*Property of L. Drake…permission to copy is granted for non-monetary gain only. Thank you.*
This is a story that I didn’t want to be mine. This is a story about something I would never wish on anyone. This is a life-changing story. What I have learned is that lives change in an instant- we meet someone and fall in love, we get in an accident and get hurt, we hope and dream for something but we fall and fail instead. All of these things can happen in an instant. What I have also learned is that God is present in every one of these stories. He is there in the beginning, throughout the journey, and at the end. God doesn’t do bad things to us. God doesn’t hurt us. God doesn’t damage us. The world does. God, being the Creator of this universe and far superior to all that is in it, chooses us. He chooses us when we’re on our highest mountains and He chooses us when we are in our darkest valleys. God chooses us even when we don’t choose Him. He rejoices with our earthly victories, He weeps with us when we are broken, He loves us unconditionally throughout our struggles, and He is proud when His children overcome the struggles of this world and trust in Him. What I have learned is that God will mend everything that is broken and heal every broken heart in His time, not our time. Sometimes we need to be broken to get put back together. This is a story of how I became broken. This is also a story of how I become whole in Him.
On Tuesday, November 22nd, 2016, I was crossing a crosswalk after coming out of an Army ROTC workout. I had just done about 4 miles of sprints and my muscles were incredibly tight around my legs. I left the gym at 7 a.m. It was just before dawn and it was raining. There was no snow on the ground yet, and I waved at the oncoming cars as I prepared to cross the crosswalk to get to my car. I had a 9 a.m. class to get back for. I saw the brake lights of the cars and started into the crosswalk. Of the 3 lanes to cross, I had crossed exactly 2 and a half when I heard something. I looked over my right shoulder and saw a Jeep about 5 feet from me. I saw its headlights, I saw the head of the driver, and I froze. About a second later, that Jeep hit me at about 30 mph or faster, slicing open my chin, crashing into the entire right side of my body, launching me about 10 feet across the pavement. I landed on my entire left side and hit my head. Hard. Luckily, I had just enough adrenaline to pick myself up out of the street and run to the sidewalk.
The driver did not see me. He was distracted, most likely on his phone. In my memories and nightmares of this incident, I see a head without any facial features in that second before I was hit. I figured out that I didn’t remember the head with any facial features because the driver was bald. He was looking down, probably at his phone. He did not know I was in the crosswalk until he hit me. I had to run out of the street because he started to brake after I was hit. I had to run out of the street to save my life and to avoid getting run over by a 5,000-pound vehicle slowing down from 30+ mph.
I ran to the sidewalk and collapsed on the corner. It was then that I noticed that when I was hit, my glasses were knocked off my face, my reflective gym bag fell off my right shoulder, and my phone and keys knocked out of my right hand. They were lying right in the center of the crosswalk in the spot where I was hit. Other cars were slowly driving up with their windows rolled down. One man in a pickup yelled, “Are you okay? Ma’am? Ma’am?” and another lady in a white crossover, the car behind the one who hit me, yelled out of her window and asked if I was alright as well. I had to run back into the street to get my phone and my stuff so I could call 9-1-1.
The driver who hit me pulled over. He walked over and calmly said, “I’ll call 9-1-1. I’ll get an officer over here right away.” I don’t remember him saying sorry. The woman who had yelled to me pulled her car over behind the Jeep and came over to me. She asked if I was okay. I had extreme pain in my right hip and my left knee, and I was sitting in a cold puddle. I couldn’t believe this had happened. Everything went by very fast. I started my own First Aid. I am lucky to have had Army training in how to respond. I believe this helped me stay conscious and calm throughout this event. I had pain in my chin and felt it. When I pulled my hand away, I saw blood. I held my hand on my chin with all my strength to try to slow the bleeding.
The lady who had stopped, Maggie, asked if she could make some calls for me. I had her call the Army MSG inside. When he didn’t answer, I called my friend and she answered. Maggie called my boyfriend, Nate, and told him what happened. Soon, my friends came running out to me. In our ROTC program, we had just gotten inspected for having winter survival kits in our trunks. My ROTC friends (3 cadets and 1 MSG) came out. They brought me blankets from the winter kits and put a coat around me. I had them record my statement of what happened in case I would lose my memory or if I would lose consciousness. I remember sitting in the sidewalk puddle, getting rained on, freezing, and I felt like an animal in the zoo. All of the ROTC cadets in the gym were just leaving the workout and stared at me as I was collapsed. After they quickly left, my 4 Army friends stayed.
The Army MSG had a First Aid kit in his car. He bandaged my chin. They waited with me for the 9-1-1 responders. I thought maybe one cop would come. All of a sudden, the cops, a firetruck, and an ambulance arrived with all of their sirens blaring. I started crying. I said, “I didn’t want all of this.” It was overwhelming.
When the cops got to me, the driver who hit me came over and asked how he could help me. I think this was for show. It was ingenuine and awkward. It made me sad. Once I had collapsed on the sidewalk, my very first thought was that I had two choices: I could hate this man and what he had done to me or I could show him love. I chose love. I prayed for him immediately in that instant before I prayed for myself. This is one of the things from the accident that has really made me think about the kind of love God wants from us. He wants us to show unconditional and pure love for everyone- not just people we like or good people or Christians. He wants us to love everyone alive with the kind of love He has for us.
When the cops, firefighters, and ambulance came, the cops asked me about 3 questions: 1. Are you okay? (My hip and knee hurt and my chin is bleeding.) 2. Can we take a picture of your chin? (No, I want to leave the bandage on. *I did not want to see more blood*).
The third question came after I was loaded up by the paramedics. The paramedics helped me stand. It hurt. They asked me what hospital they should take me to. I didn’t know what to pick (I hadn’t exactly been in this situation before) so I asked the MSG and he recommended whatever one was closest. I told the paramedics I could walk but they had me lay down on the stretcher thing. Once I was loaded in the ambulance (we hadn’t started driving yet), they asked for my ID and health insurance and did all the basic paperwork. They asked if there was anything they could do for me. The very first thing I asked them was if the man who hit me was okay. The paramedics were confused, and they said, “Yeah he’s fine. He doesn’t have any injuries and his car is fine.” I said, “No, I mean is he okay? I don’t want him to be sad that he hit me. If I were him, I would feel terrible.”
It turns out the driver didn’t feel terrible. I found this out later.
One of the cops came over to me in the ambulance and asked the third question: What happened? (I said something like, “I was crossing the crosswalk and the cars always stop but he didn’t stop.”) It was brief. The cop went away.
The Emergency Room
As we were on our way to the hospital in the ambulance, my body got very stiff. Everything started to hurt more. The adrenaline from before was wearing off. When the paramedics got me to the ER, the ER nurses and doctor swarmed me. There were about 8-10 of them. They transferred me off the stretcher to a hospital bed and began some vitals. My boyfriend got there right away. He walked right in and the first thing he said to me was, “You look beautiful today.” He came to my side and held my hand the entire time. The nurses took my clothes off and put a robe on me. My hair was soaking wet from the rain and I was freezing cold. I began to go into shock. I began to shake. My jaw was chattering very hard. My friend who had run out to me, Maria, came into the room as well. Her and Nate stayed with me. Maria told me the MSG and another cadet were in the waiting room.
The nurses told me the bandage on my chin looked great and said the paramedics never do that nice of a job. I laughed a little and told her it was done by an Army MSG. They said he did a great job. They took the bandage off and started to clean out my chin. It had some dirt and pavement in it. The doctor came in along with some nurses who said they were going to take some x-rays on my legs, especially on my knees and hips. I remember I was freezing cold this entire time. My hair was so wet and cold, I couldn’t stop shaking, my jaw wouldn’t stop chattering, and I was very much in shock. I couldn’t move the lower half of my body anymore. Any slight movement hurt a lot.
After they wheeled my bed to the x-ray room, they transferred me to the x-ray table. It was cold and metal. It was very difficult to hold myself in the positions the nurses put me in for the x-rays because of the extreme pain in my legs. After they took the x-rays, they transferred me back to my bed and wheeled me back to the ER room.
The nurses offered me an IV and painkillers. I refused all of this because I wanted to feel all the pain so I would know if something was wrong. I didn’t want painkillers to numb me because I wanted to catch as my injuries as early as possible. Throughout all of this, Nate stayed right by my side and held my hand. When I had to move or something hurt extra bad, I squeezed it extra hard.
Then the nurse asked if my parents knew what had happened. They didn’t. This was one of the hardest moments of this whole experience so far- I know how much my parents love me and how much they would worry about me. As far as they knew at that moment, I was in my Stats class working hard a couple weeks before finals. I wanted to spare them the harsh reality of what had happened to me. But I couldn’t, and Nate called my dad. My dad asked to talk to me. It was very challenging because I was shaking so much and my jaw was shattering intensely. I put on some country music after the phone call to help me through the shock. I prayed. I asked God to be with me. He was.
That’s the thing about God. He is everywhere in complete capacity at all times. God is in every emergency room, whether He is invited or not. God loves and cares about everyone, regardless of their belief or faith in Him. God is in every mosque, He is in every synagogue, He is in every temple. That doesn’t mean every kind of worship or religion glorify Him. But nonetheless, God is there. God is there in all of our dark places, in all of our deepest and darkest and saddest thoughts. He is present in all of our sad and sinful and painful actions. He is there when we do things to separate ourselves from Him. He is there when we lie. He is there when we hurt others, when we get hurt by others. He is there when we are tempted by darkness. He is there when darkness wins. God is so fully and entirely present in every place at every moment for all of time, and He knows infinitely more than the human concept of “everything.” God has a way of permeating Himself in everything that it seems to me impossible not to notice Him there.
God sat by me on my hospital bed, He was with all the staff who cared for me, He was with my parents as they drove almost 3 hours to come to me.
Throughout the entire day in the ER, I did not fully understand or accept what had happened to me as real. It seemed so temporary and I thought I could be better within about a week. I was wrong.
I was given crutches- they weren’t much help since I couldn’t put weight on either leg, but I got one heck of an arm workout. I got a little hospital breakfast after all the x-rays were done and it was determined that I did not need surgery. I shared with Nate – he is a Marine officer candidate with an appetite, and he hadn’t eaten anything all day. He was woken up by the phone call about the accident and he came immediately.
When it was determined that I was cleared to leave the hospital, I asked if there was a chance of a head injury. The nurses said there was almost no chance of a head injury. They were also wrong. The nurses at the ER I was treated at were rather irritable and didn’t seem to genuinely care for patients. I learned that they were upset about wage and benefits discrepancies, and this greatly impacted their moods and the care they provided.
Nate left the hospital briefly to get me sweats and a sweatshirt- I had been wearing tight spandex running gear and there was no way I could put that back on my body. It was still incredibly painful to move my legs. The rest of my body began to get sore as well. I was released and Nate helped me into the car. We went to McDonald’s- we were both so hungry!! It was the afternoon when I was released and neither of us had eaten anything more than the hospital breakfast we shared.
After the Hospital
We went back to my apartment. My parents arrived soon after that. Nate left for class and my parents helped me to rest. It was a Tuesday before Thanksgiving Break, and I hosted a Bible study small group on Tuesdays. I messaged them about what happened and told them to still come. My friend Jaime came early and brought me dinner. It’s so nice to have good friends when life gets crazy! When my Bible study girlies arrived later, I shared with them the story about the day. We had a brief Bible study and they prayed over me. They laid their hands on my hurting, bruised body and prayed.
There is power in prayer. They prayed for healing in God’s timing- which is exactly what I’m getting. I’m healing on God’s clock, not my own. God doesn’t always give us what we ask for. Most of the time, He doesn’t. He answers our prayers with responses and solutions that are best for us in His eyes, many times answers that will make us stronger instead of healed, more trusting in Him instead of back to our own independence, and closer to Him in the long run instead of the quick, instant, “human” solutions we often crave.
My parents took me home the next day. I thought I would definitely be back in full swing by the end of the Thanksgiving Break. I enjoyed Thanksgiving with my family and with Nate’s family the next day, but I was very tired from it. When I woke up Friday morning, I knew something was very, very wrong. Any light hurt my eyes, any sound overwhelmed me, I was dizzy, nauseous, sore, crabby, and I had an extreme headache. My mom took me to the doctor’s that morning. My doctor determined that I had a concussion and that I could be better/back to normal within 1-3 weeks. (Side note: this didn’t happen.) The doctor recommended I take the rest of the semester off to allow my brain time to heal.
When this accident Really changed my life
I had to email my professors and tell them I couldn’t come back to finish the semester. All of my courses, all 18 credits of them, had to be put on “incomplete” so I could finish them later. I had all A’s. My pre-accident life was the exact life I wanted. I had always been smart. School was easy and enjoyable. I loved learning. I was double majoring and loving it. I had founded a non-profit for Veterans which I loved being the president of. I nannyed. I worked out with Army ROTC every morning and was training to take my contract. I was in the best shape of my life, and I had some really great abs. I loved hosting my Bible study. I loved cooking and baking and made dinner for my boyfriend a couple nights a week. I loved art- I was an excellent painter, drawer, and loved lettering. I was a good dancer- my boyfriend and I would go to barn dances (such a North Dakota thing, I know) and swing dance. I was fluent in Spanish and loved listening to Spanish music. I loved going to church. I loved watching New Girl and Hawaii 5-0 when new episodes came on once a week. I loved playing piano and ukulele. I loved singing. I loved to clean and organize and tidy things up. I loved being with my family and kids and being outside. I loved doing nature-y things with Nate like hiking in all kinds of weather and camping. I absolutely loved driving- I loved my car I worked hard to pay for, I loved singing in the car to my favorite playlists, and I loved Military Car-wash Mondays. The gas station by my apartment gave free car-washes to all military personnel and I would get gas and a rainbow car-wash every Monday. I loved it. I was a squad leader in ROTC- I loved helping the members of my squad and practicing good leadership. I loved writing and public speaking. I was constantly infectiously happy and full of the joy that comes from God. I loved my pre-accident life.
I don’t love my post-accident life very much.
I can barely read more than a text’s worth at a time before the letters look funny and don’t make sense. I can’t drive. I can’t live on my own. I am not taking classes or at school or in the ROTC program. I can’t workout without getting sick. I have lost much of my ability to balance and I get dizzy and nauseous whenever my head moves. I have significant trouble with my memory, including some long term and a lot of short term memory. I forget things almost instantly. I have extreme difficulties focusing and concentrating and thinking. I can’t handle being out in public because of the overstimulation. Light and sound still bother me significantly. I haven’t gotten a single good night’s sleep since the accident. I am up almost every night until 3-6 a.m. and wake up several times throughout my sleep. I have vivid, disturbing, active dreams throughout my sleep that make me feel like I have gotten no rest at all. I can’t nanny anymore. Spanish is incredibly difficult now. English is also a lot harder. I notice myself using the wrong grammar and the wrong words often but my brain keeps getting them confused. I have lost almost my entire appetite. I probably eat 800-1,000 calories a day. I get exhausted from little activities and I get very frustrated when I can’t do simple things I used to do. I wander into rooms and have no idea what I am doing. I pick up objects and forget what I grabbed them for. I can’t watch TV- I just listen. It’s too bright. It’s hard for me to focus and use my memory on plot lines, so TV is frustrating because I always forget what is going on. I can’t go to church because of the overstimulation. I wore sunglasses at all times for the first 2 and a half months of my “recovery” and am trying to wean myself off of them. I have forgotten how to read music- something I have done since I was a kindergartner. I cried when I figured out that I forgot. I spend almost every day all day in my room at my parents’ house, alone, and in the dark. The light hurts my senses too much, and I am alone because the world still has to go on even when you’re not really a part of it. My parents still have to work, and my siblings still have to go to school.
The loneliness is one of the worst parts. I spend almost the entire day alone every single day. I have now done this for three months. I can barely do anything during the day. I definitely can’t go anywhere besides doctors’ appointments and I can’t read, study, watch TV, or exercise. I fill my very long, boring, dull days with Sudoku puzzles when I have the focus for them or by laying in my bed. I feel numb most of the time. My memory doesn’t soak a lot of the day in, so it feels like I am trapped in a nightmare that is on pause. When my family gets home, they are too busy a lot of the time with homework or extra work or relaxing from their busy, fulfilling days to spend too much time with me. I have a wonderful family, don’t get me wrong, but this is a huge frustration for me. It makes me sad that I can’t be busy and have full, exciting, happy days like them. My days are long and dark and sad and it is so hard to stay positive throughout this.
What I have realized throughout this experience is that one single action, no matter how small, can have enormous consequences. A distracted driver who didn’t look at the road for less than a minute has taken all of the things I loved about my life away. He and his actions have permanently altered the plan and goals and dreams I had for my future. His simple, very easily avoided mistake has hurt me and damaged me physically, emotionally, and mentally. I am trying not to let this hurt me spiritually, but it is a struggle. I can’t focus long enough to really pray and it is so hard to read my Bible when reading is such a challenge. I can’t go to church and I can’t be at my Bible study, so almost all the access I had to the instruction and message of God’s word is inaccessible right now.
By far the most painful and worst part of this is the loss of memory. Losing my memory has always been my biggest and pretty much only fear. I am not afraid of spiders or snakes or public speaking or anything else, but I have always been terrified to lose my memory. To me, this is the absolute worst, most devastating thing that can happen to someone. I watched my grandma die to Alzheimer’s and watching her mental decay was so incredibly sad. I am now living my biggest fear and I don’t think it’s fair. I have never expected life to be fair, but I have always expected it and people to be inherently good. I have not found that peace in this injury. I don’t think it’s fair for me to live in my biggest nightmare and lose almost everything I love because someone wanted to drive and be on their phone. I can’t even express how trivial and meaningless I find phones to be now. I can’t help but think how stupid and meaningless the text he sent was. “Okay”. “Yes I’ll be home then”, “Can you let the dog out?”, etc. are not important enough to take away my freedoms and how I have chosen and made my life to be. I am not angry, but I am very saddened by this.
I don’t want any of this to be my story. I didn’t ask for any of this, I didn’t do anything to cause it, and I am living every possible consequence from someone else’s actions. I don’t want to identify with any of this. I don’t want to feel weak and out of shape and mentally stupid because of how limited my brain and memory are now. I don’t want to live such a limited life and have such a slow and challenging recovery. I don’t want to feel trapped and alone and sad and dumb and sick and dizzy and nauseous and exhausted. But I am all of these things. I feel all of these things, and I will continue to live with all of these consequences, and there is nothing in my power to change any of it.
It is so hard to have all of your power taken from you. I think of myself as highly independent, highly motivated, smart, goal-driven, joy-filled, and happy. I don’t feel any of those things now. I don’t really recognize myself in photographs. I heard a video of myself from before the accident and I started crying because I didn’t recognize myself. I am nothing like the pre-accident self and that is all I want to be. It is so devastating to watch yourself slip away. I can only imagine the pain and mental battles my grandma had to go through with Alzheimer’s.
When all of our human power and independence and abilities are taken away, it is so much easier to see how mighty and strong and fervent God is in His love and plans for us. It has been hard to find any good in any circumstance stemming from this accident, and even if there isn’t very much good to be found, God is still there. I think we lie to ourselves as humans and say good will come of everything. Sometimes this doesn’t happen. And God is still there. God is there in devastation and depression and sadness. God is there in every physical and psychological battle the world forces us to fight. And sometimes, God just sits at our bedside with us as we cry. God is there in our tears. He is there in our pain. He is there when it feels like He isn’t.
That’s the one thing I have learned most about God. He is not some pompous, out-of-touch monarch who flaunts His greatness over His creation. God is humble enough to have made Himself human. God is compassionate enough to have sent someone to save us from humanity and the world and sin. God is strong enough to forgive when we hurt Him. God is gentle enough to wipe away our tears. God is dedicated enough to love us when we don’t love Him or recognize Him back. God is patient enough to wait for us for as long as it takes to learn about Him and love Him and trust Him and honor Him.
Now, I am on the very long journey of “recovery” from this accident. I say “recovery” because I don’t think you can ever truly recover from something like this. Recover means to return to a previous state or to revert back to the original. I do not believe that is possible after something like this. When we are officially “healed” or “well” or “as well as we can possibly get from a traumatic brain injury”, we will not be recovered. We will be new. We will be nothing like our old selves, and that’s okay. We will have grown. We will have channeled the pain and forced it to create something beautiful. We will emerge stronger and kinder than before. We will know God in far more complexities and circumstances. It is impossible to truly know the God of healing without ever being broken. We can’t feel the hope of a God of forgiveness and compassion if we have never hurt. I don’t know if I expect to have all of my same abilities as before. I am trying to make peace with where I am at so that anything more will feel like a blessing. And I think that’s okay.
Above all, I know that God is here. He is here for my (many) bad days and here for my good ones. He is here to catch my tears and to know the deepest sadnesses of my heart and He is here to love me regardless of any of it. God doesn’t love a healthy person more than a broken one, and He doesn’t bless the broken less than the healed. God is here. God is here to stay. When I am especially in pain and feeling the depths of sadness and loneliness and brokenness, God is beside me. God stands in the fire beside me. And He won’t let go.
There is a light that overwhelms the darkness. Jesus. You stand in the fire beside me. You carry my healing in Your hands.
You are the peace in my troubled sea. In the silence, you won’t let go. In the questions, your truth will hold.