Hi, thanks for stopping by. Guess what day it is!
It’s my brainiversary! On this day in 2011, I was in a crash with a truck. In an instant I became a stranger to myself. I was on a whole new path. I survived with little physical damage, but with a brain injury that affects me today and, most likely will affect me for the rest of my life. Come into my head for a few moments, I promise I’m not contagious.
It’s always best to start at the beginning. So, let’s start with the fact that this crash did not have to happen. State and local law enforcement, EMTs, and DOT are all aware of the danger, yet to my knowledge, have done nothing to make it safer.
I was westbound on Rte.4 (same as the truck in the link) in Vermont when I came to the Quechee Gorge. Speed limit is 45 on a two-lane road. That’s one lane in each direction. Quechee Gorge is a popular tourist area so it’s quite congested(by Vermont standards) on a nice summer day. Pedestrians have the right of way in VT. Vehicles are expected to stop to allow people to cross at crosswalks. Usually, not a problem and one of the things I enjoy about VT. But, tourists get lost in the state’s beauty and relaxed attitude. They forget that amidst all the natural beauty, people live and work there. On this day, an 80 something woman was walking and talking to a group of friends behind her. As I approached the crosswalk, she began to step into the roadway. With feet to spare, I slammed the brakes and stopped. I breathed a sigh of relief as I realized by the shocked look on the woman’s face that I did not hit her. My mood was quickly changed by the realization that the truck behind me could not stop and was using my small SUV as added stopping power. I was pushed into the walkway, but by now the woman had rejoined her group, out of the roadway.
The Injury: My car took the brunt of the force of the crash pretty well. All the crumple panels worked as the truck collapsed the rear of the SUV, coming all the way past the back seat before pushing me forward. I, on the other hand, was forced forward toward the windshield(yes I wear a seatbelt), then back towards the back seat as my seat broke free of the floor. All indications are that my brain sloshed around in my skull like a bowl of Jello, snapping synapses in the process. Minimal bruising, no bleeding and I don’t think I ever lost consciousness. I did have a delayed onset concussion response, so for about an hour I was ambulatory, conversant and aware enough to move the car out of the roadway to a parking area about 50 yards from the scene of the crash.
The Solution: Instead of just a sign and painted crosswalk, install traffic signals (walk/don’t walk) for both pedestrians and motorists. It is that easy. It has not happened to this day, despite the fact that police had responded to 61 incidents at that general location in the 7.5 months of 2011 before my crash.
What I’ve Learned:
No one knows what’s going on with you. Not the police, the EMTs, the ER doctors, nor the doctors who eventually attempt to treat the victim. Most importantly the victim takes time to figure out what’s going on. Then, once I had it figured out I had to find a way to communicate with the doctors. I gave my headaches descriptive names. Frontal, helmet, and fountain were a few. Words like fog, rocks, and mud soon became part of the conversation about how my brain was functioning.
I have had a headache every minute, of every day since the accident. They have been able to be masked and manageable but there is always a dull ache in the background. Frustration led to anxiety, anxiety led to depression and depression took me to some very dark and scary places. I learned to be open and honest with the doctors, not so much with the people around me. I learned that not every lawyer knows brain injury. I learned that insurance companies are ruthless (The first settlement offer was $500.)
I have learned to be patient with those who are trying to help. I am still learning to be patient with myself. I learned to surround myself with a strong team of doctors and health care workers and have learned that they are not all up to the task. At any one time, my team has consisted of, a PCP, Neurologist, Cardiologist, Psychiatrist, Endocrinologist, Physical Therapist, Occupational Therapist, Acupuncturist, and a Licensed Clinical Social Worker.
I have learned that mental health is not intelligence and cognitive ability. It’s so much more complex. People read what I write, or hear me talk, or see my test results and can’t understand my diagnosis. What they don’t see are the days I am curled in a fetal position in a dark room managing exhaustion and pain. The confusion when I am mentally fatigued. The frustration when Aphasia makes it impossible for me to find the word I’m trying to say.
The take away:
I am an individual. My injury is unique to me. But, there are some universal truths that can be applied. The best way to help me is also the best way to go through life.
- Be patient with yourself and others
- Be kind
- Realize that not all injuries are readily visible
- Realize that we each are dealing with circumstances that make us vulnerable
- Be supportive, not judgemental
- Be understanding, not demeaning, condescending or critical
- Assume that everyone is the best version of themselves at that moment in time
Learn all you can about brain injuries before you or a loved one has one. Odds are pretty good that you’ll be involved with one in some way at some point in your life. Resources include your state brain injury awareness association. The Brain Injury Assoc. of America (https://www.biausa.org/), some Facebook groups (I’m an administrator of UK and Ireland Brain Injury support https://www.facebook.com/groups/ukibi ), Twitter, my fave is @michelle_munt and, believe it or not, I have found a few on TikTok, though I have no idea how to get links to them, nor will it matter if TikTok disappears in the States.
Thanks for being part of my journey. You have no idea how much I appreciate the chance to talk with you. Please reach out if I can help you with your journey. I have no qualifications except I have been on this path for 9 years. But, I have a ton of reference material and referral suggestions available. Hope to hear from you.
Coffee is on me.