Monday, April 12, 2010

Time Out

Recent stress is taking a cognitive toll on my energy. There are plenty of thoughts for me to write but, these days, I've a lack of energy. I call these days Bad Brain Days and I don't pay bills on a bad brain day because the bank will probably call and ask which amount did I intend to pay, the numerical or the written?

This was the initial post to our sister blog Mommy Golightly. It might help explain my Bad Brain Days. Please read, there is some critical advice in it.

Living in the present is an essential part of a balanced and healthy life. I’m not always in the moment but I sure aim for it and miss sometimes. After this auto accident, I can say I hit the mark of being in the present more often than not. Every night at tuck in, I thank both my daughters "for another day," then I kiss them and wish for more days, months and years. I can wish for tomorrow but I really have today.

I did not truly understood the importance of taking wonder in the present until I was in a serious auto accident coming home from the grocery store on a quiet neighborhood street. Had I been in my husband’s compact commuter car, I would not be here to write this story.

The Story That Changed Me

No person wakes up and thinks, "Hmm, after I read the Sunday paper, I’m going grocery shopping and will be on a quiet neighborhood street around noon so my Pathfinder can be hammered by Four Runner driven by a fledgling driver who will run a stop sign at such speed my car will be airborne, roll, and land upside down perpendicular onto the opposite street.” People don’t write those events in their daily planners. But that doesn’t mean they don’t happen.

It happened to me one beautiful Sunday around noon in the fall of 2003. Right before the 17-year-old hit me, behind the left front tire, dangerously close to the driver’s door, I was thinking about what a beautiful shade of blue the sky was and how at peace things felt. I was excited to give my daughters two white pumpkins purchased at the store.

Didn’t I see him coming? Yes, about a half a second before impact. I braked – hard. When people are running stop signs in neighborhoods with trees and gardens blocking the view of corners and they’re driving really fast with no intention of braking, one cannot see them coming. They just appear.

There were four fortunate things about that day: 1) I was alone. My husband and two daughters, ages two and four, were safe at home. 2.) I didn’t die. 3.) There was a witness behind me and came to me right away. Though much younger than me, she nurtured me like a mother and I cried like baby. 4.) The ambulance, fire department and police were on the scene before I even understood why they were there.

I was traveling less than 25 miles an hour, slowing to meet a red stop light on the next block. After impact, the boy’s Four Runner hit the corner curb and sheared off the front right tire of his mother’s car. I crawled out from under my car onto a field of shattered glass to look for that other driver and determine if medical attention was required. It was hard to see because of the blood running into my eyes. The other driver was nowhere to be found. With airbag deployed and not one drop of blood on it, it looked a freshly made bed of white sheets where perhaps I could lay my aching head. I felt like a ghost hit me.

They put the kid in the ambulance with me for observation. He cried the entire trip, “I’ve only had my license for four weeks and now I’m going to lose it! How will my mother get to work tomorrow? She’s going to be so mad at me!”

In the ambulance strapped down on the gurney and immobile, I practiced Lamaze breathing to stay calm. “I’m glad my babies weren’t with me,” I told the EMT. He smiled, patted me gently and said, “Me too.” He was very sincere. How do EMT’s remain sane and stable after pulling mangled children from car accidents? Bless all EMT’s. They have my deepest respect as do firemen and police. Next time you see an ambulance or fire truck racing past with lights on, whether you're a man or woman, blow them a kiss and wish them Godspeed. Okay, if you're a man and don't want to blow kisses then salute them. But be assured, if they ever save your life or someone you love, you'll want to kiss them.

I never heard from the boy or his parents and later learned that the police officer on the scene failed to check a simple box, “injury accident.” Why he didn’t, I don’t know. Maybe he felt sorry for the kid. Maybe he forgot. Had this box been checked, this kid would have been mandated to stand before a judge. Instead, he paid his ticket early and received a lesser charge. His ticket was under $100. Once the judge learned about this, the officer was reprimanded. Seems everyone paid dearly but this kid, who walked away with a sore thumb from the air bag.

The kid's parents escorted him out of the ER while I was in x-ray. They walked right by my husband, waiting to learn of his wife’s condition. They offered no words of solace or concern.

So began my convalescence. My husband burned through vacation time and then onto three months of FMLA taking care of our daughters and taking me to countless doctors appointments. Life stood still and painful.

My first diagnosis was muscular damage in the regions of C3 and C4. This took years to fix. Soft tissue damage is very slow to heal and often triggers unhealthy cycles of overcompensating muscles. I wore a jacket several times a week that sent electrical shock pulses to try and strengthen these muscles. I did therapy, acupuncture and took painful cortisone injections to the base of my skull where I could actually hear the long needle going into my head. Mind you I don't usually have any problems with needles but these were different, medical shive is more like it. This cycle of muscle weakness caused headaches the crept up from the back of my head and over the top to my forehead. I called them headache caps but I couldn’t take them off.

After all that I can say, I love acupuncture.

These headache caps were nothing compared to the post concussive headaches from what my neurologist told me was a Mild Traumatic Brain Injury, an MBTI. He admitted “mild” was not a fair word. It basically meant that I didn’t need to go into an institution. MBTI’s are receiving more medical research with more soldiers coming home from Iraq and Afghanistan with them. Not certain if they issue Purple Hearts for them. If not, they should for any person with an MBTI will tell you they’d have rather broken their arms and legs. Bones heal faster than brains and muscles.

For a few months I couldn’t read anything more than a headline, couldn’t follow movie plots, couldn’t even cook soup because I’d forget about it until I smelled the scalding pan. I think one of the saddest things happened six months after the accident. I went to my daughter’s spring recital. I managed to sit through it and tell her she did a great job. Then I raced home to throw up and get ready for the pending headache hell. Watching a group of beautiful first graders sing was too much for my brain to manage. I couldn’t watch snowfall with out tossing my cookies and going to bed for hours with a headache. For several years, nausea was a major indicator that a headache was on its way. So I left little parts of me all over town as I raced to get home before completely incapacitated.

That’s my story. Months later my dear friend Ken of 21 years asked me, “What have you learned?” He wasn’t patronizing. He was curious and sincere. And, he was the only one to ask.

When in chronic pain with two to three serious post-concussive headaches a week and most your time either in bed, at various doctors appointments, or some kind of therapy, you don’t spend much time reflecting. And, depression creeps in as you lose the capacity to do the things that once gave you joy. I’ve always felt reflection is critical to a healthy life so I answered Ken’s question. Follows is roughly what I wrote and I think much of it pertains to living in and having a deep appreciation for present.

Fundamental Advice

  1. The state of shock has no emotion and has no sense of time.
  2. A simple mind is not a stupid one.
  3. What you are today will not be who you are in a week, month, or year.
  4. Appreciate your health; aside from love and a safe place, nothing else really matters.
  5. Multi-tasking is overrated.
  6. What’s the rush?
  7. Value the everyday routine. You’ll dearly miss it when it’s gone. I cried the first time I did laundry and folded my girl’s little clothes.
  8. At age 36, I finally accepted that I am an adult. I’d been a responsible bill paying, tax paying, home owner and mother of two for years. However the completely selfish, adolescent whines of this 17-year-old along with his total ignorance as to what he did to another person put to rest all of my previous objections of accepting full on adulthood.
  9. I have an internal guidance system. It’s my voice but it’s not me and calmly directs with the simplest words of in life-threatening conditions. “Lock your arms to the steering wheel, push back into the seat, you don’t have an airbag. You’re going to roll, be small. It’s over. Get out! Get out! Get out! Go find the other driver.” My rear view mirror was level with the heating controls; all but two windows were shattered; the driver’s front side was like crumpled aluminum foil with flaking paint chips and there was this little tiny space left for the driver. I was covered in radiator fluid. The drive shaft was bent. Doctors and physical therapists cannot figure how I came through without any broken bones. I told them, “I drink milk.” I do and always have. Below is a photo of the front of the car near the driver's side.


Practical Advice
  1. Unless secured, groceries become weapons in a roll over. A soup can wedged open the back window of the Pathfinder. Groceries were all over the car and street.
  2. Insurance claims adjusters can act with unconscionable manners. The kid’s mother’s insurance adjuster attempted to dodge reimbursement of our daughter’s car seats, mandated by state law. We had three seats for a whopping $300. “Seats are a standard item in a car. We do not reimburse standard items,” and they expected us to suck this hook, line, and sinker. That’s when we hired an attorney because we knew these folks, though they did not contest fault, did not have our best interest at heart. It wasn't personal. It was business.
  3. Research and buy the safest car seat you can find. This is not an item you run over to the store to pick up, like milk. I understand car seats can become annoyances and feel causal. Looking at those empty car seats upside down in my mangled car taught me how important they are.
  4. From the very beginning, be prepared to drive again. Don’t let a fear of it even start to simmer. I remember looking at my mangled car and thinking, “Damn! I have to drive again.” Immediately accepting that did me world of good and saved me from a lot of future anxiety, something I really wouldn’t need when I had a mountain of recovery ahead. This can become an overwhelming fear; a fear so huge it gets in the way of just living.
  5. Slow down at right of way intersections to give yourself a shot of catching a stop sign runner. I’m not attempting to induce a fear, just an awareness.
Comic but Relevant Advice
  1. The kid who hit me called me a “lady”. Ladies have set blue hair, wear coats in the summer, and smell like mothballs. Thanks KID. Your were a KID and behaved like one. You were a minor who abused your privilege, not right, to drive.
  2. It’s a big bummer when you roll into the ER on a gurney and all the attending physicians are younger than you. Aren’t doctors supposed to be older than their patients? I thought that was a natural law like gravity.
  3. I was taken to the nearest hospital, the public hospital. I was the only patient not handcuffed to my bed. I was so proud!
  4. Don’t try to be tough. You want drugs. When offered, take them. Nobody’s going to think you a better person for turning them down. You will have enough hell to manage besides physical pain.
  5. I have two guaranteed methods for weight loss. 1) Be your own general contractor on an eight-week kitchen remodel. 2) Suffer a brain injury. I dropped 20 pounds in a little more than a month. The injury closed down the part of my brain that said, “Eat!” And when I finally did eat, my stomach had forgotten what to do with food and it was painful.
In Retrospect

Exactly what happens at 16 or 17 years of age that creates a pressing need for a teen to drive? Parents, I understand you are tired of playing chauffeur. I am a mother who chauffeurs; I get it. Those three years of changing diapers was tiring too. But that didn't mean that I made my daughters sit on potties all day because I was sick of changing diapers. Years of constantly explaining why they couldn't have everything they wanted was tiring too. But that didn't mean that I caved in and gave them credit cards to buy things on greed, ignorance and impulse.

I fear 16 and hope the driving laws are raised to 18 by the time my children are of age to drive. My children will be more at risk of dying in a car crash when they are teens than they will be for catching West Nile Virus. But, what does the media focus on? Of course I have my opinions on teen driving based on experience and, based upon my experience, I feel very entitled to these feelings. I'm not certain why, but I do not believe we take that act of passing the keys with the serious nature that would be wise to accompany it.

After all that I have lived through, I have learned to take a step every day. Some days, it's very tiny step, minuscule. Other days, it's so huge I felt like a flew. Most days, it's just a step and that is good enough because it is movement. My movement feels a bit lighter on this planet and that makes me understand my fragility but it also makes me strong. Most of all, it makes me Mommy Golightly.

Below is a photo of my daughters ages six and two on a family vacation exactly seven days prior to the accident. They are feeding chipmunks. My youngest was a bit nervous, but intrigued by these "monkchips."

19 comments:

Audra said...

Thank you for sharing this again. I remember reading it on your other blog and thinking how eerily close to my accident this was. Unbeknownst to me I was five weeks pregnant when an 18 year old driver ran a stop sign and catapulted my car upside down in a irrigation ditch full of water. I surprisingly was able to free myself even with a broken foot and dislocated hip and sit on top of the car until a neighbor arrived from 1/2 a mile down the road with blankets and news that he had called the paramedics.

The driver who hit me? Said he didn't see my headlights. Was doing approximately 65 on a 25 mile road. I was the second accident he had been involved in...in less than two weeks. Yep. Three years later we finally settled. He has gone on his merry way...I still have MBTI and though I have nearly recovered 14 years later I still have memory loss, attention problems and severe head aches that can last for days (migraines).

What it taught me was to slow down, listen and wait. Enjoy life a bit more, hug my babies often and leave the house work to play twelve rounds of chutes and ladders. I now listen to my body telling me when it has to stop, slow down or lie down. I appreciate things much more because of this accident.

Thank you so much for sharing your story. It really is a wonderful life lesson in learning to cope and coming out from the dark into a new life.

Shopping Golightly said...

Audra,

Our voices needs to be heard. The news media always rush over to the high school for the candle light vigil. Never to the innocent families either because they are trying to recover or they are mourning the loss of a mother, father, child...

I know exactly what you're talking about in listening to your body. I haven't been for about a month and am paying a heavy price now.

Anna Hardin said...

Amazing story. Every time I read this it touches my heart. This story reminds you to be very thankful for everyday moments and to cherish life!!

Elizabeth B said...

What a touching and amazing story. I'm so glad you're doing as well as you are. Why, why, why do we let kids drive so young? Geezum crow.

Baby.Got.Craft said...

Thank you - this couldn't hav ebeen better timing for me. I am about to buy carseats...literally, they are in my online shopping cart. I had opted for the cheaper of my top choices, because I need two at the same time. But, seeing that picture....changing my choice. Thank you for sharing.

Avrila said...

I was in a wreck at 17 (as a passenger!) and a lot of this post resonated with me. Fortunately my situation wasn't as severe as yours. I still have a thing a little bit out in my back from getting squished between the seatbelt and the seat back when the bench seat's bolt failed; this is the tradeoff for wearing my seatbelt so that I wasn't either thrown into or through the windshield and into the crunch zone of a head-on collision at a relative speed around 90 MPH, or else squished between the bench seat and the front passenger seat with the bench seat then having much higher momentum that could possibly have severed my spine.

The idiot (i.e. the driver of the other car) had a scratched finger.

I'm not sure I agree with raising the driving age to 18, because I do feel that it probably improves matters somewhat for inexperienced drivers to still have parents who can "kill them"; 18 is also a fairly usual age for getting easy access to alcohol through college-related parties, and I hesitate to mix that with even less experienced driving. Maybe I also look at it a bit differently because the idiot in my wreck was probably in his 40s; I see it as less of an age problem and more of a stupidity problem.

We all came out in more or less one piece...they had to use the jaws of life to cut my mom out of the driver's seat, but we were all released from the hospital on the same day. Lots of chiropractor appointments for all of us, and we were all pretty severely shaken up. People turning left at left-turn-yield-to-oncoming-traffic type intersections still make me worry a little when I'm the oncoming traffic (the idiot didn't yield, and I was watching as it all happened...the really crazy thing was that he slowed way down, so I thought we were OK, and then SPED UP in time to ram us). A while after that when I started driving (long story as to why I hadn't already by then but basically we had more drivers than cars and after the wreck I wasn't exactly in a hurry), I made myself drive past that corner every possible time to get my reactions under control.

aimee said...

I am so sorry to have read of your accident - the emotional and physical tolls it took on you were great. Thankfully you were wise enough to realize there were several lessons to be learned from it, and these lessons have undoubtedly shaped you and havemade you stronger in ways you may not even know.

I was hit by a car when I was a kid - and the driver wasn't a teen; she was an experienced adult speeding because she feared she'd be late for work. I was fortunate that her car tire ended up on my leg rather than on my head, but I still had 10 weeks of bed rest (a cast wasn't an option at first due to the nature of my injuries), followed by six more weeks of a cast and crutches. And it was many years before I could cross a street without fear, so there was some psychological wounding as well.

The driver never contacted us either, and later on my mom told me that was due to advice from the driver's lawyer. This was in the early 1970's, and we've probably become an even more litigious society since then. Thus, perhaps a lawyer also gave your driver and his parents similar advice and that's why they never said anything to you and your family. I don't know.

However, I truly believe that what goes around, comes around. So while it may seem that those who treat us in such harmful ways go scot-free, they really don't. Karma will come back to them.

And who knows - maybe the drivers whose negligence harmed us physically and emotionally later feel remorse for their actions - in that case, they then have to live the rest of their lives with the guilt and remorse over what they'd done. Not exactly a happy thought either. I'm not saying that they'll suffer as much as the people injured in the accidents they caused, but they will suffer nonetheless.

Shopping Golightly said...

Wow. I am honored that people are sharing these personal stories for there is something to be learned in every one. Sharing life lessons, that make us take pause, is a generous act and could save someone from a tragedy.

Aimee, you reminded me of something I didn’t write about. Since my car landed perpendicular to the street I was driving on, I initially thought I caused the accident because the stop sign was by my car. I cannot explain the horrible depth of feeling that hit me hard in the chest that I might have injured someone so carelessly and quickly. Not being able to find that person frightened me more. The witness had to work hard to convince me that I had not caused the accident. I kept repeating, “How could I have done this to someone? How could I?” I will never forget that feeling.

Given this, the shock that this boy remained so selfish and was cognitively unable to connect to the fact that he just near killed a person was disturbing.

Btrflygl said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I actually work with TBI survivors, and reading your post this morning made me slow down a little more at stop signs while I was out and about today. I often get so caught up in my work that I tend to forget this simple advice. Anyone's life can definitely change in an instant.

Anonymous said...

When people rail about the "huge" settlements accident victims "receive," yours is the back story that gets overlooked: years of debilitating pain, quality of life losses, and almost incalculable financial cost and risk. What if you were the sole support of your family? In fact, at some point, like so many people, you may well be in that position; unfortunately, you simply may not be able to do what you need to do because of this accident. The other part of the story, of course, is the young man's. He may well feel remorse, but his coddling by the legal system and his parents has allowed him to avoid community censure...and the other consequences that force people to learn from their mistakes, take responsibility, and do better.

Shopping Golightly said...

Anon,

You're right. There was no huge settlement. We were left with debt. My husband was not compensated for the three months he missed of work because he was not in the accident. It may be years before I can work a full time job of substance.

Insurance companies want us to think they are being gouged by huge settlements and false claims of whiplash.

The reality is, they are doing the gouging.

Laurie said...

Goodness, there's a lot of wisdom in this post. I had not read this on the other blog. It sounds like a harrowing experience to have gone through, and is making me feel very grateful today.

Colleen said...

"Most days, it's just a step and that is good enough because it is movement. My movement feels a bit lighter on this planet and that makes me understand my fragility but it also makes me strong." I cried when I read these words. You are a most brave, strong and intelligent woman. With regard to sure-fire methods for losing weight, my husband who is now at Stage IV cancer, often quips that there would be no obesity if Chemo Therapy were mandatory. You have no idea how deeply touched I am by your beautifully stated aforementioned quote. May God bless you and your amazing family.
Love-Colleen

Shopping Golightly said...

Colleen,

So very many of us have our stories of strength. It sounds like you are in the midst of yours.

My heart is with you. Be strong and go against the social tides - move slow.

Birdie said...

I just found your blog yesterday, and have been reading it on and off since - intending to get the whole way through. I don't usually comment on older posts when I'm 'reading the history' of the blog, but wow. Not only did your story bring me to tears, goose-bumps and all, but it reminded me of the crash that I had at sixteen.
I was on I-95 in South Florida, heading home and in enough of a hurry to go around 5 miles over the speed limit. I'd been driving for just over a year. There were problems with the car, but I still don't know whether I simply lost control, or the car became uncontrollable. Whatever the cause, the result was me slamming into the concrete divider, spinning, slamming, spinning, slamming, to the point of losing track. A witness behind me said six times before I spun into the middle of the three southbound lanes and finally stopped. My door wouldn't open, and I was pried out by a man who stopped behind me. Thank God for him, as my car caught fire and exploded as he carried me to the shoulder of the road. His wife brought their child's blanket out and covered me with it.
I was hysterical, crying, and convinced that I had hit the minivan that I had seen my car zooming towards. I kept begging everyone to tell me if I had hurt someone, no one seemed to say anything.
I bawled the whole way to the hospital, still convinced I had hurt someone and their family. The policeman who came to write up the accident wouldn't talk to me about the other car, leading me to assume that I had done serious, possibly fatal, damage to the occupants of the minivan. Only when the EMT who had brought me to the hospital came back after his shift to check up on me (truly, bless EMTs), did I finally find out that I hadn't hit another car, I had seen the minivan, closed my eyes, and continued in my spin to hit the divider again.
I cannot imagine being the type of person who would worry about whether or not they would be able to drive or whether their mom would be mad at them after a crash in which they injured another person. I felt the need to share my story, because I need to point out that it isn't about the other driver's youth. Our culture has been raising increasingly callous, selfish people, and that is what the other driver - and apparently his family - is. Youth doesn't make you unable to see other people. It may make you a dangerous, inexperienced driver, but it doesn't make you uncaring.

julie said...

Thankyou for sharing your story.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for sharing your story. I hope that all the comments about similar experiences will convince others that you speak the truth about what matters in life. Too many people are trying to speed through their days.

As for the driving part: I took driver's ed in high school and then had to take it again in college (for various reasons I wasn't able to take my driving test at 16). The driver's ed experience in college was totally different from the high school one. I and my classmates were more mature and much clearer-thinking. I totally agree with you that teens should not drive unless there is a family hardship that requires it; and I personally believe that people should learn to drive from trained instructors, not parents or friends.

--M.

David said...

Your a hell of a lady AMY.

And your daughters are beautiful :)

I can totally relate to your accident as i'm sure your aware of by now since i gave you my website. I'm glad were forum friends :) Its a priveledge.

Nicole said...

"From the very beginning, be prepared to drive again. Don’t let a fear of it even start to simmer."

When I starting reading you story, I started tearing up as it is so similar to what happened to me 11 years ago. The driver had thought she was on the highway, sped up and ran a red light, hitting me on the drivers door and pushing me into the car in the next lane. I got crushed between the two.

The above advice from your post was advice that was given to me by a friend. She had also been in an accident a few years before and knew that if I didn't get behind the wheel again soon after mine, fear would soon set in. Looking back, I am grateful for that advice.

Thank you for sharing your story.