99: A Journey Back from Head Trauma

99: A Journey Back from Head Trauma

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

A Journey Back from Head Trauma

When the solution is simple, God is answering.

~Albert Einstein

The nurse leaned over my frail, bandaged body as I lay on the hospital bed. “Patti, open your mouth.” My mouth remained clamped shut. I was stubborn. I was also frightened. “You have to eat to get stronger, Patti. Now please, open your mouth.”

Everything the nurse said mattered. And it would have made sense to most people. Just not to me. Having survived a horrific car crash, my brain was, in many ways, starting over. I had no thoughts, no memories, no feelings, no understanding of what was normal or real or what most people know or do naturally. All I could do was respond to each moment as it happened. Yet each moment I was struggling to survive. Still, by the grace of God, there I was.

Eyewitnesses to the crash that took place on June 18, 2002 weren’t sure what they saw. When the Dodge semi, going 70 mph down the highway pulling a trailer full of cars slammed into the back of the Chevy Tahoe, an off-duty registered nurse watched as what looked like a piece of laundry flew through the air. That piece of laundry was me. As the Tahoe finally came to a stop, my body plummeted back to earth. The force of the impact caused my body to slide the length of a three-story building. I lost well over sixty percent of my blood. My body was damaged beyond recognition and I fell into a coma for six weeks.

The Life Flight helicopter flew me to the nearest trauma center. After the first seventy-two hours, the doctors prepared my family. “If your daughter does wake up from her coma, she may be in a persistent vegetative state. She will never walk again or talk in complete sentences. She won’t be able to see out of her right eye and she’ll never be able to have any type of job or vocation.”

It’s hard, if not impossible, to explain what it was like waking up after suffering a traumatic brain injury. My thoughts were limited to what I could see or hear or touch. My brain was broken. I had no memory of the harrowing event that had landed me in that hospital bed. I certainly didn’t realize then that nothing in my life would ever be the same again. As I lay in that bed at Baylor Institute for Rehabilitation in Dallas, my brain and body had only just begun their slow crawl back to life and health.

I don’t remember much, if anything, of my time coming out of the coma. The days are a blur. The visits from friends and family and the care I received from so many nurses and doctors during my recovery are all stories I have been told. For me, that time is and probably always will be a complete blank.

Memories of my life are like snapshots in a photo album that someone explained to me. I couldn’t comprehend the words people were saying, but I could recognize their nonverbal communication. That’s what I paid attention to the most—the inflection in my dad’s voice, the eye contact between my mother and me, my brother’s habit of holding my hand, a hug from a friend. This was the language that spoke volumes to me, the only language I knew.

Re-learning life following traumatic brain injury requires more than one try. Step by step, we learn to live again. Functioning in the real world demands attention and remembrance. These two traits are extremely difficult for a recovering head trauma survivor. Even as you’re learning new things, you discover that a lot of information can enter your brain and quickly skip right back out. Things come and go so quickly.

The long, day-by-day process of recovery that started in 2002 shows no sign of ending. I still easily forget things on a daily basis. It’s hard work and sometimes I get frustrated. What I once could do so easily and so enjoyably now demands a substantial amount of my mental energy. Before the crash, I was a good listener, a counselor-type of person. Now, as I cope with the deficits, I still like listening to and helping others, but I simply don’t have as much “brain fuel” as I used to have.

I have learned that there’s an upside to short-term memory loss. First of all, I forget many of the mean, hurtful things people say and do. My memory storage bank doesn’t hold much for long. A lot of it disappears, especially the details. By the same token, when I hear good news or read something positive, whether it’s the second, third, or forty-eighth time, I will celebrate as if I’m hearing it for the first time. It’s all new and fresh to me!

I wonder today if I could have made it through the struggles of my ordeal so well if it weren’t for the testimony of Holocaust survivor and author, Corrie Ten Boom. My Aunt Jenny introduced me to her books, though I doubt she realized the impact this amazing woman’s story would have on my life. Corrie’s tale of steadfast faith in the face of adversity gripped my heart and my imagination. How could she not only endure such evil, but come through it with such a deep and abiding belief in God’s love? God used the strength of this courageous Dutch woman to prepare me for the adversity I would face in my own life as a traumatic brain injury survivor. Her strength in dealing with loss stayed with me. And her steadfast faith in the goodness of God helped give me the courage I needed to cope.

What I’ve gone through since the crash has presented me with many unexpected opportunities to give back, to give something that I’ve learned in order to help others with the knowledge I’ve gained along this journey, very much like the apostle Paul teaches us in 2 Cor. 1:3,4. Yes, life is hard, but God is good.

So, as long as God gives me breath and strength and a voice, I will continue to use this gift of life to live my motto: “Make a Difference Now!” I will not squander these blessings but share them. After all, everything I have belongs to God. I am not my own. I am His. He has had a purpose and a plan for all that has happened to me from the moment I hopped in that SUV and headed toward Tyler, Texas.

God has a purpose for you too. I pray you find it . . . and use it to make the kind of difference only you can!

~Patti Foster

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