WHAT WAS AND WASN'T INJURED: Proving the Prognoses
Updated: Aug 23
I was astounded the other day to learn from one of my students and closest friends that, upon first hearing about me, she had been told I had suffered broken bones and fractured vertebrae, and had been incapable of walking.
More astounding was that this misinformation had come from an equally dear friend and one of my most die-hard students.
And so the Telephone Game goes.
Allow me to set the record straight. I had one single abrasion on my forearm. Otherwise, no lacerations, broken bones, fractures, punctures, and my brain injury is classified as “Mild” because all the damage took place within a completely closed skull—and skin, for that matter.
Naturally, that means after a few months and maybe some slight residual naggings, I was “all better.” Right? I mean, we’ve seen the Hollywood tales. We know all about the horrific extreme sports heroes and accident survivors with broken necks and cracked skulls and coma patients and NDEs who are now back at it as though it never happened.
Well, what I bet a lot of them don’t tell you is that—NO—it’s not always as though it never happened. But that doesn’t sell sensationalist Hollywood endings.
People with severe injuries, especially famous people with injuries acquired in front of thousands (or millions) of viewers, are also often privy to actual medical care. Dare I say, revolutionary and state-of-the-art procedures? I hear they're out there, and that some of them work wonders on things that plague me.
Medicaid and state-run programs for the disabled and low-income don’t cover those, especially when our injuries are “mild” and the hospital boots us out the door with a prognosis of “perfectly fine.”
As such, I received very little treatment for any of my injuries. After battling to prove that anything was wrong with me at all, I was afforded some massage and chiropractic (cut too soon), several failed attempts at acupuncture (my system is too sensitive for it), an all-too-brief stint with a neuropsychologist (cut too soon), MRIs of my neck and brain (6 months after the crash), one round of PT (scheduled too soon while I was still having muscle spasms), prism-glasses to tighten the overstretched muscles of my eyes (semi-successful), and a few sessions of cognitive therapy.
I know multiple people who have received even less care than that for worse injuries. We’re an interesting crew, to say the least.
As I knew nothing about chiropractic until this incident, I didn’t understand that the traditional rack-n-crack therapies were often exasperating my soft-tissue injuries, even as they shoved my vertebrae back into place week after week. Bowen therapy, which I later paid for out-of-pocket, was one of the most successful therapies and actually got me dancing again when I was told that this was something out of my reach.
But we’ll get to that.
For now, let’s look at what I had to prove:
1) To my car insurance company so I could receive a modicum of care.
2) To the DA’s office so they would move the court case out of Traffic misdemeanor against the streets of Colorado Springs and one hunk of metal, and into Vehicular Assault against a human being - a felony charge.
3) In my civil suit, considering the damage that had been done by being sent home from the hospital with a “clean bill of health.”
4) To the community of my (ex)employers, (ex)students and (ex)friends who were all informed that I was faking it by the receptionist at my chiropractor’s office. (Who also happened to be my “best friend.” Ahem.)
5) To the revolving door of medical interns who interviewed me every 6 months as my new Primary Care Physician, notated lists of my symptoms, and still never thought that the word "seizures" should warrant another word: "neurologist."
6) To myself, who was rapidly falling into a morass of, “Am I actually insane? Am I just a big whiner? WTFrack is going on? And if I’m ‘just fine’ then why can’t I dance/add/speak/read/think? WTBleep?!”
7) Eventually to the disability assistance agencies that finally agreed to help me after 13 years.
8) To those same agencies, every 6 months or less when I have to re-prove that I’m still “not all better” in order to keep my assistance. While bent over the table writing long hand. For pages. And pages. And more pages. With a numb hand. On a spine that, since December 21, 2000, has only worsened into trauma-induced scoliosis, with bone and disk degeneration. And a brain that is still damaged.
But Mild TBI and a little whiplash don't really impact somebody's life that badly, right? It's not like I broke any bones, after all.
9) The countless people who make assumptions about me, my behaviors, and my choices based on the fact that "I look so good." I get really tired of being the educator when people argue with me about my own disabilities. They can't see it, so they think I'm just being pessimistic, fatalistic, or a negative Nancy when I'm genuinely trying to explain things to them, and to ask for what I need in order to take care of myself.
We interrupt this post for a public service announcement: This part of the tale is going to become really onerous. I promise we'll get back to the prose once we've finished. But this is what I do. Month after month after decade: list and document symptoms. Prove the case when I’d rather be proving how badass I am, how much I’ve recovered, how miraculous the body and brain are. The proving cycle of The Hidden Injury is an unfortunate part of this crazy train, and actually one of the most detrimental things to my recovery.
That’s another thing that famous people with severe injuries, or others with injuries you can see at first glance, don’t have to do: waste half their precious healing energy simply trying to prove that they need help.
In the words of one of my friends and readers: Let's plug the nose and gulp down the medicine, shall we? I promise to salt it with some snark.
Prognosis 1: Severe Whiplash – damaged muscles, tendons, and ligaments from neck to pelvis.
—A vice-grip over my skull that I call Magneto’s Helmet of Pain
—Backwards curve in cervical vertebrae
—Wad of scar tissue in my center back that makes it difficult to, not only flex my spine backwards, but even stand up straight.
—Sensation of having a knife jammed into the base of my spine
—Clunking/grinding vertebrae in my low back
—Torn muscles on the inside and outside of my left hip…
—That resulted in one shriveled, stringy leg on the left, and one bulging, rock-solid leg on the right
—Over the years, the compensation injury in my right hip and knee would ultimately give me a torn meniscus…
—And a compensatory compensation injury to my left foot—my Os Cuniform 2 bone pops up, making it a nightmare to balance. (Did I mention I’m a professional dancer?)
—My shimmy and other hip moves were lopsided, and were the primary reasons I created my dance drills. Go me!
—Joint problems in shoulders, elbows, wrists, thumbs, hips, knees, ankles, feet: the hip bone’s connected to the…thigh bone, the thigh bone’s connected to the…
—Tongue and cheek biting (see below)
—Numb hands and arms from pinched nerve outlets due to twisted vertebrae
—Occasional numb feet
Prognosis 2: Various & Sundry. The annoyances and embarrassing conditions that came on within 1 week of the crash, some of which still plague me:
—Fluctuation between diarrhea and constipation
—My “second bung-hole” (My snidely affectionate term for the bed sore I acquired after sitting for weeks on a twisted coccyx. Apparently this is known as “Jeep Butt” in the chiropractic community, for the number of off-road jeep riders who come down with this condition from the jostling friction worn through their skin.)
—Weakened immune system
—Chronic canker sores from biting my tongue and cheeks
—Acne and boils
—Hives on my neck wherever the cervical vertebrae are misaligned
—A strange collection of infuriatingly itchy bumps that no allergist, dermatologist, or physician has ever been able to diagnose. The first ones were always symmetrically paired on my forearms. They remained paired as they multiplied up my arms. When they reached my chest and back, they exploded randomly. I can always tell when my neck is out and my brain is taxed by how many of these bumps I get, and if they are constrained to my arms or if they appear on my torso, too.
Prognosis 3: PTVS (Post Traumatic Visual Syndrome). In the strain of the impacts, my eyeballs were jarred so badly that the muscles were stretched out like over-pulled rubber bands.
—Intermittent double vision
—Seeing things in my periphery that aren’t there—especially dangerous while driving
Prognosis 4: PTSD (Post Traumatic Stress Disorder).
**Unbeknownst to me at the time of the crash, I have been living with this disorder since I was about 4. Each traumatic incident compounds and confuses the prior conditions, creating a really big mess. Professionals are considering giving it its own diagnosis, Complex-PTSD. I wholeheartedly second that motion. It’s a slightly different animal. It’s the difference between dealing with one IED explosion and an explosion that led to a firefight where everybody died except the one dude who was held as a POW and tortured for 3 years before coming home to find his wife in bed with his best friend he thought was dead. Both suck. One is a bit more complicated to treat.
—Drastic mood swings that come on in a snap (Jeckyl & Hyde)
—Explosions of violence
—Hyper-sensitivity and overblown reaction to emotional stimuli
—Jumpy and easily startled
Irrational phobias, paranoia, suspicion, and/or hatred of the following:
—Drunk drivers (or other impaired variants)
—Moving vehicles of any kind
—Riding in a car I can’t control (exacerbated by equilibrium issues)
—Riding in an airplane I can’t control (really exacerbated by equilibrium issues)
—Individuals who don’t creep up to stop signs going 1.46 MPH
—Friends who don’t stay back 1.46 miles from other bumpers when they generously (naively—foolishly?) offer to drive me places
—The medical world
—The insurance world
—The world of legal systems
—My own legal team
—The world of government agencies who say they exist to help the disabled
—Other human beings, especially drunk ones (I might have mentioned that)
—Stepping outside my own house
—Stairs and other pitfalls inside my own house
—Falling-tripping-maiming-sneezing-breathing…you get the point.
—Not having absolute and utter control over Every Single Circumstance of Life (I am only being partially sarcastic with all of this.)
—What I call “flash-forwards”—the graphically gruesome images conjured by my brain at any given moment pertaining to any circumstance where there is a 1:1,000,000,000 chance that something bad could happen.
All compounded by:
Prognosis 5: Dain Bramage. Technically “Closed Head Injury” or mTBI - “Mild Traumatic Brain Injury.” In other words, my skull wasn’t cracked open, my head wasn’t lacerated, and I wasn’t unconscious for more than 20-30 minutes.
—Left and right temporal lobes
—Right and left parietal lobes
—Basically I have Shaken Baby Syndrome from having my brain slammed into my skull and sloshed around in 3 different impacts, and from my head hitting the door frame. The swelling over the next few days then compounded the injuries.
**Being punched in the face by an angry individual in 2012, the resultant year of chronic seizures, and a second rear-ending at a stop sign in 2014 have given me additional brain trauma. Unfortunately, nobody has ever found it reasonable to give me another full neuropsychological exam, but I can tell that I have new issues that weren’t there before.
This prior post has a lot of links to TBI resources.
Because this SkullClub constantly needs ways to blow off steam: