I Must Be Living Challenged Part 3

I had a few quiet years, well…in death matches anyway and it wasn’t until December 2011 that I faced my next challenge. I had finally, nominally, decided what I wanted to be when I grew up around my 50th year on the planet. Don’t judge — I ALWAYS took the long way home! In 2007 I started a course of sociology/psychology studies at Albertus Magnus College in New Haven, CT. Great school by the way — I highly recommend it! I was in the home stretch of finally attaining my bachelor’s degree and doing an internship at Smilow Cancer Hospital which is part of none other than Yale-New Haven Hospital. The very last day of my internship, I was walking — on the sidewalk — towards the entranceway that would lead me to the Women’s Breast Center where I would be finishing up my work as an intern there, when I heard a loud noise behind me. It startled me enough to have me turning, but before I could move more than my head in the general direction of the sound, I was flipped up into the air and landed on the windshield of a car. The back of my head broke said windshield, but I was too much in shock to feel anything beyond a slight pressure. I kept waiting for the driver to realize that they had acquired an extra passenger, but the car just sped up. Now, this is the place for a bit of backstory…

I am an ordained interfaith minister and at this point in the story had been one for nearly a decade. I started life as a devote Roman Catholic, but lost interest in the tradition when a priest, counseling me during the breakup of my first marriage, asked me earnestly, “Well, what did you do to make your husband drink?” That question deserved an hour’s answer or none, so after I picked my jaw up off my lap, I left the church…both literally AND figuratively. I spent the next two decades wandering amidst the plethora of religious traditions, settling in Paganism for awhile, but never feeling completely at home. Then I experienced Sathya Sai Baba as a teacher and through him, Hinduism, and there I have stayed, although I don’t celebrate the traditional Hindu holidays religiously and I still celebrate the Sabbats and Esbats from my Wiccan days. Hey! Any excuse for a party!

The reason that I’m telling you these little religious factoids is so that you can understand the impact they had on this particular nearly-dead experience. (I can’t call it a ‘near death’ experience because there wasn’t any Light or angel choirs, just an ambulance and a bunch of doctors and nurses.)

End of digression and continuing with the rest of the story…

Parking at Yale has always been problematic (and expensive), so every day during my internship (which started at the ungodly hour of 7:30 AM), I would walk the six bocks from where I was able to park my car for free, to the hospital. It is a long and boring trek. Given that the early start cut into my morning meditation time, I would plug my iPod into my ears and listen to various Sanskrit chants extolling the virtues of God. Such chanting always had a calming effect on me and enabled me to face the suffering of my chemo patients with a smile and an upbeat outlook — which is exactly what cancer patients need. This particular day I was listening as usual, so, as I was riding on the hood of a car that was accelerating instead of stopping, I was able to remember something I had heard about a Hindu belief about death and dying — and I was clear I was going to die because that little place of ‘knowing’ inside me had already said as much — and that belief is that whatever you are thinking or saying at the time of your death is what you will experience as your next incarnation, the goal of course being that you will be immersed in thoughts of, and prayers to, God, so that you won’t HAVE to reincarnate, you can just laze around in heaven at the feet of your Guru. Figuring I had nothing to lose, I simply said, “Baba”, and in that moment, all pain and fear ceased — it was as if I was in this protective bubble. I was actually pretty impressed that I even had the presence of mind to think all of this through in just the space of five seconds, because that’s all it took for the driver to continue on down and across the street (which was astonishingly devoid of traffic, given the time of day), where the car then hit a ‘no parking’ sign. This caused, through the laws of physics, for the car to stop; however, I did not. My body flew into the now bent signage, my face kissing the pavement and the rest of me ending up tastefully draped, like an elegant boa, over the post that had once been proudly upright. Unfortunately, while the car, the post, and I, believed we were done for the day, the driver appeared to have an important appointment which they dare not miss and continued to apply the gas, crushing me between the post and the front bumper of said car each time they tried to get moving. As I lay there I became aware of the fact that I was still breathing, albeit not very well due to a 2 ton car being rammed into me at various intervals. The next thing impinging on my conscious awareness was a LOT of noise…and a lot of people in white coats and sensible shoes (I recognized the shoes at once given my slightly upside down positioning) who asked me inane questions like “Are you alright?”(had to be a non-doctor because anyone trained to assess illness and physical trauma could clearly see that I was not) and “Can you tell me your name and address?” to which sensible question I answered quite sensibly with both pieces of information. Shockingly, I never lost consciousness, nor the use of my mental faculties, and could give them all of the pertinent information relating to who I was, where I lived and to whom I belonged. In the midst of their assessment as to my mental faculties and physical injuries, the driver hit the gas again and I believe I screamed; however, in my defense, the pressure was excruciating. At that point one of the doctors yelled for someone to ‘get that woman out of the car!’ and while I didn’t know this at the time, I heard later that one of the other doctors had to almost knock the woman out to get past her strenuous objections and turn the car off because she wouldn’t take her foot off the gas and resisted any attempts to get her to do so. I’m assuming it was shock, although every time she hit that gas I had a sneaking suspicion she was trying to drive over me and go on her merry way — just my bad mood talking, I’m sure…

The ambulance was called (I know, the absurdity, right? I was steps from the entrance! However, they have to do it all by the book these days.), and they put me in a c-collar and on a board because they didn’t know if my back was broken, loaded me up and drove the 100 feet to the emergency room, where I quickly made history as the ‘miracle woman’.

I need to interject here, all lightness aside, that I really should’ve died that day. Regardless of your personal spiritual beliefs or lack thereof, when a group of scientifically trained doctors can’t believe that you are alive and not in traction, you should probably start using words like ‘miraculous’. Several of the employees (including a few doctors and nurses) who witnessed the accident had to leave work due to the trauma it engendered in them.

The assessment? No seriously broken bones, except for the maxillofacial bone from when my face kissed the pavement at 50 miles per hour. My front teeth were all broken and my nose was bruised and swollen, with a slight fracture. Bumps, bruises and non-serious scrapes. Contusions on my left knee and right hip where I had the signpost imprinted into me. They were even going to send me home, except I developed chest pain and they wanted to keep me for observation. I ended up staying for three days, mainly because I begged the attending physician to allow me to do so. I hadn’t gotten any rest and I knew what I’d be going home to — which ended up being me, leaning against a sink full of dirty dishes with my walker and washing them up. Story for another time.

The brain injury was not so forgiving. I no longer had the memory or focus that I once did and had to leave school without attaining my degree. I developed ADHD which meant that I would have body parts twitch and move rhythmically without my consciously knowing it was happening — I can no longer sit still. I experienced tremors and frequent migraines which kept me in a darkened room for days. I also developed fibromyalgia and neuropathy in various areas of my extremities. Having a simple conversation had become challenging due to my inability to remember what word I wanted, or even where it should go in the sentence! I would also experience what I called ‘fugue moments’ where I wouldn’t recognize where I was or remember where I was going. Those moments didn’t frighten me — I actually found them fascinating little windows into my brain function, and that fascination has led me to study cognitive neuroscience and other ‘brainy’ pursuits…

My physical and mental issues have slowly gotten better over the last five years, and I am doing things like learning languages and studying the cello to help rebuild my neural pathways. It’s not all bad, which my next and final chapter (so far) will show.

The last chapter in this compelling drama is up next!