The way I want to be... and was.
January 26, 2009 11:19 PM   Subscribe

How do you overcome a serious accident? (After all the hoopla is over about how you've survived it all, and you are now coming to terms with the kind of life you might have to live [and how different it is from the one you were used to living]--and that scares you half to death--you have to ask yourself "what comes next?")

The doctor's are no help because they had started out by giving me a 3% chance of survival--so there's not much help there--but even if I wanted their opinion I can't get it right now because they aren't answering their phones at the moment. I know a lot of you wrote to me and told me that I could write to you if I ever wanted to, you see, but the thing is, I can't go back to the Yahoo pages and try and find all those letters again--it'll just be too depressing for me. My mom's idea is to go and see a Therapist (the brain kind) and tell him or her about my problems, but I doubt that would help. Dad just want's to be like Dad's everywhere and tells me that I'll be walking in no time--that I have nothing to worry about. Big help, when the only thing on my mind are those two and if I'll ever be able to get a job again... I miss my leg right now, and even though it's there, I wish it was back to the way it was before the accident.
posted by hadjiboy to Human Relations (40 answers total) 15 users marked this as a favorite
Response by poster: Suicide has also come into the picture now and I've started having dreams where I cut my leg off and then something happens--I either jump off a cliff--or something...

This all wouldn't have happened if my leg recovery was as quick as everything else, but everyone says that the fact that I'm alive itself is a big miracle in it self, and I should thank my lucky stars that I don't have any other kind of injury to worry about.

Big help that is... I know how lucky I am, but I wish... you know--that I could walk--again.
posted by hadjiboy at 11:28 PM on January 26, 2009

You are probably going through some post-traumatic stress, which is common after the kind of experience you've described.
The cutting off the "offending" leg is quite a common daydream/dream. You need to listen to your mother.
A therapist is EXACTLY what you could do with right now.

Healing from major trauma can take a very long time and many people need help from physios, surgeons, rehab specialists, psychiatrists, etc. etc., They are just one of a team of specialists at what they do, and they do it very well.

Please don't fall for the dismissive "OMG I need to see a shrink"! (you're brighter than that Hadji!) There may even be a kind of cultural "shame" associated with therapy (?), whatever. They are just another doctor, and they can probably help you a lot.

See a therapist.
Best of luck for your healing!
posted by Wilder at 11:39 PM on January 26, 2009 [6 favorites]

If you were in the Christian west and were religious, I'd suggest talking to a priest or minister. Is there some equivalent where you are that you know and trust?
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 11:53 PM on January 26, 2009

I'm sure that there will be people coming in here with far better advice but it's late and I'll throw in my bit for now.

Just as Wilder said about PTS above, you need to reconsider your Mum's advice and take into account the prospect that your brain has been through a shock and is in the process of healing itself. I mean physically healing itself. It may take time and that's hard for people to accept because it's a popular notion that we can all just will our invisible injuries to heal if we just wish hard enough or have enough faith in god.
posted by bonobothegreat at 12:04 AM on January 27, 2009

Seconding C P. The local equivalent of a priest should be a good option. You don't even have to be religious to talk to them imo.

Or to phrase it in another way. Who do you think would have comforted and talked to your parents to help them ease the pain if you had actually died? You should see that person.
posted by uandt at 12:10 AM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: Well, my dad has a few friend's like that, Chocolate Pickle. In fact, he just mentioned a guy who was a muslim friend of his, and a cop, who used to call him up and end his calls with: don't worry Siraj, you have nothing to worry about... and this was all the way through my surgery, me opening my left eye first, and then my right eye; to my talking, all which took over a month, again, fast for the kind of wounds I had. And now I'm up to walking, with a walker no doubt, but I can just barely manage without it. It's just my left leg, and that too--the knee joint.

Wilder, I've been seeing a therapist for over a year now, before the accident, and being embarrassed has nothing to do with it. I was just wondering if this kind of a recovery would require her... and thank you for telling me it does. I'll make an appointment with her as soon as possible.
posted by hadjiboy at 12:11 AM on January 27, 2009

Would this book be of any use to you? The fact that you can talk about it makes you an inspiration - I say press on.
posted by philad at 12:11 AM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: bonobothegreat, thanks!

And thank you too, uandt... I have a Christian friend who fits the bill right there.
For me, and my folks... :)
posted by hadjiboy at 12:15 AM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks philad, now you've got my heart pumping... I was wondering what I could do with this injury, and now there may be something there... or not, who knows. But thanks for bringing it to my attention!
posted by hadjiboy at 12:20 AM on January 27, 2009

Nthing the therapy suggestion. You might find this book by Jackie Nink Pflug of interest. She was an American aboard an Egypt Air flight when it was hijacked, and was shot point-blank in the head and thrown down onto the tarmac when the terrorists were negotiationg for fuel. She doesn't sugar-coat her long and painful recovery, and she went through several therapists before she found one that she connected with and who truly helped her. Her brain injury wasn't only from the bullet, but also from bouncing down the airplane stairs; as her surgeon explained it, the brain bounced around inside her cranium and was swollen and bruised, which in itself takes a while to heal. When she was finally well enough to be released from the hospital, she couldn't read anymore, her vision was severely affected, her sense of balance completely out of kilter, and she not only couldn't tell by feeling what type of coins she held in her hand, she no longer recognized a quarter from a dime nor knew how much they were worth. (As she described it, she'd lived, but she felt like she had no life.)

As I mentioned, it took 10 long years of both physical, occupational and emotional therapy, but she can now read, drive, and handle money. She's still not 100% and may never be, but every now and then she notices something new, some very slight bit of improvement in one area or another, and that keeps her going. Maybe her story will help to shine a bit of light on your horizon. I wish you the very best of luck!
posted by Oriole Adams at 12:57 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I was in a shelling that killed both of my parents. I given a 0% chance of survival. In fact, they actually put me in the morgue and didn't even try to save me. My uncle bribed someone to try to save me, I was in a coma for weeks and when I woke up I was in shattering pain, had only a nightmare sense of losing my parents and had to have that explained to me. A large part of a brick wall fell on me and severely damaged my shoulder, breaking my scapula into about thirty pieces.

So I can really, really relate to what you're going through. I didn't see a therapist - it wasn't an option in wartime. I wish I had gone to a therapist. I was still a teenager when this happened and not really ready to be a responsible adult. I relied a lot on my parents and had a whole lot to deal with all of a sudden. The war, hunger, physical frailty, cold, sickness, fear.

What helped me? Well, I had to survive. Survival instinct kicked in. Every day, I had to find food, try to scavenge clothes, find material to burn to keep warm. I didn't have much of a chance to dwell on things too long . . . and that was a blessing of sorts. But later, the problems came out. You can't really make them go away. I wish I'd had the chance to deal with mine right away. I didn't, but you do. That's a great thing! Take advantage of it.

Hadjiboy, you're lucky because like me, you have a chance to live. And you can get therapy and you've got the support of a mom and dad, even if it's not always exactly what you feel like you need. GO FOR THERAPY. Post-traumatic stress is tricky. You'll feel like crap and not know why. In many ways, it's worse than the physical trauma and medical stuff. It's really unknowable and dark. But therapy really helps a lot.

I live in America now. I had to live here knowing almost no one and not even speaking the language. I'd never had a real job before. I was pretty insecure about the future in every way. I didn't know if I'd ever fit in, if I'd have enough to eat, if I could live with the nightmares and pain and worries. But here I am, and I'm doing pretty well. You will too. I don't know what your physical recovery entails, and maybe you won't be the physically perfect person you were before. But that's superficial stuff really. People won't care nearly as much as you might imagine. Wear your injuries with pride - you're tough and you survived!
posted by Dee Xtrovert at 1:06 AM on January 27, 2009 [130 favorites]

Response by poster: Dee, I'm so happy to hear your voice... I didn't know you were in a war, and had to survive so much. You really did have to go threw a lot, didn't you? I wish I could kiss you right now...

I had been hit by a drunk driver and went flying through the air, or so it has been told to my parent's by the people over there. The car hit me on my left leg, and I hit it on the way down with my head. It was early, 11:30 PM, and it was the ending of ramadan. Not many people were out, or shops open, and I was just coming back from eating something--maybe haleem--which is what I told my father when asking for money from him. The people there who saw me that day thought I was dead.

I had a broken left leg, and a blood clot in my brain. At first the doctors said that I had maybe a 3% chance of surviving, but after my parents were in formed, everything started flipping around. My parents in turn called my younger sis, living in Baltimore, who's married to a doc (not that she's any less I tell ya') and they both flew over to help me and be with me.

So I'm here today thanks to my mom and dad, my sister and cousin brother, and my family and all of those people who helped.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:34 AM on January 27, 2009

I've talked about having a permanent physical disability before, maybe my prior comment on dealing with health related stress will of use to you. I also have been close to death and survived (due to malaria, hit and run car accident, and other events) and know that you can do it too! It's not an easy process, but remember your path to recovery is sometimes one step forward and two steps back or full of unexpected twists and turns. While this comment focuses on coping with a broken wrist instead of other injuries, much of what I wrote there still stands; namely to not be too hard on yourself and allow room for adaptations even temporarily to ensure you are healed in the long-run. For example, you might not usually turn to a therapist or religious figure for support, but in this time of healing maybe you want to consider it as even a (temporary) situation. There is no shame in asking for help (I believe), and people want to help you recover.

You talk about wanting things to be "as they were", (and I wish you the very best luck in your recovery period) know that life is always changing, and it's part of the human condition to survive and adapt to new surroundings or realities (even albeit temporary). Change isn't easy, but if you seek out support from other people or services, I'm sure it can help you immensely. I have a few contacts in the Indian healthcare system in Hyderabad so I'll try to find out some services that might be of use to you. Remember to take care of yourself - eat, sleep, bathe and be as mentally and physically stimulated as possible!

Good luck to you, I wish you the best of luck.
posted by carabiner at 1:46 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: Thanks Oriole Adams, I'll be sure to take a look at the book, but it sure does help to hear her story... yeah, I too have some stuff which I couldn't remember at first, and was so happy when I could--like my wallet which was in my back pocket, and I thought was flicked by one of the ward-boy's handling me, or just dropped somewhere... I was so happy to know that those ward-boys returned it to my mother, except for the dinar note that I kept as a remembrance of Dharahan (but who cares) at least I got everything else: like my driver's license and pan card and what not. I was so happy that day--which was yesterday--that I could jump for joy.
posted by hadjiboy at 1:47 AM on January 27, 2009

Response by poster: Thanks a lot carabiner, I'd really be grateful to your friends for any help they could give me:)

And thanks for the links!
posted by hadjiboy at 1:54 AM on January 27, 2009

I don't mean to downplay what happened to you or be all "glass is half full" but having been through two road traffic accidents and two separate, life threatening medical emergencies, I try to keep the following in mind because I think having some perspective helps:

1) OK yes I have bolts and plates and pins and some very un-Kosher pig bits in my leg, but it's not like this ruined my career as a triathlete or anything. No, I cannot run, but running was never central to my identity in the first place. Therefore, that change is external and not internal, and matters very little.

2) House has brought sexy back to walking sticks.

3) While these things are genuinely traumatic, I keep in mind the experiences of others that are far worse, and remember that people do thrive and endure against backgrounds of real horror. At my lowest, I am not less able than they were at their lowest. If they can move forward, I can move forward.

4) You can't walk so well at 20? Well, you probably wouldn't have walked so well at 65, either. The accelerated difference, in the history of the universe, is trivial.

5) Life is change. Many of these changes are drastic. You weighed 7 pounds at birth. You probably weigh 150 now. THAT is a dramatic change. Walking to not walking well right now is nowhere near as significant a change.

6) And not to put too fine a point on it, but having once been in a position where I couldn't, I'm grateful to be able to wipe my own arse. ANY day when I can is better than the day when I couldn't.

Having said all of that, and even with the best attitude in the world, PTS can kick your ass. More than the physical limitations, PTS has changed who I am. I do not enjoy being jumpy, prone to stress, leaping out of my chair when the phone or doorbell rings, and struggling with anxiety and panic attacks. It took me a long time to figure out what was going on, and I wish I had gotten help sooner.

In other words: therapy. It's a lot to process. You need to process what you're feeling. Therapists are better at this than friends and family, unless you're very lucky.
posted by DarlingBri at 3:56 AM on January 27, 2009 [3 favorites]

hadjiboy you know I've been a big fan of you for a long time and I'm really rooting for you to get better quick, mate. my stories are nothing compared to Dee's, but here's my 2 cents anyway.

One bright Saturday morning, when I was about 1.5 years old (I don't remember this clearly, of course, but its how my dad still tells the story), I was out back behind our small rental house in California's Sierra Nevada foothills. I had been sitting there in all morning, in a diaper and a t-shirt, playing with my yellow Tonka trucks in the chalky dirt. Dad walked by the sliding glass door that morning just in time to see the mother rattlesnake with her two babies slinking slowly past my backside. Thank God there was a shovel next to the door, dad was able to grab it and kill the mother faster than he would have even been able to grab me.

A year or two later we were at an Independence Day party at the house of some family friends. Lots of food and beer and friends and kids and whatnot and its easy to lose track of your kid and of course I'm fascinated with this pool thing and next thing I know I'm sinking. I remember one last gulp of half-air, half chlorine as I started to go down for the last time, just looking up at all the people with their backs turned to me. Which is when I felt a neighbor's hand grasp every last hair on my scalp and lift me back to life.

About a month or two after I got my drivers' license I had been pulling out of a bookstore parking lot in the parents' new minivan, on my way to pick up a sister from piano lessons. I was turning left against 2 lanes of traffic, and the woman in the first lane stopped to wave me out. As I eased into the second lane to try and peer around the bend in the road to see if it was clear toWHAM...a drunk driver doing 70 in a 25 sheered the entire front end of the van off. I lost only the hair on my forearms to the airbag.

About a year after that, I was jumped and beaten for the bicycle I had been riding. The last thing I remember was my forehead being directed into one of those cement drinking fountains you find in parks, the kind covered with tiny pebbles. I woke up in the hospital with a doctor telling me he's not sure how my skull didn't fracture.

I've had multiple near-death experiences on mountains that I chose to put myself on, so there's no one but me to blame for that. I've sustained memory loss from concussions and there's more than a couple days that simply don't exist anymore in my memory. Last year on Kilimanjaro my guide got Acute Mountain Sickness near the summit at 4 in the morning, and I actually had to evacuate him.

Last year I was mugged, and that was just a few months after narrowly avoiding a car-jacking (granted, I moved to more dangerous climes). There's probably at least half a dozen other near-death experiences I've had in my life - things that should have maimed or even killed me that I somehow missed by matters of seconds and sometimes inches. I don't know why that is, and why they keep happening to me.

All I know is that my life has been charmed. An amazing thing that I can only look back on - the parts that I can recall - and wonder why it got to be me that got to live this life. Its a wonderful life. You can't put it more simply than that.

For some reason I've always kind of (morbidly?) never been able to envision myself living to a very old age. I kind of feel that I won't get half the years that your average joe gets. I don't know why I've always thought that but its just a kind of presupposition in my head when I start thinking about the future. People tell me that at 30 I'm young and still in the first half of my life, but honestly I feel many times as if I've started the last quarter of it already. I'll probably end up old and gray and whatnot, but if I don't, isn't it amazing that I got to live the days that I did get to live?

Despite my experiences, I don't know much about trauma. My conditions were such that life moved on at a pretty fast pace, and again - I was charmed. I know that doesn't put me in much position to empathize with you right now, so I'm not sure how much it helps. Therapy as recommended above probably is a really good idea if you can get it. If you can't, find other people you can at least talk to about these things.

But whatever you do, stop to think back on your life and realize what an incredibly amazing thing life itself really is. Be amazed that you got to be you, and not the bed-frame you're lying in.

Suicide is such a painful, sad thing. I know that now. I know I can't possibly connect with where you are at when that becomes a viable option, but please get help before you get to that point. Please find ways to remember what an incredible thing life is, and not take it for granted.

Get well soon buddy. You've got your whole life in front of you. :)
posted by allkindsoftime at 4:29 AM on January 27, 2009 [6 favorites]

Hadji, I don't know the back story for you and I apologise in advance if this sounds trite - I don't know what it's like to be physically disabled and wouldn't presume to.

I had a nervous breakdown at 17 and experienced a sense of loss at who I thought I was - it was like the parts of me split apart like Tectonic plates and when they came back together they weren't in the right order. At 25, it happened again and this time I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Now, in terms of getting about and doing things it hasn't affected me - given the choice between this and serious physical injury I'd find myself very lucky. But the reason why I bring it up is that when it happened, I had no idea how I could ever be 'normal' again. I was off sick from work for six months, given tablets that affected parts of me that were very me - I was unable to read a book or listen to music for months and I still have trouble concentrating on fiction now, whereas before I would read three books a week. i also had to realise that I needed to take these tablets for the rest of my life if I ultimately didn't want to end up back in hospital, and even 18 months later I find that hard to realise. I sometimes grieve for the person I would have been if none of these things had happened. This person would have been brighter, smarter, taken less shit. Maybe, though, that wouldn't even have been true.

The thing is, though, that I managed to pull things together and I'm in a place where I feel like I'm managing a lot better than I was then, even if it's taking a long time because I completely lost the threads of what ti is to look after yourself. But in the interim, if people had told me I was lucky to be alive, or at least I wasn't homeless, or...well, it wouldn't have helped me feel better, it would have made me feel guilty, and maybe that's part of what you're feeling now.

I'm wondering if there's someone you can correspond with who has lost a leg and managed to live a normal life. You need someone to tell you that what you're feeling right now is normal, and also, that it;s perfectly possible that one day you won't feel this way.
posted by mippy at 5:03 AM on January 27, 2009

Excellent and terrifying stories above, thank you for sharing.

I have a different kind, a boring ho-hum story. In my generally quiet area, one of those apartment buildings and parking lot maze kinds of areas, it seems there was an older guy selling pot out of his apartment. Some local punks decided it would be cool to steal his stash. Except they didn't quite know where he lived. So, for three nights straight, the punks would break a window, peer in, realize they'd picked the wrong place, and run away. Third night, a neighbor saw some people prowling around and called the cops. It was a foggy night. The cops, tired of the bullshit, decided they were going to get the kids, so they were wandering around on foot, in the dark. Oblivious to all of this, I needed a pack of cigarettes. I went down to my car and did what I always do- turn it on, back out, pull away and turn my lights on as I'm pulling away. I did this because my parking spot was outside a neighbor's window and I didn't like disturbing them. Except this time, when my lights turned on, there was a suddenly freaked out police officer right in my path, and his reflex was to draw his weapon right on me. I froze, he recognized me, we said our hellos and the situation was over.

Happens all the time, nobody did wrong, bygones. Nonetheless, for a good six months later, I found myself with the occasional terrors. Imagining, despite my best efforts, exactly how wrong the situation could have gone. The whole time, I rationally knew that the officer was a good guy and wasn't going to shoot me. But my imagination wouldn't let me give it up until I'd re-lived the situation enough times to get it right in my head.

My point is, I'm a fairly normal individual. And this affected me far more than I ever thought something like this would. If a minor thing like this can get that deep into my head, I can't even imagine what an actual injury would have done. Platitudes like "get over it" or "you are lucky" or "you've got your whole life ahead" are true, but also useless. You're sick of being injured, you are probably sick of the physical recovery process, and it sounds like you feel like it would be easier to just chop the damn thing off and be done with it. These are all completely valid feelings. But remember, the mental and emotional recovery process IS a process, and these are things that you have to work through. Or at least, live through.

Your mind is playing tricks on you- it wants you to be better, and it's trying to come up with the quickest solutions it can. I'm sure there are instinctual reasons why, back in pre-historic times, it might be beneficial to want to chop off an injured limb. The sub-conscious works in mysterious ways- by definition, it doesn't work in the rational realm. All it can do is poke and prod, and try to convince your conscious mind that what it wants is a good idea. Kind of like what happens when someone is addicted to a drug and trying to kick it. The rational mind knows not to do it. But the subconscious doesn't just say "aww, come on, do it anyway." It creates feelings and urges that feel just like normal good urges like hunger and love.

So, my point is, don't fight the feelings you are having. Fight the realities and the actions. (On a far smaller scale, for example, who doesn't feel like quitting their job, or punching the jerk who just cut in line and things like that. If you fight the feeling, you just feel worse. So, feel it, wallow/enjoy the feeling, and then move on. The pleasure (even negative pleasure) of the daydream is always more satisfying, ultimately.) Take the motivation that these negative feelings are giving you, and direct them toward getting better, physically AND emotionally.

And yeah, getting professional help is part of that. They can work with you to find a way to make getting better a process, to give you goals and support, and different ways of framing things, so that eventually, the dismal feelings fade away.
posted by gjc at 5:18 AM on January 27, 2009

I don't know how serious your accident was but 12 months ago I was involved in an RTA. The injury summary was: broken left ankle & foot, right knee, right femur (in six places), pelvis, sternum, rib, right ulna and radius (compound fracture). I was in a wheelchair for 10 weeks (and not one I could wheel myself). A month after the accident, my wife gave birth to our first child. Obviously, I had an awful lot of issues going around inside my head. I couldn't help my wife, we had to live with my parents, I couldn't pick up my newborn child. In short, I had a lot to deal with.

Today, I'm back at work, I'm walking a ~2 miles at the weekends, my limp isn't very noticeable and almost everyone can't tell the difference between then and now. There's still plenty of pain, a bone that won't heal and a weakness that will take years to settle down... but I don't let people see that, nor do I let it stop me doing the things which I love in my life.

I'm sorry if your outlook isn't quite so rosy, or your injuries more severe, but there were plenty of periods when I wasn't looking too good either. My trick has been shear determination. When the people said I couldn't do something (like walk up the stairs, or slide myself from the bed to chair)... I just did it. Every single day presented new challenges and micro-competitions and each time I needed to step up and try. From 2 days after the accident I was off painkillers, because lying there doped up wasn't going to help me. Every day try something new. Tiny little baby steps and gradually build up to attempting larger tasks. Simple things like needing less help to move from bed->chair, or walking 50m down the pier on crutches were a huge achievements for me.

Here's some things which have really helped me:

- Physiotherapists. As soon as the doctor's will let you move or bear weight, your physio will be your saving grace. As someone said to me, unless it can be fixed by meccano, orthopedic surgeons aren't interested. Physios will get you moving again, building up movement and muscle. Honestly, the doctors might have fixed me but the physios got me walking again.

- Therapist. You need to talk to someone who isn't involved with the situation. Even though it was months afterwards when I began my session I found them immediately helpful. And they introduced me to...

- Man's Search for Meaning. A stunning book that defines what it is to be alive and to suffer (and how even horrible humbling suffering can be a positive experience). This book completely changed my outlook and probably my life. It has turned a horrible event into a good experience. Essentially, life is about how you handle the situations you're face with. I cannot recommend this book enough.
posted by hopeless at 6:07 AM on January 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

I was in a serious accident. Somehow I managed to beat the odds and survive with only major injuries. And, as you've seen, not all those injuries were physical. I've been through panic attacks and depression along with all the physical issues. I should have gone for therapy, but I was afraid of the stigma and toughed it out on my own.

In retrospect it was a serious mistake. It took years for me to get over it and to be honest, my recovery is really still ongoing. It's been almost nine years now.

It's your life and you have to live it, but if you have the opportunity to get professional help, take it. Don't condemn yourself, as I did, to years of feeling as you do now.
posted by tommasz at 6:13 AM on January 27, 2009

There is a lot of good advice here on seeking treatment for PTSD.

Another approach to healing is to empower yourself as best you can- arming yourself with as much information as possible on healing and recovery from your injuries. Set small and attainable goals for yourself- daily and weekly. Doing so will help ease feelings of loss of control and impatience with yourself and situation.

A friend recovering from some severe injuries from a recent car accident recommends the following books:

Super Healing

Spontaneous Healing

Coping with Physical Loss and Disability
posted by hellboundforcheddar at 6:17 AM on January 27, 2009

Echoing hopeless (except, OK, the name...): I've re-read Viktor Frankl's book every couple of years and it's sent me off in a new direction every time.
posted by kittyprecious at 6:32 AM on January 27, 2009

All good advice.

I've only had one accident/surgery/whatever, but to me it was a pretty big deal because it was the only thing I have (luckily) ever dealt with. I have two pieces of advice to add:

1) WORK, WORK, WORK at physical/occupational therapy. That's what it's there for. I was told on the operating table that I'd never have a normal elbow (it was "pretty much powdered," as I've mentioned before) and I got out of therapy three weeks early after thinking that I hadn't been making much progress. Being patient is harrrrrrrrd, yes, but don't let anyone tell you how far you can go.

2) Let yourself be upset. You went through some really tough times! You're still going through tough times! ANYONE would be upset! So let off steam, cry, do whatever you need to do. I would sometimes end my physical therapy sessions by crying for 15 minutes because I didn't think I was getting anywhere. The therapists have seen it all, and I guarantee they've seen worse. They just closed the curtain, sat down and listened. Or they just left me alone so I could get out what I needed to get out. There's a time and a place for everything, and this is it. If you don't get it out now, you'll have a tougher time coming to terms with it when you're feeling better outside but don't know what's going on inside.

You can and will get through this.
posted by Madamina at 7:36 AM on January 27, 2009

I have no hope of coming anywhere near the awesomeness that is dee's reply. my kudos for that.

what I can assure you is that how you look at life is entirely up to you. if you want to be happy, positive and forward-looking, you can get there. you can't grow a limb but you can control your own thoughts. a therapist is that local you ask for directions. find the right one and they will give you proper directions.

that may sound simplistic but do think of it just like this. you know who and how you want to be and it's just about how to get there. doable. no problem. yes. there is a time for reflection but constantly looking back and thinking about what could have been and what should have gone differently will only prolong the suffering. avoid that at all cost.

you'll be fine.
posted by krautland at 7:41 AM on January 27, 2009

I really don't feel qualified to help; I can't relate the to issues you having, but I do wish you all the best, I really do. What I noticed, however, is how you seemed to connect to Dee Xtrovert's story (and possibly others) who have gone through similar traumatic periods. I can't help but think that's exactly what support groups are all about -- connecting with people who understand what you're going through, and helping each other deal with it. Have you looked into this possibility?
posted by cgg at 8:04 AM on January 27, 2009 [2 favorites]

One of the great things about therapy is that you can develop the skill of addressing dark thoughts with the following mantra: I deal with this Tuesdays at 3:00 (or whenever your appointments are held). Then write down the thought/issue on a list and take it to the next session. It's a way to honor the dark thought and make a plan for action, which can help you feel more in control and can break you out of circular or obsessive thinking. I hope your recovery goes well and that you can get whatever therapeutic support (physical, emotional, etc.) you need.
posted by carmicha at 8:09 AM on January 27, 2009

I think it's really important to remember that this is a normal response and not a sign of weakness.
posted by mippy at 8:35 AM on January 27, 2009

I've used physical therapy for minor injuries many times and been a PT assistant for major injuries for a few years -- helping to heal the body goes a long way toward healing the mind, from what my patients have told me.

Mostly I wanted to post another inspiring story -- it's not mine to tell, so I'll just give you the website and a quick summary:

EJ Poplawski was competing in an extreme telemark ski competition in Colorado when his ski broke and he went careening off into a small grove of aspens. Shattered his knee and severed his popliteal artery, ultimately requiring amputation. His site documents his recovery and return to skiing, with new challenges for him to face. You can do it -- just set your mind to it and take all the help you can find. Good luck.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 9:48 AM on January 27, 2009

If you can find a copy to rent you might want to check out Murderball. It's a documentary about the US quadrepeligic wheelchair rugby team, and most of the guys on the team have gone through similar traumas. A sudden accident took them from being "regular" teenagers or young adults to suddenly being partially paralyzed. Hearing them talk about how they came to terms with it and handled it might be helpful.
posted by MsMolly at 9:52 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Sometimes the therapist you're seeing can only take you so far. Even though the therapist I was seeing once was completely competent there was a point where I was no longer making progress. I changed therapists and started making progress again. I think sometimes further progress can require a pair of "fresh eyes" considering the problems. Just something to consider. My issue was PTSD but for very different reasons. Mine was completely mental. I've been fortunate enough to never have had to deal with any major physical injuries.
posted by Carbolic at 9:55 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I also noticed your compassionate response to Dee's story. People who have been through serious strife are often uniquely capable of helping others in serious strife.

I, like the above posters, strongly believe that you should find a therapist that works for you. Don't give up if you go to a therapist and you don't click with them. Keep trying other therapists until you find one who does click with you -- you will. Asking for help is the right thing to do right now.

And later, once you have worked with this therapist a while, once you have found some tools that have helped you through this very challenging part of your life, maybe you can turn around in the future and offer someone else a hand, offer them your story, tell them how you got through it, like Dee just did for you.

I wish you the best, hadjiboy. You're going to get through this.
posted by jennyjenny at 9:56 AM on January 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

First, I want to agree with everyone else who said a therapist will be an important adjunct to dealing with all this.

and how different it is from the one you were used to living

You're pretty clearly in grieving for what you've lost. You had a whole life built which now appears to have been swept away; that's a lot of loss to grieve for.

You may find some clarity by examining your feelings in terms of the classic five stages of grief:
  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Bargaining
  • Depression
  • Acceptance
I'm sure you've experienced your share of all of these in the last few weeks, but in times of loss I've always found it ... well, sort of comforting to recognize the various stages as they come and go.

Frankly unless life is forcing your hand I would put off making decisions for the future for a bit; At least until you've had more time to honor your loss.
posted by tkolar at 10:14 AM on January 27, 2009

You are young. For a lot of your life, you have probably never faced your own mortality. It is the advantage of being young. It is easier to take risks when you can deny a possible outcome (no matter how unlikely).

When I was 27 (young), I had a monumental blood clot that went from ankle to groin. I went into and out of shock several times before I got treatment, which amounted to little more than an IV drip of anticoagulants, pain killers and being woken up every four hours to make sure I could breathe. I spent a week in the ICU and another two weeks in a regular room and had to learn how to walk again. My muscles atrophied and my affected leg wouldn't straighten again for a week.

I spent a lot of time thinking about my mortality, as it was unceremoniously presented to me in cold, stark lettering: "You nearly died. You are mortal." Game over for youthful risks - I came too close. And while you may not be as carefree as you once were, you can choose to see this for what it is: a gift. Life is a gift and many people don't realize how precious and how fragile it is. You've received a second gift: a reminder of the value of your first gift. Honor them both in a way that is suitable to you. Every now and again, I remind myself how truly wonderful it is to be able to pee on your own with reckless abandon. You don't realize this until you've had no choice to pee into a bottle in bed or have had a catheter violating you. A nice slow amble is never so precious as when you have been barely able to get around on a walker.

A therapist is not a bad idea. A therapist is a paid professional who knows how to gently direct you to understanding and confronting those things that you may not wish to. You need not need a paid professional. As others have said, there are people who can serve that role too: friends, advisers, family, mentors, clergy. Again, choose a means that is suitable for you. Trauma is painful and there's a reason we can take it all at once.
posted by plinth at 12:18 PM on January 27, 2009

(Just to follow up on my previous comment now that I have been able to understand the extent of your injuries and experiences so far):

Due to the nature of my physical disability and the numerous amount of surgeries I've had in my lifetime (over 10) I've had to relearn how to walk 7 times. I say this as a statement of fact, only to prove how resilient and truly amazing the human body is in recovering from trauma. Each time I had to relearn how to walk, I spent hours (often in excruciating pain due to weeks or month of my muscles having atrophied in part of my rehabilitation) with my physiotherapist just holding onto the bars struggling to gain balance, let alone how to walk. To this day, I walk with the assistance of an Ankle Foot Orthosis to correct my gait and have a limp on my left side. Along with my leg, my left arm is frozen at a certain angle and I have very limited range of gross-motor skills in my hand (I can left a loaf of bread, but not a pencil...and don't even ask me to try to turn my palm face upwards!).

During the icy winters of Canada, I often use a cane for balance and stability. I have limited sensation and movement of limbs along the left side of my body. I have many, many surgical scars on my left leg that are quite noticeable (ranging from 1" to 12" in length) but I choose to let them serve as reminders of how far I've come than wallow in pity of the struggles I've overcome (Bonus: If I'm in a silly mood and strangers glance at my scars I will make up wild stories on how I lost at mud-bath wrestling with an alligator. Kids love the vivid detail I put into my stories!).

And you know what? Doctors and therapists didn't have many answers for my parents when I was growing up when they asked what kind of life I would lead, or if I would be able to walk, talk, eat, work or live independently. They could guess, but no one had any answers. And you know why that is? Because no one knows! Life is often one full of chance, luck, hard work, perseverance and determination. In my lifetime I have gone from being told I would never be able to walk without a cane/AFO to walking independently; living and working overseas (my family is in Canada, I'm currently living alone in Vietnam for fieldwork); or graduate from high school (yet I'm completing my Masters degree this year!). How did I do it you ask? Well, what worked for me might not work for you but you need to keep trying. Never give up. It may take me a little longer to do "everyday tasks", I usually can get things done with a little thinking outside the box. Others in the thread have shared their coping strategies (and I've used many of them myself), so I won't be redundant in my post.

You may be struggling now, but keep on moving. You CAN do this. Even though you have a doctor in your family (luck you - I didn't!), you have to be your own advocate. I'm not saying you should research every little detail about your rehabilitation process online or second guess every decision your doctors/therapists may suggest, but be an informed patient. Ask questions about your courses of treatment and try to understand how doing X,Y,Z will help you reach your path to recovery. If you wonder why your physiotherapist has you doing a silly exercise (I had to practice walking a 10ft taped line once a day for 3 years - turns out it really did help with my balance!) or an occupational therapist making a teenager use a crayon to try to write my name with my left hand (I still can't really write my name with my left hand, but the exercise improved my grasping technique), ask! By knowing which medications/treatments/stretches/etc. are meant to help in which area of your recovery is a good way of monitoring your progress. It may be slow and minimal (or drastic!) at first, but results can often change if you practice (stretches, for example) or work hard enough at it (you may feel silly doing some of the exercises - I did, but know they're meant to help your long term goals).

The point is? Life is a journey and not a destination. Right now you're at a turning point in your life, and you don't know what is in front of you. So? Not many of us know where we'll be in 5, 10 years (or even a week from now). Yet you just have to keep on moving. You have a chance to shape your future (and it may be a little delayed or different than you anticipated) but it is something everybody faces every day. I'm not trying to minimize your situation, but just trying to put things in perspective. By reaching out to your family/friends/doctors/etc. you have a wonderful support network to help you along the way. Now go do it! :)

(I haven't forgotten my promise to contact my contacts in India, in fact I'm waiting for them to reply to my email. Hooray for timezones!)
posted by carabiner at 5:23 PM on January 27, 2009


I had an accident about five years ago that limited the things my body can do and makes me experience pain on a daily basis. Someone said something about you being 20—I'm not sure if they were just guessing, but I was 20 at the time. The new limitations of my body, and the pain, especially as I began to realize that they weren't going away, were incredibly hard to deal with at such a young age. However, having to deal with the 'having to deal' was arguably an even more debilitating problem. Five years on, the pain and the limitations are still there, but now they're just parts of life that are problems only as physical problems, which in my case are manageable.

Someone above said running wasn't central to her identity and so it actually doesn't matter that she can't run. I have had a similar experience. I used to torture myself with what it meant for me as a person that I was now technically “disabled.” I wasn't so lucky as the ex-runner, in that my physical problems do directly limit activities that are central to my identity, which is writing (and sleeping). However, they don't stop me from writing (or sleeping), they just make those things more difficult. Now I can write maybe a couple hours a day whereas before I could have, physically, written all day. Which sucks, but having to deal with only that limitation is much, much easier than having to deal with that and incessant fears and depression and suicidal thoughts.

So I guess what I'm saying is that you will get through it, and you may not have the same abilities you had before, but when the day comes that you can accept your limitations only as limitations and not additionally as symbols (and take as long as you need to “grieve” or emotionally/mentally manage the transition), you will find that you're still basically playing the same game but with slightly different rules.

I believe Susan Sontag talks about this kind of stuff in “Illness as Metaphor,” but I'm not sure because I find it too depressing to read about illness myself. —That last line was kind of a throwaway joke, but if there's a nugget of wisdom in it, it's I guess that it's important to deal with this in the way that's best for you. I didn't do therapy, and I would say that even though therapy can be really great for some people if they're receptive to it, if you go to a therapist and it's not helping you, don't hesitate to try a different one, or maybe stop going altogether until you feel like you want to do it. If talking about it is too depressing, it's okay to respect that feeling for as long as you need to. Maybe you need to suffer in silence, on your own, for a while, and maybe you'll feel like doing therapy in a year or two, or maybe in a week, or maybe never. That's okay too.

I wish you the best of luck.
posted by skwt at 11:25 PM on January 27, 2009

I was going to add something like “I should also mention that I was in completely perfect health before this happened” to make clear that it was a very sudden change from “totally abled!” to being “disabled.” Which, you know, is true, and so it was a huge blow to me psychologically, except that I should also say that one of thing I realized over the years of torturing myself about “being disabled” is that: it wasn't true that I was “in perfect health” before the accident—nobody is. I had a few minor skin problems, I had a couple cavities, I'd been hospitalized for gastritis once—nobody is in “perfect health.” It's all a spectrum. “Normally abled” and “disabled” are just words, and their referents are entirely societally and culturally defined. Is the girl who now can't run any more “disabled” than someone who can't run because he's a smoker and a few pounds overweight? But the smoker probably doesn't think twice about it, right? He just thinks “I'm a smoker. Sure I'm not in great health but that's normal for a smoker. I could be in better health but whattaya gonna do.” If you can force yourself to strip or at least minimize your body's problems of any social or cultural connotations, your life might (hopefully) be less stressful/depressing. Again, I'm not sure if this will apply to you, but this kind of thinking has helped me.

Again, good luck.
posted by skwt at 11:47 PM on January 27, 2009

I am really sorry to hear about what you are going through and I hope I can help a little.

August 2004 my husband and I were on our Harley on our way to Florida for vacation. At 7am, we decided to stop for breakfast. Big mistake. The traffic was heavy and we pulled on up past the restaurant and got in a turning lane to make a left hand turn into the drive way of a fire station so we could safely go back towards the restaurant. I don't remember what happened but apparently someone, on a cell phone, not paying attention and exceeding the 30 mph speed limit by at least 40 miles hit us in the side. Apparently, I took the brunt of the impact. Oh, did I mention he was driving an SUV? I was thrown 88 feet from the point of impact. When the EMT's got to my husband he kept asking them about me and they kept tellinghim there was no one with him. I was thrown so far they didnt even see me. I guess eventually they found me. I woke up over a week later with 119 fractures from my right hip down to my right ankle and some pretty bad internal injuries. I've had 13 surgeries so far and more to come. I will never walk again without crutches and right now I am trying to decide whether to let them try and fix my leg yet again or just let them take it off. My leg has nothing to do with my walking. My pelvis was shattered and because of that it will never be able to support my full weight.

How do you cope? You just do. You have your bad days and you cry and scream, then you wake up the next day and you just move on. I know what it's like to want to walk so bad and every time you think it is going to happen something else goes wrong. But I just keep on waking up and I just keep on dealing with it every day, every minute, every second. I do that because I have to. I dont' have a choice in it anymore. That man not paying attention took that choice away from me. I will never work again. I will never be able to walk the floors with a crying grandbaby in my arms. But I keep on.

You can too. You have too. You don't have a choice in it anymore. Your life will never be the same but you will learn to deal with it. Let the bad days happen. There is no way to be happy and alright with your situation all the time. You will drive yourself crazy trying if you do. If you need therapy to get thru it then by all means go. I take a little pill every day to keep my sanity. Sometimes I can't sleep because of the pain, both physical and emotional. Sometimes I cry and scream because it is just not fair. Sometimes I yell at my husband and my kids and they understand and forgive me. We had been married less than 4 months when we had the wreck. We have yet to share a bed since then. I sleep on my couch with my six pillows to make me as comfortable as I can be, which isn't very.

You can get thru this and you will. You might walk a little funny from now but you are alive! You still have family and friends that care. I wish the best for you and hope you heal well.
posted by Jules22871 at 12:38 AM on January 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man, pretty much the exact sane thing happened to me, struck by a vehicle, thrown through the air, broken left leg, brain clot, depression that (i thought) was due to my leg taking what seemed forever to heal, feeling like I should be happy since I survived, etc.
You just have to take it one day at a time, and there isn't really one thing that will "cure" you. Looking back on it, I am suprised the amount of pressure I put on myself to just feel fine in the year following the accident. Right now is still pretty much "right after" the accident, especialy as far as your brain injury goes. Feel free to MeMail me with any questions, I am no doctor, but it sounds like we are injury twins, I could probably be of some help.
One tip, if you have any way to access a swimming pool, I found that walking in water that was just deep enough to make so I could walk without too much weight on my bad leg was very theraputic, both mentally and physically.
posted by Stonestock Relentless at 7:10 AM on January 28, 2009

Response by poster: Thank you all so much for writing to me--you all helped out so much... I was really thinking of killing myself yesterday, and today I feel like a new man... so much of hope out there--how could I have not seen it.

I've read all your stories, and my only regret is that I can't do this over Memail. Because you all deserve so much more... I wish and pray that I can give it to you all someday.

My warmest wishes to all of you...
posted by hadjiboy at 4:44 AM on January 29, 2009 [1 favorite]

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