Part 1 is here.
B took me home on Thursday night. I have a vague recollection of being wheeled through the hospital corridor. We have a picture he took of me sitting in the wheelchair outside the hospital, waiting to get in the car. My eyes are black and tired. I’m wearing B’s ACDC t-shirt and one of his flannel shirts. I’m half-heartedly smiling, because you smile in photos, but my heart isn’t in it. I know that we went home, and I know that the next day, Friday, we went back to the hospital because I started having headaches. Horrible headaches that had me in agony. I don’t know what they did for me, maybe medication? We returned home that night.
The next week or so is mostly gone from my memory. I remember that we went to the Bank of America drive-up so we could deposit our rent check for the landlord. I remember B and I went for a walk around the lake behind our apartment, and he pulled some clementines off a tree we passed. The first solid memory I have is of my ex’s wife, actually. She and my ex and our son had come to see me, and I guess B had told them that I hadn’t had a bowel movement since the accident. He’d been making me smoothies mixed with Miralax and had even given me two enemas. Thank fuck I don’t remember that! My ex’s wife, however, has some gastrointestinal issues of her own, and she suggested suppositories. In fact, when they left, they went to the store to buy suppositories and brought them back for me. That’s my first real memory: My ex’s wife coming to our apartment with laxative suppositories because I hadn’t taken a shit in 2 weeks.
It took a few more days before my mind started storing memories again, but they didn’t stay long. I had to start a notebook for everything that happened around me: who I’d seen or talked to, what medicine I’d taken, what issues I was having, and so on. I finally learned that I’d missed some follow-up appointments—again, no one knew they’d been scheduled. I had to check in with work. I had to get in touch with the police who were investigating the accident. (Actually, I’d answered questions from an officer in the hospital, and I’d told him there was a “blue car” at the scene, so at some point I must have known what had actually happened.) I learned that the hospital at first had listed me as a 20-something female (I was in my late 30s) because they didn’t have my ID. Then somehow my records got crossed, and I was listed as a male. Believe me, there’s no mistaking that I’m female, but somehow that was in my records. Then my job called to find out why I was out on disability for a “broken nose”; the only doctor that had filed paperwork had been the ENT. The girl who called me that day got an earful, believe me.
A few weeks later, I went to an oral surgeon to have my teeth looked at. During my visit, he told me that he was going to remove the stitches from my eyebrow because they looked like they should have been taken out. Another follow-up I’d missed. He also told me that the cut in my upper lip had what they called “asphalt tattooing”—if I tightened my lips just right, you could see black asphalt buried deep into the skin. More proof and a permanent reminder that I’d faceplanted.
Out in the world, I was a mess. I couldn’t tell my rights from my lefts. I couldn’t count above ten. I couldn’t remember what had been said to me or what I was doing or saying for longer than a few seconds. I was having horrible headaches of all kinds—tension headaches, cluster headaches, ice pick-stabbing headaches, you name it—all the time. I was panicked because I knew I couldn’t go back to my job at the bank (who’s going to trust their money to a banker who can’t count?) but I didn’t know if anyone would believe that I was really this messed up. I worried that people would think I was faking it for insurance. I started to wonder if I was faking it, if I was really having these issues or just making it all up in my screwed up head. I couldn’t tell what was real anymore.
In April, I finally sat down with a neuropsychologist at a brain trauma recovery clinic and had neurocognitive testing done to determine exactly how bad it was, and that’s when two things happened: I learned that I really was as messed up as I thought, and there was treatment available to help. I was signed up for occupational therapy, speech therapy, and physical therapy. I began going several times a week, and over the next few months I slowly regained some control over my brain. I still had headaches. I didn’t get my teeth repaired until May; B and I got married a week after I got my crowns put on. We had already been making plans to elope in the fall before the accident happened, but now we wanted to be sure that we were legally responsible for each other in case anything like this ever happened again. However, I refused to get married with two broken front teeth.
I lost my job; the bank refused to continue my disability because their adjusters or whoever determined that I was capable of returning to work. I still couldn’t do math or retain information well, but they insisted I could return to my job as a bank supervisor. So I quit. I had no other option. Over the next year, I had emotional and PTSD issues that got so bad I could actually watch my moods change in the mirror. After several months, B told me that I had to get some help or we were done; I’d made our lives so miserable. I went to a psychiatrist, but I was adamant that I would not take any medication that caused weight gain; I’d had bad experiences with two antidepressants in the past, and I was already very overweight, with a bad back, and would not do anything to make that worse. It certainly wouldn’t help my mental health anyway!
Fortunately, the psychiatrist was a forward thinking and very flexible man, something I’d never experienced. He wanted to put me on a mood stabilizer, but all of the approved drugs had weight gain as a side effect. I did some research on my own and found a drug that could be used off-label for mood and had the benefit of weight loss. He agreed to try it, and it worked. Later, we added an antidepressant that also didn’t cause weight gain.
It took a long time, but I got better. I’ve never returned to my full 100% status, but I learned to adapt to my brain’s new circuits. I have scars. Part of my head, from my eyebrow to the crown, is still numb from being sliced by the broken goggles. It’s this weird narrow line of numbness in my face. With time, the mood stabilizing drug I was using began negatively affecting my cognition, and I felt myself backsliding. We’d moved to small town hell by then, and I went to a new neuropsychologist for testing. The results were upsetting; I was actually worse than I’d been in the weeks after the accident! We weaned me off the drug. I was also taking a benzodiazepine that I later chose to stop (weaning myself down), and that really helped clear my brain. I remained on the antidepressant, and still do to this day.
Eventually, I could freelance edit again, so I had some income. A few years after the accident, and after all the medication issues, I got that DMV job I mentioned the other day, so clearly I was back to near-full functionality; believe me, DMV employees can sometimes seem brain dead, but that shit is complicated to learn and process. Of course, then I was in my second accident, which set me back again. But that’s a novel for another anniversary.
I’ve never written all this down before, so forgive me for just running with it. I guess I just needed to get it all down. I’ve left some things out, partly for space and partly because I can’t quite remember how or why or what anymore. My memory, in general, is okay, but not anything like it was before. Friends used to call me up to remember things about their lives because I seemed to remember everything. Now, not so much. I remember my life before the accident as well as I ever did, but things I do, movies or shows I watch, people I meet, foods I eat…they don’t stick anymore, not as well as they used to. I have to use my phone calendar to make appointments or to remember the birthdays of people who are newer in my life. I suppose I went from an above-average memory to a normal one? That’s what people tell me.
It was hard to get used to the new me. I’m not sure I’ll ever fully let go of who I used to be. Anniversaries are the hardest. But I’m happy with who I am today, so I’ve reached some kind of acceptance.