My Latent Self Anne Ricketts

My Latent Self

Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury
Recovering My Soul After Brain Injury

It Is a Fight for Survival – Melissa Davies

My story: It Is a Fight for Survival

By: Melissa Davies  (aka Meep)

On August 7th, 2010 I went white water rafting for the first time with nine of my friends and our tour guide (we’ll call him Wilson). I was the only newbie but I was so excited since I love to do adrenaline rush types of things. For example, I grew up on the back of street bikes and fast cars, Porsche, BMW, etc and all my friends raced professionally; I’ve always been part of the “in” crowd.  For the past several years I have stopped my life for several reasons.

I mainly grew up in Rhode Island where my mother’s half of the family lived; most of my dad’s side of the family lived in Massachusetts. I mainly lived with my mom during the week and went to dad’s on the weekend. My parents have been divorced since I was one. When I got older I decided to move up to Massachusetts and boy was it was a whirl-wind experience since a lot happened around the same time. My uncle had terminal leukemia, my aunt had terminal stomach cancer, my grandmother needed abdominal surgery, and my entire family was trying to figure out how we were going to keep all of our houses because of the financial burden. So I went back to Rhode Island and moved in with my grandmother to not only assist in her health, but also to support her, and my other uncle and aunt, who lived with her. I was also able to help financially because otherwise they were going to lose the house, which has always been the staple to the family for holiday functions etc.

Learning what I did when everyone was sick really intrigued me to go into the medical field. I got laid off from my job in the financial sector, which took a pretty big hit when the market crashed, but to me that was the perfect sign to switch careers.  So I pursued a medical assisting degree and gained international honors society summa cum laude. I was extremely proud of my success and so were my father and family for the first time in my life. Before this, I had never received any recognition from them since I had grown up in foster care due to my father/step mother’s beatings and my mother’s alcoholism/beatings as well.  I was never a bad kid; they would hit me for things such as biting my nails or not learning their bible study stuff in time, which came before my school work, etc. So I was on cloud nine at this point when they recognized my achievements.  I also later found out, through some of my documents, that I had been accepted into the ‘Who’s Who of Scholars’ and awarded the option to study abroad in Australia, which I never took advantage of because I was taking care of my family. My dream someday will come true though to travel there. I’ve always wanted to go to Australia.

So after a few years of dedication, hard work and perseverance, I decided to jump right into a nursing degree; bad idea! – I did about a 1 year and 2 semesters and was totally burnt out and needed a summer off, so that’s exactly what I did.  I was going back right after the summer though.  I lived it up! I was finally free! I hadn’t had freedom in so long that it felt amazing. I did everything I wanted to that I had been dreaming about for years. I went kayaking, out with friends, camping, concerts, tailgating, you name it, I did it… Then comes the infamous day of white water rafting, the extreme adrenaline rush that me and my friends had been looking forward to all summer long.

So we geared up and got our wet suit jackets on (which don’t smell very pretty let me just warn you) and I put my red socks hat on (go Sox!). Thankfully I had my hat with me because I have a head the size of a kid so I kind of knew that the helmets there wouldn’t really fit exactly right.  I had to finagle their helmet a bit so it would hopefully be snug enough. It was slipping a bit but hey! I tied the strap as tight as I could around my head without it hurting me, and we then got our paddles and then went into the lodge and heard about some of the instructions before we went off to the bus!

Down by the raft our guide, Wilson, (who’s as old as my grandfather, god bless the man, I hope I’m in that great of shape when I’m that old) starts to ask, ‘who are the newbies’ and so I raised my hand and he told me to sit at the very back of the raft. My friend Mark, who’s a seasoned rafter, yells to Wilson saying, “why put her there since it’s her first time?” Wilson said not to worry and that he’d guide me and I’d be just fine. Boy was he ever so wrong on this day!

Well to give you an idea if you’ve never been rafting before, the rapids go by classes. Class 1, is a little rapid and hardly a ‘to-do about it / not to worry its fun,’ like your local water country or six flags theme park , water slide fun… Then, at the other end of the scale, you have the class 6, which is the most deadliest and you want to poop your pants, well not literally, but you get the idea – it’s for adrenaline junkies like me! On this trip we only had rapids that were from 1 thru 5’s.  So we all got in and there was a little area where you get about a 5-7 minute tutorial twirling around and Wilson was telling us what to do with our paddles, body movements etc. I was on the very back of the raft, sitting on the top of it, so if the raft hits a pocket of water, my part of the raft would go up in the air the highest. The only thing holding me in was my feet that were somewhat wedged into the rubber part of the boat with a very thin rope that was hardly doing my little narrow feet any good. It was making me a little nervous to say the least! But like I always do, I thought ‘I’ll roll with it nonetheless’ because at this point I was trusting Wilson’s guidance!

So Wilson says ‘we’re ready’ and there’s oh, about 10 or so rafts going out that day, and he prepped us by saying that the first rapid we would actually hit is not a class 1 rapid, which I was hoping for, but that our first was going to be a class 4! I said, ‘WHAT? No warm up rapid like a class 1 or 2?’  He said, “your shower this morning was your warm up young lady.”  Right there, at that moment, I was scared. “GULP”.

Oh boy! So we went through it and my butt flew up in the air, but the arches of my feet, down by my toes, were somewhat locked in, but I could tell I hardly had any bearings so I was holding on with all my might and paddling as hard as I could. So I caught my breath as we got through that and I readjusted my feet and seating. Then the water was somewhat calm for about just 30 seconds, literally.

So then Wilson gave us another screaming prep for the next rapid because the roar of the water was so loud.  I was then thinking, ok this has to be a class 3 or something easier, please for the love of God!  Nope wrong again!  It was the most deadliest of them all, the ‘grand daddy’ class 5, my arch nemesis! This also just happened to be a 3 part rapid as well and has an 8-12 foot drop in it too! I’m like, you got to be freaking kidding me, we’re not even 10 minutes into this and we’re already into a class 5! So we hit this thing full force, and yes the first pocket of water, and I looked over and Wilson’s legs were under the rope that I was talking about, but his upper body flopped out of the raft because we hit a pocket so hard that he bounced out (you know the dude who’s supposed to be saving US!)So he pops up and said, ‘you gotta save me,’ so me and my friend Chris reach over to pull him back in, but in the meantime I lost my footing! Then, just as we’ve heard this a million times before, in a blink of an eye, we hit another deeper pocket and all I saw was a huge wall of water rushing at me and then the next thing I knew I was flying out of the raft to the right just like an Acme cartoon character , (meep, meep, just kidding!) and I instantly hit a rock. The raft went straight and they couldn’t catch me. The only people who knew I’d ejected were Wilson and my poor terrified friend Chris. The rest didn’t know so Wilson was screaming orders to get to a safe place to try and catch me.  But, in the meantime I was swirling around in the pockets of undertow which were pulling me under. I couldn’t catch my breath, my body just kept getting hit by the numerous rocks below and above. The roar of the water was so loud, the force so powerful, and the confusion so instant.

Then at some point I popped up and it became calm just for a second. I was trying to remember the initial instructions and the instructors saying something about ‘turtle up’ which means to get your legs up and get on your back but I couldn’t remember what direction your head was supposed to go.  So I pointed my head I guess down the rapid, which was the wrong way from what my friends told me after. I kept getting twirled around, pushed, then shoved, knocked so much that I just couldn’t get any sort of bearings. I’d get sucked under water and pray to God that I wouldn’t die this way, things were getting foggy and I was getting too weak to fight much longer. I think I may have blacked out at some point for a second but I’m not entirely sure.  It felt like forever and I was just begging for someone to save me, anyone…

I remember at one point coming up from being sucked down and hearing ‘ooh’s’ and ‘aah’s’ from far away, but I couldn’t tell from where. It’s like every time I hit something this would happen. It was like I was playing for the Patriot’s and getting hit by the opposing teams’ linebacker (no cute Tom Brady to rescue me here). Every time I tried to scream I just sucked in more water, so I stopped. I just tried to stay as calm as I could, just tried to get some sort of bearing, but the water was so forceful, and I was terrified. Somehow through all of this I held onto my paddle, I have no idea how I did this but maybe innately I knew that in the end it would help save me somehow.

I kept trying to turn around to find my friends but to no avail. Then out of the blue I heard my friend Jens’ blood curdling screams.  Wilson had directed them to turn the raft around in the nook where they were safe enough, this was the moment that they finally found out that I had ejected at the beginning of the rapid. But Jen’s shrieks saved me; I turned and knew where to look, it was so loud, louder than the roar of the rapid that it gave me a direction to swim with all my might towards. Then I got slapped in the face with a rope but that didn’t matter…I was going to LIVE!

I didn’t have much strength left, but they all screamed and hollered to hurry. I didn’t understand at the time and had no clue about the ultimate urgency, besides my own weakness and needing to be saved. I barely was able to lift my paddle and arms as Wilson and Chris literally lifted me up and I didn’t even touch the side of the raft. I immediately started to burp and throw up water. Of course, me always being polite I had to say sorry and excuse me about a million times but I don’t know if the words actually came out because I was so weak and still in a shaky, foggy, confused state. I didn’t realize until later that day how close I had come to my friends not being able to save me. See that rapid had 3 parts; I had gone through 2 of them, and I was feet away from going over either an 8 or a 12 foot drop depending on which direction I had gone. Wilson said if they didn’t catch me, I would have certainly died that day.  Someone was looking over me.

I’ll never forget that day; unfortunately I have very vivid dreams every night. I try, as you can probably tell, to put a lighter spin on things as much as I can. But people need to be aware that when you go on these types of trips or events you must take precautions and listen to your seasoned friends or even your gut instinct like I should have. And if you have a smaller head like mine then maybe companies such as these need to look into different sized helmets to accommodate their clientele. I ended up with blunt force trauma to my body and a mild traumatic brain injury. I find this term sort of an oxymoron, there’s nothing mild about a tbi.

So I lived in this hell thinking I was going nuts, not remembering my own family’s names, where I was for no apparent reason, why I was so tired all the time, sleeping up to 12-16 hours a day, why I would get overloaded and my senses got so intensive to the point where it became so unbearable in supermarkets, any store for that matter, even just out for a leisurely walk. I felt like a freak of nature, like I was in the movie ’The Matrix.’ Everyone else was zooming by me, but I was standing still, sensory overload is the common theme. Bits of information I would have to pull out of my brain piece by piece but at a snail speed. Things were slower, my brain seemed to become full so much faster. I didn’t understand people when they were speaking to me, as if they were speaking a foreign language. I would get lost in my own neighborhood for no apparent reason.

My speech and thought process would just instantly stop and people would look at me and make comments like, “what you can’t speak, what are you retarded or something” and then I would breakdown and cry. I’d walk into a CVS and try and buy items that were on sale for my brother’s care package to ship over to him in Afghanistan but then I realized I couldn’t figure out what the better deal was, I had forgotten how to do math. Me, I, forgot? How is that so, when I worked in investments for most of my career before switching to the healthcare sector?  Then trying to read more than a paragraph or two seemed like torture. I’d have to read then read it over and over about 8-12 times because I couldn’t retain the information.  So then I’d just give up.

I was screwing up at work, my current job. I was the “go to” person but now I didn’t have a clue. I kept directing them to other people because I had no idea and I would just break down and cry. Then I made a huge mistake and had been written up for it, all the while feeling more and more ill, the pains, lights, sensory overloads, everything was shear torture. I’d somehow drive into work early just to be able to find my way (thank god for gps) and then reboot before work started then after work reboot before having to drive home. That wasn’t like me. I had nursing school I had to attend, I missed classes, just couldn’t do it. Then I ended up missing work because I was so ill, and then short term disability, then supposedly I could try and get on long term disability. I was denied.

For 9 months, I lived in a state of pain, confusion and unbelievable loss that I still to this day don’t know how I survived mentally, but I did. I thank my former self for always being head strong. I lost my amazing job, had no income, sold everything I had, didn’t eat for days because I had no food, my best friend died in a horrific car accident and another friend in the same circle died of a heart attack while at the gym a month after. I didn’t even know I had a brain injury until 6 months after my accident. Once my migraines kept getting worse and worse and I couldn’t take it anymore.  Finally I went to see my neuro and he diagnosed me after I had an MRI and I also started to sporadically have seizures out of nowhere.

And then the kicker! During my long term disability fight before the denial became official, they had suggested to my neurologist that I get a neuropysch test done. After a grueling 9 hours of testing over the course of a couple of days it was finally completed and I was called to come back in. My friend Jen, who was with me the day of the accident, came with me as well as my father who I had to beg just to get there. I remember telling her before Jen and my father got there that I don’t know who I am anymore and she said something along the lines of “almost every patient I see with a brain injury like yours says the same thing, that’s why you need the support, and I’ll give you the information that’ll you’ll need today to help with that, but it’s going to be a long, hard road but just know you’re never alone and you can do this and you can always call me.” I loved her for being so compassionate to me. I asked if she did any private practice but she didn’t unfortunately. I have never met anyone like her since in that sort of field. Plenty of compassionate people of course, but just not at her level.

So the doctor explained the full details of my eval to all of us and I of course was very emotional because as the doctor explained to us this was going to be a life changing event and that I would need all the love and support from my family, friends and medical team. My brain was full in about 2 milliseconds, thank god Jen was there to take notes and I got the report.  What was ever so shocking to not only me but also to Jen and the doctor was that my father never consoled me in any way even though he saw how upset I was. He never held my hand or said that “we’ll get through this”. The only thing he said to my doctor was that he wanted to let her know about his seasonal affective disorder.  The doctor was quick to let him know that we weren’t there for him.  She then continued on, confirming that my intelligence was still intact but also mentioning there was no time table on when things were going to come to the surface again. She also mentioned other important information about my deficits;   she was amazing.

All my father saw was that his gifted daughter, summa cum laude, straight A student, soon-to-be nurse, and the one who used to tutor SAT prep students on the weekends, was no longer and I ceased to exist, “I was dead to him”, those were his words, not mine.

Things at home were very different after that meeting. My own family disowned me because of their “old school” ways because they heard the term “motor retardation,” which is just a slowing down of the thought process, and they just assumed that I was retarded even though I’m clearly not! Both my father and grandmother said I can either move to the attic where the mice and squirrel poop, (for the lack of a better word) or I could leave their family. Gram said “no retard lives under this roof. ‘It’ (meaning me) should be institutionalized like the rest of them.”

About a few weeks after that meeting I came home one weekend afternoon to find my things strewn across the lawn.  I packed up what I could in my boyfriends’ truck at the time and moved into my friend Jen’s house and never looked back. They taunted me on my cell phone around the holidays, threatened to have my car towed if they saw it in town (ironically my younger brother works for a towing company that I initially got him the job but has since changed management). But I have no communication with them and have blocked their numbers now. I miss them in some way. I try and remember the good times but I choke up every time I remember all that I have done and sacrificed for each of them. I grew up in Rhode Island and moved up here to take care of them. I didn’t have to, but that’s what families do for each other. I didn’t stop and think about it, I just did it. There were no questions asked. I love them. And it just hurts but now is the time to heal and move on.

My family is now comprised of: other tbi/bi survivors, medical staff, like Rick Sanders, my speech therapist at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital, Andrea Terech, my talk therapist who specializes in traumatic brain injury, Diane Shawan, Sr. Voc. Rehab. Counselor, who has always gone above and beyond her job duties at the Massachusetts Rehab Commission and has connected me to numerous people that I so desperately needed even at the last minute Then there is the love and support that I get from the Krempels Center in Portsmouth, NH. They have always helped me when I had no place to go for rehab, no health insurance and didn’t know where to turn for support of any form. David Krempels (founder of the center) and his staff has undoubtedly saved my life, and many others. Even my student loan officer, Miranda Hazuse has saved me plenty of sleepless nights. Without all of these amazing people I know I couldn’t do this journey alone. We all struggle each and every day, but having them in my life makes it a lot more manageable.

My life has changed drastically and will never be the same; I will never be able to work two jobs, go to full time nursing school again or have that same family connection that was the old me. But now I still have my medical assisting degree behind me. I can still care for people in a different way. It may not even be in the medical assisting area, my life might go in an entirely different direction and that’s ok now.  I might not be meant to do that, there might be a bigger, better plan for me and I just don’t know it yet.  I did the “why me’s” and I still do the “I want my old life back” sometimes because we’re all human and we still struggle – it’s a part of life. But I am still me and I will always still be that same person to some degree. I am still compassionate, loving, caring, funny, and talented: etc I just know it. No one can take that away from me!

I just need to relearn some new skill sets. My job is going to change, yes this I know, not me as a person. And I’m still determined to impact people’s lives just as much as I planned to before, but it will be in a different way this time.  How, I don’t know yet. I’m still healing and learning but I will get there. But I need my support, healthy support, like other TBI/BI survivors and also friends, the healthcare network, anyone positive that believes in me, etc., because in order for us to get where we want to be in life, where ever that may be, and we don’t need to rush and decide now, now is for healing, but all I do know, is that we can’t do this alone, we need each other.

So the question is, are you with me? Can you help me spread the word? We need to help each other get the word out about brain injury. Please let me, help YOU, in your fight as well and together we can help bring a voice and educate people about brain injury.

Brain injuries are invisible injuries as we all know, but WE are not invisible! We are human beings that matter, and should and must be heard. We’re important too! The more people that know, the better services we will get in the long run, and we all know numbers speak volumes and that comes from education, and education is key to our future for millions of people like you and me!

Love your tbi survivor sister,

Melissa

P.S. I got the nickname because when I drink or eat something really fast I hiccup and I sound like the roadrunner..meep ..meep!

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3 Responses to “It Is a Fight for Survival – Melissa Davies”

  1. Marie Ballantyne-Payne says:

    Meep – Dearest Melissa,

    Oh my goodness, thank you, thank you, thank you! Not for what has happened to you, NONE of us want this, but THANK YOU for not being afraid to share, in all it’s honesty, what it is that keeps you going.

    I fight every day with the would have, should have, could have’s and who the hell am I stuff. No I’m not still me, I’m someone else looking out of my old eyes seeing things totally different!

    My tears just stream down my cheeks as I read and write this note. and all I can get to come to my mind right now is THANK You! with much Love and RESPECT. Marie

    • Melissa (Meep) says:

      Thank you for your warm and very touching response. But we are SO similar! It’s only been since 8/2010 since my accident and some days I’m strong and a fighter and other days I revert back to who am I anymore, mainly because I need to rest my body. This is a very difficult life we live in but together we can overcome those challenges. I’ve been very much alone in my health care up until recently and battled my way thru the system but yet I’m still falling through the cracks. I think a lot of us can say the same thing. I do my best to educate as many people as I can. Whether its talking at high schools, colleges, universities but also skyping at Washington State University all the way over on the other side of the country with about 200 students. The more lives we touch the better society will understand, so we hope. You, my friend are stronger than you’ll ever know! Believe me, I’ve been there and some days I’m still there. Look at each day as a blessing, find one positive thing each day and hang onto that one thing. Always know you have so many people that love and support you, especially me! – Melissa

    • Melissa Davies says:

      Marie,
      Without even knowing your story I sense that even though our worlds have been changed in many ways, we still have control over whether or not we are going to peel ourselves out of our beds or are we going to try our best to fight for today. We still have control in some way. Believe me, as we already know, no two injuries are the same. But we have to reach out to the positive influences in our daily life, even if its just chatting on here and knowing we are not alone. You are stronger than you know. If you can, journal or have someone close to you share a video session every so often so that you can see your progress. I wish I had done it. Just remember to never, ever think you are alone. You are a true miracle & survivor! (Hugs) – Melissa

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