Head Trauma

On February 22, 2023, my longtime sister/friend - a woman I've shared endless support and humor with over the past 18 years - wrecked her car into the back of a box truck driving home to Truckee on Highway 80.  Nobody seemed to know if she would live or die, and if she lived, how she would come back from it - a traumatic brain injury holds so many unknowns.  It was a fragile first week, I checked in with her husband as often as I could to try to fill in the picture with any new information.  Nothing.  Nothing.  News:

The swelling in her brain had necessitated the draining of her cerebral spinal fluid, and at some point after the first week, they thought the swelling had gone down enough to allow the fluid, a huge healing property, to be re-circulated within her skull.  

I flew out to Reno be with them, and when I walked into the ICU room, she was lying in a complex looking hospital bed among tubes and wires and pillows and bags.  She was dressed in a gown, and had a boot on one foot, her limbs frail and her body moist with sweat.  The room was cool.  

I was shocked into recognition of the facts:  My best friend was in the worst condition of her life, and I couldn't even tell if she was inside her own body.  Within the few days I was there, we saw improvements.  She was experiencing neurostorming, which is the body responding to the trauma in the brain, firing nerves and muscles in an attempt to stimulate the body into action.  

At times, her husband would take her hand and ask her to point her finger, and seemingly on queue she would move the muscles in that hand.  Sometimes it seemed very deliberate.  Her eyes were closed, and she had a tracheotomy, the worst of the worst necessity, which had to be suctioned a handful of times each day, and it was painful to watch, and must be an excruciating experience.  Luckily, they told us, she wouldn't remember any of this.

I flew home, and she was moved to the top neuro-rehab facility in the country to begin her rehabilitation.  Every day there were small improvements, and when I flew to Denver in March to visit, I saw glimmers of her there.  Her eyes were open, and she could track objects, and when they said my name as I walked in the room for the first time, she watched me walk over to her.  I helped with her tubes as she was lifted to standing, assisted, but just three weeks after her accident.  

Within those few days I visited her in Colorado, there were more monumental improvements.  After the first day I spent with her, the nurse assistant dressed her, set her in her wheelchair, and walked me down to the hospital entrance to say goodbye for the night.  I knelt down before her, told her how much I love her, how happy I was to be there, and that I would see her first thing in the morning.  She looked me in the eye, and smiled her big toothy smile, the one she is famous for - I couldn't believe it!  I asked the nurse assistant, “Did you see that??  She just smiled at me!”, and I threw my hands into a rock and roll sign, and she smiled even bigger and tried to imitate my hand gesture!  I was ecstatic!  Elated - there was my girl, strong and determined, and I couldn't stop smiling.  I'm still so proud of how much she had to put together to share those huge gestures with me that night.

The rest of the weekend followed in a less profound way - as many of the days of her recovery have done.  Some forward leaps, and much treading water to stay afloat.  She was less lucid most of the weekend, and experienced more agitation with all the stimulation she was experiencing.

I had to return to Austin, but my darling life partner and I planned to move back to Truckee in May to be there for Liz's return.  I wanted to be there to help her.  She was going to be putting everything back together in a foreign mental landscape.  This is a woman whose determination and will characterize her - she will do whatever it takes to accomplish what she wants, and she doesn't give up on herself, or anyone else, for that matter.  In fact, she had been the first one to encourage me to move to Austin to pursue my dream of creating a life focused on music.  Her words in a note were, “Go to Austin and kick ass.”  

For now she is regaining herself - she returns home at the end of June, and she is looking forward to being done with rehab and getting home to her family and her life, although the return will bring a lot of new hurdles for her.  She continues to improve every day, her sense of humor is beautifully in tact, and she is regaining a lot of emotional fluency and memory.  

This is the most difficult thing I've ever witnessed someone undertaking, and, as ever, my friend is one of the biggest inspirations to me.  She is such a crucial part of myself, and as she recovers, so does my heart.  As she fortifies, so do I.  I am in awe of the journey she is undertaking, and I am seeing how she will come through this journey in full strength and grace.  Come home and kick ass, Lizzy.  I know you will 🤘

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