The faces of trauma
Three years ago, my life was changed forever when the vehicle I was a passenger in was struck by another car, sending me to the hospital with a compression fracture of the L1 vertebra. As I lay in my hospital bed wondering if I would be able to recover from such a violent accident, I challenged myself to not only overcome this obstacle but to become better than I was prior to it. As I began my rehab with the assistance of a walker, I set a goal and a challenge for myself to run a sanctioned 5K race in one year’s time. Keep in mind, I never really ran much prior to the accident, let alone a sanctioned race of any distance.
Confined in a turtle shell back brace, movement of any kind was difficult if not impossible. In addition, throughout the recovery process I was met with both good and bad days, but always with my sight upon my goal. A few months later as my recovery progressed, I eventually moved from a walker to a cane to finally shedding my turtle shell brace – as well as the constant reminder of my injury. Inspired by my body’s healing, I mustered up the courage to start walking more each day. The walking eventually led into jogging, which then morphed to running. One year after my accident, I had transformed from victim to runner with one final hurdle – keeping my promise and registering for a race.
As I searched online, I found a perfect match – the Spinal Research Foundation’s "We’ve Got Your Back Race." Not only was this a sanctioned race, but one that supports spinal health and research. I immediately registered and decided to fulfill the promise I made to myself, as well as to race for others who have suffered with spinal cord injury but were less fortunate than me. In the end, I raced, I conquered, and have turned this experience into a positive one as I volunteer and share my story with current trauma victims via the Inova Trauma Survivor’s Network. Although I still experience some sporadic pain associated with the injury and may never be 100%, I continue to run and set more goals. I try to make this accident one of the most positive things that has happened in my life.
I’m a quadriplegic, yet I can honestly say that I have few complaints. This is a place I had always hoped to get to in my life, though I never would have expected to get here following the bicycle accident that broke my neck 10 years ago. At the time of my accident, I had a business and a life in North Carolina. In the months that followed, I would lose all of it and have no choice but to move back in with my parents in Northern Virginia for the first time since high school. I knew no one in the area and withdrew from many of the relationships that I then had. I didn’t want to be seen in a disabled condition.
Shortly after I was injured, I, like most newly injured people, vowed that I would walk again someday. Sure the odds were stacked against me, but I was going to be the one who was different because I was going to be the one who recovered. In my mind, at the time, to not walk again would mean I had failed.
I can’t say that I reached a point of acceptance overnight. It took years and I had many setbacks along the way, but I worked to get out of bed every day and keep my momentum going forward. I got my driver’s license back and made an effort to get out and be active. As time passed, I eventually found myself thinking about my accident less and less.
Where once I might have seen myself as a failure for not having recovered physically, getting to where I am today and overcoming my injury emotionally is the greatest thing I've ever accomplished. Every day I push forward adds on to that accomplishment.
This journey hasn’t been easy, but along the way I’ve met amazing people, had great experiences, and have gained a perspective on life that I might never have found in two lifetimes living the life I was.
Nowadays, I often step back and look around at what I have – the people, experiences, and perspective – and realize it all starts to resemble a life, something I never thought I’d have again. And I’m grateful.
I love dogs. On February 16, 2013, I was carrying our Sheltie who had crippling arthritis down the steps to the patio as I did every morning. Only this time I forgot to check the thermometer. The steps were glazed with ice and my foot went out from under me on the second of 5 steps. My back landed full force on the edge of a wooden step; I slid the rest of the way. I recall feeling helpless when I realized that I had no feeling and no movement below my waist. Nothing.
EMTs were at my side in under 10 minutes. After being stabilized, I was rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital. I don’t remember much of the first day, but I was told it was very hectic and very somber. I was operated on that evening. The rest of that week is mostly a blur. My injury is an incomplete T11 with some other things thrown in for good measure.
After a week in the hospital, I transferred to Medstar NRH in Washington, DC, and spent the next 6 weeks in intensive inpatient physical and occupational therapy. I learned a great deal about myself while there and realized that I am tougher than I thought I was. If my therapist asked if I wanted to try something new, I always replied, “yes.” I didn’t know if I COULDN’T do something unless I tried it. I pushed myself every day because if I was to get any better, I had to do my own heavy lifting. I am a “lucky survivor” because of the functions I have regained but it was HARD work getting here.
Everyone heals from trauma differently. The part I underestimated was the emotional recovery following my injury. Take time to heal yourself, seek help to get over the rough patches. My wife once told me, “you can’t steer the boat by looking at the water behind you.” Learn to look ahead at what CAN be. Dwelling on the past and "what was" will just bog you down.
On August 13, 2011, my life was changed forever when I sustained a preventable traumatic brain injury. A distracted driver failed to stop at a red light and hit my car at more than 55 mph, killing my mother and leaving me in a coma. The other driver walked away unscathed.
The day before the accident, I was the host of a radio sports talk show. I had a 9 to 5 job and I was engaged to be married. Life was good. After barely surviving and going through numerous surgeries, I woke up from the coma a month later a different person. Gone was my talk show, my job, my ability to read, write, walk and talk and to do almost anything. The only thing I still had was my fiancée. Over the next 3½ years, I had to relearn it all again, but this time without my mom.
Math is still very hard for me, and my cognitive abilities are still greatly reduced and will never be as they were before. But, with the help of everyone at Inova Fairfax, Inova Mount Vernon and Inova Loudoun hospitals (especially my speech therapist for the past 2+ years, Robyn Thompson), on Mother’s Day of last year, I was well enough to start MikeDruryMovement.com in honor of my mother. I have since been on TV, in the newspaper, and even went to Richmond where Senator Wexton proposed a hands-free driving bill on my behalf. While the bill was not passed (it lost 8-7 in the transportation committee), it has only made my conviction to end distracted driving stronger. The first step to ending distracted driving is for every driver to put all handheld devices down and concentrate on driving. I know you have all seen someone driving and holding a cell phone up to their ear, limiting their range of motion and peripheral vision, or worse, sending emails, or surfing the web. This is not safe for anyone. So, if you feel the same way I do, you can sign my petition to ban hand-held cell phone usage while driving by going to TheMikeDruryMovement.com. Every time you get behind the wheel, please give driving the attention it deserves. It is important for us to spread the word so we can prevent others from going through what my mom and I did.
There is a saying that life happens when we’re making other plans. How true! Being struck by a hit-and-run driver (May 12, 2011) while I was legally in a crosswalk (and ALMOST to the other side) – was not part of my original plan. Instead of going to my dance lesson that evening, I went for a walk. In hindsight, I should have gone to the dance lesson! I was airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital and my only memory before waking up in the emergency room was the sound of a helicopter.
I spent a week at Inova Fairfax Hospital before being transferred for rehab to Inova Mount Vernon Hospital for 4 weeks. I had several surgeries while a patient, and my injuries included 2 brain bleeds (one a mild traumatic brain injury), PTSD, extensive body bruising, a broken nose, vertigo and rotator cuff damage. My most severe injury was the degloving of my lower right leg where the car had struck me – meaning it tore out a section of my lower leg. Miraculously, there were no broken bones. Despite it all, I consider myself extremely fortunate. Things could have been so much worse.
Through a LOT of hard work on the part of an excellent medical team, rehab program, the support of friends and family, and my own hard work, over time I healed into a "new me." I joined the Trauma Survivor’s Network (TSN) and the TBI support group, which provided tremendous support and afforded me the opportunity to give back to others who have experienced a traumatic event in their lives. Volunteering with the group has been invaluable, and continues to assist in my healing. I ended up retiring sooner than planned due to my medical challenges, and my HR department provided wonderful assistance. I recently started a new chapter in my life and have moved to Pennsylvania to a less urban area and to be nearer my family in Ontario. I am enjoying my life here, but miss the connection with TSN and the support group. I hope to get involved more or start a group here once I settle in more.
Hats off to TSN and everyone involved – you have made a positive impact in my life!
My “alive day” was 2 years ago this past November. After suffering a nearly fatal motor vehicle accident near Charlottesville, VA, where I sustained multiple fractures to my lower extremities as well as other complications, it was time to begin the journey to recovery. At the time, my husband was home with my then 20-month-old son, and all our worlds just stopped. Luckily, we had the help of both the UVA medical professionals and some wonderful doctors and nurses at Inova Fairfax and Inova Mount Vernon hospitals to restart our worlds and tell us we were ALL going to be okay, although it would be a long road. Gratitude goes to all of them, as we wouldn’t be where we are today without their honesty and dedication. Thank you – you know who you are!
I’d say the biggest challenge throughout the recovery process was that we did not know when I would be normal again. Yes, I had lots of hospitalizations (2 weeks plus more later), nursing facility stays (2 months), and lots of physical therapy visits to get through. But when would I be normal again? No one can really tell you that. It's truly up to you. You put in what you can, and you get results. Sometimes they don’t come as quickly as anyone would hope, and there are usually setbacks along the way. This . . . .is . . . .normal. Expect and embrace it. In all honesty, it’s harder than it seems, but it does work. Once I was in that frame of mind, the “baby steps” (literally) became bigger, and the hard things became easier.
If I could give one piece of advice to those who suffer from a trauma, it would be this: Allow yourself to feel. Don’t let someone else tell you how to be. Grieve when you need to grieve, laugh when you want to laugh, and take the help, support and prayers from those around you. It is just as therapeutic for them as it is you – and it works! Now, over two years later, what I have learned is that the “new normal” is even better than the first. The accident does not define me anymore. It's simply something that occurred in my life. And my life is GREAT! I cherish every moment and enjoy spending it with a wonderful husband, son, family and friends. Life IS great!
The day before Thanksgiving in 2004 was like any other day. I woke up, got ready for work, and I went to catch the bus to the Metro. As I was walking across the street, a school bus was making a left turn and the driver’s side mirror hit me on my left side of my head and dragged me under the bus. I do not remember any of the accident, and therefore I will always say my wife went through more than I did on that day and the following weeks. I suffered many broken bones and a subdural hematoma on my front left brain. I spent several days in the ICU, then several more days at Inova Fairfax Hospital. I was transferred to Inova Mount Vernon Rehabilitation Center followed by several months of outpatient speech, physical and occupational therapy.
In a split second, my life became unrecognizable and ultimately it took a long time to find a “new normal.” I have short term memory loss and finding the correct word is sometimes hard. I live with a permanent headache. My neurologist and speech/physical therapists help us explore new ways to work through my memory and headache issues. Given the magnitude of my injuries, I am so thankful that I am able to live a normal, happy life with my wife and daughter, with minimal limitations. Although I might have gone back to work too quickly after my accident, I am very fortunate to have returned to my job on a full-time basis and to have the support of my employer, family and friends.
If there is one thing that helped the most with my healing journey, it is being able to talk about my experiences with other survivors who understand the journey. I have always looked and talked normally since my accident, so those I have met or visited with since my accident never really thought anything was wrong. This is the best advice I can give: talk to your family and friends. Let them know how you feel and what is happening to you. I found this out while talking to people through Rebuild, now known as Trauma Survivors Network. More than 9 years after my accident, I still get help from the other survivors at TSN and from the new survivors I visit while they are in the hospital. I have drawn a tremendous amount of strength from everyone I have met through TSN. And I will not let the bus that hit me that day in 2004 take me down.
It was July 20, 2010, the summer before my senior year of high school. I was in the car with my family after an outing, on a winding back road of West Virginia. I don’t really remember much of the accident, but I know we crashed. After that, my body shut down. I woke up almost a month later at Inova Fairfax Hospital. I had broken my back and had a lot of internal bleeding. But the biggest loss was waking up paralyzed, with both of my legs gone from the knee down. The doctors said they couldn’t save them due to loss of blood flow from my seatbelt on the impact of the crash.
Since then, life has been different. Due to the loss of my legs, I’m either in bed or in my wheelchair. But, honestly, I’m happy. If it weren’t for the supportive and encouraging Inova doctors and nurses, I probably wouldn’t be here today. I’ve learned a lot about myself because of the accident. I’ve learned that I can still do things any other person can do if I put my mind to it. I've started to get into photography and take pictures of the mountains and Harper’s Ferry. I’ve learned that journaling about my bad days can make them better. I’ve learned that things happen, but you have to just keep going and never look back.
I think what has helped me the most is spending time with friends and family – that’s the key to recovery. I like to spend time with my brothers, Jay, Earl and Jayson. Sometimes we will have summer cookouts in the backyard where we grill and hang out next to the fire pit. Other times, we’ll go out shopping just to have fun together. My parents have also been a major support for me, whether it’s taking care of my bed sores and changing linens or just giving me love and comfort. If I need something, all I have to do is holler and they’re there for me. I can’t thank them enough for that. I know that other survivors may be struggling, but my advice to you is this: always keep your head up high. You’ll have your challenges, just like I’ve had mine. But, I know that even if it takes a while, you’ll get through them and get to where you want to go. Just keep going and never look back.
On May 13, 2012, around 2 p.m. I fell 28 feet off a roof. I landed in a “1-2-3-4” manner: lower back, upper back, shoulders, back of head. I broke my lower and upper spine, sustained a concussion, and had numerous muscular and joint injuries. Eight firefighter/paramedics arrived and worked on me immediately. I remember little of what happened at the scene. I was told by my doctors, days later, that the first responders provided excellent care at the fall site. I was rushed to Inova Fairfax Hospital.
The first three days are still vague, but starting on day four, I have detailed memories of my hospital stay. I remember most of the great care given to me, my family, and my friends by an amazing team of medical personnel. I spent the next 4 months recovering in bed, and the next 8 months after that in physical therapy. The physical therapy was impossibly hard, and all I wanted to do was to stop. The therapists taught me to just take one day at a time, one exercise at a time, and that helped me to press on. After one year, my trauma team declared me healed physically and released me from their care. I was ecstatic – for about 3 days. After being released by my trauma team, I thought I was done with my fall. What I did not realize, however, was that my recovery was just beginning. I started to have nightmares, could not sleep, was anxious, could not concentrate, and was basically unable to function. I had no idea what was going on, why it was happening, or how I could make it stop. I could not control it and that scared me even further. I sought help from Trauma Support Network (TSN), which changed me for the better, forever. I talk and listen to other trauma survivors, and I am also supported and listened to. I have provided peer support and community outreach as well. Slowly, my nightmares ceased, the fears and confusion eased significantly, and my anxiety calmed.
TSN taught me (and continues to teach me) MANY, MANY amazing things that help me each day. There are too many to list here so I give you a few:
- After a trauma, there is FAR more to recovery than the healing of broken bones
- Learning how to live in your “new normal” is the key to mental recovery after trauma
- I will never be the same again and will carry my trauma with me forever. I did not know that before TSN. The fear, anxiety and sadness pop up at unexpected times and in unexpected places, but TSN has given me ways to handle all that.
- Each day, I get a little bit better
Three years ago, I was rock climbing with my wife and forgot to secure my harness to the belay before I began climbing. When I reached the top, I let go to repel down. Since I wasn't attached, I fell down the 38 feet instead. The fall shattered my pelvis and fractured a vertebrae in my lower back and multiple ribs. I also suffered a nerve injury that resulted in a lack of function in one of my feet and severe pain in that foot and leg.
After my initial injuries healed, I tried to start doing my favorite activities again and stay active. This has helped me to recover and adapt to life with a disability. Since my accident, I have biked over 1,200 miles, including completing the 2013 Seagull Century. My wife and friends never hold me back or let me focus on what I can't do but focus on what I can do and push me to do better. I'm constantly testing my limits and challenging myself to improve.
The biggest challenge in my recovery has been accepting that doctors don't have a magic recovery button. When you visit the doctor, you are given options to pursue, but the solutions aren't simple, instant or guaranteed to work for every patient.
Living through a traumatic injury teaches you a lot about yourself and the people around you. I've always been persistent (some would say stubborn), and this experience has shown me how tough I can be. There have also been times when I had to be patient with myself and that has given me more compassion for others with physical limitations now that I've been there. I've learned to slow down and appreciate life instead of taking things for granted. Being part of Trauma Survivors Network and doing peer visiting, I've gotten over my fear of hospitals so that I can hopefully help someone else.
Hearing stories from other trauma survivors during Trauma Talk has been extremely beneficial in working through the emotional challenges of recovery. The mental hurdles are much harder than the physical. Trauma comes in all shapes and sizes. Don't let allow anyone to tell you when your recovery stops. It's been almost 3 years and mine is still continuing.
I was training for my 15th consecutive Reston triathlon in September 1999 when my injury happened. I was riding my bike down a hill when a car sideswiped me, causing me to hit the pavement. Although I was conscious, I knew I had broken some bones because I couldn't get up. Fortunately, a woman saw the accident and called 911. Soon, the Reston Fire & Rescue people came and took me to Inova Fairfax Hospital. There, I was met by a team of trauma personnel and, within an hour, I was in the critical care unit. My injuries included a broken pelvis, collapsed lung, broken ribs and clavicle. My stay at Inova Fairfax Hospital was two weeks followed by another two weeks of rehabilitation at Inova Mount Vernon Hospital. One month later, I was back in the hospital for another 10 days recovering from a staph infection in my left groin where two plates and 10 pins holding my pelvis together were located.
The hardest part of my recovery has been chronic pain in my groin. I had been a runner for many years before the injury and wanted very much to continue this activity. However, my doctor told me I most likely would never run again. Eight months later, I ran a Race for the Cure 5K. Over the past 15 years, I have run on and off but more recently I have begun racing short distances at indoor track meets. This March, 3 other 90 year olds and I hope to set world records in 3 relays at the National Masters Track & Field Indoor Championship.
I must admit, a positive attitude has enabled me to live a relatively healthy life and continue my love of running. Numerous surgeries have slowed me down, but I have managed to keep going. An implanted neurostimulator, along with pain pills taken as seldom as possible, have been most helpful in keeping my pain at a tolerable level.
My advice to others who have suffered traumatic injuries is to find the "right" doctor, learn as much as you can about your injury, do something constructive like a hobby or some activity you enjoyed doing before your injury and, most of all, keep a positive attitude. As time goes by you will feel better and, strange as it may sound, you will get used to the pain.
On July 4, 2007, I attended our town’s fireworks show with my children and friends. The fireworks were awesome. There were bursts of fireworks so grand we were sure that each one was the finale. And then everything is black. I’m on my hands and knees and I’m burning. There was a misfire during the finale, and a 3-inch mortar shot through the crowd. The firework hit my friend in the chest and exploded on me. My children were put on separate ambulances and sent to Inova Fairfax Hospital. I was medevaced to Washington Hospital Center. My injuries were numerous and severe. I spent 12 days in the burn unit. I finished my physical recovery at home with the help of a visiting nurse. When I saw friends and family, I felt a need to present to everyone that things were normal again. That couldn’t have been further from the truth.
After the accident, I couldn’t remember what I was doing from one minute to the next. I couldn’t calculate the tip on a restaurant bill. I drove my kids to school on days they didn’t have school. I forgot to pay our bills, or worse, I sometimes paid the same bill more than once.
In December 2008, I was diagnosed with a blast traumatic brain injury. With help from speech and occupational therapists, I developed coping strategies to help me function better in the house. It has been an amazing and exhausting journey that still continues. The fact that I walk and talk “normally” makes my injury invisible.
One of the best pieces of advice came from another TBI survivor during a support group: embrace your new normal. One of the hardest things for me to do was to accept the new me. I can’t tell you the precise moment that I made the switch and accepted the new me. But, I can tell you that it happened. If I had continued trying to live life as I did pre-accident, I would have continued to fail and ultimately not made any progress.
On a bright sunny day in March 2001, a dump truck ran a red light and changed my life forever. I don’t remember anything from that day or for two weeks after that. This is what my family and friends told me happened.
I was resuscitated at the scene by first responders and airlifted to Inova Fairfax Hospital. I spent 3 days in the trauma unit, and then my husband took me home with a traumatic brain injury. No instructions or guidance given, just discharged. During those 2 weeks, I required constant supervision and care.
The whole first year involved physical recovery, figuring out what my deficits were, and trying to teach my right brain to do what my left brain used to. I had physical therapy to re-teach me how to walk normally. Speech therapy focused on improving short-term memory, word retrieval, work-arounds for what was taken from me.
After a year, these therapies ended. I still wasn’t myself and certainly not “normal." I was angry all the time, grieving for myself and for what I lost. No one understood me, and it was frustrating. Luckily, I was referred to a brain injury neurologist. He understood me, became my life-saver and still sees me regularly.
The second and third year I hid from everyone, slowly tried to get my life back. I knew I wasn’t the same person and I did not like the “new” me. Crowds, bright lights and new places upset me. A close friend helped me to start working part time. I found the TBI support group. Then a call came from an Inova social worker. Would I be like to attend a NextSteps class? That phone call changed everything. It was a great class on how to navigate when the road is blocked.
It is then that I stopped hiding and started living. I became involved with the hospital – visiting trauma patients, listening to other trauma survivors, sharing experiences with community organizations. Giving back in a small way for all I have learned and been given. It’s been almost 14 years and I am still growing and am grateful every day to my first responders and for life itself. I am watching my young children grow into terrific adults. My family is expanding. We welcome our first grandchild very soon. My husband and I look forward to the future together and traveling – there is still so much to see and do.
2009 and 2010 were two of the hardest years of my life. I lost my job of 18 years, lost my grandma, a dear friend and my dog, experienced a breakup and 3 moves, ran out of money and resources, and lost my access to medication for depression and anxiety. The hits kept coming with relentless force. By October 2010 I was on the verge of eviction with nowhere to go. October 22 I woke up with a new resolve. I would end all of my problems by killing myself. I sat on the balcony and loaded my 357 revolver with hollow point bullets. I thought about how much I was leaving behind and how devastated some people would be. In my muddled state of despair, I thought they would be better off.
When I pulled the trigger, I was surprised to hear my roommate screaming. He wasn't supposed to be home, and I wasn't supposed to be conscious. In that brief second I lost the right side of my face up to my right eye, my right jaw, half of my teeth, one third of my tongue, and a lot of skin, tissue, and bone. In a state of shock I listened to the police arrive and then the paramedics. Then, the nightmares started. For three weeks I was in a semi-coma. Family and friends stayed by my side constantly. I responded so well to my loved ones that my doctors lifted visitation restrictions. The day I "woke up" my father held my hand and said, "All you have to do now is heal. Everything has been taken care of." And it was. In the coming months and years I would learn the depths of the help and support family and friends rushed to provide. And slowly, I began the process of recovery.
It's been difficult. I was unable to talk, eat and drink for two years. Nursing homes wouldn't accept a suicide risk. Halfway homes couldn't deal with my medical needs. I moved into an extended stay hotel for two years and as a recent medical assistant, I became my first patient. On August 20, 2014 I will have surgery #39. There have been many setbacks and complications, but I have the very best plastic surgeon, completely committed to my full recovery. I also have a wonderful therapist and psychiatrist.
I think the most difficult thing for me has been adjusting to my "new normal." I have less energy and more need to rest. Talking is still difficult. Right now I'm on a liquid diet because of complications with my jaws. I don't look the way that I used to, and that's okay. In the end, beauty is about smiling through the pain, making an effort, expressing love and appreciation. Gratitude to God that I have a second chance – that's my recovery!
One strike and I’m out. I was playing first base in a recreational softball league game when the ball came my way unexpectedly. It tipped off my glove and hit me between the eyes. It happened the night of April 17, 2012.
Despite my immediate symptoms, I went to sleep that night not comprehending that I should go to the hospital. I drove into work the next morning with my head pounding, everything foggy, lights and sounds causing excruciating pain, intense vertigo and had a hard time putting words together in a sentence. The recommendation to go to the ER was from my pharmacist where I stopped on my way home. I had a concussion. I had no idea what that meant.
From the start, I felt like it was an uphill battle. Not only with the injury, but also in finding support and guidance. Despite my injury being serious, describing my symptoms to my doctors, therapists, co-workers, friends and family, it felt like none of them took it seriously. I struggled to take it seriously, to release my stubbornness and realize that my life as I knew it was going to be changed forever.
The hardest part of my recovery is that a traumatic brain injury (TBI) is an invisible injury. “But you look fine.” How I dread hearing those words! From the outside, besides my glasses I wear for light sensitivity, you wouldn’t be able to see that I have a TBI. Meanwhile, my head is pounding, my eyes hurt, I am having a hard time processing what you are saying, and I am exhausted. And, oh yeah, YOU ARE TALKING TOO LOUDLY.
In my healing journey, I’ve learned patience and to slow down. Enjoy the quiet moments. Life moves too fast. Those that care will slow down and be beside us along the journey. Some days you’ll take moment by moment to get through it. I learned to take the positive out of every situation God puts us in. We need to look within us and find what we can learn from our trauma, find our truth and what ignites our passion. Love more. Never give up.
On May 12, 2012, after spending most of a beautiful spring day in my office, my wife Kathy and I took a short bike ride before attending a neighborhood party. Energetically pedaling to shed some work frustration, I suddenly encountered a car curving into my lane as it rounded a bend in the road. Swerving to avoid a collision, my wheels slid out and I hit the pavement hard. My injuries were extensive, and I spent 2 weeks in the hospital having surgery to repair a broken and displaced clavicle and to rebuild a crushed heel. I missed 8 weeks of work while spending 3 months in a wheelchair.
Although I faced many months of physical therapy, I found it more challenging to recover emotionally and mentally. The surgeons and therapists assured me that my injuries would heal and that with hard work I would be able to return to an active lifestyle. Having that goal helped me focus and persevere. But mentally I had been turned inside out. No longer was I responsible for the well-being of others but had become reliant upon others to perform the most basic functions of daily life. Going from independence to dependence in a heartbeat was a shock, but I gradually realized that perhaps I had not been as self-sufficient as I thought. The unselfishly given help and concern from family, friends, business colleagues, medical professionals and strangers led me to understand that my resiliency (and successful physical and emotional recovery) was based on how “connected” I had been to others. As Jen Ford said, once you embrace that support, ”it works!”
We survivors share the ordeal we have endured and, for some of us, continue to endure in our recovery. It’s not a journey that we chose, but is one that has given me a sense of the resiliency that resides within all of us and an appreciation of the joy of life. Trauma Support Network members have been a significant part of that. This month begins the Winter Olympic Games, which reminds me of Scott Hamilton, another trauma survivor who won gold at Sarajevo in 1984, only to later encounter battles with testicular cancer and, more recently, recurrent brain tumors. When asked the source of his resiliency in recovering from these events, he simply said, “Skaters fall down all the time and we have to get up a lot. It’s in the getting up.” I can think of no better advice than that.
“Your honor, I would like to address you in making a decision on the sentencing of my former husband who did maim and try to kill me.”
That’s how I started my victim impact statement before my former husband received one of the longest sentences in Loudoun County for domestic violence. I was verbally abused for 6 years. One night, he called me an idiot and I finally said, if you say it again, you are out of the house. He did. I kicked him out the next day.
December, 1, 2011, two years later, he came to visit. That night I told him it was over for good. More violence occurs when the abuser realizes it’s really over. The next morning, I woke up to him stabbing me in the chest with a 6” knife. Blood squirted up 4” high. I knew I was dying. I grabbed the phone, dialed 911. He stabbed me in the back, my lungs collapsed. He stabbed me above the eye and near the artery on my wrist. Eleven and a half minutes of terror. I don’t remember my $20,000 helicopter ride. I survived through the heroic efforts of many people and organizations, one of them being the Trauma Center at Inova Fairfax Hospital.
He did not get a life sentence, but I have one. I always remember the stabbing. I have PTSD, anxiety and depression, but I've found ways and people to help me. I sat for 2 years staring into space without knowing how to start over. It came about through some volunteering, then by speaking out. I met hundreds of abused women. Some have not told their stories to anyone else but me.
Speak out about your domestic violence. I didn’t. People can help. Stop right now and think through what you are doing to yourself. The abuser controls you – you don’t control them unless you take action. It is not something to be ashamed about anymore. Be courageous.
It’s been over 33 years since I had my last trip as a flight attendant, a job I loved. I was 24 years old and was told I hit a small pickup truck that was stopped in the middle of the LBJ freeway in Dallas, TX. I was unconscious for 2 weeks, in Parkland Hospital for 4 weeks, and transferred to Inova Fairfax Hospital where I stayed an additional week. Out of all of this, I remember nothing. This was December 1981.
There wasn’t a whole lot known about head injuries at this time, and I guess I was fortunate that I was knocked out and had to be taken to the hospital. Otherwise I may have been completely lost. During my recovery, there were many doctor visits, tests and procedures to determine my level of functioning. Eventually I was told that because of the optic nerve damage to my left eye, I no longer met the requirements to fly, and therefore I was no longer able to work. I looked for other jobs. I interviewed well and was offered work when I sought it, but supervisors quickly became frustrated with me when I couldn’t keep up. I tried to compensate for not being able to see out of one eye, but my fractured skull and brain injury left me with cognitive difficulties like short-term memory loss, anger problems, confusion, frustration, and eventually depression.
One of the most difficult parts of recovery has been going through this “silent” injury. Many people with head injuries look fine – our injuries hidden from sight. I’ve been married and divorced twice. With two grown sons who came along after the accident, I don’t think any of these four guys really understand the difficulties I have worked through in my lifetime, and I am not one who tries to hide my difficulties. Once I was “thrown to the streets,” i.e. overwhelmed with no options and told I could no longer work. I sought ways to keep going. The difference between now and when I first had the accident is like night and day in terms of the support services available for trauma survivors. Through Trauma Survivors Network, I have been able to come alive in helping others like me pull themselves up by their bootstraps and carry on.