SPEAK OUT! Guest Blogger: DuWayne Hall
It was a day like any other day. I got ready for work. As usual, I rode my motorcycle there. I drove around the hairpin turn that lies in front of the Emergency Room at Saint Benedict’s Hospital, where I worked. I arrived 15 minutes early, as usual, and I parked in the parking spaces up in front by the Admission doors. The day was as mundane as expected. Nothing exciting or out of the ordinary had happened. This routine had been repeated daily for eight years. Every day had been painfully identical: I arrived to work at 11:00 pm, worked until 7:00 am, and then went home. I lived only 10 minutes away. As expected, my shift went painfully slowly.
At 7:00, my shift relief failed to show up and relieve me. I was required by my employer – and by law – to stay on the job for another shift.
The Psych ward was about full. Almost half of those patients were minors. I went to my shift change, learned the medical history on my patients, and then began to gather the supplies necessary for my Group Session.
The patients filed in to attend the first Group Session of the day. I handed out supplies and manuals to document the progress of the patients’ recovery from whatever crises had caused them to be admitted into the hospital in the first place.
I thought my usual shift was long, but the next shift felt longer because it was all day. At lunchtime, I clocked out to get off the hospital grounds. I drove down the road to McDonald’s. Before I drove back, I removed my helmet to place my lunch into it to shield my dinner from the wind – thus, keeping it warm during my ride back.
As I rounded that hairpin turn in front of the Emergency Room, a car pulled out right in front of me, causing me to lay the motorcycle down. The bike pinned my right leg under it and then dragged me 100 feet down the road. As a consequence, my head bounced just like a Super Ball between my shoulder and the ground. I acquired a massive amount of “road rash” on my right side, as my chaps and uniform became shredded from the grinding of the motorcycle scraping across the road. I acquired a severe Traumatic Brain Injury and a compound fracture of my right collarbone. I also shattered my right elbow. I crushed my right cheek. I almost ripped off my right ear. I broke my right leg. My right eye was hanging out of its socket. My Big Mac sandwich did much better than I did!
To control brain swelling, the doctors introduced a shunt and placed me into a prolonged coma. While I was in my coma, I did not know that I was injured. I imagined myself on a mountaintop overlooking the city I lived in. I kept thinking to myself, When are they going to start the fireworks? I was only in the mountains to observe the fireworks from up above, instead of from down below, for a better view of the show. The fireworks finally went off. The next thing I knew, I was looking through hospital bed bars. I had no idea where I was or how I got there or when I got there. The last thing I remembered was being in the mountains with friends and watching the fireworks go off.
I was in my coma for 25 days. On the 24th day, the doctors began preparations to remove me from the life-support equipment. My parents, not wanting my daughter to see me dead, had made arrangements to first bring her into my hospital room to view my body before they disconnected me. My daughter, who had not seen me in nine years, was brought into my room. The doctors, nurses, my parents, and several friends watched passively as my daughter, who was 10 at the time, walked over to me and asked, “Daddy, do you want a cup of coffee?” To everybody’s amazement, I started to laugh. I had inexplicably come out of my coma. The doctors immediately started backpedaling. Nobody could explain how it was that they thought I was going to die until I was asked if I wanted a cup of coffee!
The documentation on head injury is incomplete at best. Rehabilitation therapists only follow a standardized guideline on how to treat a head injury. Every article I’ve ever read states that head injuries are unique. So it stands to figure that if every head injury is different, then it is ludicrous to apply standardized testing. The doctors did not like the fact that I was questioning my treatment. I was transferred to three different rehabilitation hospitals over a period of five years, while I relearned to walk, talk, interact with other people, and relearn names. I was taught how to add, subtract, eat, cook for myself, shop, take a shower, wash my clothes, phone, and use the toilet. I had to brush up on my job, my family, relationships, schooling, etc.
Ten years into my disability, because of my coordination problems, I slipped and fell in my own home. I broke my neck. It was a miracle I did not paralyze myself from the neck down. Because I was brain-damaged, nobody believed that I was badly hurt. They thought I was exaggerating my symptoms. The X-rays were not interpreted by a radiologist. Instead, the Emergency Room staff sent me home with instructions to be careful. First thing the next morning, the hospital called me and informed me that I had, in fact, broken my neck. They wanted me to return for admission and treatment, even emergency surgery. I was operated on for a permanent fusion of my T1 and T2 vertebrae.
Eighteen years into my disability, I received a second severe head injury. It occurred while I was just walking across the road. A truck driver did not see me crossing the road, and he hit me in the crosswalk. That injury gave me PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) along with new neural deficits. At this point, I am rated by Social Security as 105% disabled. I am more than totally disabled, just because I walked across the street!
It has now been more than 23 years post-injury. I have learned so much that I cannot even begin to describe what my journey has been like. I do know that EVERY single DAY is a challenge for me as a TBI survivor. We as survivors need to negotiate trials that the average person may find overwhelming. Little things could be insurmountable – for example, deciding what to wear and what, or even if, to eat. My own body is the enemy. Just talking to people can be a challenge. People misunderstand me all the time. I am a loner, but not by choice. It hurts me inside to be alone. Obviously, it is not healthy to be alone. Yet, many TBI survivors are alone. The stats validate that fact. Most marriages attempted by someone with a TBI end in divorce. It would seem then that survivors of a TBI make poor candidates for relationships. Everything is a challenge for the TBI survivor! You can never know what it is like until you “walk a mile in another man’s shoes.”
You’re only as old as you feel!
You only live once in life!
You won’t know unless you try!
Thank you, DuWayne Hall.
Any views and opinions of the Guest Blogger are purely his/her own.
(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)