Anything but Fine: My Traumatic Brain Injury – Part 2
Originally published on allnurses.com. Re-posted with permission.
This three-part series takes you through my devastating diagnosis of a TBI and how it lead to my nursing career and ultimately a prognosis of hope.
I will never forget the panic I felt on that morning when I tried to get up and could not lift my head off my pillow. My first thought was the hospital had missed a neck fracture and I was now paralyzed. The fact that I was all alone in a hotel room when this happened only added to my terror. My Dad was in the room next door unaware that anything was wrong. We were still in Arizona trying to wrap up all the loose ends that needed to be taken care of before I could resume my trip to college.
Knowing I had to find a way to tell my Dad I needed help, I reached out my arm towards the phone but it wasn't long enough. Carefully I began to try to move my body closer to the edge of the bed while still keeping my head and neck as still as possible. I just could not get close enough. After what seemed like an hour, I realized the only way to get help was to find a way to sit up so I could scoot to the edge of the bed. With my left hand under my head and my right hand on the other side, I slowly began to sit up.
My head felt like it weighed a hundred pounds. It was as if all the muscles in my neck were no longer functioning. That's when the light bulb went on. This must be a result of the whiplash. I vaguely remembered a nurse in the ER telling me my neck could begin to feel like a noodle. Not only had my car been stationary and absorbed the full load of the collision, I had also been looking in the rearview mirror at the time of impact. This further intensified the amount of trauma my neck sustained. I finally managed to call my Dad, but as soon as I heard his voice all I could do was cry. Knowing my Dad was already upset about the situation, I quickly pulled myself together and told him I was just scared and would be ok. I'm not sure if he completely believed me but he reminded me how tough I was and the importance of being able to continue to move forward. This was the beginning of the emotional roller coaster I began to ride each and every day.
On the outside, had you not known what happened to me, you would never have any idea of the battle I was struggling with internally. For me, this was absolutely the most difficult part. I didn't look sick. Yes, I had some scars and for over a year I limped due to my right hip injury, but that looked pretty minor. No one could see how injured my brain was. No one knew how hard I was trying to be brave and not disappoint anybody. But as days turned to weeks and weeks to months I began to lose my mind.
Although I did finally make it to Pennsylvania, my dream of becoming a doctor seemed like a distant memory. I no longer felt like myself and didn't identify with any of my previous goals. The overachiever in me tried to keep pushing but at some point just quit. Although I knew it would devastate my family, I withdrew from college. At this point, I couldn't remember my social security number and barely knew who I was anymore. It felt like I was living the life of a complete stranger. Even stranger was the fact that I really didn't care.
With no real plan, no job, and nowhere to live I decided on a whim to move back to California. I asked a guy I had met only two weeks before the accident if I could live with him for a while. This was so unlike the old me, but the new me seemed to think it was completely rational. When he agreed, I left my family and all of my hopes and dreams behind me. The moment I stepped on that plane to go back to California was the moment I began my descent into the rabbit hole.
For Part 1 of this story, read: In the Blink of an Eye