Trauma: The Aftermath
My Experience with the Horrors of Distracted Driving and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
Quite honestly, I do not know where to begin. The meat of this article lies in the mental state and shift after my accident, but the root cause happened so fast and brutally it's hard for me to describe.
I suppose I will begin with the morning I got hit by a car, and the morning I should have died. As a 17 year old finishing my senior year of high school, I was far from excited to be going to class on a Wednesday at 6 AM. I was very used to the walk to school and found myself daydreaming as I tried to pass the time on my walk. While crossing at a medium sized intersection, in the sidewalk, when I had my signal to walk, I began crossing the street I had done a thousand time over. On a last-second impulse, I turned to my left and saw a car speeding towards the red light, towards me. I was struck by that car going nearly 60 miles per hour. I was thrown into the air and hit the ground about 1 second later, next to the curb. There was no pain, but only for a few milliseconds after I landed. Once I had established that yes, I was in fact still alive, I screamed. The pain I felt was nothing like anything I had experienced before. If felt as though my whole body was melting, in such a way that the heat from the asphalt seeped into my wounds combined with the stinging of glass in my arm, the temporary of blindness in one eye, all it gave me was fear. I was scared and I was hurting and I was going to die if I hadn't already.
The next thing I knew, a woman was crouched beside me, telling me not to move or turn, and a man was loomed over me, on the phone with the police. The man who had hit me stopped, about a block away. I cried for my phone and the woman helped me called my mom, the only number I could remember was hers. The physical pain was excruciating, but the pain of crying to my mother that I thought I was gonna die less than a mile from home was nearly worse. Both my parents arrived on the scene not too long after (I think). That was the 2nd time I saw my dad cry, and I couldn't stop my own tears as they told me they loved me. An ambulance showed up, and I was soon hooked up to a line with morphine, and on my way to the trauma center of the nearest hospital that would accept me.
I don't remember actually getting to the hospital (though I do remember the men in the ambulance joke about taking morphine with me on the way), I remember being hoisted onto a surgical table and hooked up to machines that beeped out my heart-rate and told the doctors other things I couldn't understand. Now my pain was concentrated, in my legs and in my chest. I could barely breathe and I could not for the life of me bend my right leg. I was given an emergency X-ray and told that I hadn't broken any bones. One miracle of the day. The second was that I had no fractures or internal bleeding, something the doctors we almost sure that I had to have sustained given the speed of the car on impact. After all the emergency tests, blood-related exams, and neck examination, I was told that somehow, I had not only survived but had minor damage. I was happy but unsure. Like that impulse to look at the vehicle before it smashed into me, I knew something wasn't right. Now in my own hospital room, my grandparents had arrived with my parents, and everyone was glad to see me well and living. We were told I could go home that day, but not to return to school until after the MRI they had scheduled for me, to take a look at my knee and chest.
A few weeks go by, and I find myself walking again! I'm able to hold up my own weight, and with struggle, correct my gait into something slightly normal again. I go in for my MRI, finish the test, and wish my technicians a good day as I head home. I can go to school again now! Updating my friends and professors was hard, talking about such a recent experience is painful and taxing on the brain, but I was feeling great to have lived and gotten the opportunity to see everyone I loved once again.
Another week goes by and I get a call from my assigned doctor, a medical specialist in pediatric surgery. I needed to come in for a counseling and update session with him, asap. The next day I'm in an office with images from the MRI posted all around the room. My new doctor, Dr. Vaugn, explains to me that I need to go in for surgery within the next week. He was horrified and amazed that I walked into his office without the need for help, and when he explained to me just how broken I was, on a muscular level, I was horrified too. I had completely torn my ACL, LCL, MCL, Meniscus, IT Band, and all of the connective tissue on the inside of my right knee. It was like looking into a basket of feathers on the monitor, with the feathery pieces of the blurry picture being the mess of muscle and tendon on the inside of my leg. The only reason I was able to walk or hold any pressure on the leg is due to how strong my legs were going into the accident (I power-lift and squats have always been my favorite). He explains to me that surgery could take anywhere from 3 to 6 hours, depending on the level of damage he sees when he goes inside my leg. Two days pass, and I'm heading back to the hospital for surgery.
This is the part of the story that is the most blurry to me. Being hooked up to a machine that will 100% put you to sleep in seconds is terrifying, and watching your entire family sit by you as you're wheeled into a closed room is heartbreaking. I was laid down and told to count back from 10. I never even got to 3.
When I woke up, I couldn't actually speak, I just groaned and cried out, because I was in pain again. I was so tired of pain, and so mortified that a familiar feeling was back to haunt me again. Not only was I released as soon as I woke up, but I couldn't go back to school again. I was missing 2 months of material in my final year of high school, how was I gonna pass finals? I had to lift myself from my new wheelchair into my mother's car, and that was one of the most difficult things I had to do before physical therapy. I don't remember the ride home either, just that I was crying.
The recovery from surgery was more difficult than coming home from the hospital right after the accident. I was confined to my bed for 2 weeks, then to a wheelchair for 3 more. After that, it was crutches until my physical therapist cleared me to put them in the garbage. Those first 5 weeks were torture, and I don't think I've cried as much as when I felt like nothing but a burden and useless piece of trash to my family. We tried to celebrate my father's birthday with a movie at home and good food, but a scene happened where the protagonist is almost hit by a car, with that stereotypical flash of light and loud horn, but the car actually stopped for him. I burst into tears and couldn't stop crying, my leg hurt the new scars all over my boy from road rash felt like fire, and I went to bed (with help from my family to get me there).
The next trial was physical therapy. It is insane how difficult it is to learn how to walk again after such a dramatic shift. I couldn't even pick up my foot, no amount of effort helped or changed its position from the floor. I spent many hours at my physical therapist's office. Stacy was impressed by my drive to walk again, and in those hours I spent with her I made myself cry pushing and pulling and rebuilding lost muscle. It's hard to encapsulate the amount of time and effort I spent thee, because the only thing I got out of it, even for today, is a nearly normal walk. She was so proud of me when I could finally trash my crutches, it was a day where we celebrated and cried happy tears, for the first time in a long time. From that point on, I continued to get better and made astounding progress in so short a time they were worried I might tear the new ligaments they'd made from my own muscle.
Now, the physical side of the story is over. I will have a stiffer leg for the rest of my life, and I can't extend my right leg fully at all. I overcompensate with my left one still, but I can walk. This is where the mental side of the story takes over, and it's one that I will have to fight with for as long as I may live. After this experience, I have incredible trouble crossing streets. The mental toll of dealing with lawyers after the trauma is in and of itself, very difficult. Recalling these events always makes me cry, even as I type this story out. I'm in tears thinking about how lucky I am and remembering the pain that I still feel today in my chest and leg. Mentally, I am a different person. I always will be because of this, and I cannot change that so I choose to live with it.
I cry often still, as I approach the one year anniversary since the accident (October 15th, 2017, 6:05 AM), and I still have nightmares about being hit harder, or at a different angle that might have actually killed me. I dream of the funeral my parents might have had to attend, and I dream of the pain everyone I love might have experienced as the events unfolded. Now I'm finally learning to drive and I just can't do it. the power of cars and vehicles scares me. When I was sat into the driver's seat for the first time with both parents encouraging me and telling me I'll do great, I just cried. I burst into tears and had to leave the car. So much is so difficult now that I can't stand to be around cars or roads or hospitals. I still wake up in the morning wondering why I am alive, what I did to deserve to survive.
I struggling with major depression and have visited several therapists to learn how to cope and adjust my lifestyle to feel better about the way I live. This intense trauma that I have experienced left me scarred and damaged, but it also helped me to appreciate life in little ways. The dragonflies that I see now fill me with joy, and the little shows of life that I didn't look for before I find myself pining after. I've made new friends, I have begun the rest of my life in college, and every day I try to face my new fears and get back to my old self.
It's really hard to write this and I can't stop crying again. It's not all sad, but it's like a tidal wave of emotion and memories. You never know how someone feels on the inside, but when you see an awkward walk, or maybe a hesitation to cross the road from someone, anything that indicates a fear to a broken person, understand that the world is indifferent sometimes, and throws cars at us to see what happens.
Thank you for reading, and have a blessed day.