Brain Damage

My last car accident was by far the worst; bad luck is supposed to come in 3’s but this was number 5. Five accidents where I was not at fault – either stopped at a light or minding my own business. It was my second encounter with a drunk driver, second car written off for damage beyond repair, and second time my head took the worst of it.

The first drunk found me stopped at a light after driving the babysitter home on Valentine’s Day. My Honda no match for the rear impact of a hulking 70’s tank. My car was beyond repair, yet I believed no serious harm had befallen me – at first. Soon I found myself falling asleep practically mid sentence, mixing up my words and suffering from terrible headaches.

The next drunk found the rear end of my mini van in spectacular fashion – learning later I put an end to his trail of destruction. Second drunk took out a phone booth as he rounded a corner 6 blocks away, next he side swiped a parked car, finally ramming me from behind, as yet again I waited for a light to change. I was only 2 blocks from home; it was my husband’s birthday;  he heard the crash and knew it was me – later telling me when he saw the van he thought I was dead. All I remember is the rear view mirror flying past my head, followed by vague black and white images of an ambulance and hospital.

This last accident took a long time to recover from; off work for a few years, with extensive physical therapy.  I began to notice my “brain damage” although it wasn’t anything I talked about. It was subtle in many ways – my left eye didn’t quite close when trying to sleep, hearing in my left ear was significantly less than my right. The worst was my short term memory; it seemed non existent. After a while I joked to my family about “brain damage” but it wasn’t funny. To this day I set out to do something, get a few steps and completely forget what I’m supposed to be doing. A little trick has developed over time that works well – I find by taking 5 or 6 steps backwards I’m able to remember what I was about to do. One of the oddest manifestations of too many hits on the head is my ability to remember numbers – I have a photographic memory of phone numbers and addresses.

A few months ago I was working alone at a theatre; lunch backstage for a seminar on speaker systems for stadium rock shows. Everyone fed, seminar back in session and backstage now completely dark. Reaching down to unplug a coffee pot my head was assaulted yet again. Who places a half inch thick metal plate, eight inches wide, sticking out of a wall a good ten inches, mere feet above a power outlet? I knew it was bad as I found myself walking in circles, blood filling my eyes as my knees buckled and I went into shock. I find myself having to take more than six steps backwards these days.

Most people don’t know about my rattled brain. I write things down, take backwards steps to remember what I was doing, and thoroughly embrace my ability to recall phone numbers. At the same time hoping I don’t take any more blows to the head.

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18 thoughts on “Brain Damage

  1. Oh dear! I’ve joked about my own head injuries, and while I haven’t noticed any major issues, I DO wear a helmet when I’m on my bicycle “just in case”. I bought a riding helmet and had the wherewithal to clamp it on my head the day the horse threw me off onto the road – I was concussed (my second) – but mostly I was fine. It’s never fun to think about how it “could have been worse”. I wish you an injury-free rest of your life!

  2. Ooh, my condolences! My husband is bald, and claims it was because of all the many times he nicked, cut, and sliced the top of head from running or bumping into things. I thought he simply did not realize how tall he was.
    I took the top of my head off in an accident years ago, and have since developed seizures. Any relation, who knows? Life has never been the same.
    I hope you feel better soon.

  3. Wow… that is a lot of bad luck. I though I was unlucky :-/
    I fell out of the back of a convertible and had a concussion a few years ago. Granted, the car was parked in a Taco Cabana parking lot and I was wasted but hey– it still counts.

  4. What amazes me is how forgiving you are about the whole thing … I could see some making a victim identify and forever moaning about drunk drivers … but you just casually mention them … good on you … and sorry for the brain damange !

    Warm regards

    Don Charisma

  5. I agree with another commenter, you are lucky to be alive. I’m so sorry to read what you’ve been through. My late husband sustained a traumatic brain injury. I was stunned when I learned that in America someone sustains a traumatic brain injury approximately every 15 seconds and that it’s the number one cause of death and injury in children. Thank you for having the courage to share. Many people are uncomfortable talking about anything that has to do with brain injuries, and yet is incredibly common.

    • Sorry to hear about your husband. Brain injury is nothing to be ashamed of. I found that not explaining why I had difficulty with certain tasks created assumptions and confusion. My co-workers for example immediately stopped making fun of short term memory lapses once I explained I wasn’t a blithering idiot, I simply had to process information differently. For ages my husband couldn’t understand why I walked ahead of him when I was on his left, for whatever reason when walking on his right I relax and walk naturally beside him. (My left side is the one with hearing loss and an eye that doesn’t, close completely not enough to be obvious but enough to let light in if the room isn’t completely dark) Brain damage can result in subtle changes not perceptible by looking at you – I don’t blither on about it yet feel at certain times or circumstances it’s appropriate to enlighten people 🙂

  6. Notestoponder – I think it’s more common than we think that people are effected by brain injuries …I almost died in a car accident over 30 years ago. I know I have coping mechanisms but can’t be sure exactly which ones are due to the accident and concussion.
    It’s important to discuss this and bring it out in the open.

  7. I have the answer! Don’t stop at red lights and/or mind your own business! No more getting in wrecks (from behind anyway). I, too, have an otherworldly ability to remember numbers – there have been a few occasions when, while cursing myself for forgetting a sticky with a number on it, it just appears to me, almost like a song that I just need to hear the opening lick, then the rest comes to me.
    I wanna think of my freakish ability to recall numbers as an accommodation. Kinda like a blind person having super hearing to compensate. My memory and cognitive power *chucks modesty out the window* are a compensation for my physical disabilities…sounds cheesy, but it’s my superhero origin story

    • Brain damage is fascinating. Most people hear the phrase and immediately envision catastrophic mental or physical disabilities. The number recollection is curious – you sing numbers, my mind writes them in pencil on imaginary paper and I recite them from that. So cool! For the longest time I kept it private. A few years ago a frustrated co-worker blurted out “what’s wrong with you, I just answered your question!” Responding with “I’m brain damaged” lifted weight off my shoulders. I had nothing to be ashamed of, it was liberating.Now instead of thinking I’m crazy (brain damage created a tendency to talk to myself), we joke about my shenanigans and they can always count on me for numbers. Sigh 🙂

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