I’m missing a few nerves in my head. This isn’t a “punny” turn of phrase. I really am missing nerves on the left side of my face, leaving my surprised expression a bit uneven with no lines on half my forehead. It’s like a poor man’s Botox…but just on one side of my face. I hesitated writing this post because it’s a tad personal and who likes to be vulnerable? No one. The answer is no one. But if my story can give even one person hope, then it’s worth a moment of vulnerability.
Wear Your Helmet, Kids.
October 4th, 2009 around 11:30pm, I was dreaming the autumn night away with my dear friend Lindsey as we boarded through the streets of Kirkland. A late night long boarding adventure quickly turned into a test of survival skills when I fell off my board while going down a hill and somehow smashed my head on the concrete. To be honest, no one knows exactly what happened because I have no memory of falling and my friend Lindsey, who was boarding ahead of me, only looked back in time to see me sitting on the ground holding my head. I only know what happened next because of what I’ve pieced together from stories told by friends and family. The basics: I mumbled words and began vomiting, then the seizures started, my friend called 911 and my parents. She kept my airways clear and waited for help to arrive. She kept me alive. The ambulance came, they cut off my new NU sweatshirt (and the rest of my clothes, but I would’ve blocked that out even if I had been conscious) and proceeded to intubate me. That’s what I’ve been told was happening, but for my memory,
Everything just went black.
As if no time had passed, I woke up in a blue monochromatic room. The only sound I remember hearing was my Darth Vader-like breathing. It was weirdly audible and the exact opposite of soothing. I had a tube down my throat and I had no idea how it got there. My head was pounding and I tried to assess the pain with my hands, but my arms couldn’t move. I looked down to see both of my wrists ziptied to metal rails. Fear was setting in. I had no idea what was going on, and I couldn’t get any noise to come out of my mouth. Starting to panic, I looked up to my right to see a familiar face, saying I was okay. It was my mom. She grabbed my hand, still ziptied to the rail and kept repeating, “You’ve been in an accident, but you’re okay. We’re here. We're all right here.” I finally zeroed in on what was going on and tried to communicate with her. In a failed attempt to get answers, I started using sign language to spell out questions in my mom’s hand. Unsure of my confusing hand signals, she just kept reassuring me that it was going to be okay.
My memory goes in and out after that. I remember them taking out the tube, feeling like my lungs and throat were eager to follow suit, and having doctors ask me simple questions like my name, the date, and current president in office. I fell asleep again. It was the day after the accident and my family had been up all night, unsure if I would wake up, or if I would even have the same brain function when I did. I can’t imagine how they felt being on the other side of the accident. They are the most incredible, strong people I know.
Things are a little hazy after that, but I distinctly remember waking back up to find out, in an alarmingly abrupt way, what a catheter was. It’s ok. You can laugh. It was awkward. Then more doctors with questions came in. By this time, I was more awake and laughing at my dad and sister making jokes about me not being able to understand the questions pre-brain injury. They were questions about trains leaving stations, geometric shapes, and a girl named Sally with a lot of lemons and way too many friends who wanted a piece of the citrus action. It felt like taking the SATs all over again. I must’ve answered a few correctly because they let me go home after eating some pudding and experiencing a tricky walker/bedpan situation. October 5th, 2009 around 4:00pm, I was being wheeled home in a tacky light blue smock with matching pants and an exhausted, but thankful entourage.
I was on anti-seizure medication and couldn’t drive for about 6 months after the accident, but compared to what could have happened with a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI), I was incredibly lucky. I really do thank God for protecting me. I don’t want this to come across as an overused phrase or a pat answer, but He carried me and my family through that night, through the recovery, and even now, He’ll carry me through whatever comes my way. Fear can’t hold me (*cue Macklemore’s “Can’t Hold Us”)!
With a brain injury, the healing process is harder to see. There isn't a cast or antibiotic that will clear it up in 8-10 weeks. Yes, I had a gnarly bruise on my face and a red eye that made me look like the terminator robot, but after that healed, everything looked pretty “normal” on the outside. 2 years after the accident, it was recommended that I see a psychiatrist and a few psychologists to check up on my injury and make sure I had the tools I needed to be healthy and successful (mentally, emotionally, spiritually, all the “ally’s,” really). I was able to take the tests I needed to make sure everything was responding correctly in my frontal lobe while learning about the horrifying statistics of TBIs in the National Football League. So many crushed dreams and frontal lobes. Be careful, baby birds.
Don’t stop me noooow (I'm hoping you sang that).
Fast forward a few years, my life plan has completely changed (no surprise there). I went back to school, but this time for graphic design, finished school, and started working for a Fortune 500 company my first year out of the design program. Now, I’m running my own design business and about to take on another design role for a startup company (more on that front soon). It wasn’t the “traditional” process I originally had in my 5 year plan, but it is so much richer than I could’ve imagined. It’s amazing what happens when you trust God.
To this day, I still find out new information about that night, NU students who were out in the waiting room and friends who came over just to be with me while I slept (shout out to Lindsey and JP). There were so many people who were there to support my family during the unknown stages and during my roller coaster recovery process (Jessie, my sweet dorm roommate). If I haven’t thanked you already, thank you. Truly.