Two years ago today.
It was a Saturday and I was headed to the third survivor event of the day. The week had been jammed full of survivor speaking engagements, conferences, trainings, and mentoring—just like any other week had been for me.
At 6am, I had met an early breakfast (that ended up including pork, so I abstained) with the president of a nonprofit focused on the frontlines rescue of children from trafficking here in the states.
He wanted to expand to another state and I was fighting for Az to be the one. We had a phenomenal brainstorm and agreement that they would put roots down in Az.
After meeting with him, I went to a 9am meeting at Arizona Coalition to End Sexual and Domestic Violence for a committee meeting of survivors talking about new laws coming up and how we can use our voices and knowledge to fight for, or against, them.
From there, I was headed to an event I had arranged to help a survivor directly. She had construction in every room in her house, and didn’t have a single room finished so she could rest, regenerate, heal, and feel safe.
I had helped rally a team of people to come to help focus on one room and get it finished so she could focus on her healing.
Desperate for food, I knew there was nothing gluten free between me and the house event, except a convenience store. So I made a decision that haunts me. I drove to the convenience store.
My intent was to run in and grab some snacks and a soda and then head over. But when I came out the door, as I stepped off the curb, my world changed forever.
My foot never got footing. Oil yanked it out from under me. I fell onto my knee and jammed my arm. I heard people gasp around me. But I was too embarrassed to look around.
As I stood up, I thought I would get into my car to process, but I couldn’t figure out how to get into my car. I set the items on the seat instead and called the event to let them know I was delayed. It would be the first in a series of messages that finally ended with how I wasn’t going to make it.
After filing a report of the fall, and realizing I was dizzy and very confused, I called my dad to tell him I needed help getting to medical care. I then called a friend who works in legal and asked her what to do.
My parents came to pick me up and it took me ages to get into the back seat, unable to control my spatial awareness. But not realizing that was what it was.
The doctor at urgent care looked at my knee, x-rayed it and did nothing for my mention of my arm since the arm no longer hurt.
We missed it. We all missed it.
The pain was in my legs, and got worse over the next weeks as I worked through PT and exercises. I wasn’t improving. I was getting worse. And my memory was in a steep decline—I was unable to add 2+8 without a calculator. I couldn’t remember the song lyrics or music to any song, including Happy Birthday, a song I’ve heard hundreds of times in my life experiences.
The doctors told me it was my thyroid or it was my past trauma causing the problem. No one scanned my neck.
Six months after my fall, my arm exploded in agonizing pain—later recorded by my medical team of neurosurgeons as “this would cripple an adult elephant; none of us have seen anyone conscious in this level of pain.”
It definitely rewrote my pain scale of 1-10. When I snapped my femur in half twenty years ago in a rollover car accident, that had been an 8 for me, it now would be a 3.
The emergency journey that happened in September showed us that the fall had jammed my arm and three discs were hit and thrust into my spinal cord. My neurosurgeon said less material than the skin of a raisin was what was holding my spinal cord together. It was less than one unit of measurement, and therefore considered an internal decapitation.
My brain and spinal cord had been exhausting themselves trying to keep me thinking while also keeping my body alive. And that drain on my brain was setting me up for a massive hit: traumatic brain injury. On top of everything else.
After the surgery, as my spinal cord was rebooting I had been reduced to a toddler. I couldn’t be alone. Had to relearn how to feed myself. How to walk in control of my body. How to open doors. How to swallow. How to pull up my pants. The list goes on and on.
But I was alive.
I had support around me. I had a rebooting spinal cord (which means all systems would work again!). I also had a TBI that was debilitating.
I have been healing in quarantine for the past year. My injury puts me at great risk with my lungs. So I have not had PT, or therapy for my brain, or friends to help me relearn life tasks.
It has been my parents and me in this house as I break whole shelves of glass as I try to relearn how to get something out of a cupboard (that was this weekend!)… so today being two years since that fall, that step off the sidewalk, that stopping for food….it’s hard. Because I KNOW I would be farther along had I been able to continue therapy, have daily interactions with other humans, have outings or friend times.
But it has not been that. It has been very very different. And today holds a lot of emotion for a time when I was capable, when I was independent, when I was active and working to change the world. When I was me.