The writing of Bill’s section of our story has been a painstaking process. He dictated hours of random thoughts about a particular topic. I typed, trying to keep up with his racing free flow of thought. Then I tried to find the thread to follow in the midst of rabbit trails; the core of his message. I wrote it out, in a way which made sense, while still trying to keep it in his authentic voice. Hopefully, we have succeeded in expressing what it feels like to live with a TBI from the survivor’s perspective. Our hope is to give a voice to so many others, who lost their ability to articulate. This is Chapter 1 of Bill’s story from his perspective.
When we started writing this book we still had the original plan for me to tell the story chronologically. When Michelle asked me what I remembered I told her what I did, and what I didn’t. There was far more of what I didn’t. We went for a drive to a local waterfall to begin writing it, me with unidentifiable anxiety and Michelle with her computer. There was some trepidation for me that I couldn’t describe. I was antsy and a bit agitated to talk about it all, which made it all the more important to dig into it. It was near the anniversary of my accident. That particular date is a monument which marks a day of before and after in my wife’s life. A day of reckoning so to speak. For her, it is the day of a monumental shift where everything changed. For me, it is not that way at all. I don’t have a before. I only have an after. I don’t remember what I was like before. I am told I am different now than I was then and that’s all I know. For me, I don’t feel different, it is just a continuum of my life.
I think part of my avoidance of talking about it that day was how much it grieves me that Michelle had this horrific time in her life because of me, and I can’t relate to her emotionally. I can’t help her with it, or heal it for her, or work through it at all, because I don’t remember any of it. She tells me the things I did, and I am horrified in my mind, but I don’t feel it. I can help talk through things intellectually, but emotionally I can’t connect at all to her pain. I can say I am sorry, and it could help some, but I have no connection to the feeling of it. I say I am sorry, because it is what you do when you know you have hurt someone. For me it is just head knowledge of what happened, but for her, it is deep emotional pain which I have no part of. It is a big day for her each year to mark the day our lives turned upside down. For me, it is just another day. I am grateful to be alive, and I know that is why we celebrate the anniversary of my accident in our family, but I don’t even know how to talk about it. It’s a day everything changed, and I don’t remember any of it…so what the hell am I supposed to say about it? On this day, for the sake of this book, I tried to put the feelings, which I have more of than specific memories, into words.
It’s been over 30 years. I should have done more with my life in that time. I have no patience because I am ADHD to the hilt. Yet, I can sit and tune a piano for hours. I can do tedious things sometimes, but others I can’t sit still. My TBI makes me a dichotomy, unstable and unable to be consistent, which is a big problem in my life. It holds me back. Heaven knows I have tried, and Michelle has tried to help me. It feels quite a mess, like I am lost and cannot find my way. Mostly, it feels like failure. In thirty years, I should have been in a different place, but I’m not…we’re not, and that feels bad deep inside me.
As we sat at a picnic table beside the trail, to try to match my memories with hers. She asked me, “What do you remember?” I was flummoxed. As far as memories go, what I remember of the accident day is only snippets. Nothing chronological at all. Just like still photos in my head that don’t seem to go together. They are foggy. I am not sure if some of them are real, or if because she has told me the stories, I have a false memory. I remember having breakfast the morning of the accident at IHop in Roswell, GA with a family from the church where I was a Children’s Pastor. I have trouble pinning past memories to specific days. I remember breakfast, I know I did that on the morning the accident happened. I’ve been told I did. I remember getting some papers from them to look over later. I met with them more than once, so it can get a little blurry which meeting I remember.
I can’t do chronological. I only have bits and pieces after breakfast that morning. Nothing more from the day of. But then, walking the halls. Vague memory of a wheelchair. The door in my room had a window in it. I had to wear a belt over my clothes. I hated it, I remember not wanting people to see me wearing it because they would think I was a crazy patient. I thought all the other patients were crazy and I didn’t want to be one of them. Ha! I remember there was a dining room, and I had some job I got to do there, but I don’t remember what it was. I remember people asking me the date. I would go look at the calendar so I would know, but then not be able to remember, which was frustrating to me. I have memories of them giving me lists of things to remember. I remember physical therapy, but then it gets blurred because of the other rehab place I went to later on. I am not sure what is from the hospital or what is from rehab. I remember people following me around. I thought they were stalkers. I didn’t know they were there to make sure I was safe. I remember going home for day visits and having to go back to the hospital. I was nervous about being home, really scared, but I didn’t want to go back to the hospital either. I wanted to be home. All of these things are several weeks after the accident. I remember nothing close to it at all…a few snippets before, and nothing after. To this day, I haven’t actually remembered the accident or the days immediately following. I think I lost several weeks of time.
Another memory is going home from the hospital. My mind jumps around in time, so this is much later on. I don’t really know how to describe this vague feeling I had. I’ve never quite tried to communicate this or thought about this, I remember going home, but feeling like I am not sure if I belonged there. I felt lost. Like, what am I supposed to do now? I remember going into the house and feeling a sense of being unsure and afraid. No schedule, no responsibility, no job. I was so nervous. I felt trepidation. I feel it now, just talking about it. Insecurity. Not confident. I thought I was supposed to know what to do, but I didn’t. It was a bad feeling.
When I look back at that time it might have been the realization I was not who I used to be. Only I couldn’t verbalize it, I could only feel it, and not even really know what I was feeling. It was a very uncomfortable feeling that I used to be one way and then I was different…I don’t remember what I was before. I hate that.
I remember going to court to plead nolo contendere. I was told to say that, so I did. So, there was no penalty. I didn’t think I did anything wrong, but I had a traffic violation for following too close, since I hit the truck from the rear. I couldn’t remember what I was doing or anything about the day of the accident. The judge thought I was bad off since they had to check me out of the hospital to go to court. My dad had information from a private investigator he had hired to find out what happened.
I didn’t know someone pulled out in front of me, or that there were three cars totaled. I didn’t remember it was raining, or that the construction truck that pulled out in front of me had long lumber hanging out the back, which is what hit my head at 60 miles an hour. I didn’t know a bystander had removed my seatbelt to try to pull me out, in case the car was going to blow up, but no one would help him, and I was pinned inside until the jaws of life arrived. I didn’t know I was unconscious at the scene, but when I woke up it took 7 people to get me in the ambulance because of the fight or flight response. I don’t remember being handcuffed and tied down in order to control me and get me help. I didn’t really know anything about any of it, only what I have been told later. It sounds terrible and I am glad I don’t remember. It is like I am talking about what happened to another person, not me.
I remember my friend Jim Moon coming. That could be a false memory, because my wife has told me about his visit, and how perfectly timed it was for her. He was there on the day they moved me to the rehab unit. I don’t remember anything before rehab, nothing about ICU, or the surgical unit. I think I lost several weeks of time. I remember other people coming and going, but not anyone specific. Lots of visitors, but I can’t recall any of them. I remember a tape player in my room. I don’t remember throwing it because I didn’t want to hear music. I didn’t know there were three different tape players because I kept breaking them, but my wife wouldn’t give up trying to play music for me.
I remember the boy next door that had a fence post go through his head in his accident. I knew he was worse off than me since he couldn’t talk or move his head at all. He couldn’t get out of the bed at all. His mom was nice to me. I remember being across from the nurses’ station. I didn’t know the window in my door was so they could watch me closely to make sure I wasn’t hurting myself or doing crazy things. I remember walking past the babies in the nursery and looking at them. They were cute. I think there was a TV room and we tried to watch the Olympics. I didn’t know I couldn’t sit still for more than 5 minutes and I paced and walked the halls to keep moving. I remember I had some kind of job at meal time, but I didn’t know it was taking trays from the people in wheelchairs and putting them away. I didn’t know they gave it to me to keep me busy since I couldn’t sit still. I felt pride that I had responsibility. I thought I was better off than the others. I remember talking to people and feeling I provided an important service. Like a waiter. I felt less…damaged. I was helping people worse than me. I used my people skills…always trying to be charming.
I remember looking at my calendar to show them I was smart. I remember thinking they were over concerned that I knew what day it was. So I would go look and then I still couldn’t give them the right date. I felt I was outsmarting them to go look at my calendar right before they asked me the daily questions. Funny, I knew they were going to ask, but I couldn’t get the answer right. So frustrating.
I remember the belt and having to wear it. I wanted to hit my dad with it, because he was antagonizing me. I felt mocked. He was trying to be funny by calling me Cripple, but I didn’t think it was funny at all. He was trying to lighten things up, but I got really mad at him. I don’t remember Michelle stepping between us so I wouldn’t hit him, but I remember the feeling I was going to explode.
I do have a memory of riding in a wheelchair, before the belt. I didn’t know I made people walk me constantly at a specific speed…not too fast, not too slow…for hours and hours. I didn’t know my family all tag teamed to take turns pushing me. I don’t remember learning to walk again. I do remember my wife taking me to the chiropractor to try to fix my shorter leg. We went several times, before it finally shifted. In my first memories after the accident, I was walking, so I guess I lost time. I remember one day I was looking for Michelle and couldn’t wait for her to get there. I put on the sweatshirt she liked and said I looked good in and waited. I was so happy to see her come around the corner that day. She has told me that is the day I was back…she could see the sparkle in my eyes again. I only remember being happy to see her.
I also remember being excited about a necklace I got her on Valentine’s Day. My dad gave it to me, but I really thought I picked it out. I can’t remember what she got me. I didn’t care about that, because I was so excited about giving her the necklace. I thought I gave her pearls, but she says that was for our wedding. I get things mixed up sometimes. It was opal with diamonds around it, now when I see it I remember it. I don’t remember the stuffed dinosaurs with their necks twisted together that she bought me at the gift shop. I also don’t remember telling her all about how I went shopping to pick out the necklace. I guess I made that up since I didn’t know how I got it.
I remember playing an electronic poker game and making houses with playing cards. I don’t know how I had the focus for making those houses. Houses which always came crumbling down, like life. I don’t remember exploding when they would fall. I remember pacing and walking in circles around the hospital. I remember being mad and hitting the windshield of the car and breaking it. I wonder if Michelle ever doubted I would get back to stable consciousness? I want to know what scared her, but at the same time, I don’t. I don’t want to ask. I don’t want to remember any more.
7 thoughts on “Bill Chapter 1”
What a beautiful effort to process the unbelievable pain you’ve been through. In light of this trauma, your recovery and the hard work you did looks heroic. Thanks to you both for doing the work to share the story.
It’s been a long road. We are hoping others who have similar brain issues will find some encouragement from reading it.
Thank you, Bill for sharing your story. I know it was hard to do. You & Michelle are an inspiration to all. Love to you both
WOW!! Really great job, Bill! You and Michelle are such an inspiration! I can really feel you in this. I love you and am honored to have been a witness to the beautiful man you were both before AND after the accident. I respect your feelings that you don’t think you’ve accomplished much in 30 years, but I see a glowing family (and anyone you meet) that tells me otherwise. You are always a RADIANT JOY to be around – funny and kind and genuine. Your vibration alone elevates the whole earth! May God continue to bless you both!!
Oops, sorry. That was from me, cousin Cristy! I thought it knew who I was. 🙂
WHEW! The telling of your story, the effort to remember and actually sharing the fragments, one by one, with readers, seems to me like embarking on a long and arduous journey, one of courage and with the writing help and emotional support of a person who loves you very much. Thank you both, Bill and Michelle, for this gift.