72: My Ray of Sunshine

72: My Ray of Sunshine

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

My Ray of Sunshine

Being deeply loved by someone gives you strength. Loving someone deeply gives you courage.

~Lao Tzu

Life is as good as you make it. I made the most of my time and I loved my life, fitting work, school, homework, and fun with my family and friends into my busy schedule. I was an outgoing, energetic, fun-loving twenty-something, with an optimistic attitude and strong faith. I valued my relationships and worked hard at achieving my goals.

I was living with a close friend while working at a few jobs to put myself through university and become an elementary school teacher. In my last semester, life turned upside down. It was a clear morning on September 25th in 2009. I was working as a traffic controller, wearing my high-visibility gear. As I was holding up my stop sign, I was hit by an SUV at approximately eighty kilometers per hour. I am 5’0” tall and weighed 120 pounds. I flew across the street, out of my steel-toe boots, and landed in front of my coworker.

I was in critical condition. I am told that I technically died but was revived while being airlifted to the hospital. I was admitted to the intensive care unit where I was in an induced coma for six days. After several surgeries, the medical reports indicated that I had bilateral carotid artery dissection and severe brain damage to my frontal lobe, occipital lobe and hypothalamus. In addition, my pelvis was shattered, all of my ribs were cracked, and my sternum, sacrum, cheek, nose, and arm were broken. My spleen was ruptured. The doctor informed me that I would never walk again and that I had retrograde amnesia.

I thought that I was in a strange dream. I couldn’t understand what was happening or who people were. I could barely move and only knew basic facts. But I felt that God was with me and would help me to recover. I told the doctor that I would walk down the aisle at my wedding someday.

During my recovery at the hospital, I had many visitors. I was informed that one was my boyfriend, so I assumed that it was the guy who I was most attracted to. I was told the name of my boyfriend, so I called the best-looking one by that name . . . but I was mistaken. Ray was not my boyfriend, but I thought he was perfection! I zealously declared my love for Ray to all of my visitors. My friends told me that I was just confused, but I was certain that he was the one I wanted. This ended the relationship with my unknown boyfriend. Fortunately, Ray drove an hour to visit me every day.

I had only met Ray ten days before the accident, yet it seemed like he was the only person that I could remember. I tried telling him some events that I thought I remembered, but he corrected me. Somehow that caused my brain to switch back into reality. The realization that I hadn’t been dreaming had left me extremely confused, but even more surprised that Ray was real! He showed love, patience, kindness, thoughtfulness, and every other virtue that I admired. I recognized how selfless it was for him to support and encourage me, while constantly trying to make me happy.

My memory didn’t last longer than the present moments that I was experiencing, so Ray constantly tried to make sure that I felt special. He’d bring me a rose and a slushy drink daily, he’d give me compliments, and he’d take me to get my hair done professionally. Whenever he could, he’d also lie by my side to comfort me. He made me feel unconditionally loved!

Aside from Ray, my life was very difficult. I had lost all of my independence. For a long time, I required help to be fed, bathed, moved, dressed, and even taken to the toilet. I couldn’t sleep. I could only lie down or sit in my wheelchair. I had also lost my sense of smell and taste, so I always ate until I was full. This resulted in weight gain. I was very depressed about that. Ray just said there was just more of me to love.

I was slow to process information and my vocabulary was very simple, I couldn’t follow people’s conversations and I lost my creativity. I also couldn’t grasp the concept of time and frequently repeated myself without knowing it. I always felt stupid and confused. Without visual memory, I couldn’t distinguish fruits, vegetables, meats, animals, or even people that I should have known. I also often made people feel uncomfortable in conversations by blurting out comments that I didn’t know were inappropriate; I didn’t have a filter. I’d even interrupt speakers because I couldn’t hold onto a thought. Ray noticed my struggles and was aware that I could only retain information with focus and repetition, so he encouraged me to ask questions, he repeated answers, and he summarized previous conversations for me. I had so much to relearn.

Although everything was wonderful with Ray, I yearned for the strong friendships that I had before the accident. I needed to expand my social horizons. I had a hard time paying attention, but I tried my best to focus, listen, and not speak until my turn. When I’d talk, I’d ask basic questions. Each night, I tried to review the day, repeating as much “new” information as I could. I found that the amount of information I was able to remember was increasing daily. I spent all of my time learning. I frequently studied a thesaurus to increase my vocabulary, and Ray regularly played games with me to improve my mental faculty. My brain injury no longer seemed obvious to others.

On the other hand, my physical disabilities continued to limit my independence, so I worked very hard with a kinesiologist to strengthen my muscles and improve my range of motion. I had to push through the pain to stand and take my first step while using a walker. I eventually progressed to a cane. Now, I am proud to say that I don’t need any assistance with my walking! I knew what I wanted to do, and I have exceeded all expectations. In May of 2011, Ray and I blissfully walked down the aisle and now we are expecting our first child!

Through my constant pain and distress, I am still the same girl that I was. Being disabled is tough, and people can’t see my cognitive struggles. But with prayer, appreciation, and effort, I will keep moving forward. It is unnecessary to focus on the pain; I focus on positive distractions. I am determined to enjoy my life with my best friend. It’s been a challenge in so many ways, but I am grateful that my Ray of sunshine carried me through the storm!

~Jennifer Wiche

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