March is brain injury awareness month I invited via Facebook friends do you have a story you want to share? I'm looking for stories about TBI (traumatic brain injury) to post on my blog. I love to bring awareness and create a community movement!
My friend and local Midway resident Rachel offered her story to share. Thank you for sharing your TBI experience.
Guest post by Rachel Blackham-
May 2, 1992. The day my life changed forever.
I was going on a 3 day bike trip from Hurricane, UT to the Grand Canyon. Our bikes loaded with panniers, our group of about 12 left from Chumleys Cafe on our trip. Most of us had done a lot of mountain biking in Park City so the mostly flat dirt road seemed very easy. The temperature quickly climbed to the low 90s and one by one, my fellow bikers removed their helmets. Claudine, my crazy French friend , asked "why are you still wearing your helmet?!". So I took mine off and enjoyed the cool breeze stirring my sweat soaked hair.
I don't remember much from that day. Apparently, after we'd stopped for lunch and been once more spaced along the trail, Claudine looked backhand saw me on the ground. I was moving up and down and she thought I was laughing! She rode back to find me unconscious and in convulsions. She quickly did a first aid assessment and as she brought her hands away from my head, they were covered in blood. She began to scream for her husband who was ahead with friend, Mark. They thought she just had a flat tire so they were
going to keep going. However, something about the frantic quality of Claudine's voice made Mark tell Kevin that they should go back.
Kevin, an ER doctor, and Mark, an EMT, quickly assessed the situation, stabilized me and organized the others into building a shelter. Kevin was the best biker so he biked back to a farm we'd passed and got an old woman to drive out and get us. They loaded me in the car and drove back to Hurricane. There, Kevin transferred me to his van and rushed me to the hospital. Kevin had no idea of my last name. Somehow, maybe Claudine? They came up with my home number, called it and got ahold of my roommate , Amanda. Amanda had been planning to quit her job Ina couple of weeks anyways so she just left a little sooner.
At the St. George hospital, I was apparently slipping deeper into a coma. By this point, they had discovered that my mom lived near Vegas so I was life flighted to a head trauma hospital there.
Amanda had been calling my family who were mobilizing to come be there. Sadly, my mom drove all the way to St George before discovering I was in Vegas. She arrived at the hospital in in the middle of the night. I'm not sure when she was allowed to visit but she said she felt much better seeing me.
As the days went on, the doctors were saying little to my family. Finally, my oldest brother stole my records so that my middle brother, a doctor, could interpret them. By that point, they were all relieved as it looked like I would come out of it.
When I fell on a slight downhill, they theorized that something had caught in my spokes and I had then gone over the handlebars hitting the left side of my head on a rock, fracturing the temporal bone.
On the morning of the 10th day, I opened my eyes to see a woman staring back at me with sightless eyes in a bed next to mine. I had no idea of who I was, where I was, nor what had happened. I discovered I was lightly tied in bed so I untied myself and set off to figure things out. I remember walking down a hallway of rooms with people seemingly asleep or like my roommate. Finally, there was a room with an African American young man holding a guitar and smiling atme. He was in some kind of liquid bed? As though for burns? I went to talk to him and heard someone calling my name "Rachel, go back to your room!". Obviously, I have no idea what is true in that memory.
Once I came out of the worst of it, I kept wanting to escape. The doctor did not feel comfortable releasing me but agreed to do so if I stayed in town for another week. My family arranged for Amanda to stay at a hotel with me. I mostly slept. I think I was awake for only a couple of hours a day.
Amanda then came back to Midway, UT with me and stayed until I was ok on my own.
I remember feeling overwhelming rage over silly issues. I slept 12 hours a night and would take a nap during the day of a couple of hours. I had constant vertigo for the first three or four months. I felt like my body was a clear shell with every emotion close to the surface. I felt like I was starting over again and not in a good way.
When I first came back to town, my scrapes, cuts, and black eye had healed. I looked fine though my brain had a long way to go.
I had quit my pastry chef job at Stein Eriksen Lodge several months previously and had been working two part time jobs while going to massage school. I started the jobs back up and returned to school. A couple of months later, I tried to add a weeklong writers workshop. After the second day, I had a severe headache and had to go home and sleep. When I called the neurologist, he told me I was lucky to be alive and that I could expect those for up to five years.
I quit everything except massage school. When I went to study for the anatomy final, it was as though I'd never seen the info before. I brought my hospital records to school the next day and said I needed to quit. They let me come back the next year.
About six months into my recovery, I ran out of money and took a job at Deer Valley as a pastry cook. Humiliating to go from pastry chef at a five star resort to a pastry cook who made everything wrong the first couple of weeks.
About a month later, I was driving home when the thought crossed my mind " if I just drove into that concrete barrier, this would all be over." With a family history of suicide, this was not an option. I had little money and was barely making it. My mom had not helped me with money since I was a teen. I called her and asked if I could borrow money for therapy.
The therapist a friend had recommended knew nothing about head injuries and fixated on family issues that had been dealt with long ago. That was okay. She was my lifeline and I took it. After a couple of months as my brain continued to heal, I finally realized that I could go to her for gene rest of my life or I could make my own way. I made my own way.
A valuable exercise she had me do early on was to write about the ways in which my accident had been a gift. This was powerful in reshaping my perspective and in renewing my sense of hope and possibility.
A little over a year after my accident, I read about the Sharing Place, a grief support group for kids who have lost a parent or close relative. I knew I needed to be a part of it. To attend the training, I had to just make it work though I shouldn't have left the restaurant in charge of Manuel for a couple of hours...
I helped start the fourth group that started out being for complicated grief and evolved into suicide grief. I ran that group for six years.
Far more is known now about recovery from head injuries. Back then ,over twenty years ago, there was a lot of wait and see. Intuitively, I did a lot that helped my recovery. Sleeping a ton was probably top on that list. Eating healthy food and exercising also helped tremendously. The unleashing of my emotions was, in the long run, incredibly valuable.
A TBI is life shattering. I feel fortunate to have recovered as well as I did. Life is never the same again.