Traumatic Brain Injury: Red-Eyed Zombie Girl

An interesting aspect of my brain injury is that it was initially undiagnosed. Even though I was disoriented after the accident, I resisted being strapped to a back board (after all, I was walking, wasn’t I?) I had a stiff neck though, so they convinced me the ambulance ride would be more comfortable if I was immobilized.

When we got to the local hospital, they left me unattended in the X-ray room, so I pulled a Houdini on the backboard and wandered out to the hallway, demanding to know where the doctor was (keep in mind I’d lost my glasses and was half blind). There he was, standing in the hall, talking to my mom. He took one look at me and said, “Take her home.”

(I’d have to check with my mom if they even took any x-rays.)

So home I went. I had a splitting headache, naturally, so I went straight to bed. Since I had a concussion at the least, my parents woke me every hour, an event which made me fairly bearish.

The accident happened on Sept 7. I think it was a Saturday, because my brothers were at 4-H and I was on my way to pick up my sister from a volleyball tournament. It was definitely a weekend though.

At any rate, I stayed home the day after the accident. My head had started to swell and turn purple, and I slept most of that day. The third day we noticed the whites of my eyes had gone red from the hemorrhaged blood vessels in them. Basically, I had even bruised my eyeballs. I slept that day too.

The next day, however, was school pictures. Well, now. This was epic. I had to have pictures of this. So I went to school, armed with a bottle of Advil, my T-3s being all gone.

Basically, I don’t remember too much about that day. Up at 7, on a jostling, rocking school bus for an hour and a half, and 6 hours of trying to filter out the blistering stimulation of noise, lights and movement, culminating in another jostling bus ride home.

Never one to stay off the horse, the next day I went back. I have no memory of getting dressed or making my lunch. Mom has said she had to stand over me like a two year old to make sure I got my pants on right. I couldn’t remember what class I was in, or what classroom I was going to next. I thought the babble would drive me mad, until I learned to tune it out. Except, of course, I tuned out everything; Light, sound, feeling. I wouldn’t hear the bells, or if I heard them, I would go through the following process:


Hmm. Bells.


People are leaving. Oh yeah. That’s what the bells are for.


Maybe I should go.


In a minute. Where are my legs? I feel pretty comfortable. Maybe I’ll just wait a second.


Where did all these people come from? Shit, it’s the next class.

Well, I’ll wait till they sit down. Then I won’t bump into anybody. Cuz that hurts.

(silence descends, class begins)

What was I doing? Better pay attention to the teacher.

God bless Mr. Mueller for letting me sit in his classroom for hours on end. He carried on with whatever class he was teaching, and as far as I remember, nobody batted an eye at me sitting in on any class. What do I know, though? I was always in the front row. 😉

I was literally a zombie. I had just enough brainpower to shamble from class to class. By day three, I had gone through a bulk bottle of Advil — that’s 100 pills. And that was just the bottle in my school bag.

I think it was when I told my mom I needed another bottle that we became really aware there was a problem. Likely she had an inkling, but I know that’s when I came to terms with the knowledge that I was getting worse, not better.

Hoping I just needed more time to recover, I quit going to school. I don’t remember but I suppose it’s likely that that is when my mother started lobbying for a battery of tests to assess my condition. I don’t actually remember the doctor’s visits, but I do remember a case worker coming to our house, I think about three weeks after the accident.

I was sitting in the rocker in the dining room while my parents and the case worker sat nearby at the kitchen table and discussed the situation. Occasionally, they would lob a question at me.

This was a bit tough on me because my overwrought brain had reduced any external stimuli to a sort of background buzz. I’d even shut down sensory response in my body;  I ached so much that I simply stopped paying attention. My balance was compromised because I wasn’t even paying attention to my feet, and my body in relation to them; sometimes I even fell out of the rocker.

Anyway, the caseworker asked a question. I think I answered. Then my dad made a joke. About 5 minutes later the joke finally registered with me. I laughed and laughed and laughed. It was like the laugh was possessing me. I think I probably laughed for ten minutes. Then, without warning, I burst into tears.

Vicious mood swings are a huge red flag for a brain injury. I could feel my dad’s concern, but I couldn’t respond to it. I had lapsed back into my fugue state.

A word about this state. I’m not a trained psychologist, and nobody has ever told me I was experiencing a fugue state. But if you look up fugue state it will say something like a state of mind characterized by unresponsiveness to external stimuli. This was my experience; call it what you like.

Imagine the deepest meditative state you’ve ever had the fortune to experience. You’re floating. Nothing can touch you. A thought floats up and then drifts away like a soap bubble. The things going on around you, they barely register. At the most, you acknowledge it, parse its meaning, then just… let it go.

I think that was the biggest difference between actually being a vegetable versus looking like a vegetable.  I vaguely knew what was going on around me, but I chose not to respond. For one thing, it was a Herculean effort to form a sentence that would be understood. Ongoing interaction was totally overwhelming. I could not think more than a step ahead.

Literally. To clean up dishes off the table: Pick up plate. Examine it. Decide what I had to do with it. Oh, yeah. Sink. Shamble to the sink. What am I doing here? Clearing the table. Then why am I at the sink? Back to the table. Repeat.

I thought I was going to be able to take this post all the way to where I turned the corner and began the uphill climb, but I’m already at 1200 words. So, folks, tune in next time…

Missed the first one?

Next in the series

Part 4

The Follow-up


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