In the Blink of an Eye: My Traumatic Brain Injury – Part 1
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.
Ever since I can remember I wanted to be a doctor. In fact, I had constructed a very straightforward plan to do so since I was nine-years-old. I had thought of everything except for a plan B. Because I was so certain this was my path there was never a need for a backup plan. Having always been an overachiever, let's just say that when I put my mind to something I rarely failed. And so it began, one step at a time, with zero doubt in my mind, I would become a doctor. Except the Universe had other plans for me.
It was 1985 and I was nineteen years old. I had worked for a year after high school to save money for college. Because I knew exactly where I wanted to go I only applied to the University of Pittsburgh. Yes, I know how risky that sounds but at the time it made perfect sense to me. When I received my acceptance letter I was pleased, but it was more of a "check off the box" kind of feeling for me. Everything was going exactly as I had planned for the last ten years of my life, until the day that none of that mattered.
During the year I was saving up for college I also bought my first car completely on my own. I called her the Green Queen. She was a 1969 Cougar and my prized possession. There was no way I was leaving her behind when I went to college so I decided I'd drive her across the country from CA to PA. Sadly, we never made it past AZ. The Green Queen couldn't handle the 121-degree heat and overheated in the middle of a desolate highway. What happened next would forever change my life.
As quickly as I felt relieved to see a car pulling into the emergency lane behind me, I was alarmed to realize how fast it was approaching. Before I was able to react a drunk driver accelerating to over 85MPH rear-ended me. The sound of the impact was deafening as the rear end of my car was smashed into the back seat and the back seat quickly pushed forward into the front seat. All the windows exploded and glass began to fly into me from all directions. My body was thrown forward with such force I felt like a rag doll. And then everything just stopped and for a moment time seemed to stand still. All that remained was the ringing in my ears and the thick smell of gas.
Instinctually, I knew I needed to get out of the car and run away from the smell of gas as quickly as possible. But at the same time, my brain could not understand what just happened. It felt like everything was in slow motion. Next thing I know I am standing on top of the embankment looking down at the Green Queen. I am totally shocked to see that she is literally half the car she used to be. I fall to the ground, unable to comprehend what I am seeing.
What felt like only seconds later, I found myself lying on the ground, looking up at the bloody face of the drunk driver. Many people were talking above and around me. Someone was holding my head but I couldn't move to see who it was. Her voice was kind and reassuring and she seemed to know what she was doing so I listened to her. Turns out she and her husband had passed my car right before the accident. When they heard the impact, they turned around to come back to see if they could help. I found out later she was a registered nurse. She stayed with me until the ambulance arrived.
After being evaluated at the hospital, which included an X-ray of my neck and head, I was told I had no fractures and could be discharged. Due to the high speed of the impact, I was given a diagnosis of a concussion and whiplash. They told me to return to the hospital if I started vomiting or had a severe headache. Otherwise, I should be fine. Two days later I could not lift my head off my pillow and I was beginning to miss significant pieces of times and events in my life. I was anything but fine.