Rain Drops Falling on My Head
May 8, 2021 is the 5 year anniversary of my accident. The idea for this blog formed about 4 years ago and it's taken me that long to piece together the website, lists of topics to write about, begin to write....all of it. Damn slow, but here I am. Thanks joining me.
Now here's the beginning of my story:
May 8, 2016 is well, the day that literally did change my life forever. You've heard that saying, I've heard that saying. It's so heavy with drama. But the interesting thing for me is that day didn't really seem all that dramatic even after what happened.
Well....Denver had a lot of rain that weekend. Too much. The ground was over saturated and people's homes were flooding. I received a call from one of my tenants who lives in one of our nearby rental homes. The water alarms were going off in the cellar. I had just gotten back from visiting my then -fiancee Cory in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The last thing I wanted to do was go out in the pouring rain but that's what you do when you're a landlord.
Sure enough, the cellar had flooded. A call to our plumber was not great - he would be busy for 3 days with worse flooding situations before he could come out and install a sump pump. He suggested I pump out the water with a shop vac and put sandbags around the new water heater that was in the cellar until he could get there. Very sexy landlord stuff.
I was back out at the rental the next morning and started the process of vacuuming, hauling and dumping a 10 gallon container of water - one after the other, until the cellar was fairly clear of water. Going up and down 8 steps in a narrow, dark ground cellar - the kind where the door lifts out of the floor, is not the most enjoyable way to spend a morning.
Then I had the joy of throwing sand bags down into the cellar. Did I mention that I'm handy and used to renovation/repair work? I actually love renovating. But I'm digressing.
So where does the TBI come in? After I threw the last sand bag down into the cellar, I started down the stairs for what must have been the 11th or 12th time, to arrange them around the water heater to prevent water from damaging it. Just as my head was level with the floor, the 50 lb cellar door crashed down on my head, as I remained standing on the stairs. In looking back, I think shock set in immediately. My right hand immediately held the right side of my head. That side of my head felt weird...lifted. My left hand came up immediately and started pushing upwards on the door.
I have a clear memory of looking at the cellar wall just 5 feet in front of me as I sat on the steps holding my head and then I was facing the stairs and shoving the door up and open and crawling back up, out of the cellar.
I don't remember how I turned around. My doctors much later determined that I must have been unconscious for several seconds, at least.
At the top of the stairs, I yelled for my tenant to call 911 and then somehow pulled my phone out of my pocket and called Cory in Santa Fe. It was then that I felt and saw all the blood.
The 911 operator was arguing with my tenant, as he couldn't understand how a door hit me on top of the head. I grew up in the Midwest where cellars are common (think tornados) but west of the Mississippi, lots of folks simply don't know what they are.
Well, I started screaming lots of foul language. It went something like this: " You fucking idiot! Send the paramedics before I bleed to death! The door is in the fucking floor and I was under it! Send the paramedics now!"
That worked. Because within what felt like no more than 1 minute we could hear the sirens from the local fire department. About 10 hunky firemen and paramedics showed up. Yes, I did notice that. I was injured, not dead. They stared a lot. Thank goodness I was in shock and couldn't see what they saw.
I was crying at this point and worrying out loud that the doctors would shave my head. I was getting married in one month. That of course got all the boys (aka firemen and paramedics) to teasing me and making Sinead O'Connor jokes. Thanks guys.
So at this point, I think pictures really do speak louder than words. Please, please be prepared. They are graphic. These pictures are the ones the doctors in the ER took of me.
Even now five years later, it's very difficult for me to look at these pictures. I know it's me, but I still feel dissociated from the fact that this actually happened to me and what it's done to my life.
Take a breath and scroll down for a look..............
The firefighters, paramedics and doctors all gathered in my ER room, staring at me. Even in my completely freaked out state I noticed how much attention they were paying to my injury. I think they were either freaked out too or amazed that I was alive. My neurologist weeks later told me I was very lucky to be alive, let alone walking and talking. That's why all the ER folks were staring. They couldn't grasp how I was still alive, let alone speaking. Much later, I learned the cut had sheared by white matter. More on what that means in a bit.
The stitches, well... actually the 11 lidocaine injections in my scalp, was the worst part. The pain was brutal. I'd much rather get hit in the head with that 50 lb door again than endure those injections. My dear friend Bill came to be with me at the hospital. He's one of the most wonderful people in my world. Fearless, kind and has a great sense of humor. I think he lost the feeling in his hand with me squeezing it so hard. I am forever grateful to my dear friend for him being there with me. You see, my blood family is all out East. Having one of my chosen family drop everything and rush to the ER to be with me - within minutes of my arrival was just pure love.
Now for the white matter issue.
Much later I was told my white matter had been sheered. What is white matter? According to the National Institute of Health: White matter is found in the deeper tissues of the brain (subcortical). It contains nerve fibers (axons), which are extensions of nerve cells (neurons). Many of these nerve fibers are surrounded by a type of sheath or covering called myelin. Myelin gives the white matter its color. It also protects the nerve fibers from injury. Also, it improves the speed and transmission of electrical nerve signals along extensions of the nerve cells called axons.
By comparison, gray matter is tissue found on the surface of the brain (cortical). It contains the cell bodies of neurons, which give gray matter its color.
I'll get into the challenges with white matter sheering in another post. There's lots to share with you.
I ended up having 38 stitches: 11 interior and 27 on the surface of my scalp.
It's as if I was nearly scalped.
It's amazing that the doctors didn't shave my head. It seems impossible, right? How did they get all my hair out of the way in order to cleanly stitch me up? However those two docs did it, I am grateful. Ego can be a delicate thing at times. Hair is big deal for a lot of women.
I did look like Medusa for several days afterwards until I could take a shower. Drugs and lots and lots of sleep will help anyone ignore matted, blood soaked hair for a few days. 18 hours a day kind of sleep.
These are the worst pictures you'll see of me. I don't know how to get across in words what the pictures show. I'm sorry if I freaked anyone out. Head injuries aren't pretty.
The doctors did not do a CAT scan in the ER. They did not talk to me about a concussion. They did not talk to me about seeing a neurologist. They only asked me if I blacked out. How the hell am I supposed to know if I blacked out? I was alone. No one witnessed the door hitting me. The essence of blacking out means you can't remember what happened during the black out. Jeez. Just stupid. And this was at a respected Denver hospital. Take note of that. Just because you or your loved one is treated for a head injury at a respected hospital, it doesn't mean the docs know what they are doing. There is no such thing as a traumatic brain injury specialty within neurology.
My husband was informed of this by Dr. Brent Masel MD, the national medical director of the Brain Injury Association of America. He's been advocating for such a speciality for decades. Any given neurologist is not necessarily well informed on brain injuries. It depends upon that individual doctor's work experience. Expertise with Parkinson's does not translate to expertise in TBI. Ask lots of questions. Get second and third opinions. It's important. It matters to the quality and extent of your brain healing.
I spent the next 7 days sleeping 18 hours a day. I slept, woke up, peed, ate very little and slept again. It was blissful sleep.
Not the "I'm so exhausted I can't sleep kind of sleep." The kind like a puppy sleeping on its back with legs sticking in the air and no awareness of how silly it looks, kind of sleep.
Now for the second thing to take note of: The ER doctors gave me a dose of Zoloft because I was so jacked up from the adrenaline. That's another big no-no for an injured brain. No drugs other than ibuprofen on a newly injured brain. My neurologist nearly busted a blood vessel in his forehead when he was informed weeks later that the ER had dosed me. The brain shuts down all the unessential workings and focuses on healing itself. It's a highly complex machine, per-say. There are lots of chemical and electrical things happening in there. Drugs on a closed head injury right away - without knowing what injuries may have occurred - is not an accepted practice by TBI knowledgable neurologists, in my experience.
Exactly 7 days later, my adventure with my head trauma began. I woke up Sunday morning and I just didn't "feel right". I could not describe what was wrong to my husband. I just knew something was wrong. Wrong to the point that I began crying with fear. Fear driven by some unknown source. I'm not a crier. I'm not easily shaken. Honestly, I was scared.
I ended up back in the ER. The same ER. This time however, fate intervened for me.
I was seen by a doctor who had been a trauma doctor in Afghanistan. He had treated many soldiers with head injuries. He ordered a CAT scan for me and thankfully it was clear. Note - a CAT scan should be done right away after a head injury. It might not seem necessary but it's the quickest way to ensure there isn't a visible injury or bleeding on the brain. I had no bleeding on my brain, thank goodness. But the doctor was concerned over some of the quick manifestation of symptoms I was experiencing (memory loss, fumbling words, balance) and forcefully told me that I had to see a neurologist as soon as possible. The doctor explained that most people with head injuries do not see a neurologist (this is referring to folks who have insurance) until symptoms become a real problem. That wait impacts the person's recovery - if she/he recovers and to what extent.
So I learned four things within the first 7 days of my TBI:
1) get a CAT scan as soon after it happens as possible
2) have your loved one/caregiver ask lots of questions in regards to the doctor(s) TBI knowledge. Your memory may already be impaired.
3) no narcotics or anti-depressants in the ER. Wait for a formal consultation with a neurologist you trust to form a treatment plan.
4) get in to see a neurologist as soon as possible for a full evaluation.
In those early days of my TBI, I didn't view it as a big deal. Honesty. I had this attitude that I hit my head, got a cut, needed to sleep and rest a lot and then I'll be back to my life full throttle. Our wedding wasn't postponed. Friends step in and helped with all the last minute details. Adrenaline is a wonderful thing at times. It propelled me through the day. Of course it being a happy occasion surrounding by loved ones is always good medicine.
I never felt sorry for myself or thought that I must have done something wrong or deserved to get hit due to bad karma. Shit happens sometimes.
Those rain drops that became flood waters in the cellar of my rental property appear to have been a foreboding of the flood of challenges I would soon begin to experience.
That sounds trite, doesn't it? But I'll be damned if it wasn't true.