Survivors SPEAK OUT! Rodney Smith
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Ravenswood, West Virginia, USA
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
It happened on May 14, 2008. I was 52.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
It was just another day – Wednesday, May 14th, 2008. Really, it was just another day – in the middle of the week, in the middle of the month, and almost in the middle of the year. It was beautiful weather, a little cool maybe, but a great morning for a quiet ride to work. Little did anyone know it could have been my last
I showered, shaved, and got ready for a day at the office like I had for the last eight years. I got on my motorcycle like I did most days for the last four years. I chose the Yamaha TW200 this day for reasons I will probably never remember. (I actually hope I never do.) I rode to the end of our dirt road and then headed west on Georgia 16. My wife left about the same time or shortly after, but she headed east on Georgia 16.
About 10 miles down the road, my wife saw a Georgia State Police car speeding west with its blue lights flashing. Immediately, she felt sick in the pit of her stomach. She resisted a strong urge to turn around and follow the trooper. She said to herself that she had no way of knowing where the police car was going, but she felt deep in her heart that she was sure what had happened. The only question was “How bad was it?” My wife kept driving, and less than a mile down the road, a Spalding County sheriff’s car in front of her flipped on its blue lights, pulled a U-turn, and flew past her, going west on 16. The sickness in my wife’s stomach got worse, but once again, she fought the urge to turn around. She didn’t know anything for sure, and cops do that all the time, so she kept driving.
Shortly after, my wife’s cell phone rang. She looked at the number, and it all but confirmed her worst fears. It was from my cell phone, and I never used my phone while I was riding. Since I had left the house less than 20 minutes earlier and since it is at least a 30-minute ride to my office, this couldn’t be good. Still she had hope that maybe I forgot something or just broke down and was calling to let her know. But, as soon as she heard the voice on the other end, she knew. A man’s voice confirmed what she suspected when he asked, “Do you know an older gentleman who rides a motorcycle?” All she could say was “How bad is it? Is he alive?”
He told her I was alive. My wife said she was on her way there, but he told her not to come out 16 because the whole road was blocked. He told her to head for downtown Atlanta because they were life-flighting me there. He didn’t know which hospital yet, but he would call and let her know as soon as he found out.
This all seemed to be happening in slow motion, but the next few hours were a blur. My wife doesn’t remember stopping to turn around, but she found herself headed back to the house to get things she knew she would need – like the phone numbers of family and my office. She was not a person who prayed much, but she took time to ask God to help and keep me alive if He could. My wife did not give much more thought to that prayer, but God apparently did.
The only thing resembling a clear memory between the Sunday before the accident and the first week of August is of a canyon I was looking into. I was about to step in or float in or something when I felt a beautiful and powerful presence surround me and pull me back from the edge. I don’t know how I knew, but I knew it was my wife, Bonnie, pulling me back from wherever I was headed.
I believe with all my heart that that happened when I was in the life-flight helicopter. The medical reports say they had to revive me twice while flying me to Atlanta. I feel that, during that time, God heard my wife’s simple and sincere prayer and sent her spirit to the edge of the Valley of the Shadow of Death to bring me back because He was not finished with me yet. He wasn’t finished with either one of us.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I didn’t fully realize anything for about two and a half months. On the second or third day I was in the hospital, my wife, Bonnie, knew something was not right. She told the kids, “He’s not in there.”
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was treated at Grady Memorial Hospital in Atlanta, Georgia. Grady is a very good trauma center. It’s staffed with Emory University doctors. They did a great job with my broken jaw and broken wrist, fixing those with titanium plates and screws. They did a CT (computerized tomography) scan and found some bleeding on the brain. Since I could talk and tell them a birth date (actually, a wrong one), they didn’t refer me for any kind of rehab. Bonnie kept telling them that something was wrong. On the day of my discharge, they had an evaluation done and decided to refer us to a neurologist.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Maybe 36 hours
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)?
After working our way around the medical system for two and a half months, we finally got to a neurologist who at least knew she couldn’t effectively evaluate me. We were referred to Shepherd Center in Atlanta. This was the turning point in my recovery. Shepherd Center is one of the top ten rehabilitation hospitals in the country. They specialize in spinal cord and brain injury rehab.
How long were you in rehab?
I spent about three months in the Shepherd Pathways Day Program, which is their outpatient brain injury rehab. I had sessions three times a week in speech therapy, occupational therapy, and physical therapy.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have short-term and working memory problems. I lost most of my ability to multitask. I have problems with balance. Problem-solving takes much longer than it did pre accident. I have issues with dyslexia. I tend to cry more easily.
10. How has your life changed?
Is it better?
My life is better in that I appreciate things more and care more about things that really matter. I care less about things that don’t matter. My attention to detail is better when it comes to the one detail I can focus on (see how my life is worse).
Is it worse?
My life could be considered worse because I can only focus on one thing at a time. Because of this, people around me can’t depend on me the way they used to. But, there’s a flip side to that. When I work on a project, my single-mindedness allows me to focus on what I am doing and be more precise than before the injury. Those days, my mind was often on many things at the same time.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss being able to solve problems quickly.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy spending quality time with my wife, Bonnie, and my kids and grandkids. I also enjoy building things and working at my own pace.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I don’t like that it is still very difficult to make decisions. It takes me what seems like forever to weigh options and decide on anything. Bonnie makes a game of it, sometimes continuing to give me options. That’s frustrating, but amusing.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
I accept it because I see that God has a plan, and I’m still part of it.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes. Bonnie and I are closer now. But, her life is more difficult because she doesn’t know what I will remember and what I won’t, so she has to remember everything just in case.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Not really. My social life is not much different, since I was kind of a loner and spent most of my time with family anyway.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
Bonnie is my main caregiver and my angel. I know it is a very difficult task. I am very thankful every day for what she does.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I hope to be building furniture and fixing things for many years to come.
19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
One thing Bonnie and I have discovered is that, since my memory can’t be relied upon, I now use my camera phone and take pictures of everything I might need to refer to later.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
There is hope and purpose after brain injury.
Thank you, Rodney for taking part in the SPEAK OUT! project
To learn more about Rodney Smith, visit his website, Hope After Traumatic Brain Injury
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI SPEAK OUT! Survivors Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
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