On this day in 2013, I was in a motor vehicle accident. I’d gone out with my two best friends. We went to a local bar that we frequented for karaoke nights. I was wearing my favorite leather jacket, a dressy tank top, jeans, and my stiletto heels. I felt pretty, and I was ready to have some fun. While we were there, I had three margaritas; I think I also had some fried mushrooms. I was buzzed and having a good time with my girls. During the course of the night, the girls’ significant others showed up (independently) and joined us. The one who came later, D, was a guy I was not fond of. He was known for being way too familiar with women, and he’d come on to me in more often and in more ways than I can count in the few short years I’d known him. But you know how it is; you can pick your friends, but you can’t pick their spouses. He’d been at a gathering at his motorcycle club, so he didn’t arrive until near the end of the evening. His wife had driven me to the bar that night. She was my designated driver.
But she drank.
When it was time to leave, she came and apologized to me. She didn’t feel safe driving out of her way to my apartment. She just wanted to get home. My other friend was going home with her boyfriend on his motorcycle. No room for me there. My only option was D, who was all to happy to offer to drive me on his new Harley. He claimed he hadn’t been drinking, and he hadn’t had a drink while he’d been with us. I don’t know what he’d had or not had at his “meeting.” But I had limited options. B and were living together then, but he worked nights, so I couldn’t call him for a ride. It seemed silly to call a cab when I had a ride. I made what I thought was the best decision. I agreed.
D had been to my apartment on several occasions. In fact, my complex and his own neighborhood were both offshoots of the same highway, just 6 or 7 miles apart. It wasn’t so far out of his way. The only real hitch was that he didn’t have any helmets. In Florida, it’s legal to ride a motorcycle without a helmet. He didn’t wear one, and he didn’t have a spare. I wasn’t sloppy drunk or anything, but I was impaired. I decided to go with him anyway, and I climbed onto the bike in my stiletto heels. I remember being happy that I’d managed not to damage his new leather seats with my sharp heel as I swung my leg over the bike. He got on, and we took off. I don’t remember if I gave him directions or not. I may have. But he also knew where I lived, so I wasn’t worried until I realized we were going the wrong way. He’d gone south instead of north.
I remember the dark, and the empty field along the highway. I remember telling him we were going the wrong way. That’s the last thing I remember, and the last thing I would remember for days to come.
Nobody really knows what happened. His story is that as he was making the U-turn, a car pulled out of parking lot nearby and cut us off, and we hit it. Problem is, the parking lot is a ways down from the place where we had to have made that U-turn, so we should have been able to see the car coming out. We also could not have still been at the slow turning speed, because there was plenty of room for him to have sped up, at least a little, before we got to that spot. But whatever happened, the other car took off, and we ended up on the highway. Based on injuries, we figure that my head snapped forward, because I broke my two front teeth off in the back of his head, requiring stitches. He hit his head on the dash, I guess (is it called a dash on a bike?). There’s some thought that I must have gone over the bike, because I wasn’t pinned by it, and hit the asphalt face first. I’d been wearing goggles, the one piece of safety gear he’d had available, and they’d smashed and cut into my forehead just above my right eyebrow. I think my teeth, now jagged from breaking, went through my lip. I got cuts and roadrash on my hands.
Apparently a good samaritan going the other way saw us on the road and pulled over to help. It couldn’t have been long afterward, because D, who was conscious and still aware enough to function, called his wife and our other friends and told them we’d been in an accident, and they were still close enough to come to the scene quickly. His wife, the woman who hadn’t been able to drive me home, had actually pulled into a Burger King near the bar to order some takeout. She had another friend with her, a woman who lived closer to where she and D lived, and they both came to the scene. The other woman, I’m told, came and sat with me on the highway while my friends and the emergency responders arrived and tried to piece things together. She says I was conscious and talking, but I have no memory of that at all. Or of being put in the ambulance for the 45-minute ride to the hospital. There was a hospital nearby, but it didn’t have a trauma center, or something like that.
Again, all this is based on what people have told me over the months and years since then. D and his wife went to the nearby ER. Somewhere in all this, my other friend had found one of my shoes and my phone and tossed it into her trunk, not realizing that my ID was in the case with the phone. I rode in the ambulance alone, so there was no one there to give my information. I’m told I crashed on the way to the hospital and had to be intubated, or perhaps that happened after I got there, I’m not sure. The friend who had my phone used it to try to call B, and my ex, and my parents, all of whom were listed as my emergency contacts. My parents and my ex were sleeping and didn’t hear the calls. B was at work and had to get coverage to leave. He told me later that he hit 100 mph or so on the way to the hospital. I can’t imagine what he went through.
The next few days are fuzzy. I’ve heard a lot of stories. Some I loved. B told me that when he saw me in the hospital for the first time, I was covered in wires and tubes and all kinds of paraphernalia and my eyes were closed, but when I heard his voice, I reached up both my arms for him. I can imagine that; his arms are the safest place I’ve ever been. Others I’m not so fond of. My ex told me he didn’t know what my status was at first, and he worried that I wouldn’t make it. He didn’t know how he would explain to our son that I was gone. That broke my heart; still does, as I write this. He brought our son to the hospital to see me later; I’m still not sure how I feel about that. I’m sure I was glad to see him at the time, but knowing now how I must have looked, it must have been terrifying for him. I was cut up, my teeth were broken, I had two black eyes, and the blood from my head wound had dried in the back of my hair.
I was hospitalized from early Saturday morning until Thursday night. In that time, I’d asked everyone who came to see me to tell me why my teeth were broken. That was the thing I seemed to focus on, probably because they were jagged and the only thing I was truly aware of. B finally had me hold my mouth open so he could take a picture for me to see. It’s not a pretty picture, even beyond the broken teeth. The nurses came to take me for a walk around the halls, I guess to get me out of bed? I don’t know. But I took off and made them practically chase me around. I pulled out my own catheter, a thought that horrifies me (and later caused my first UTI). I told my ex that there were elves standing next to him.
These were not normal behaviors. Still, aside from assuming that the elf was a drug-induced figment of my imagination, no one took any special notice. B had never seen in me in the hospital and he was traumatized enough, driving an hour each way every day to come be with me and keeping the various family members up to date. No one else was there often or long enough, I guess, or maybe these things just didn’t faze them. But hearing about the weird things I did, I know now that I was already showing signs of a traumatic brain injury.
You have to understand who I am, when I have my wits about me. When my son was born, I had an emergency c-section because he was 6 weeks early and breech. He went to the NICU on the second floor, and I went to a private room on the fifth floor. I couldn’t sleep, and I would call down to the NICU in the wee hours of the morning to find out how he was doing, apologizing to the nurses there (who were awake and working their shifts as usual) for calling so late. When I had to pee, I wouldn’t call for help, even though I’d been sliced and stitched across the midsection and had a IV in one hand, because I didn’t want to be a bother to anyone. Instead, I would struggle alone for 20 minutes each way to the bathroom (5 feet from the bed). One day, when I was trying to get down to see my son before the nurses changed shifts, there weren’t any volunteers around to wheel me there. Rather than call for help and be considered a problem, I wheeled myself to the elevator, down three floors, and around to the NICU. I did whatever the nurses told me to do, and otherwise I did for myself. That’s the kind of patient I was. No trouble.
It sounds to me like I was nothing but trouble in the hospital after the accident. Clearly, I was not in my right mind. They called it a contracoup injury; basically, my brain had been forced and then backward in my skull but the force of the accident. I’d also had some bleeding on my brain. Perhaps they talked to me about it, but I don’t know. B and I weren’t married, so the hospital wouldn’t give him information about me or let him make decisions or sign papers for me. When I was finally out of the ICU and in a room, they came to me when I was alone to talk about my condition, and fuck knows what else, and had me sign things. They told me all the aftercare appointments I was supposed to attend and when I was supposed to get the stitches out of my eyebrow. They wasted their breath, because my brain retained none of it.