Think First - A Survivor's Story

by David P.

It needs to be emphasized that this is only my interpretation and perspective; don't over-generalize this. I don't want to be seen as a bad example or as an invincible super achiever in a white hat. I only want to be a participating and productive member of the community. And my way of contributing is to talk about some of the decisions that I've made and the outcomes. Empowerment is a decision based on an informed choice.

I was a field engineer, a surveyor, doing mapping, layout, and design for pipeline and power line companies. My buddies and I had just gotten paid; “king for a day”. I had decided to start celebrating. I had gotten extremely drunk, and didn't buckle my seat belt (no one ever did). I was alone and had a wreck. I spent roughly 3 weeks, along with my 21st birthday (the 4th of July) in a deep coma, and comatose another 3 weeks with a brain injury to the frontal, temporal, parietal, and occipital lobes. A brain stem contusion; originally being diagnosed as a mid-line lesion with a subdural hematoma, diplopia or double vision (being overlapping images that fluctuate with angle and distance) from swelling of the occipital lobe, and a compound fracture of the right arm, a compression of the T-8, partial T-9, and a T-5 fracture in the mid-back; this later posed interference to the spinal canal. Initially short and long term memory deficits with decreased attention span were a problem; now functionally being the rate of information processing and retrieval. I still have problems writing with my left hand, vision, balance, coordination, swallowing, speech, breathing, and the increased mental fatigue encountered during task completion.

It took two years for me to regain power of attorney from an Administrative Law Judge. People do think I'm incompetent after having a brain injury; and I may a court of law; (any lawyers out there?) Rehabilitation lasted from June 19th to September 30th, four hospitals, and two states. I would have been uninsured; but was still covered under my father's insurance. Insurance coverage has been a major problem since then with my past medical history. After sustaining a brain injury I realize that I'm at a much higher risk of encountering another injury.

I was single then, now, and never have had the opportunity to get married; this has had the largest impact upon my life, other than the vision and physical effects. I was engaged before this had happened; not long after, the queen of that fantasy left; and most of my friends disappeared. My social life is completely different now; the solitude has turned into isolation; this is only compounded by the increased frustration level resulting from a very preventable accident.

It was very important for someone to be there for encouragement during the acute phase, giving me a reason and desire to continue. Most of my family was there assisting me. It was very important to have assistance, while letting me do as much as I could myself; doing with me rather than for me. The rehabilitation process was ongoing with constant changes in limitations and needed adaptations; knowledge of these has always been an enormous benefit to me.

Not only is it difficult to accept the reality of not being able to do the things that I once did; but these are all hidden injuries; this has been the hardest part of accepting them. Not only do I talk like Bob Dylan, and sing like Roseanne Barr, but I walk just like most other people...(after they've drunk a fifth of whiskey). For example: I had gone to a local police station to report a stolen wallet, and they mistook my brain injury deficits for intoxication and locked me in jail for public drunk. Awareness, understanding, and inclusion have been a personal concern since then; reducing fears and dislike while increasing the power of unity.

I decided to continue my formal education, one year after the wreck. I graduated from Northeastern, left handed and right eyed; went to work for the Army Ammunition plant; became involved with Oklahomans for Independent Living, where I'm now chairman of the board of directors; and recently received a Masters Degree in counseling from East Central University. Little may have changed, physically; except the books I've met and the people I've read, or versa-vice.

I can't say that if you always wear safety belts, helmets, and never drink and drive, that this will not happen to you; but, it will reduce the risk. If I'm with someone else, I will lead by example; maybe they will follow; why choose a permanent solution for a temporary problem. Bad things happen to good people; answers are still divided. Five seconds for a safety belt, or a few dollars for a helmet to reduce a risk that can last a lifetime. Next time. I will Think First before I choose!