ONLY WAY TO GO IS UP
COMMUNITY STORIES | 11.17.18
By Jackie Palmer
Last October, my roommate and I were out with friends on Las Olas in Ft. Lauderdale, just blowing off some steam from the week. At the time, we were in our second clinical rotation of our physician assistant master’s program. It was just an average Saturday night for all of us, but what happened changed my life forever.
As we were crossing the street to go home, my roommate and I were both struck by a car as pedestrians. The woman was driving her father-in-law’s car with a license that had been suspended for at least 4 years, going anywhere from 30-100 mph, a huge range. If you’ve ever spent time driving in South Florida, you know that number was probably closer to 100 mph. My roommate and I suffered very different injuries, but between the two of us, they were all incredibly serious. I suffered an open break to my humerus, radial nerve damage that I was told may or may not ever return to normal functioning (it has), a mandible break in 3 places, a complete PCL tear, broken orbital bone, a blood clot, a collapsed lung, and last but not least, a severe traumatic brain injury. It didn’t look good for me. Many of my friends from school later told me they didn’t think I would make it. By some miracle, our lives weren’t taken from us, and we’re both thriving!
I can't remember anything from around that time. The first thing I can remember chronologically before the accident was when Florida got hit by Hurricane Irma, easily a month before this went down. I’m told I was kept in a coma for three weeks with the same Glascow Coma Score as a dead person, just a 3. When they brought me out of the coma, my parents had me flown from the hospital in Florida to one in Cleveland, so they’d be able to manage me closer to home. Being in inpatient rehab in Cleveland is the first thing I remember after the accident, nearly a month later. I finally was able to come home a few days before Christmas. I've come really far, but I still have a long way to go, especially because my end goal is to go back and finish PA school. My roommate will graduate on time in a few weeks, so I have that to look up to whenever I need motivation!
It definitely feels like progress is moving as slow as a sloth, but it's important to remember that any progress, no matter how small, is a step in the right direction. I have to keep reminding myself this little nugget of wisdom, because I get so frustrated that things aren’t moving as quickly as I would like. I was pretty impatient before the brain injury, so even though my personality hasn’t changed, that characteristic has definitely been magnified. It's important to celebrate the tiniest victories - the little things that you never would have been proud of yourself for before this happened, like remembering to turn the stove off after cooking or moving your laundry from the washer to the dryer on time. You need to find yourself a really strong support system. Even if you think you won’t need one, trust me, you will. It's so easy to get frustrated not being able to do the things you used to do, but this is your life now. Like it or not, own it and live in the present! Buckle up and make sure you packed lots of entertainment, because this is going to be a really really REALLY long road. Trust me, it’s been over a year now and I’m still on that road.
Moving forward is about positive thinking. I think I’ve always been this way, but many of my friends have told me more than once that they're amazed by the positive attitude I've had throughout everything that has happened. It would be so much easier to be all "woe is me" all the time because of what I went through, but I'm determined to get through this. You'll never make any progress if you're always living in the past. So make sure to keep your head up!
Yoga has been really good for me. I went to a few yoga classes with my mom, and it felt like something was finally being released. I danced competitively for several years, so I've always had the flexibility thing on my side and was a pretty avid yogi too, but now it has definitely become more of a mental rather than physical practice. You can’t go wrong with meditation either. I’ve tried meditating on my own, but now that my attention and focus have taken a turn for the worse, I might have better luck with guided meditation. Other than that, outside of all my therapies I try to go to the gym every so often as a physical practice. Granted it’s not the intense workouts I did on a regular basis before this happened (I was training to compete in my first bodybuilding show at the time), but it’s a pretty good start.
Even when I think about it now, over a year later, I still feel like this really awful thing happened to someone else. I just got stuck living with the consequences. Now that I’m much more aware than I was earlier this year, whenever I learn things about that night or the ridiculous amount of should-have-been-fatal injuries between the two of us, I completely understand how my friends from school didn’t think I would make it. It finally makes sense why my parents always refer to me as the “miracle child.” Instead of dwelling on something I can’t change, I choose to think forward and just be thankful I’m here. The only place for me to go is up!