The Day the “Old Me” Died

Posted on June 20, 2014

Things like this almost always seem to start off on a nice normal sunny day.  We had planned a vacation at  Topsail Island, located along the Southeastern coast of North Carolina.  Since it was a holiday weekend, we were all eager to get started on the trip.  It was a lovely day.  Given that we had access to two vans,  it was decided that our men folk would ride in one van and we ladies, baby and a tiny toy poodle would ride together in the other van.  Mother opted to drive, leaving the shotgun seat open for rotation amongst me and my two sisters.  There was the usually flurry of activity loading up our stuff and making sure that we hadn’t forgotten anything.   It was hugs and kisses all around and we climbed in and off we went.  Our destination was to a nice rental house on the beach.  We joked that we could almost smell the salt air.

All of that changed on Hwy 17 East, going to Topsail Island.  A cement mixer’s driver lost control of his truck and cut directly into the path of my Mother’s van.  My last memory is of seeing the bright sunny sky  blocked out by clouds made of dirt and dust.  Audible memories of hearing my Mother’s voice, her words mixed in with sounds of screeching tires fighting with brakes and metal crashing against metal still do remain with me to this day.  The impact complete, the cement truck came to rest on top of our van, trapping Mother and me under its weight.  For me, now left with no memory of the time after that impact, there exists only a blank space.

I was later told that rescue teams came in, along with trucks to use in moving the cement truck off of our van.  Critically injured, I was finally able to be cut out of the twisted metal and transported to a local hospital and then onto a hospital more equipped to handle major trauma.  I have no memory of all that was happening around me.  In a semi-coma state, suffering from severe brain injures,  I was unaware that my Mother, who had also been pinned by the truck, had been alive for a while, but died shortly after being removed from the wreckage.  Left to cope with all the horror of loss, death of our Mother and personal injuries to themselves, were my sisters, their husbands and families, our stepfather and my husband and our son.

My husband stayed by my side to oversee my care, to pray for me and hold me close by hand and heart.  Because of his dedication, he was able to save my life by being proactive in my care.  On the 3rd hospital day, I had started to experience terrible headaches.  They worsened as evening set in.  In my pleas for relief from the pain, a crusty retired navy doctor decided that I was only craving narcotics.  My husband removed him from my room and a nurse, disgusted with what had occurred with the “bad doctor”, gave my husband the business card of with the name of a specialist in internal medicine.  My husband called Dr. Wilfong,  who was visiting the hospital giving a seminar on infectious diseases.   He quickly returned to the hospital to examine me.  Upon performing a spinal tap, Dr. Wilfong realized that I had contracted bacterial meningitis.  Given the disease’s advanced attack on my brain, my husband had to make the decision of letting the doctor use a strong antibiotic that would immediately start killing the bacteria.  This drug came with some deadly side affects, but it was either that or I would die before a culture could be grown from my strain of bacteria to see which of the safer antibiotics would also kill the bacteria.  I have a picture of my Mark standing beside my bed, holding my hand, an IV running, my head bandaged.  To this very day, my darling husband remembers praying for God please protect me from the antibiotic and to let me live.  I cherish that picture.  It is my “memory” of his being there with me.

I know that God heard his prayers, for I did recover from the meningitis.  Amoxicillin was found to be the drug that would also kill the bacteria and I was able to stop taking the “kill ’em all and let God sort ’em out” drug.  My memories of what happened when the cement truck hit Mother’s van were full of big empty holes.  Three skull fractures, brain injury resulting from closed head trauma, a crushed right eye orbit, my eyeball not in it’s correct position, many cracked and broken teeth, chipped bones in my fingers, an ugly deep gash on my right thigh and other bangs and bruises were my initial injuries from the wreck.   What I wasn’t expecting was that the healing of bodily injuries, eye surgeries and learning how to live with the damage done to my brain and my eyesight would take many years.  Some of the injuries are still with me today, a part of the new me that was created when the old me ceased to be.

After that horrible wreck, “What happened to the old me?” would be a phrase I would say over and over.  It was months before I was able to even remember that my Mother had died in the wreck.  I would want to go visit or call Mother and Mark would patiently explain that she had died in the wreck.  Since I had no real memory of the actual wreck aftermath,  I would not believe him and we then would ride out to the cemetery.  I would see that it was real and the sadness was fresh all over again.  Thankfully, I was able to grasp that Mother was gone, but still had no clear understanding of my being brain injured.  Short-term memory loss is past explanation.  It could honestly drive a sane person crazy.   Others will try to make light of our disability.  With a sweet smile, they’ll  say ” Oh, don’t worry about that.  I forget things all the time.”    After the thousandth time of hearing that, something in me decided that the less the world knew about my injuries better chance I would have in retraining myself to “fit in”.

Once the eye surgeries had been completed and my eyeballs were in line people didn’t stare as much.  My healing took several years and in some areas, I still have memory disability, but I’ve learned to cope and adapt.  I have been able to learn to control the stuttering that was caused by the brain injury.  It happens once and a while now, but only if I am under too much stress.  I’ve learned to cover that as well.  I was once referred to as someone who was too damaged work within normal society expectations.  By improvising, adapting and overcoming much, I was able to work my way up to working as a librarian and legal researcher for one of the top 100 law firms in the United States and Europe.  As this blog continues, I will be writing articles on specific things that I faced as a brain-injured person.  Some of the content might strike you, my readers, as informative and helpful or in some cases, funny and a little nuts, but that’s okay.  I am happy with the new me.  I hope that by writing what it was and is like will help both you, the care-taker of a loved one with brain injury and you who are now walking through that long way of recovering from a brain injury.  You will make improvements.  You will have times of  frustration.  Time does make things better.  Wow, when the wreck happened,  years ago, I had no idea I would come so far now.  Next year will mark a 30th year after that life changing event.   This year my love and I celebrated 30 years of marriage.  My darling husband, who is now fighting to recover from medical malpractice injuries, are as tight as two ticks on a hound dog.  Our lives are filled with the happy sounds of three grandchildren and our son and “daughter” [his wife], and a loving bunch of family and friends.   When hope gave out, my faith held on.  It is my heartfelt prayer that you who are reading this will be uplifted and renewed and have a better understanding of what it means to be living  as a new “me”.

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