This is actually a blog post, but I refer to it so often it seemed appropriate to make it a static page too…
For a few years, I considered writing a book about my car accident. I’ve seen books about less exciting things. I haven’t ever done it, however, and I sorta doubt I ever will. This post might be all I ever write on the topic. (That seems so final doesn’t it?)
On March 2, 1999, I was on my way to work. Apparently I had a cellphone in one hand, a cup of pumpkin spice cappuccino in the other hand, and an open briefcase next to me on the seat. The problem is that I was driving a car at the time, and apparently I didn’t enough hands for such multitasking. My car went off the road and into a group of trees, missing each one. That part was amazing.
It wasn’t a smooth ride through the foliage, however, because my head ended up getting thrown through the driver’s side window. So to set the scene, My little Chevy Cavalier was off the road, having jumped a snow bank. My head, scratched and bleeding, was hanging out of the driver’s side window. I was buckled in (thankfully), and unconscious. Due to being in that position for about 45 minutes before being found, I was shivering uncontrollably from exposure.
And the beginning of the story is the less depressing part. It only gets worse.
When I actually woke up, on the way to the hospital, I was in the back of an ambulance with IVs coming from my arms. (I’m actually thankful I was knocked out for that portion.) A paramedic named Steve was trying to chit-chat with me, to see if I had any brain damage, to keep me out of shock, etc. Steve is my first memory. Looking up in that rattly ambulance is like the moment my “ON” switch was tripped. I don’t remember anything before that moment. At all.
The hospital was… odd. Since I couldn’t remember anything, the doctors were sure I was a drug user strung out on something. Either that or I had spinal meningitis. My head hurt in a way that only people that suffer from migraines will understand. It was the type of pain that makes you want to beg someone to shoot you. That sounds morbid — but it’s really true. Anyway, the only way to “tell” what was wrong with me was to take a spinal tap. Since I was a druggie (um, no), they couldn’t risk so much as a local numbing agent, so I get the full monty needle in my back without so much as an ice cube to numb the pain. Thankfully, my head hurt bad enough that the little needle hanging out of my back wasn’t as bad as it sounds now.
Apparently, spinal taps take a long time to get results from, because I had to lay in the room without any pain medication for many hours. I didn’t know anyone. I had a wedding ring on, but was sure I didn’t have any kids (I was wrong). I didn’t know if anyone was looking for me. I was truly scared, in a way that I can’t ultimately describe.
Anyway, that evening, still without any pain medicine, a nurse came in to give me the phone. My wife was on the other end, and asked me what happened. They hadn’t told her about my condition, and she didn’t understand why I hadn’t called her. She had been driving around all day trying to figure out what happened to me, and stopped at the hospital in a desperation attempt to find me. I said something vague, and apparently she recognized my confusion, because although I don’t remember exactly what she said, I could sense the terror in her voice. A few minutes later she was in my room. Very beautiful. Very pregnant. Very scared.
Yes, it was awkward. But, you see, my wife is incredible. She held it together in a way that looking back, I can’t fully understand. As I type this, there are tears in my eyes remembering the odd combination of pain, confusion, fear, and love. It was a strange couple days in the hospital, and during the stay, I started to think I was some weird science experiment (much like the Truman Show). It wasn’t until my 2 year old daughter came to the hospital on the 2nd or 3rd day that I knew it was all genuine. See, adults could be faking. A 2 year old, however, couldn’t fake the excitement to see Daddy in the hospital room. Amanda ran across the room, with arms outstretched, shouting, “Daddy! Daddy!” I’m not sure she’ll ever know how important that moment was for me.
Anyway, the story gets more depressing from there, so I’ll abbreviate it a bit. I had constant headaches for months, and I actually didn’t sleep for about a month and a half. They say you go crazy if you don’t sleep. They’re right. It was the lowest point in my life. I couldn’t leave the house, I was agoraphobic. I couldn’t work, because I’d forgotten how. I stuttered. I was depressed. Very, very depressed.
And, to top things off, the car insurance company denied my insurance claim. Since I was shaking when the ambulance picked me up, they based their denial on the report I was “shaking” — because that meant I had a seizure, which is a preexisting condition. Having epilepsy would negate their responsibility to pay for my doctor bills, and my rehabilitation bills. Great, except that I had an EKG, X-Ray, MRI, and CT scan. I did not have a seizure, I was just shivering from the cold. They wouldn’t change their denial. I was stuck. No rehab. No counseling. Plenty of bills.
Donna went to work bussing tables at a local restaurant for minimum wage. (7 months pregnant at this point) We moved into her mother’s house, and slept on a mattress on the floor. Life was not great. Then, Donna had complications, and was forced to go on bed rest for the last month of pregnancy. Shortly after, we were a very sad family of 4.
Here’s the point where the welfare system does what it is designed to do. We managed to get enough doctor notes, or whatever, to qualify for food stamps and a pittance of monthly income along with Medicaid insurance. My headaches were largely gone, and I started to relearn my trade. Thankfully, I had a computer, and oddly enough, I retained the ability to type like a mad fool. I spent the next 6 months self-learning about Linux, networking, computer repair, etc. In February of 2000, I was hired as the Technology Director for the local school district, where I still work. The administration took a big risk in hiring me, and I’ll forever be in their debt. I’m told it was a combination of my heartfelt, honest cover letter, and the fact that everyone in town knew my wife and our family.
So anyway, that’s the story of my car accident. I never did remember my past, apart from occasional odd “glimpses” of things. I’ve pieced together my history from speaking with others, and I think my brain might have filled in some of the gaps without me even realizing it. Memory loss isn’t as clear cut as you’d think. Many of my memories are ones that I’ve created from what people have told me — but I think many actual memories are in there too, and I can’t tell the difference. For the most part though, I never got anything back.
Now? Oh, we’re doing great. We have 3 beautiful girls, and they’re all doing great. We bought a house (not fun with tens of thousands of dollars worth of bad medical debt…) The rest you pretty much know. I’ve started writing, which has been a dream of mine both before and after my accident. And I never lost my sense of humor. There are funny stories galore about the whole ordeal, but I think I’ll save those for another time.
(Comments are over on the original blog post)