A Memoir of Courage After a Life-Changing Accident

I awoke to a torture chamber of cures. A team of doctors was cleansing and stitching up my wounds. Screaming, I tried to writhe away from the several nurses who were holding me down. The doctors, waiting on X-ray results of my neck, would not give me pain medication, even a topical numbing agent, until they had identified my injuries. The doctors took for granted that I should endure my leg being sewn back together—the prick and then shudder of thread as it sliced through my skin—at the same time as they gouged pieces of glass out of my face and set my two shattered arms with no anesthesia, manipulating and yanking the bones into alignment. It was the night I first learned the many faces of pain, his different guises, sensations, and methods, and how clever he is at shape-shifting.

My mother reassured me that everything was going to be all right, but then I heard her sobbing outside in the hallway a few minutes later. The sound terrified me, but my mouth, too swollen and bruised, couldn't form the words to bring her back into the room. Later that night, a doctor told me that my neck had been fractured. Without further explanation, he finally gave me pain relief—morphine—and for the next weeks in the hospital, time and consciousness bled. The days were sordid and vague. Constant pain. Constant nausea. The morphine made me throw up repeatedly, but, because I had to remain immobilized, I needed three nurses to do so. I would frantically press the call button, and nurses would rush into the room. Together, on a count of three, they would lift the sheet in one quick motion. My whole body would roll sideways so that I could reach the basin by my head.

Background noise during the first week of internal injuries, questions about future fertility, the risk of paralysis. Visitors punctuated the hours of unconsciousness. A Hallmark card arrived from Martin. "Get well soon!" it cheerfully announced. Noticeably absent were the words "I'm sorry," and in carefully crafted rhetoric, he denied any accountability for the accident. Martin had been in the ambulance with me as we went to the hospital. Sitting on a cot above me, he had casually swung his feet too close to my body. I was going in and out of consciousness, but I remember clearly that foot of his. I worried that it would hit me in the face. He seemed oblivious to me and my injuries as he talked to the medic. I remember him wanting attention, babbling on about his shoulder. Ignoring Martin, the medic had knelt over me and eventually pulled a curtain across the ambulance to separate us. I never saw Martin again.

I underwent some kind of procedure for my neck fracture, but I'm not exactly clear when that occurred. I awoke to find my head no longer resting on the bed. I lifted one of my arms to try to feel why. My fingers met metal—a brace that encircled my head protruded about four inches from my skull. Further inspection of the contraption revealed that four holes had been bored into my skull and that the brace had been screwed into my head at these four sites. The device, called a halo brace, emphasizing the metal ring around my head, was held in place by a tight-fitting corset that encased my entire torso. I had metamorphosed into Frankenstein's monster.

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