100 feet down the road. As a consequence, my head bounced just like a Super Ball in between my shoulder and the ground. I acquired a massive amount of "road rash" on my right side, as my chaps and uniform became shredded from the grinding of the motorcycle scraping across the road. I acquired a severe Traumatic Brain Injury and a compound fracture of my right collarbone. I also shattered my right elbow. I crushed my right cheek. I almost ripped off my right ear. I broke my right leg. My right eye was hanging out of its socket. To control brain swelling, the doctors introduced a shunt and placed me into a prolonged coma. My Big Mac sandwich did much better than I did!
While I was in my coma, I did not know that I was injured. I imagined myself on a mountaintop over looking the city I lived in. I kept thinking to myself, When are they going to start the fireworks? I was only in the mountains to observe the fireworks from up above, instead of from down below, for a better view of the show. The fireworks finally went off. The next thing I knew, I was looking through hospital bed bars. I had no idea where I was or how I got there or when I got there. The last thing I remembered was being in the mountains, watching the fireworks go off with friends. I was in my coma for 25 days. On the 24th day, the doctors began preparations to remove me from the life support equipment. My parents, not wanting my daughter to see me dead, had made arrangements to first bring her into my hospital room to view my body before they disconnected me. My daughter, who had not seen me in 9 years, was brought into my room. The doctors, nurses, my parents, and several friends watched passively as my daughter, who was 10 at the time, walked over to me and asked, "Daddy, do you want a cup of coffee?" To everybody's amazement, I started to laugh. I had inexplicably come out of my coma. The doctors immediately started backpedaling. Nobody could explain how it was that they thought I was going to die until I was asked if I wanted a cup of coffee! That whole experience lasted 3 weeks, and then my rehabilitation began.
The documentation on head injury is incomplete as best. Rehabilitation therapists only follow a standardized guideline on how to treat a head injury. Every article I've ever read states that all head injuries are unique. So it stands to figure that if every head injury is different, then it is ludicrous to apply standardized testing. The doctors did not like the fact that I was questioning my treatment. I was transferred to three different rehabilitation hospitals over a period of five years while I relearned to walk, talk, interact with other people, relearn names, how to add, subtract, eat, cook for myself, shop, take a shower, wash my clothes, use the toilet, the phone, my job, my family, relationships, schooling, etc.
Ten years into my disability, because of my coordination problems I slipped and fell in my own home. I broke my neck. It was a miracle I did not paralyze myself from the neck down. Because I was brain-damaged, nobody believed that I was badly hurt. They thought I was exaggerating my symptoms. The X-rays were not interpreted by a radiologist. Instead, the emergency room staff sent me home with instructions to be careful. First thing the next morning, the hospital called me and informed me that I had, in fact, broken my neck. They wanted me to return for admission and treatment, even emergency surgery. I was operated on for a permanent fusion of my T1 and T2 vertebrae.
Eighteen years into my disability, I received a second severe head injury. It occurred while I was just walking across the road. A truck driver did not see me crossing the road and he hit me in the crosswalk. That injury gave me PTSD along with new neural deficits. At this point, I am rated by Social Security as 105% disabled. I am more than totally disabled, just because I walked across the street!
It has now been more than 23 years post-injury. I have learned so much that I cannot even begin to describe what my journey has been like. I do know that EVERY single DAY is a challenge for me as a TBI survivor. We as survivors need to negotiate trials that the average person may find overwhelming. Little things could be insurmountable. For example, what to wear, what or even if to eat. Just talking to people can be a challenge. My own body is the enemy. People misunderstand me all the time. I am a loner, but not by choice. It hurts me inside to be alone. Obviously, it is not healthy to be alone. Yet, many TBI survivors are alone. The stats validate that fact. Most marriages attempted by someone with a TBI end in divorce. It would seem then that survivors of a TBI make poor candidates for relationships. Everything is a challenge for the TBI survivor! You can never know what it is like until u walk a mile in another man's shoes.
My favorite quotations:
- You're only as old as you feel!
- You only live once!
- You won't know unless u try!