“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” — Rumi
On August 3, 2018, I woke up in a CT scan machine.
Disoriented and terrified, I looked over at my husband Jordan, and a friend. The first thing I noticed was the terror in their eyes. Next, I noticed was how much my head hurt. Then I said, “Where the hell am I and what happened to me?”
The 24-Hour Void
The day before I woke up in the hospital, we traveled to Henderson, NV to have a meeting for my business. A friend and former business associate graciously allowed us to stay the night at her condo, but I have no memory of it.
I have struggled with depression & anxiety for some time and was seeing a new psychiatrist who prescribed me meds that clearly didn’t agree with me.
I took the meds before my husband drove us from San Diego to Nevada. I remember getting in the car, but within an hour I completely blacked out.
During the black out, I could function and I was awake, but I don’t remember it. I was told that I ate a burger along the way (I never eat burgers) but I don’t remember it. I was told that we spent a nice evening with my friend and went to bed early but I don’t remember it. I woke up on time the next day, but I don’t remember it.
And as I was prepping for the day, I fell down a flight of stairs, but I don’t remember it.
I am actually grateful that I don’t remember the accident.
Because apparently, my head smacked the hard floor as I fell about a story. I suffered a basal skull fracture (a fancy word for “the back of the head”). My brain was bleeding and I had done a whopper on my frontal lobe (the part where you think and have emotions), which was bruised and damaged. This time, I wasn’t blacked out, but totally unconscious. I was rushed to the hospital in an ambulance, but again, I don’t remember it.
My first memory in that 24-hour void was waking up in that CT machine and not knowing how I got there.
A Blur in the ICU
When I woke up, I could barely comprehend what I was being told.
- “You fell.”
- “You hit your head.”
- “What day is it? Who is the President?” (I groaned as I answered that second question)
- “You’ll be staying in the ICU unit.”
- “You have to wear this neck brace.”
- “You’re lucky to have survived.”
- “You suffered a traumatic brain injury and are concussed.”
I’m lucky that I wasn’t comatose. I’m lucky that I didn’t need brain surgery. But despite that, doctors told me that my brain injury was severe.
Jordan (who is a complete saint, by the way) stayed next to me, keeping vigil over my hospital bed, sleeping on a hard chair for four days
We joked that it was the most expensive room in Las Vegas.
My memory of the hospital is a blur. I’d like to blame it on the morphine, but that would only be a half-truth.
Almost 10 months later, I can’t remember much of what the doctors told me. I don’t remember what any of the doctors or nurses looked like. A couple of friends came to visit, but the memory of it is fuzzy.
I do know that I detested that neck brace and I was bummed that I had to eat hospital food. I remember asking for about 70 million blankets because of how cold the room was. I remember nurses literally holding me up once a day to walk a lap around the unit.
I want to paint a better picture for you here. As a writer, you’re supposed to show and not tell. But I don’t remember enough of this experience to do that.
The Acute Aftermath
After we drove back to San Diego, my mother flew in from Cincinnati to help care for me. The following week was another blur of doctor’s visits, trips to the ER, and a lot of pain. I had to wear a neck brace for a month, even a special foamy one for when I showered.
For about two weeks, I couldn’t stop crying. There was no reason for the crying. It just was.
Just standing up from the couch or my bed was excruciating. One time I screeched in pain just from standing up. Apparently I had mangled my body pretty badly in the fall, too.
I projectile vomited at the chiropractor’s office from the uncontrollable nausea (Sorry, doc!). I was plagued with migraines, tinnitus, and vertigo. The doctors were on seizure watch, but thankfully I never had one.
I Was a Hot Mess. And I Still Am.
I bounced between three neurologists. I never got brain rehab. I was sent out into the wild without any help or support.
The doctor in Las Vegas told me to take a couple of months away from screens. I couldn’t do that because I own a business. The only reason that my business is still here and thriving is because my employees were able to do some heavy lifting while I recovered.
But I never truly got to rest.
I applied for state disability and got denied because I am a small business owner. It is hard for me not to feel resentful for the fact that I create jobs and help stimulate the economy, but I can’t get disability because I don’t work for someone else.
As a result, my recovery has been long and arduous. It will take years for me to go back to normal, if I ever do.
So What Now?
Today, it is hard for me to work more than 3–4 hours on the computer without feeling like I need a nap afterward. Writing this, I feel as if my eyes are crossing.
I have to drink what seems like gallons of caffeine to even function at all. And now I suffer from chronic fatigue. Sometimes I go to bed at 7 or 8 pm because I just can’t.
I have lost 30 pounds since the fall because I have no appetite, still get nausea, and food tastes like metal. At this very moment, I am still at a “healthy” weight but to me, I look emaciated. If I lose five more pounds (and I will), I will officially be at an unhealthy weight.
I can hardly turn my head and have constant pain in my neck and shoulders.
If I go out in public, I get overwhelmed easily by all the colors, sounds, people, and stimuli because it’s so much harder for my brain to filter all that stuff.
I suffered nerve damage, especially my optical and olfactory nerves. I still get tingling down my arms, tinnitus, and vertigo.
I am dizzy all day long. I have to stand up and walk slowly to try to avoid the dizzy spells. I have a persistent fear that I will fall again and die from second impact syndrome.
I got a neuropsychological exam and they said that I lost some IQ points as a result of the accident and that my memory is two standard deviations behind my intellect. I have to carry notebooks around with me everywhere I go because I remember so little. I don’t remember what I did or said two days ago. So I write down almost everything…except maybe my bowel movements.
Even small, daily tasks are arduous for me. Bending over is especially awful.
But the worst part is the unbearable depression and anxiety the injury has caused. Frontal lobe damage is gnarly. I feel like I spend most of my time at doctors’ offices, mostly the psychiatric places. I was just mildly depressed and maybe moderately anxious before (as a result of C-PTSD from childhood). But since the fall, I have new diagnoses: Major Depressive Disorder and Panic Disorder.
I have had some very scary thoughts. My husband had to literally pull me out of bed most days. Just waking up to a new day and living was painful. Sometimes I’d have four panic attacks in one day. Ya know, where it feels like you’re dying of a heart attack — horses galloping in your chest. Hyperventilation. I can’t breathe. The world is closing in on me. My extremities are tingly and numb. I can’t stop shaking and crying. I even ended up in the ER once, convinced I was literally dying. Super fun times.
But I look normal on the outside. Great, even. On the rare occasion I show up to things, I put on a fake smile like you’re supposed to. It’s hard for people to understand why I can’t do the same things I used to.
I am blessed enough to have great health insurance, so I am in a few programs to:
- Help with my mental health
- Help me maintain my sobriety (because brain injuries make you impulsive), and
- I have adopted a daily spiritual and meditative practice, which has enhanced my recovery.
I am doing much better now than I was last Aug — Sep. But I don’t think I will ever be the same. My personality is different. I am there, but not completely. At 34 years old, in the prime of my life, I never expected to crack and bruise and bloody my brain.
That said, miraculously, my business is thriving under my leadership. After I got sober in 2016, I started a little skincare business from my kitchen and in 2018, despite the brain injury, and no outside capital, we achieved $500K in revenue. I was featured in a holiday commercial for Amazon and recently, my business won a local award. Our products are being sold in hundreds of retailers and are selling out, and we’re stronger than we’ve ever been.
I have my employees, husband, and mother to thank for that. But I am resilient, so we’re going to continue to thrive and grow while I find new ways to work around this broken brain.
The Silver Lining
Jordan and I live near the beach and a couple of years ago, public scooters appeared in our neighborhood. We took a couple of joy rides, and I insisted on ordering the helmets you’re supposed to wear when you ride them. I believe Jordan called me a nerd at the time, but I still see those helmets and am reminded at how often we take our brain for granted.
The silver lining behind this accident is that it forced me to stop taking my health for granted. It forced me to slow down and work on myself.
I am guilty of compartmentalizing my life as pre-TBI vs. post-TBI.
Pre-TBI Molly was working a zillion hours a week, burnt out, not working on my mental health & sobriety, and on the verge of being a basketcase.
Post-TBI Molly is still a basketcase, but I’m caring for body, mind, and soul. I am taking more rest. I am going to therapy and 12-step meetings. I am meditating again. I am more present and able to appreciate the little things in my life. I am grateful and hopeful.
I could have died on August 3, 2018 but I didn’t. So I am going to move forward, broken brain and all, and make the most of this precious life. That opportunity is there for all of us and you don’t need to suffer a TBI to realize it.
Remember what’s important in life. Appreciate the small stuff. Say “thank you” for every day. Don’t get too caught up in work to forget that you’re a human. Have fun.
And don’t forget to wear your helmet.