94: Good Samaritans

94: Good Samaritans

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

Good Samaritans

We cannot pass our guardian angel’s bounds, resigned or sullen, he will hear our sighs.

~Saint Augustine

On May 11, 2011, I was a solo lawyer in rural Missouri, divorced and living far away from my parents and siblings. I had no children, and most of my friends lived in other cities. My local friends were married and busy with their husbands or kids most of the time. I had just experienced a bad breakup with my boyfriend, and I was not looking forward to another Friday evening alone.

My office at that time was in an historic register brick building owned by my parents. There were apartments on the floor above the office, and a back stairway connecting the office storeroom to the apartments. I remember those stairs well. They were steep, went straight up without a landing or turn, and were made of unfinished wood.

I went to the second floor that night to inspect an apartment at the request of some tenants who were moving out. On the way back to the office, I fell headlong down half a flight of stairs. I tried to break the fall with my right hand, but my wrist broke and I was knocked unconscious when my head hit the stairs.

A tenant found me and called an ambulance. Someone else found my cell phone and called my parents, who lived in Indiana. The ambulance took me to the local hospital, but I was eventually transported to Barnes-Jewish Hospital in St. Louis, an hour and a half away. My brain was hemorrhaging and Barnes could provide treatment that the local hospital could not. My parents were told about the transfer, but they were still hours away from me.

There I was, ninety miles from home and in a hospital without anyone who cared about me nearby. I do not remember it now, but I was conscious, I had a battered head and face, and my wrist was in a cast. I was probably medicated and in a great deal of pain.

Just after I was brought to my room, a man appeared by my bedside. I do not know anything about him. I do not remember if he said anything, what he looked like, or how he happened to find out about the accident. All I know is that the nurse told my parents he stayed by my bedside for hours, until just before my parents arrived in the room. The nurse assumed he was a family member because of his look of concern and the length of time that he stayed with me. He disappeared before my parents saw him.

He has not contacted me since, and I have often wondered who he was. I lived in the St. Louis area many years ago. I went to law school there, worked for a judge, and then a law firm for four years. The judge had passed away, and I had lost touch with the other people I knew in that area. There remained only a few extraordinarily kind men who were close enough to me to have stayed in that hospital room so long: a friend from school, the law school dean, an old boyfriend, and a former boss. What did not make sense, though, is that any one of those men would have stayed to see my parents. The mystery man did not. He had to have been a stranger.

My parents took over after he left. The hemorrhaging stopped and I was allowed to leave the hospital, but I was in no shape to return home and go back to work alone. My parents drove me back and forth from my home and office to their home for months, but I do not remember it.

I already had health problems that affected my ability to work before the accident. Afterward, I continued to practice law and attempted to support myself working part-time for over a year, not realizing the extent to which my intellectual skills had diminished because of the brain injury. I gradually began to understand my limitations, and closed the firm in June 2012. I moved in with my parents and applied for disability.

My parents provided my housing, but I continued getting government and charitable assistance as well as working part-time, as my health allowed, thanks to understanding supervisors, while I waited to hear on the disability claim.

I have been continually surprised that individual volunteers have appeared in my life to help just when I needed them. Strangers called the ambulance when they found me on the stairs. An anonymous person generously paid for my book in a brain injury class when I could not afford it. An assistant at the veterinarian’s office let me put some pills for my dog on credit when I did not have the money for them. Two sweet women conspired to get me a paid writing assignment. And, amazingly, my mysterious guardian angel looked after me in the hospital when my family could not.

I cannot count the kindnesses extended to me for no reason except my need for help. I am grateful for all those thoughtful acts.

Most importantly, however, I am grateful that I have been taught that none of us is ever alone.

~Shelley L. Woodward

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