I hear voices but can’t understand what is said. There are blurred images of faces peering down at me and moving away then darkness comes again. Consciousness fades in and out. I can’t tell if I am dreaming or not. One moment I am in a car speeding down a row of bathroom stalls aiming for the wall inside the restroom of a highway rest stop. The next I feel my body being moved around on a bed and the blurred images and voices are back. I lay there forever and sometimes groaning with every exhalation just to hear something.
Gradually things become clearer and I am a little bit more aware during these periods of consciousness. I am in hospital bed with something wrapped around my neck that prevented me from moving it. My hands are strapped down to the sides of the bed. The bed has a netting surrounding it to keep me from falling out. I see a nurse come in and tried to talk to her. When that happened there was a commotion. I heard someone say he’s awake and then others came running in. A doctor asked me if I knew my name. As I tried to answer the voice I heard was high pitched like a child’s. It added to my confusion as I wondered whose voice it was.
I knew my first name and after some effort I think I recalled my last name. Then I was left alone and laid there trying to comprehend what was going on. Where was I? How did I get here? What was wrong with me? Why am I tied down? I knew I was in a hospital but that was it. Nurses would come in to change my diapers or check the I.V.’s that seemed to be stuck in every vein I had. They told me I was in Oklahoma City and that I had been in a car wreck. I was later told that while in a coma I was cussing and would tear out the tubes and I.V.’s requiring the restraints.
There was a TV in the room and I was given a remote control to it, which I could sometimes operate when it didn’t fall or disappear where I couldn’t find or reach it. Sometimes I wouldn’t remember I had a remote and would ask a nurse to turn on the TV. I would just watch it for hours and wonder about what I saw. Most of it was new to me though I recognized some of the old rock songs after a while. There was a lady called Oprah who really impressed me. “Wow, she helps a lot of people” I thought. Much of what I saw stirred me in strange ways and I seemed to cry often. Then some of my memories began to return.
They weren’t good, a confusing patchwork of bits and pieces that I couldn’t put together. None of them seemed to be pleasant. There was an intense sadness attached to most of them along with anger. I knew that I had been running away to Texas, I had been in trouble with the law, and I had been shooting dope. I remembered owning three companies that I had founded. I remembered a wife.
I could remember my home phone number but not my home address. It was one of the first of the strange gaps in my memory that I began to be aware of. One of the nurses helped me to call home to my wife and her two kids whom I had raised and who called me dad. When her boyfriend answered the phone a flood of unpleasant memories rushed in. I remembered catching her having sex with him and knew we had been in the process of a divorce. For a while I had said the divorce had been finalized while I was in a coma but I now know that it had been settled prior to the accident. That night grief overcame me and I began crying so hard that everyone could hear me down the hall. It was almost like the wailing cry of an injured animal.
I was soon allowed to eat real food but seemed to be full after only a few bites. My sense of taste and smell no longer seem to work very well. There is nothing like having your diapers changed when you are 46 to teach you humility. I began to insist that I be allowed to walk so I could use the bathroom. At one point two nurses came in and pretty much carried me into the bathroom and even had to help lower down onto the toilette. This is when I began to understand just how weak I was. I found out that my weight was only 160 lbs and knew that my weight had been around 240.
Now that I am awake and slowly becoming cognizant the hospital begins the therapy. There is a speech therapist who would help me learn how to talk so others could understand what I said. She would also bring up puzzles and things to test my comprehension. What was most important to me was to be able to walk. I craved mobility and seem to have a well-developed aversion to being caged, tied down, closed in, and unable to be free. I would look out the window with longing and could watch traffic, the construction project across the street, and the life flight helicopters as they would come and go on their missions of mercy. I longed just to feel the sun on my skin and the wind in my face.
Now began the process of learning how to walk. I learn that I am partially paralyzed which would explain why my right leg was always numb and has that tingling feeling you get when your leg falls asleep. It was strange that, as I was being supported, my left leg would move when my brain told it to but not my right leg. Soon I was able to command my right leg to move forwards and back but no matter how hard I tried it would refuse to move sideways. I was told that this was due to brain damage and that with time and hard work my brain would rewire itself. I had at first thought that my paralysis was due to my neck being broken and this was the first I heard of brain damage, which it turns out is my real problem.
Trials and tribulations of life with a disability that is seldom recognized
January 6, 2002- I am released from the hospital to my brother. The hospital records indicate that I was to be released to a rehabilitation facility but because I had no insurance and no arrangements could be made for a scholarship bed, my brother was the only one found who would accept me. It says that my brother agreed to pick me up and take me to St. Louis where he would continue to observe me and to arrange for me to be entered into a rehabilitation program. I remember begging him to take me to the company that had towed my vehicle so I could recover my property from the wrecked car. Larry refused saying he did not have time. I had been in contact with the owner of American Horse Wrecking who had assured me all my property was secured and would be available for me. This was another of a long series of deceptions I was about to begin to face. Now begins my education on what is now to me, in many ways, a brand new world.
My brother is to me a stranger. He bought a case of beer to drink as he drove. When I expressed how uncomfortable that made me he just ignored it. As we rode to St. Louis he says little. I do remember him making a comment about Dad giving me the ivory chess set when it should have been his. It puzzled me that he would hang on to old bitterness’s. I wondered what else he had been allowing to eat at him for years.
My glasses where probably destroyed in the accident and I am legally blind without them so Larry is upset when I cannot watch road signs for him. Since I left home at roughly the age of 14 I have only seen or talked to Larry a few times over the decades. Our conversation is strained and I could not figure out what his problem with me was.
When we arrive in St. Louis he places me in the cheapest hotel he could find. It smelled of vomit and was constantly used by prostitutes and drug dealers. The police would make 3 to 5 arrests a week out of there. Larry would give me $20.00 a week to eat on and then would get livid when I would run out in 4 days. He pushed me to find work and then discovered that he had to pay extra for me to use the hotel phone to call for jobs. This also upset him. The fact that at this time my voice was so blurred that few people could even understand me on the phone did not faze him. He just told me I would have to learn to talk better. His attitude seemed to be that I would just get better in a short period of time. He was insistent that I needed a haircut because he did not like long hair. That was fine with me because I did not have the strength to lift my arm high enough to comb my hair. I just had the barber cut it all down to about 1/8 of an inch so I would not have to comb it.
On occasion Larry would take me out to eat which I greatly appreciated. Then he brought over his Hibachi grill and went to the grocery store to get food so I could eat within his budget. I found it to be a great pleasure to cook my food. This had always been one of my pastimes and I used to enjoy cooking for my family and friends. He would sometimes pick me up and have me work at his job sites to “help pay my way”. I enjoyed just going anywhere but my lack of strength and confusion were a constant source of irritation for him, which he never hesitated to express. Because the cost of the hotel was over $200.00 a week he decided to find cheaper accommodations for me. He promised me, in response to my worries, that he would take care of me for at least 6 months and I would have nothing to worry about.
The accommodations he found were in a rough part of the city. While I had a bed and electricity, the heat was soon turned off because the landlord had a gambling problem and had failed to pay the gas bill. I lived on the second floor while the so-called landlord lived down stairs. It turns out that he did not even have authority to rent out the place, but was a caretaker for the owner, who was in a nursing home.
Some of the windows on the third floor were broken out and there was a flock of pigeons that lived up there. Sometimes they would crawl through holes in the floor and come to visit me. One morning I woke up with a sparrow sitting on my arm. It took me 2 days to get it to fly out of a window. Eventually it got so weak or tame because I would feed it that I coaxed it onto my hand and placed my hand out of the window, shaking it to encourage the bird to fly. Then I had to hastily close the window because it kept trying to fly back inside. Often times I had to clean the bird droppings that leaked through the floor upstairs, out of the bathtub to take a bath in cold water.
To cook Larry got me a hot plate and an old toaster oven because the only thing in the kitchen were a sink and some old dishes and items left by previous tenants, some of whom were itinerant street people.
Still being pressured to find a job I took whatever I could. The two I found were another part of the education that I suspect will take a long time. I was fired from both. The first one was a telemarketing scam that promised to help people to repair their credit by having them purchase a credit card for $250.00 with the catch that they could only purchase items from a catalog supplied by the scammers. After 4 or 5 weeks I was fired and only received pay that was equivalent to minimum wage. The company, Credit Plus, kept all the commissions that I earned.
The second job was for a modeling agency that encouraged youths to come in with their parents and after hyping them up with the dream of riches and fame would talk them into signing up for classes that would each them how to be models. The manager was seldom there and seemed to be more interested in partying than running his operation. I asked him after 4 weeks when I was going to be paid. This was just before the company changed names and locations to avoid legal trouble. I was fired. Of course I never received a single paycheck.
I would sometimes walk because I knew it was good for my health but the neighborhood was full of gang bangers who would yell at passing cars to sell crack, and sometimes fight with others for business. I was jumped and robbed twice when I said that I didn’t do drugs.
Larry had purchased a car from one of his friends to help me get work. The first night it was parked in front of the place I was staying on Chippewa St. the window was smashed and the stereo was stolen. Of course Larry had never properly registered the car, gotten insurance, or even gotten plates so when I reported the theft to the police they had some questions about that. I kept driving it anyway because I cherished the ability to travel, desired to keep Larry satisfied by continuing to look for work, and desperately craved social contact which I got one day a week at church.
After awhile people got to know me because I would wood carve in front of the house and talk to passersby about my coma and new outlook on life. There came a point where I was no longer harassed and felt safer on the street. I would help some of the people in the neighborhood by giving them rides to the grocery store or fixing their cars. Then I walked to a nearby hospital because I was feeling ill, had fallen down the stairs, and seemed to be more lost and paranoid than usual.
When the hospital learned of my condition and the severity of my injuries from the accident, I was sent to a medical clinic that was in walking distance from my house. There the doctor got the social worker involved when they learned of my living conditions and medical and mental state. I was signed up for food stamps, Medicaid, and sent to a variety of specialist, which fortunately included the Brain Injury Center, who did more for me than anyone.
My brother is still a mystery to me. He had only paid the first months rent and given Gary, the “landlord” $60.00 twice since then. Gary became more insistent for money probably due to his gambling addiction. With nothing forth coming he started eviction proceedings. Larry became upset when he discovered that I had applied for food stamps and government assistance telling me, as he often did, that I was stupid. I continued going to church at Southside Assembly. It would be interesting to talk to those who knew me then and get their perspective of me. I suspect that I did not open up to many and, due to my shame and embarrassment, I am sure that I hid my condition and living situation from most. I did start seeing a registered therapist named Kathy Mager who learned more about me than anyone. She did tell me that, by my refusing to ask for help, I was robbing others of blessings they would receive by helping me.
By this time I was going to the Brain Injury Center on a regular basis. They did wonders for me by just teaching me basics like writing things down so I could remember and identifying areas of need and making sure the appropriate professionals or procedures were in place and making sure I made it to my other appointments. After kind of wandering around lost I greatly enjoyed knowing there were those who understood what I was experiencing and gave me the hope that I could once again have a life. Recognizing that I was very depressed they started to get me hooked up with a mental health clinic.
Then I was extradited to Ohio