Briana and The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Day

August 19, 2014.

The day started like any other.

I donned some snazzy work apparel set out the night before, checked my email over a steaming cup of mint tea, and then set out to go to work. I was only a couple miles from the office when everything came to a very sudden and violent stop.

In a perfectly-timed collision of mangled metal, my left turn met with a fast Mercedes and my body was torn asunder. In an accident that, by all accounts, should have killed me, I miraculously came away with only 3 pelvic fractures (although one did break my hip in half), fractured femur, eyelid laceration, concussion, and bone bruises. Still enough to qualify for lifelong injuries, but nowhere near what could have been. (They say the only reason I survived was because my car didn’t have a middle console so I simply shifted over to the passenger’s seat. Had there been a middle console, I would be dead, as my driver’s side door was crushed in by an entire foot.)

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But the time since that has been no cakewalk. From the two and half weeks I spent at the hospital to subsequent months of recovery, it’s been a hard road. After arriving a broken mess at Grady Hospital, it was two days before I had surgery. My hip was crushed far enough in that my leg was twisted. Thus, it had to be put in traction (which involved the squeamish detail of having a 12 inch spike drilled with a Dewalt Power Drill through my knee). I was awake for the ordeal as only local anesthetic could be applied. (Thank goodness I have no memory of it. The brain has an amazing capacity to protect itself, so I don’t remember the first couple of days after the accident.)

As one might expect from hospital stays, mine was a harrowing one. While I was admitting on August 19, surgery didn’t occur until August 21st. There was a lot of concern that the surgery would take countless hours, they might have to rebuild my left hip entirely, and I could bleed out (to potential death as can be common with severe pelvic fractures). Thankfully, once the surgeon got in there, they found that I had one massive, but clean break of my pelvis and they were able to put it back together with pins, screws, and a titanium plate in 2 hours. The trauma team at Grady is really top notch, so my hat is off to them. The recovery ward was not so nice, but that’s a different story.

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After surgery, I endured emergency blood transfusions, a plethora of IVs (my arms looked like a pincushions from how many times I got stuck), ever-present excruciating pain like nothing I’ve ever felt, energy crashes, intense swelling, and a huge dose of humility at how little I could do. (Example: In the hospital, they spent 6 hours trying to find a way to lay me in the bed without being incredibly uncomfortable. It’s amazing how much you take some things for granted like being able to move off of a crease in a bedsheet without wanting to pass out from pain.)

For all of the cries against the darker side of social media, I was lucky enough to witness social media in its most beautiful form – connection of loved ones. Within hours of my accident, word spread all over friends and family’s pages of what had happened, prayers were written, encouragement sent, friends dispersed to the hospital to and fro, updates posted, and a community held together by a singular little brunette gal, waiting in anticipation of the next post.

In an odd turn, the timing of the accident was rather impeccable as I was at Grady Hospital right near Dragoncon. So I had lots of visitors who came both in and out of costume. It became a running joke with the nursing staff if they saw anyone in costume looking lost, “She’s in room 6B35.” Needless to say, it got me through many a hard day. There would be times where I would almost collapse from the sheer volume of pain or exhaustion. Then a new message would pop up of a video from a friend or cosplay buddy giving well wishes at Dragoncon, or posting ridiculously funny pictures to make me laugh. They worked. For a moment, I’d forget the pain.

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But then came the journey of adjusting to this ‘new reality’. I had to relearn so much that we take for granted every day; such as walking, going to the bathroom, being able to roll over, standing up, stretching, etc. There is nothing more mortifying than not being able to go to the bathroom on your own. It took me a month or so to be able to hobble far enough to get to the bathroom without any accidents, so I lived with a bedside toilet for a while. (That’s a great conversation piece when your friends come over to visit…NOT!) It was a glorious day a few months in, when I discovered I was healed enough to use a regular toilet. Never thought I’d almost cry over a piece of porcelain.

Then there was the shower. Oh, that blessed, steaming liquid refreshment. It was over a month from the accident when I was finally cleared to take a shower. A real, glorious, hot shower! I took full advantage of the experience by putting on the spa music, lavender essential oil in the water, and recreated an Herbal Essence commercial by getting to wash my own hair. I felt like a new person! Before that, female friends were literally bathing me. You want to talk about a humbling experience…

As with most recoveries, mine has been a gradual progression of strength. I started out in a wheelchair, then progressed to a walker (which I used for months until I was cleared to put weight on my injured side), then to crutches, and now I use a cane. I’ve learned so much from the last few months about being disabled that it’s staggering. Technically, I was disabled before as I’m half deaf, but it doesn’t come anywhere near being mobily disabled. There’s no fight to figure out if you can fit into spaces with your wheelchair or feeling panic-ridden at being in peoples’ way in stores. There’s no struggle to get to the bathroom in time because you can’t move at a normal person’s speed, no needing to ask friends to carry things for you because you can’t move a glass of water from one side of the room to the other. I had to learn to think differently to overcome these restrictions. (For instance, because of using a walker, I couldn’t carry anything (and there was no basket on my walker), which became real problem with water as it was crucial that with all the medication I was on, to stay hydrated. Thankfully I had some smart friends who hooked me up with a Camelbak so I could have a water carrier strapped to my back wherever I went.)

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I’m normally a very active person (former martial artist, fencer, hooper, did a bit of dance), even if it’s just the manner in which I get up or bounce around a room with enough energy to power a small nuclear reactor. To go from that to taking a full minute just to shakily stand up was severely frustrating. But I wasn’t going to let it hold me down.

I had a plan.

Coupled with massage therapy to break up the scar tissue on my hip, bum, and knee, I threw myself headlong into physical therapy. My therapist found out quickly that I’m an overachiever type and got to work pushing me as far as was reasonable (The other therapists joked that I was the “ballet torture victim” due to the large amount of reps as well as the ballet-based exercises given). I even experimented with hooping to see how far I could push things (safely, of course). It was no easy task. I had a pretty nasty concussion so I can only focus for a little bit at a time and my energy levels were quite low in the beginning. Getting up and down stairs was a Herculean effort. I either had to have to have someone carry me or two people to wrap my arms around and hop on my good leg up the stairs. By the time I reach the top, I’d be completely spent. But I was determined.

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Life got infinitely easier when I moved to crutches as I no longer had to deal with the constant stop-&-go motion of the walker. But I’ll never forget my time before as it’s made me so much more aware and sympathetic to anyone I see who’s physically disabled. I’d like to think I was kind about it before, but now I KNOW their pain. I know what it’s like to feel like you’re getting in the way, slowing people down, or just plain being frustrated at your condition, taking every fiber of your being to not break down crying at the fact that your legs are useless or being permanently disabled and wishing for differently.

I often share sad smiles with elderly folks with walkers or young ones in wheelchairs when we pass each other in the store. Sometimes it’s a sad camaraderie, but other times there’s a spark of something else there. A fight. Someone who refuses to give up or let their disability dictate their life. I’ve gotten to know some pretty amazing people with physical handicaps that have been truly inspiring. Because of them, I can stand up a little taller.

Now, here I am 6 months later. My case is closed and the massive medical debt I incurred from the hospital has been miraculously resolved. I can walk. I can even do yoga a little. I walked down the aisle at my close friends’ wedding. My injured left leg is getting stronger. My eyelid laceration has faded to a rather chic-looking scar (appropriate for The Lady Nerd, no?)

I’m overwhelmed with gratefulness. I keep finding out another wrinkle in the story from my car, my injuries, the other driver, etc. of just HOW lucky I am to even be alive, and the amount of damage I suffered could have been catastrophically greater. I should have died in that accident. But it wasn’t my time yet. Not only did God save my life, but He spared my body from extreme harm.

So as the sun pours into my window, I am reminded that every minute I have is special and sacred. To feel the wind on my skin or the sun in my hair, to dine with friends over tasty dinners, or watch a sunset, knowing that I was this close to losing it all. But it wasn’t my time to go. There is still work to do. Still lives to be affected, change to be made, and people to put smiles on. So even if I’m feeling melancholy at times, frustrated, or overwhelmed, one truth is still evident…

I am ALIVE.

IMG_9765-EditPhoto by Trent Chau

Comments

  1. Kathy says

    Inspirational. You did it! Walkers suck, I know, I’m on one right now after hip replacement. But after watching all you have gone through and talking to you at TNRF this spring, I knew this was a piece of cake compared to what you went through. Thank you and God Bless.

    • The Lady Nerd says

      Aww, thank you Kathy! It was so good to see you a few months ago. Now now, don’t knock your trial of hip replacement. That’s still pretty major. Physical therapy gets harder as you get older (so I don’t envy you). Ah…the walker…if I still had it now, I was totally going to make mine look like at AT-AT and dress as a distressed Rebel pilot for Dragoncon like I had lost at the Battle of Hoth. 😛

  2. Joshua says

    I only just discovered your page a few days ago, and I saw this post this morning. I’ve never been through an experience like this, but reading your story puts one in a unique perspective. I can’t say how many mornings I’ve woken up and taken for granted that the sun came up, and the earth still spins, and I’m still breathing. Really, every morning. I take the drive to work as an annoying ten minutes fretting about what I’ll have to get done today, while yours was life changing. I’ve been in a sort of spiritual turmoil recently, struggling with issues that now seem so petty in comparison to what you, and countless others, have had to deal with in their lifetime. Thank you for sharing your story, it has helped me open my eyes to the “problems” I face and has shown me that my issues aren’t really issues at all. There are so many things I take for granted in my life, and now, thanks to you, I’ll stop and look at them, I’ll thank God that He let me have one more day to experience this world, and I’ll thank Him for you, for sharing your story, and pray that you continue to heal and enjoy life.

    Thank you.

    • The Lady Nerd says

      Oh goodness….your message made me tear up, Joshua. Thank you ever so much for your kind, thoughtful words. I more than understand the spiritual turmoil (I go through valleys of that, myself). I wish you the best in continuing to grow in your spiritual walk and as a person.

  3. Sherry Shelton says

    You truly ARE an inspiration!!

    I wish I had your mindset and attitude when this happened to me. I was a horrible, baby, weenie, bipolar patient with the glass half empty attitude.

    I was in a similar accident – T-boned on the passenger side. After seeing pictures of the truck, I can’t believe I’m still here. I had a head injury, shattered pelvis and fractured pubic bone in three places.
    I too, had to endure that power drill for traction. Sadly, I remember that part. The stainless steel tray covered in the blue towel. The tears as they revealed that drill. The local anesthesia…

    A week after the accident, I went to surgery. I had a Hoffman’s External Device ‘installed’. Is that the right term? Recovery was a long road but all is good.

    I remember a mutual friend of ours on Facebook posting when your accident happened. My curiosity led me to your page. I remember it being around the Dragon Con time frame, which made me want to see how you are now.

    YOU ROCK!!!

    • The Lady Nerd says

      Aww, thank you very much Sherry! I’m sorry to hear you’re in the Survivor’s Club with me, but very grateful you’re still here too! It gives an entire new lease on life. All the best to you as well!

  4. Dan says

    I am not even sure where I should start at all. I am 2 weeks from being 47. At times in the last 5 years I have been in a darkness in my life where i wanted to end my life. Many times as i would lie down to sleep the first thing that crosses into my mind is how the world and my friends would be so much better off. Then i wake up the next morning to go out into the world with the passion and motivation to Inspire others to live the life they are destined to live. I work with high school Students so i see the best and at times some of the worst we have to offer in humanity. That said I see brilliance everyday that inspires me. Still my life has been broken not like your Hip just broken in so many other ways. Recently I felt it was time to live again breathe again. Find a Passion that will Inspire me because of Me. Well following this new i hope lifetime new passion of Cosplay and costumes like titanic and the iceberg put me and you on a collision course to cross paths. A few weeks ago maybe a month ago on The Rpf Forums I came across a thread you had created for Rey Cosplayers. I read your post and it just really hit me as you said it was not a personal build thread it was for everyone for what ever the reason I was like i am going to read this thread. So every night or couple nights i would jump in and just read to see how everyone was doing on their projects. It was a nightly thing before sleep (not getting a lot of that lately) Still I would read more and more pages as we were getting closer to TFA I had seen you had some health issues till tonight i did not know what they were. I have never done cosplay i have wanted to and i plan to in 2016. its been Fear that stops me Fear of what i have no clue just fear. So I procrastinate why i should not do it or make other excuses i was to fat or something else well in 2015 i lost about 90 pounds in just over 9 months. I have since put back on about 25 or so. I plan to get that going back down in 2016 not sure there was any fat Jedis :) or superheros. I want to live life again i want to love life again. Tonight reading your blog it has inspired me to just do that live life. Embrace life and cherish it. I said i have wanted to take my life or just give up a lot in the last 5 years crazy thing is I am still here and waking up everyday. Tonight I read a story of someone i dont know how she has been through something that would kill most and she is still fighting the fight and living a life worth living WOW! Silly or just plan insane one of my motivations last few months was The Force Awakens i wanted to see it I needed to see it. Now I have seen it 4 times plan on seeing it 5th time on Christmas Cant wait. The Beautiful thing is Rey is now a Superhero For so many people. When i saw star wars it was Luke and Han now Rey will shine like a Star she will be the light when it gets Dark in life. She Like you Briana inspire people your story inspires me to live my life again. You Are a Survivor in every sense of the word. Someone you don’t know someone who you have never met wants to live his life again because you fought for yours. It would seem You have every reason to be mad at life but not you. Your living it on your terms you might fall but you get right back up and start climbing the next step in your recovery. We live in a time where without the internet i would not know your story its doubtful i would have ever heard of you at all. For all the evil the net brings It still will never even come close to the inspiring and remarkable moments it will bring us. I can say with out a doubt just in the last month of my life and tonight my life has changed for the better for reading your story of Survival and unrelenting determination to not give up! To fight to make your life better than it was before. You have achieved greatness when others would have shut down and quit. No matter what my personal hell has been its not been anything close to the life you have lived and survived in this last year and a half . I believe your just getting started and more people will hear your story and you will change so many lives. Just like a unicorn or a fairy you are something Special one of a Kind. Thanks for fighting and thanks for sharing your story of survival Briana. I wish you all the best that life has to offer you I hope all your holiday wishes and dreams come true today and everyday. Godspeed to you……. Dan

Trackbacks

  1. […] A month or so ago, I finally got to meet up with Kyle Matthew Williams after months of us trying to schedule a photoshoot. It was a hot, muggy summer day in Decatur, but we were determined to shoot. We kept it simple, only one outfit (as we weren’t sure how long I’d last since I haven’t done many shoots since the accident). […]

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