Facts: In July 2021, our then-20-year-old daughter was walking across a busy city street when she was hit and thrown by a car. Turns out the driver was driving recklessly and left the scene. He was caught and charged soon afterwards. This happened a block from our region’s best ER/trauma unit, which police later told us was lucky because otherwise she would not have survived. She had multiple broken bones: skull, pelvis, elbow, knee, back. She acquired severe traumatic brain injuries. She spent six weeks in hospital and six weeks in rehab. And then she surprised everyone by finding herself a new job and a roof over her head so she could remain independent. Physically, her recovery was remarkable – hospital staff kept saying how strong she was. Brain-injury-wise was…really rough for all of us.
Feelings: The phone call that evening from the regional police officer and the scene in the hospital trauma room were the most traumatic things I’d ever experienced. It has taken me eleven months to even start to write about this for others to read. The officer who called us that night gave me the information in small bits at a time, so I could process. I crumpled against the wall and started wailing, and that’s how my husband knew something was drastically wrong. When the officer told me that we needed to get to the ER right away and that he couldn’t tell me anything about her condition, I thought she was dying. Even after we arrived (after a looooonnnnggggg thirty-minute drive) and were taken to a family waiting room (bypassing the packed public waiting room), I thought we were being taken there so they could tell us she had died. We waited there with no news for about an hour. When the trauma doctor came in and started talking, I finally interrupted him and asked, “So she’s still alive??” We all breathed huge sighs of relieve when he said, “yes.”
But then my heart sank and trembled in fear again when he told us she had brain injuries. I could picture broken bones, but “brain injuries” just brought a whole new bunch of pictures to my imagination. I wondered if she’d know us, if she’d regain consciousness, if she’d be able to talk/walk/eat, if she’d be able to communicate or receive communications, etc. etc. It’s weird…with each new piece of news, I could almost physically feel a slam against my being. That is how I experienced everything over the next few days…slam, slam, another slam. But the ER doc and nurses and the ICU nurses were godsends. They were so calm and explained so much to us.
When we finally were led to our daughter in the ER trauma area, whew. It was stunning to walk in, spot her familiar figure on the bed, and realize she wasn’t moving. For someone who is always on the go, this was a real juxtaposition. Again, the nurse in there was so calm, moving out of the way so we could go to our daughter’s side (the one that didn’t have machines and tubes sustaining her life). The nurse quietly went about her duties, talking to us, answering our questions. We stood, touching our daughter’s arm and cheek, observing all the damage (which I won’t detail here), and trying not to collapse. I instinctly knew to keep my voice calm as I talked with her, in case she could hear us. We assured her we were now there and would stay with her.
After awhile (who knows how long…time stood still for us) she was deemed ready to be moved to the ICU. We signed papers, and several staff gathered around her to prepare all the machinery for transport. They were SO GENTLE with her which touched this mother heart. We followed them all through the hallways and up the elevator, and then waited outside the ICU for the ICU doctor to come talk with us while nurses got her situated in the unit. When the ICU doc told us our daughter would be in hospital for “weeks,” it gave us yet another glimpse of just how bad everything was. We finally got to go in and be with her, and we stayed for hours through the night, just watching her being pumped with air and kept alive. Around 4:30 a.m., we felt secure enough to go home and try to sleep. Got home at 5 a.m., went to bed. I woke up at 7 a.m. in a total panic, got out of bed, and started wailing loudly. I had to move to another part of the house so I wouldn’t wake my son and my husband. When I calmed a bit, I sent messages to people, had breakfast, took a shower, talked to the ICU nurse on the phone; and then we left for the hospital again. Oh, and called my doctor let her know what happened and to ask for a prescription for lorazepam (Ativan) because I KNEW sleep would elude me for awhile. I figured I’d need maybe three or four pills…silly me. But the doctor knew, and gave me twenty. With a refill.
Brain injuries. A whole different world than I’d ever known. I know mental illness. But I did not know brain injuries. We learned on the spot how to cope with some of the things that happen when a person is coming back to consciousness. Those early days and weeks were heartbreaking, watching her experience confusion, delusions, and so much pain. And then the confabulations that came later. One thing that really bothered me was that after the ICU, she was put on an orthopedic unit and never went to the neurology unit, as we had been told would happen. As a result, we didn’t have immediate access to more information about brain injuries and what to expect and how to cope and help her cope. The unit social worker had nothing useful to tell us. I picture those weeks as us being underwater and occasionally coming up for air. On one of those resurfacings, I googled “nova scotia brain injury” and found out we have a non-profit organization dedicated to just that.
I sent them a very long and discombobulated e-mail, and the director replied almost immediately. Suffice it to say, Brain Injury Nova Scotia quickly became a massive source of information and comfort for these two shocked parents. They invited us to come meet them at their office, so we did. And of course as soon as we started telling them our story, I started crying again. They, esp. the director, were just so good and kind to us. They introduced us to another young woman who is a TBI survivor just a few years older than our daughter, and that woman let us ask questions. The people at this organization helped us get through some of the darkest months of recovery and shock.
As did loads of friends, neighbours, family, and strangers. Right after the accident, people around us swung into action with providing meals for us, gas and parking money, income-loss money (we’re self-employed). When I think back to those early months, I have a feeling of being carried. I don’t think I’ve ever felt that before, but it truly felt like a huge crew just lifted us up and carried us. It’s something I won’t ever forget. We even had strangers and local politicians showing up at our door with casseroles. We felt VERY taken care of, and I wish I could thank each person who carried us.
Our daughter is doing much better than she was even a few months ago. But her brain injuries make daily life difficult for her with exhaustion, headaches, loss of short-term memory, loss of noun recall, etc. etc. We are thankful, though, that some of the worst effects seem to have passed because they were devastating. I know she is extremely lucky to be alive and be in the condition she is in.
I’m sorry if this post seems to wander all over the place…but I wanted to get all this “onto paper” for people to read. There is much I didn’t mention and can’t mention, either due to privacy or due to emotional pain. I also don’t have photos to share for this post. But, I’ve wanted for years now to share more personal things on my blog, so here’s a start. Besides, half the reason I love making things is because the act of making helps me cope with life’s valleys and brings me hope and focus on the moment. So I want to try to show those connections here, through my writing. Thanks for reading such a long piece! Feel free to e-mail me if you want to talk brain injury.