I updated my post on July 3, exactly 25 years after the event.
What does a Burger King Parking lot, an empty beer bottle, and a hunting rifle have to do with my story of surviving from a head injury? Everything, I had spent over 15 years seeking the truth and piecing together this puzzle. I found all of the pieces a few years back, but continued waging a war within myself.
For many years after my traumatic brain injury, I struggled with not knowing the full story from that fateful night. The past could not be changed. It's as if I was living in the shadows of my former self. My understanding of the event and story unravelled over time. Eventually, nothing could salvage this lie.
Life catches up to you in unexpected ways. Sometimes we fail to see the side reflected, even if it's staring right at us. Not knowing your past can weigh heavily on one's soul.
Changing your outlook on life eases the troubled mind. But it can be difficult. I try to find the good in all people. Happiness is life's greatest gift to give yourself. Be as strong as a rock and reach out to others for help. Fill your soul up instead with enlightenment and you will find redemption.
It was a hot summer night
The sky was clear and it was a beautiful sunny day many years ago on the 3rd of July. I was home from college on summer break. My high school buddies Randy and Brian called. We went out for a night of dancing and chasing girls at a club in Renton, Washington. Randy drove his '66 Ford Mustang. It was the 'ultimate babe magnet' every guy wanted.
Acting as irresponsible teens, we left home, drank a few beers, and headed out to the dance club. Along the way, we stopped at the Renton Burger King. It was a wrong turn in my life that I live with forever.
Pulling in we saw a belligerent guy standing at the restaurant's entrance. This was one of my last memories of that evening. Randy parked his car. My back was to the world, closing the car door. Then a moment of silence hit and was replaced with darkness. Everything was gone. The darkness filled with a loud ringing sound. "What in the hell -- where am I… why is this happening?"
I had been struck on the back of the head and then either kicked in the head or curb-stompted. Today, I face doors while seated, and feel uncomfortable with my back toward people. The ringing I first heard in that void, stayed with me. I don't know how long I was unconscious.
Life came crashing down and changed in an instant
Finding myself in an unfamiliar place, I'm looking down upon my body. It's as if I'm floating thirty feet from above, there's blood everywhere, from head to toe. My inside voice spoke "this is not a dream, if I stay asleep on the ground I will die. Wake up and take a deep breath"… my eyes opened up.
Not able to move or stand, somehow I reached for my head. The ringing was still present as I cupped my left-ear. Then I felt something leaking. Looking at my hand, it was not blood. Telling myself "I don't want to die," I reached for my ear to plug the leak.
To this day, from time-to-time and without warning, I have this dream. It's as real as the day it happened.
Time froze before an ambulance arrived. At the hospital, my family was told that my chance of survival was about 40%. I had bruising on the brain, and a skull fracture that went through and punctured my left eardrum. The fracture caused a cerebral hemorrhage with significant blood and spinal fluid loss -- a subdural hematoma formed.
I am lucky to be alive. I spent 17 to 18 days in the hospital, a good chunk of it in and out of a coma, and in the ICU. As the doctors worked on me in the emergency room, I felt as if I was looking down at my still body from above.
Edema then set in. Over the next two weeks, I had a number of spinal taps to drain the fluid, stop the swelling and relieve the intracranial pressure. Another individual was admitted with the same injury, he died, but for me a second chance at life awaited.
After leaving the hospital, I spent many hours and days over the next few years seeing neurologists, physicians, and chiropractors. I underwent treatments, had numerous MRIs, brain scans, and spinal adjustments to heal. Vestibular problems and migraines continued to follow me, I was on pain and seizure meds.
I was told not to expect a normal life and to limit my physical activities. But I'm headstrong, determined, obstinate, and turned a deaf ear to my physicians. Now I take part in all sorts of physical activities; from biking, hiking, snow shoeing, and skiing, to weight lifting.
The only lasting physical effects that still linger are a few bad headaches, sometimes a numbness on the back of my head, and a partial hearing-loss in my left ear. Tinnitus set in on that night, now ringing constantly.
On that night my world changed. A lot of my childhood memories were forever erased , it's as if the mirror was broken and only a few of the pieces could be picked up. There is the me that was, and the me that now exists after the assault.
How do I move forward while living with this broken past? Well, my distant memories maybe incomplete, but I still have my name! New memories can be made, I must move forward.
In late September after my TBI, I returned to college, and for a period of about three years experienced petit mal seizures. A few larger seizures occurred. My balance was off, leading to many headaches with vomiting.
Seared into my memory, is the image of me experiencing a seizure while out with friends at a college party. I'm falling to the ground and tweaking, people are standing around, laughing as if it was a joke. Looking back, they probably thought I was just another drunk college kid.
But that hit me hard. It was my "dirty secret" from that point on and for many years. I was scared and embarrassed shitless about the stigma attached to survivors of head injury. For me it was real, how could I blend into this world now?
While back at college, I was reminded that we can all be here one day and gone the next. My friend Rick, died in an auto rollover accident. He was returning to campus late one night. His car left the road, landing in a ravine on a mountain pass.
Every action leads to a consequence
Ten years flew past since the accident. I had not spoken to my buddy Randy, our driver on that night. Over time, I believed that many friends thought of me as different. I still made friends, but concealed my "dirty secret," only sharing it with my closest confidants.
Its common for survivors of TBI to withdraw from society and have difficulty developing relationships. Sometimes it seems overwhelming, stressful and as if I'm trapped. Until it affects you it's just invisible, but for the survivor, the injury is far from over — it goes unseen, it is pervasive and is undeniable.
A few years had past by when a call came from a friend. Randy had committed suicide with his rifle. That hit me hard. I blamed myself for not reaching out to him. I thought for years that he, like others, just didn't see me as the same person. This cycle of thinking went on and on, year after year.
After his funeral, I learned that on that horrible night of my injury, an empty beer bottle, may have been placed under a tire of the belligerent jerk's truck. I do not know who placed it there and do not care anymore. Now I don't know if I was leaving or returning to the car. It is not worth dwelling on for an eternity. Life is too precious and will speed right by if you let it.
There are a lot of things in life that we take for granted. My perspective of time, like many other survivors, now includes life afterward, and I often view it as an abstract element. As time passes by, I search for acceptance, equality, a feeling of normalcy, and mutual respect.
Being paranoid, untrusting, and over evaluating everything that happens doesn't help. Most of my problems stem from the psycho-social side of living with fear and guilt after the event, while dwelling on what happened.
It's hard hiding the real me, the guy with a head injury . I let people know little about this darker-side. It takes a great deal of effort for me to develop friendships at work because of this paranoia. My goal is to not work harder to force relationships, to just be me, and leave stress and negative thoughts behind.
I try hard being a team player by looking for opportunities to expand my career, continue to do my best, and be helpful to my coworkers. I wish to be a better person, and look forward to new challenges and creative endeavors as a part of my work group.
Like most TBI survivors, I do not want sympathy or pity. We all want equal treatment and to open the doors, that we perceive as closing us out.
A very different person at home and with friends
At home and with friends, it's as if I'm normal and have nothing to hide. I have a great loving family, wife, and two teenage daughters. That's another story in itself, as anyone who has raised teens would know. I'm extremely blessed that I came out of the experience without serious life-changing injuries.
I've come to terms with myself and my past. I don't want to hide behind my "dirty secret" anymore. It's a deadweight that drags you down. Toss yours away and you can be free to be the person you are truly meant to become. Refuse to believe that your life will be incomplete. After all, how many people can stare death in the face while being granted a second chance at a life worth living!