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40 & Counting: How I Overcame A Traumatic Brain Injury

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What if I told you that at 12 years old, you are going to be involved in a car wreck caused by a drunk driver? What if I told you that after the final moments in that car wreck, your mother and yourself were unconscious?

What if I told you that it took weeks before they came back to the living? What if I told you that your six-year-old little brother was in that same car wreck and was the only one awake and had to tell the authorities who to contact?

Well, I am here to tell you today, that this story is very real and it’s about me.

Sunday, May 25, 1997, was one of the worst days of my life. From what I can remember back then, my parents were fighting before my father went off to work that day.

I don’t really remember the exact words that were used, but I do know it was all based around my mom wanting to go at night to pick up cat food at Kmart which was about 30 minutes away from home when she could have just gone down the street to pick it up there. My dad begged her to stay and wait until tomorrow morning since it was already so late, but she went anyways with my brother and me.

Everything was normal when we left to go to the store. The three of us got there without any issues. My mom went on to browse the aisles of the store and went on to get her cat food. Shortly after we left the store, however, everything went from good to shit.

As we were heading home, I remember my brother falling asleep beside me in the backseat. I looked out the window as we went down Frayser Boulevard heading towards New Allen Road. I remember hearing myself screaming as I see lights crashing towards us. After that, I couldn’t tell you what happens next.

I could only imagine as I am sitting here, writing this today. I don’t even want to think about what my brother must have gone through waking up to find both my mother and me unconscious, to find himself inside our car that’s all smashed up in the woods next to the road, not able to wake either one of us up. It must have been terrifying for him.

I guess I have been unconscious for quite some time now because when I woke up I was in a room I didn’t recognize. My Aunt Linda told me on the phone the other day that when I finally woke up, I started having a panic attack and it freaked out the nurses. I guess they weren’t expecting me to wake up so soon. I don’t remember this at all, but what I do remember is waking up and asked for a Dr. Pepper. Don’t ask me why, but I have a thing for Dr. Pepper. I sat up in the bed, looked at myself in the mirror, and then started screaming. You would be too if you looked in the mirror after waking up to find that half of your head is shaved off and see a backward Zorro styled “Z” mark on the left side of your head.

I don’t remember much after that, only that I was in The Med and that I will be here for a while. Just bits and pieces of me being checked on by nurses and doctors. There was a time that I demanded to see my mother, but the doctors were concerned that it wasn’t a good idea for me to see her. My understanding was my mother was still unconscious and they were afraid of how I would react to seeing her in that condition. I still didn’t care about all of that. I just wanted to see her. I guess my parents got it right when they named me after my Grandmother. I’m just as stubborn as her, if not worse.

My father finally convinced the doctors to let me see her a week or so before I was released. I have to admit, it was scary. Seeing her unconscious and not responding to my voice made me think she wasn’t ever going to wake up. It was also like seeing a human mummy. Both of her arms and right leg were completely bandaged. She also had a similar mark on the left side of her head.

Eventually, it did get better. I went and saw my mother every chance I got. I even grabbed one of the stuffed animals that were given to me by loved ones while I was in the hospital. It was a solid white beanie baby cat named Flip. Let’s just say it’s not solid white anymore, but that’s a whole other part of this story. In some ways, I felt like it helped to give her that cat. Maybe it’s because she finally woke up a couple of hours after I laid it next to her. Either way, she woke up and that was all I wanted at the time.

I wished I could have stayed with my mother at the hospital, but there was no reason for me to be there anymore as I have gotten better. In some ways I got lucky, I only had the deal with messed up teeth and a metal plate in the head. My mother, on the other hand, was not so lucky. Not only did she have a metal plate in her head, but she also had metal plates in multiple places of both of her arms and the doctors had to remove her right knee cap. I saw an x-ray of her right leg once. It almost looks like a messed-up version of the Eiffel Tower without her knee cap.

Eventually, they moved my mother to Saint Francis Hospital to start her rehabilitation. She had to relearn how to do everything all over again. During my mother’s transfer and treatment, my brother and I were bouncing between our home to my Grandmother’s and Aunt Linda’s home that summer. My father did the best he could with us. It was a long process for everyone. There were a few times when my mother had to go back to The Med for more surgery. Then they would bring her back to Saint Francis to recover. It got to a point where I mentally questioned whether or not she was ever coming back home.

When my mother finally came home from the hospital, it was a great day. To have the four of us back home really made me feel whole again. She still had to go through physical therapy, but at least she was able to finally do it at home instead of in a hospital room. There were some tough times during her therapy sessions, but she was able to pull through. After the therapy sessions were completed and my mother was able to walk on her own again, however, came more surgeries.

I think back on all those surgeries and remember asking my mother about the total number of surgeries she’s had. She told me after this last brain surgery which was in 2014; she believed this might be number 63. I laughed and told her that I was glad she was keeping count as I have stopped counting at 40. In some ways, I am glad we can find the humor in all of this now as this whole situation could have been worse.

I’m not even sure if I am telling this story right, but this is how I saw my mother go through this tragedy. Speaking of tragedy, I know my fair share of it. From being born with Gastroparesis to being involved in a car wreck to dealing with the aftermath to now grieving my father’s death. My father was a good man. Sure, he had his issues. Don’t we all?

I know he had a lot of regrets from how he treated my mother and me over the years to his alcohol and drug addiction. It wasn’t his entire fault though.

I guess when you’ve been in pain for over thirty years due to Cirrhosis of the Liver; you have to do something to numb the pain. At least, that’s what I was told by my father on his death bed.

It was hard on everyone when he died, especially my brother. My mother was so torn up from his passing that she wasn’t prepared at all on how to handle his Memorial service.

My brother was not even twenty-five at the time and all I could think about was trying to get everyone to calm down enough so we can come up with a plan so he can have a nice service. I had to go completely numb and shut off any emotion that I had during the planning process. It wasn’t until we got to the cemetery when I finally broke down.

It’s been a year now since his death (when I originally wrote this story), but it still feels like it happened yesterday. Since then, I have moved to Bono Arkansas which is right around the corner from where he was born, Jonesboro. I never knew why, but I always felt at home here when I visit family. Now I am home. I wish I could say the same for my mother and brother as they are an hour and a half away from where he is buried. I know how much they miss him. It’s the same as how I feel.

You are probably reading this and wondering why on earth am I talking about my dead father and my feelings and how in the world does this relate to traumatic brain injury. It relates a lot because he was there during all the ups and downs of what my mother, brother, and I went through. Even in his last couple of months before he died, he forced himself to get up to make sure my brother got to school during the week my mother was in the hospital for her second brain surgery. I wish I could have been there so he didn’t have to. Maybe we could have had him a bit longer.

Unfortunately, the nurses at the hospital weren’t so nice this time around. Due to the type of surgery, my mother was not allowed to wear her glasses or sit up or stand until the last day we were there. You see, my mother is completely blind without her glasses, which meant she needed help with everything. When I say everything, I mean EVERYTHING! So I had to stay with her the entire time to make sure everything was taken care of. It got so bad that I had to help her use the restroom because they wouldn’t come in enough time. I was so glad that my mother kept the beanie baby cat named “Flip” that I gave her all those years ago. Ever since she woke up in the hospital and saw Flip, my mother has always kept her by her side at every surgery. It’s almost like a security blanket for her. At least it kept her calm during this last surgery.

The point that I am trying to make here is my father was there through it all. He even tried to get help for himself to overcome his addictions and anger management over the years. He was even there for me at times during my medical mayhem. He made sure I got to all of my doctor’s appointments after I was released from the hospital. He was even there for me when I got married. He might not have been the one to walk me down the aisle at my wedding, but at least he was there, which is what matters most to me.

Speaking about myself now, I guess I will try and explain in detail my past difficulties and how I believe I overcame them. Besides the traumatic brain injury that I have dealt with during the car wreck, I have also dealt with medical trauma as well. You see I was born with a rare gastric disorder called Gastroparesis Syndrome. It is a condition in which your stomach cannot empty itself of food in a normal fashion. There are three types of Gastroparesis and the type I have is the Idiopathic version, which means a health care provider cannot identify the cause, even with medical tests.

Believe me; I had plenty of tests done trying to figure out what is wrong with me. Not only has this affected my digestive system, but also my kidneys and colon as well. I know… TMI! Sorry, but it’s the truth. I believe I was in the fourth grade when my parents finally found the right doctor to take my case seriously enough to put me in outpatient care so they can finally diagnose my medical issue.

Right before the car wreck happened; I was put on a strict diet to get my digestive system working normally again along with some medication to help with everything else. I thought this was a new beginning to getting healthy and no longer have to think that Le Bonheur was my permanent second home.

When the car wreck happened and I finally woke up in The Med and realized everything that took place, I didn’t know what to think anymore. Not only did I have to worry about my mother and brother, but now along with my gastric disorder do I have to wonder what will happen to me now with a metal plate in my head. What other issues am I going to have? Do I have to quit baton twirling? (Yes, I was involved in baton twirling for twelve years.) Will this affect my eyesight? Do I have to take any special medication? If so, will the medication interfere with my gastric medication? Will I ever look normal again? All these questions kept going through my head when the doctors were explaining everything to me.

Once I was released from the hospital, I had about ten different types of appointments set up for ranging from Neurologists to Ophthalmologists to Gastroenterologists to Psychiatrists. Within the first year after the car wreck, I was back on track with treating my gastric disorder and it seemed like my right eye was only affected. The only major issue I was having was the migraines that came on from time to time. Eventually, it got so bad that the Neurologist I had suggested that I take a special type of medicine to treat the migraines. The only problem was all it did was make me feel like a zombie. I couldn’t function at all.

Thankfully, years later, the medication was discontinued. I told this to the doctor and he acted like it was no big deal. I even went on to explain that I would like to continue with baton twirling and he went off on me and said I shouldn’t even attempt to try anything like that ever again. He basically treated me like I was already dead. After he said that I snapped and told him where to shove it and walked out with my father right behind me. Believe it or not, my father was not mad at me at all. If I hadn’t have snapped, my father would have done it for me. I was so grateful for my father allowing me to make my own decision when it came to that situation.

Fast forward to today (when I originally wrote this story), I am now thirty-one and I am doing much better medically. Not sure how, but over time after I turned eighteen, I somehow outgrew the gastric disorder to where I only have a few flare-ups from time to time. I still get headaches at times, but now that I am older I can tell when I need to take something for it to knock it out before it turns into a migraine.

At the age of twenty-six, I started a virtual business where I provide web design, social media, email marketing, and branding services to businesses from my office at home. The business is reaching its five-year anniversary come May of this year (when I originally wrote this story). One day soon, I would like to put a percentage of my profits towards Gastroparesis and Traumatic Brain Injury.

Until then… Stay tuned!

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