Chapter 2

March is Brain Injury Awareness Month. On this blog I have written about our experience with TBI, but so far the story remains locked in my computer in draft form. I claim it is finding time that is preventing it from being finished, but when I read it again, I am not so sure that is true. It is still traumatic to think back. It stings. No longer a gaping wound, but a tender scar. Maybe putting some of it out there I will be inspired to get with it again and finish it up. For now, I share a few days in the life of TBI with you, for the sake of awareness and because, though ours is a hard story, it is a good one.

My little student was chattering about something, and I engaged in small talk with her to keep the “non-responsive” from ringing in my ears.  The hospital was about 10 minutes from our house, but my car seemed to be in slow motion even though I checked repeatedly to make sure I was going the speed limit.  It was raining.  A cold February rain.  The man on the radio was talking about the groundhog, and the wipers were squeaking in rhythm with the raindrops pounding my car. Replaying the phone call in my mind, all while talking about nothing, seemed surreal.  Like an out of body experience in which I am watching myself from a distance. I discovered on this day that I have a physiological response to trauma.

I initially feel a blow to my gut making it difficult to breathe.  Next comes the daze, in which fog seems to engulf me and my thoughts are unclear and jumbled.  I find it difficult to comprehend words and put together cohesive ideas.  Yet, at another level, there is crystal HD-like clarity in which the smallest details engrave themselves in my mind’s eye. It is an odd combination of sensory sensations all at the same time. A bombardment of the brain really. My body just tries to keep up, sometimes it is successful and others it is not. Trauma is one of those survival mode experiences that is made up of moment by moment actions while feelings are pushed down to keep your feet moving forward into the unknown. 

When I arrived at the hospital, the helicopter parked on the helipad was incredibly vivid to me.  The engine was running, though the rotors were still.  It was waiting beside the ER door like a hawk, ready to lift off in seconds.  The red and blue detailing seemed fresh and the colors were startling against the white body of the craft.  My foggy brain didn’t see any connection, and it seemed random at the time. I found out later it was there to take Bill to another trauma center if the neurosurgeon didn’t show up within so many minutes.  Fortunately, the doctor arrived just moments before they were going to load Bill up and move him.  Brain injury requires high priority and fast action to reduce the long term effects.  Minutes matter with this type of injury. Therefore the hospital had the helicopter on alert, it was protocol.  For me, being caught in a time warp between fog and crystal clear, I found the details of the ER like a dream. 

“Hello sweetie, How old are you? Do you understand why you are here?” the nurse asked my student. The questions snapped me back to reality. Or was this my new reality? Either way, I found myself able to respond.

“Oh, she’s not mine.  I am her tutor.  Her mom will be here soon to pick her up,” I replied.

I saw relief flood the nurse’s face, “I will take her until her mom arrives, so you can go into the ER.”  I nodded my agreement. I still have no idea where she took her. I only knew she was kind. 

 I was ushered into a small plain room with a nurse and a policeman. Introductions were made.  When I told them my name was Michelle, they told me Bill had been calling out for Chelle, at the scene. Tthey were calmed to find that this nickname was for me and not some other woman.  Evidently, there are no secrets when you have a brain injury.  

“How long have you been married, Dear?” the nurse asked. She talked quietly, as if I might shatter at any moment. 

“I think a year and a half,” I replied. 

A shadow crossed her face before she could stop it. I had no idea why, but I could see she was concerned about something. 

“And how long have you known Bill?” she asked.

“We dated all through college, so I guess over 5 years.”

That seemed to lighten her face some, as she said, “Well, the fact he is calling your name is a good sign that he remembers you.  He may not know you are married, but he should have enough long term memory, you will be in it somewhere.”  

My thoughts raced through molasses.  He should remember me? He might not remember we’re married? What in the world had happened to him? What did all this mean? 

I swallowed hard. Somewhere in my mind the word non-responsive was clashing with his calling my name, but I didn’t recognize the incongruence at that point.  I still pictured him comatose and silent in a bed surrounded by machines. That’s what non-responsive means, right?

As he handed me a paper bag the policeman said, “Here are his personal effects.” 

Those words stuck in my mind. They sound so deathlike. Personal effects are given to the next of kin on all the television shows. 

“And I apologize for this, but in an accident a ticket has to be written and since he hit another vehicle from the rear, he is the one at fault for following too close. I know this couldn’t  come at a worse time.” And he handed me the ticket, which I shoved into the bag in my hand. 

I told him, “Thank you. I know you are just doing your job. A ticket is the least of my concerns right now, but I am happy he is alive to get it. “

As I put the ticket in the ‘personal effects’ bag, I saw his wallet, a bloody shirt, and his wedding ring.  There were no pants, I was told, because they had to cut them off to get him out of the van. There was one shoe. I would learn later the other one was still on the brake pedal, but the metal to get to it was so crushed an arm couldn’t get through to retrieve it. It is a miracle he didn’t lose his legs. 

The officer went on to say something about rain, and following too close, and sliding, and construction trucks. I don’t really remember the rest of the conversation through the brain fog, but the clarity of the wedding ring I was holding in my hand shone like the sun.

I wondered, “Is this really happening?  Is this even real?  What is this…why am I here?”  

The nurse spoke again, “I can tell you that your husband is a strong man. Like superhuman strength. He lifted me up off the floor with one arm, and I am no small woman. He is strong as an ox.  Even with his fight or flight response, it is rare at my size for anyone to lift me up like that!” 

I was trying to grasp her words. I felt every ounce of my overwhelmed mind trying hard to focus on the words. 

“We are trying to get a CT scan of his brain at the moment, however he is fighting us. It may take some time until we can find enough people to hold him still enough to get a good image. Once he is back from imaging  to the ER, I will come get you so you can go in to see him.”

Once again, my mind’s picture of a comatose man lying still and the one she painted conflicted with one another, but I couldn’t formulate a question to ask. I heard head injury, coma, neurosurgeon, fight or flight response, adrenaline, but they were only individual words. I could feel myself concentrating so hard, but I couldn’t piece them together. 

 The policeman spoke again, “He fought us too. It took 7 people and handcuffs to get him into the ambulance at the scene!  He was definitely in fight or flight mode and strong as only someone operating on adrenaline can be.”

In a blur I just nodded without the least bit of comprehension. I was trying to place the words and voices I was hearing with some sort of understanding but it just wasn’t happening. The meeting was over and I was ushered into the waiting room…where I sat alone.

I remember thinking “I should call somebody.”  I used the phone at one end of the room and eventually  got my parents.  I sat and waited since I still couldn’t reach his parents.  Our pastor’s wife, Julie, arrived shortly.  After my alarming phone call, she had rushed to get there.  Not too long after her, my sister-in-law Nancy arrived. I don’t remember if I called her or if someone else did but I was glad to see her.  She and my brother lived the closest of all the family and could get there fastest.  The mother of my student arrived and sat with me for a bit before gathering her daughter from the nurse and heading out. My people were showing up, but to me everything was a blur. I was alone but not. I compare it to transition when giving birth. You can be in the same room with several people, but not connected to them. In the same space but in a foggy world of your own pain. That’s what it was like to deal with the trauma of this day.  

It was a while before Mom came I think. She and Dad lived in Clayton, GA at the time, so it took her a couple of hours at least.  Seems like it anyway.  At some point, I started to hear Bill screaming in the back.  I couldn’t tell what he was saying, but I knew the timber of his voice.  I knew he was shouting out and  it was alarming me. 

“Can I go back now?” I asked at the desk. 

“No. We have to stabilize him first and the doctor has to see him again to place the orders for the move to ICU.”


“Yes, ma’am. He is going to be admitted.”

“So we won’t be going home today?” I asked.

“No sweetie,” the woman replied gently. “Not today.”

I think she had tears in her eyes as she recognized my shell shock. That was the first time I computed this was going to be a long-term event.  We were not going home today, maybe not for many days.

As the day went on, the waiting room was filling up. Mom finally arrived. Bill’s screams continued. There was nothing better than having my mom with me in these scary early moments.  At some point, I could no longer sit and listen to his cries, so I fled the room in tears. Mom followed me.

“Hey,” Mom said as she held her arms open and enveloped me in a hug. I had no words, only tears. I sobbed there for some time. She rubbed my back and cried right along with me. We just stood there in the middle of the hallway. 

After a bit, she said, “Take a break. Take some deep breaths. Go get a snack. Walk around out here for a while.”

“I can’t. I have to go back in there in case they call me.”

“I will go back, and if they call I will come and get you.”

“I love you Mom.”

“I love you, too. Now go get some air.”

 Once I pulled myself together, I went back into the waiting room about the time the nurse was calling for me. In the hallway, outside his cubicle curtain, she gave me and Mom a little speech.  

“If you feel faint do not try to walk, just get down on the floor and we will get you out.  If you feel you will vomit, same thing, just get down on the floor and we will help you.  It will not help him if you faint and hit your head, so be cautious.  Also, remember that plastic surgery can fix his face.  He looks pretty bad at the moment, but that can be fixed.”  

So, with that wonderful admonition she pulled back the curtain and I stepped inside.

4 thoughts on “Chapter 2

  1. That must have been one of the most stressful and challenging days. Thank you for sharing your story and bringing awareness to TBI – I hope you’re able to turn the draft into book soon!

  2. This reader is hanging in there, on every word, and waiting for the next installment. God Bless you for writing and help you with every tap of the keyboard!

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