The Day My Life Changed Forever

“Thank you will never be enough.”

-Me, Myself, and I

Let me tell you a story of something that happened to me, on this day, 20 years ago.

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Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on

My dearly loved boyfriend at the time was flying off to Japan for the year. He was serving as a Marine at the Okinawa Marine Corps Base.

Yet after saying ‘see you later’ at the airport, I received a call that he was returning to SeaTac. I was going to be there. No matter what. Yet, truth be told, I had not slept the night before and it was currently 9 pm. His flight did not come in until 11ish. And did not take off for Japan until about 3am-ish.

My parents adamantly told me that I could not go because I was ‘too tired’ and to be ok with the ‘goodbye already given.’ I distinctly remember the intense conversation that I straight up said, “Too bad, I’m going anyway. You cannot tell me what to do. I’m an adult.” Words that still sting today as I type it.

And so, I did. I went. Mind you- the airport is about an hour and a half away. Quite a drive for a 19-year-old (or anyone really).

Arriving at the airport and enjoying the gifted time in between, I was adrenaline-ized, focused on soaking up the moments and not feeling the slightest ounce of tiredness. My brain and body were NOT connected in recognizing the level of fatigue I was experiencing.

Therefore, as I left the airport, after the second emotional ‘see you later,’ I drove home about 3 am (again an hour and a half drive). As my body and mind became more connected, and fatigue set in, my body hijacked my mind. I fell asleep at the wheel and got in an almost life ending car accident approximately 9 minutes from my house. I almost made it home.

To this day, I don’t remember ever ‘dozing off’ or ‘feeling tired.’ I also do not remember anything that happened. The last memory of recall was the tree line shortly before my accident (it is clear as day in my mind). I cannot tell you how grateful I am that I do not recall the pain and trauma of that accident as I know I would have much deeper pain to recover from. Yet, I also acknowledge those that viewed the level of trauma that I experienced.

From this moment, I was airlifted to Harborview Hospital in Seattle due to the level of injuries from the accident. At the early hour, I was grateful that there was another driver on the road who witnessed the collision and was able to call for help. I am also grateful that a dear friend of mine was a paramedic who was at the scene.

Yet, I cannot imagine the response my parents had when they found out what had happened. My dad was on his way to work when he drove past my car accident scene. I cannot imagine that feeling. Typing this is creating emotion, thus reading may be creating it as well. It is unimaginable.

By the time he flipped around, they informed him that I was in transport to Harborview. My mom and sister were quickly notified, and they were on their way to me. With police escort, they got on the ferry and got there as fast as possible. Sitting on that ferry must have been incredibly hard. I think of it each time I get on the ferry.

Again, I do not remember anything after my accident, so this space is a space in between. I feel like I need to allow for my parents, family members and friends to fill in this space. And this is the space of gratitude that runs deep in my soul. I welcome you to share what you remember and share with me your story. I receive your experience with compassion and care. Thank you will never be enough.  

Though the moment of ‘awakeness’ is clear to me. It was NOT in the hospital- I ‘woke up’ when I was at home. They sent me home (yet I have no recollection of the send-home). Yet, it was too soon. My electrolyte level was too low and I passed out in the shower. Therefore, I was sitting in the downstairs living room in a towel surrounded by paramedics and my parents sitting next to me. I joke today of this memory as my confusion created embarrassment. I was naked around these paramedics and firefighters in my home. Getting clothes on me was my tall order (at least that is what I remember in my mind).

From there, I was escorted by ambulance to Harrison Hospital. I remember riding in the ambulance and seeing the newly built McDonalds (and asking for a burger.) Again- these are recollections in my current mind. These moments were very spotty in memory, much like multiple little dreams you experience in your sleep.

Thereafter, I remember sitting in a Harrison Hospital room upon which I was eating a popsicle (I think) and was told that I was going to Seattle back to Harborview. I feel like I ‘blacked out’ from there as I do not remember being transported (by airlift) or experiencing any pain, so I was confused and complacent.

As I spent most of my treatment at Harborview, I have been told multiple stories of my behavior- some funny, some embarrassing. Again, this is a time in between that I think my family and friends could fill in. (Yes, I welcome you to share 😊)

Furthermore, I remember my first “wake up” in my hospital bed (please forgive me if this sequence is off). I woke up when I was getting my catheter taken out and remember yelling about it. I also remember being fed by the nurse. I also remember the celebration of my family when they saw me. I also remember the room and the view to my left (small unimportant details.)

When I left the hospital, I remember walking with my friend Emily and our Malibu Work Crew Leader Ti-Ying. She flew out from New York. To this day, this moment humbles me. True friends taking care of me. Again, forever grateful.

Coming home, I remember needing to consume lots of Otter Pops and lots of Gatorade. Something unknown till experienced, but these two food items help your electrolyte levels! I was totally okay with this ‘prescription.’ Yet its funny because neither of these food items are regularly stocked in my home. Maybe I should change that….

I also remember feeling like nothing was wrong with me. I felt my mind was fine. I remembered who people were and everything felt familiar, as if nothing really changed. Yes, I spent time in the hospital (in my conceptualization was only a couple days) but I was home safe. I did not have any scars (for real) and felt no pain (seriously), so it was a very confusing time.

Though, the moment I went to my speech therapist, I better understood the challenge. When asked to share words that started with “a”, and I could not, I broke down. Something WAS wrong with me. I am not exactly sure what created the pivot of perseverance, but I can conclude that it came from the combination of hope from my family and the compassion from my speech therapist. I have a deep gratitude for Dr. Michael (I want to remember his last name as thank you is due).

Conclusively, I am a testament to Neuroplasticity. If you do not know the term, read the story above. I recovered from an almost life ending brain injury. I have dedicated my life to sharing the hope in healing and the possibility of positive perseverance. We can do hard things.

I have supported my students in challenging academic tasks because I understand there is more than one way to learn. Having to relearn how to learn was life changing.

I have also been able to understand the behaviors behind brain-based challenges. This has helped me better respond and support challenging behaviors for myself, my students, and my family. Because of this, I can genuinely grow through adversity and support others authentically as they go through hard things.

Something that still warms my heart to this day, is the amount of abundant support my family received. I will never forget my bed full of stuffed animals and my room filled with balloons. I still have the poster sized card that everyone signed, and the cards given during my time at the hospital. I know that I recovered due to the loving support of the community that surrounded me and my family.

Altogether, my story radiates strength, resiliency, possibility, and promise. I am honored to be a messenger, mentor, and motivator of all of these things. It is a gift and an honor and I am forever grateful for those that have supported me throughout the years. Thank you will never be enough.

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