At last, I can speak freely

You just never know when life might change completely.

For me, it was a few years ago, when I stepped off  the pavement to cross the road.

Perhaps I shouldn’t have crossed by that van. Perhaps I should’ve looked again. Perhaps I should have just stayed home that day, and never tried to get out to run errands. Or just stayed in bed and never have gotten up. 

Because now I may never get up again.

The motorbike which hit me was going pretty fast – the accident reports and legal documents all say that “witnesses reported they saw a black and yellow motorcycle travelling at approximately 35mph down the street, where it struck the victim as she stepped from between two parked vehicles, throwing her into the air, whereupon she landed in the path of an oncoming car on the other side of the road.”

So dispassionate; the way they recorded the day my life changed forever.

I shudder to think of the next paragraphs, and am so, so glad I can’t remember the reality of them. The medical reports are harrowing enough to read:

“…sustained extensive injuries, including a crushed pelvis, C4 spinal fracture, fractured left femur, fractured right metatarsals, fractures to skull around left temple, lacerations to face, arms, torso and legs. This has resulted in brain damage and incomplete quadriplegia.”

I can’t remember the first six weeks after the accident. Not properly, anyway. I can sort of remember snippets – bright lights, extremes of temperature. The occasional voice or conversation going on around me. Lots of darkness. Lots of pain. So, so much pain, in every single part of myself.

But gradually I woke up. And I think waking up was harder still than all the confusion of the preceding weeks. I remember looking up at the ceiling and watching as the patterns of the awful grey tiles came slowly into focus. The pain came into focus too, like a softly buzzing, static station on the radio skipping and jumping into sharp, agonising clarity. And then that terror – I was stuck. 

Absolutely and completely stuck. Could. Not. Move.

And there was a tube in my throat, and it was choking me, and I couldn’t breathe – couldn’t scream – couldn’t call for help – just laid there, while the tears of frustration and panic poured out of my eyes, itching and tickling as they collected on my cheeks and pooled in my ears.

My heart beat faster and faster, and I could feel it strangely, just in the top of my chest, and stars began dancing in front of my eyes as the terror grew too great and the pain rose to a crescendo, and finally, thankfully, a machine let out a shrieking, electronic alarm, which sent a set of nurses hurrying over to help me.

They reassured me and wiped my face, pressing heard-but-unseen buttons on the machine to make it stop wailing. The tube was unblocked and I gulped down great breaths of oxygen, the fuzzy blackness at the edges of my vision receding as the panic abated and my heart-rate slowed. I tried to speak, but nothing happened, and I pleaded with my eyes to the nurse to give me any kind of clue as to what had happened to me – where I was – why I was here.

She told me she was giving me something to help me sleep again, and leaned over my body, fiddling with something to one side. I tried to catch her eye, but this time a white cloud swam up over my vision and I was lost.

The subsequent times I woke up were less traumatic.

I gradually learned, almost by osmosis, that I was going to be here a long time, and after that, in need of round-the-clock care. In a home, at first, until a carer could be arranged for me.

Those horrifying words ‘paralysis’, ‘brain damage’, ‘non-verbal’ were broken down, fed in subtly, until I felt that I’d never really ‘heard’ them – they’d just become part of my new person. 

I couldn’t move. Nor talk. Nor think straight. I wonder if the muddle that was my brain at the time, helped with my acceptance of the messages I was receiving.

Gradually I healed over the next year or so. The connections in my brain which had been battered, bruised and torn apart, began to re-form. My understanding improved, and I had a clearer idea of what was going on. I began to remember things – often disjointed, glaring things, which were utterly out of context, and appeared intrusively upon the blank screen of my history – and the pieces of the puzzle gradually began falling into place, revealing the new me.

The new me is silent, apart from my eyes, which have learned to express everything from pain, to fear, to hunger, to “please wipe the drool off my face – it itches”. The face no longer moves properly, and it is the eyes alone which must take on all the communication.

The new me has no dignity – she is stripped and washed by agency strangers, who reach their soapy (and I assume, warm) flannels into what used to be her most intimate, tender parts, and which are now public property; like a municipal park which has people to clear the pathways. She has a permanent catheter and colostomy bag, both of which stink when full, and the stench has to be borne until someone comes to change them. She is fed blended food from a spoon, because the flavour of baby food is too foul, and chewing is too hard. She is ‘fed’ at night by a supplemental bag of nutrituous fluid, which goes straight into a ‘peg’ in her stomach.

She can no longer sing or dance or hug or chat.

Her friends have left, or they come and sit by her side, talking brightly, fearfully, because when they stop, there will always be silence, and only the flickering of those eyes.

Oh the pain in those eyes as they watch so many friends stumble over their words, falter, fail to meet the gaze, promise they’ll be back, and then disappear, never to return.

 
This new me is lonely.

This new me is a guinea pig for doctors and nurses and physical therapists and occupational therapists and speech therapists and all manner of other professionals.

This new me is someone I barely recognise.

And yet, I have learned (slowly, frustratedly, with many inward rants and rages) to accept her.

Her mum still comes and sits by her, and chats (without the panic and terror of the friends who don’t know what to say), and sometimes just sits in companionable silence.

Her physical therapist is wonderful, and has worked so hard over the years to restore some, any movement. Mandy – my angel, has been with me from the beginning, and is just the most patient and kind person I now know.

And recently, a few weeks ago – that most important breakthrough since still being alive after the accident.

The connections in nerves and brain and hand made a small zap, a tiny realignment, and the fingers of the right hand moved. 

On purpose moved.

The eyes went so, SO wide in utter amazement, and flicked urgently to Mandy, who looked astonished, and demanded that I do it again.

And again.

And gradually, like the sun coming out, her face exploded into joy and she quite literally leaped out of her seat, punching the air, dancing, shouting and whooping, tears pouring out down her face as she grabbed me and hugged my numb body, apologising for her unprofessionalism, then doing it again.

She ran from the room, screaming that she’d be back, and returned ten minutes later with her laptop. 

She booted it up, hands shaking, still laughing and jabbering away with excitement.

She lifted my hand and placed it on the keypad, and those two, weak fingers were able to *just* reach the right buttons.

“Hi”

The first thing I had been able to say in nearly three years.

We both completely lost it – she in a hugging, weeping, giggling mess, and me…well, sat still and quiet, with all the conversation in the world waiting to be unleashed – my eyes finally relieved of the burden of communication, and able to just cry and cry and cry.

Once we’d composed ourselves, she left me, promising to return later. I don’t know how she did it, or where she found the money, but she came back with a laptop for me to keep.

I’ve not stopped typing since – at last, I can speak freely.

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47 thoughts on “At last, I can speak freely

  1. So well written — you have a natural ability to make your readers experience a range of emotions and feelings with your choice of words. Are you publishing your short stories elsewhere besides your blog?

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  2. Well thanks for the feedback anyway. I know what you mean (I think) cos if she could only type with one hand, I imagine it would have taken a long, long time to produce a piece like this, and the result might be a little more disjointed or something…adunno really. But good to ponder.

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  3. Honestly, I'm not sure. But something seemed to click. I had doubts early, but it flowed so well. Then there was just something. With knowing this person was incapacitated, it seemed unlikely it would be written like this. Even at the end with the typing part, but there was something … not sure. Either way, an awesome read. 🙂

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  4. Why thank you – that's such awesome feedback, because that was part of the original point of the Making You Feel series – to stretch my creative capacity as a writer, so that's brilliant, thanks Melissa x

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  5. Hello and welcome, thou from Bloppies. Nice to make your accquaintance, and thanks for coming to visit.

    Thank you for such wonderful feedback – I'm glad you enjoyed it and found it compelling 🙂

    If you don't mind my asking; what gave the game away at 3/4 the way through?

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  6. Well…

    Found this post via the Bloppy Bloggers group and I'm glad I did. I truly thought this was real until about 3/4 of the way through and then it hit. Wow. Truly amazing. Had me really into it all the way through. Very well written.

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  7. I shall perhaps do something, someday. And trust me, if I ever do, I shall be hoping that everyone who comes over here, ever, even once, will buy one! Heheh.

    Thanks for the vote of confidence though, Katy 🙂

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  8. Thanks Dyanne 🙂 Now there's an idea! Just bang all these little stories together! BOOM! That'd be easy. Course, no-one would buy it, cos the only people interested would've seen them here already lol. Back to the drawing board.

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  9. NO! Never! Because…just NO! Anyways, you know enough now to not fall for it completely, but for new readers (who don't just read my stuff because they like me) I think having a 'fiction' thingummy at the top would be offputting.

    I say this with snobbish righteousness, as I am not keen on reading other people's fiction, which makes it pretty hypocritical of me to post any, BUT when I don't KNOW it's fiction, and I can imagine it's part of their world (until the last moment Big Reveal) THEN I love it (well, I do if it's well written, yaknow?)

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  10. Thanks Emily. I've always had a good imagination. And I was inspired by Jean-Dominique Bauby's story, which I read many years ago, and more recently by a friend who was in a terrible accident and has made an incredible recovery, though she still suffers many of the after-effects of her injuries, both in terms of physical and brain damage. She's a source of light and inspiration to me, and she has such a huge heart and courageous spirit, and is just wonderful 🙂

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  11. Kim, so sorry if I raked up bad feelings for you 😦 Not my intention, but certainly pleased to know that I've managed to capture the challenges well. It's one of those situations which I think probably goes un-thought-about until it happens, or until someone, somewhere, experiences it and it gives us such pause to consider how lucky and blessed we are to take these things for granted.

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  12. Ok, well you just made me cry! I know that it's fiction, but my mom is suffering from Parkinson's and cannot move and can barely speak. She suffers all the indignities of being washed, fed, changed, etc. It is horrible to be in there and not able to communicate or move. You captured the feelings of anger, sadness and frustration perfectly…at least as I imagine what my mom is feeling anyway. Great story, as usual!

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  13. Daniela, that is an absolutely amazing story! What an incredible man! Thank you for linking me to it.

    I was inspired by the story behind The Diving Bell and the Butterfly, because years ago I read a piece by Jean-Dominique Bauby, and it really stayed with me, just how trapped he was within his own body.

    For me, communicating is like oxygen, and to imagine that being lost is so scary!

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  14. I do remember ER (yes, we had it in the UK) though I never got to watch it consistently, and never saw the episode you describe. Sounds as though it had a really huge impact on you, and I'm glad that you liked this 🙂

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  15. Oh! Now that's a book I've never read! I might have to give it a go now 🙂 I shall consider it a recommendation from you, and see if I can't seek it out at some point.

    Thank you Roshni 🙂

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  16. YES! Sounds fantastic! Let's do it!! Wow, you're so lucky to have had that experience! And I'm glad that (seeing as you have the actual, in fact, knowledge of this kind of thing) I didn't get the rendering too far wrong!

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  17. *augh* I really do have something swirling around the ol' brain, but it's still stuck in 'back burner' mode. And don't suggest NaNoWriMo cos that seems like capital-E Effort. But I promise there's something bubbling away in 'Ideas'.

    😀

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  18. Nice, very nice. *clapping* and *high-five*

    I remember an episode of ER (remember that show? Please tell me you got it in the UK!) where a young gal of only 35 or something had a stroke. The whole episode was from her point of view, and the voice in her head. She was aware of everything going on, but was unable to communicate. This story reminded me of that. I have often thought about that episode and thought how awful, terrible, miserable that would be. Bring tears to my eyes thinking about it…

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  19. I thought you were describing a real event, but then, knowing you, thought I had missed a guest post announcement. Well done … somewhat sad and morbid … but really well done! Captivating!

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  20. this was a great story. When I was working in traumatic brain injury unit as a physical therapist I had a similar experience with the young man. It was one of the best experiences of my career.I'll have to tell you the story sometime it warrants telling it in person

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  21. I had a feeling this was fiction as I was reading and seriously loved how you ended this with writing being this person's outlet and freedom in the end. Great job Lizzi and seriously love your short stories!

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