I’m scared to cross the street. I never thought I’d say something like that as an adult. But, there it is: when the light turns green and the “walk” signal is illuminated, I wince. I hesitate. I ultimately will my body to move across the lanes of traffic, almost running toward the opposite curb. But, getting hit by a truck hurts and it hurts for a long time. I don’t remember being struck. I remember being helped up and I remember just a moment in the ambulance. My veins are almost non-existent and it’s incredibly hard to find one that will accept a needle. I remember waking up, shaking so hard I was rattling the board that I was strapped to, my neck in an uncomfortable collar. I looked at the EMT and said, “The left arm’s easier.” Then I was gone again.
I’d left work early that day because inclement weather was expected. So, I lay on the ground with freezing rain falling on my body. When the EMTs loaded me into the ambulance, my body – with bare arms, totally uncovered – was again traveling through the freezing rain and the sleet. We arrived at the hospital and I couldn’t see anything. I didn’t know where I was. But, as I was unloaded, there I was with wet hair, clothes soaked through, and rain in my eyes.
I remember the emergency room. I was drenched and freezing. For some reason, I didn’t feel scared, but I couldn’t stop crying and I couldn’t stop shaking. Shaking hard. Off came the clothes and the tights. According to the nurse, they were causing my body temperature to drop quickly. They covered me with four or five blankets. Still, I couldn’t stop shaking. I was rattling the bed.
Then, off to x-rays and CT Scans and I don’t remember what else. More blankets to stop my body from shaking long enough to keep me still for the tests. No bone breaks; no brain bleeds; no internal injuries. Lucky. As they rolled me down the halls, from one room to the next, the nurses kept hitting the walls and the doors with my bed, as if they’d never done this before. Each jolt hurt more. My head was going to crack down the middle and all the pain I’d ever felt or stored up was going to pour out onto the table and spill onto the floor.
I hurt, but I felt calm. Why can’t I stop crying and shaking? “You’re in shock,” the nurse said. “Your body doesn’t understand what just happened to it and it’s just confused.” My physical body may have been confused, but my mind was clear and focused on pain. When you have a head injury, the doctors can’t give you pain medicine until they are able to assess the severity. They will give you oxygen and they will stabilize you, but that’s all they will really do. There was a knot on the back of my head the size of an egg, I was told. I couldn’t feel it. I just couldn’t reach.
So, I left the hospital that night in paper scrubs. My clothes were too cold and wet to wear. Whiplash, vertigo, a fucked up rotator cuff, and Traumatic Brain Injury – that was my lucky diagnosis. In that moment, I did feel lucky. It could have been worse, everyone said. They were right. But, I’d close my eyes to sleep and get jolted awake as the truck hit me over and over again. And I’d shake, rattling the bed.
When you leave the hospital they give you these print-outs describing your diagnosis. They leave out a lot of things. I knew I’d have headaches and neck pain and that I’d get to wear a sweet-ass neck brace for two weeks. That was a given. I didn’t expect to have a migraine for a week, too. I was told I might be dizzy and OH LORD was I dizzy. Vertigo is no joke. I had to run my hand down the wall to keep myself from falling. I’d close my eyes hoping that it would help, but it never did. I couldn’t eat much food for two weeks; the vertigo kept me so nauseated that I couldn’t stand the thought of food. I would close my office door and vomit in the garbage can because I knew I'd never make it to the restroom.
Normally, I can sleep like a champ – and I was completely exhausted – but, I had nightmares and every time I moved, sharp pains would shoot from any number of body parts, jolting me awake. Even with pain medication, I slept fitfully.
My “cognitive symptoms,” according to the literature, could include poor concentration and action lapses. I’d get distracted in the middle of a sentence and could never find my train of thought again. I couldn’t remember my co-workers names. I asked one woman the same question three times in a morning. I couldn’t focus on what was being said and I would try to read lips. Lighten your work load, the doctor said – as though that were an option. I was back to work after two days: sick, dazed, and in pain.
There’s a grace period that people give you when you are hurt or sick. You have a certain amount of time that you are allowed to be sick, but then you are supposed to be all better. They’ll ask how you are feeling for a few days, but you know they’re thinking: “Aren’t you done being sick?” But, still, I couldn’t turn my head, lean forward, and my left arm was more of a burden than a help.
About a week and a half in, my orthopedist prescribed six weeks of physical therapy, which I thought was ridiculous. I can power through this. I'm tough and I'm a pain in the ass and I HATE having to ask for help. But, my physical therapists have been some of my only positive influences (other than my husband) since this accident. They would physically stretch my muscles, forcing them to go where they were resistant to go. It hurt like hell, at first. They gave me exercises to do to help push and strengthen my neck, my spine, my shoulder. And they’re working. For a little while each visit, no one is trivializing my pain or pretending it isn't there. It's a safe haven, a place without judgment.
I'm doing more and to deal with the pain - physical, mental, emotional - and to get closer to the other side. I’m not on the other side yet, but I'm closer.
On Tuesday, I stood at a corner on 21st street here in Nashville. I stood there for at least three light changes. And as I stand there, I’m shaking again, my brain rattling in my head. I stepped off the curb and then jumped back on. I waited through another traffic light cycle. Then, I stepped and I put my head down and I walked. Ran almost. A block later, I had to do it again.
I’m scared. There’s a big bad world out there that can jump out and grab you and shake you to your core. There are big red trucks that will crash into you, sending you sailing down the asphalt and tearing holes in your clothes. I didn’t think about something like that happening to me – who does? But, for a brief moment it made me wonder what other things are out there, lurking and ready to strike.
You can’t fall into the fear, they say. Even during those times when there IS no person that knows just where you’re hurting, understands how to make it feel better, assures you that it’s going to get better eventually. You have to do that for yourself, I guess.
So, I’m scared to cross the street. I’m afraid of the pain I’m still feeling. I can't let it have power over me; I'm really trying to take charge. I am. And I’m the one that has to tell myself that I can make it across the street, in spite of those fears. And I’m shaking.