Monday, March 7, 2011

So, What Happened?

So, what happened? It's the inevitable question in the last six years when I tell the story of "My Big Accident."  People first think I've somehow recovered my memory of the event.  Second, they want to know why it happened.

Well, I have some best guesses, but I don't know anything for certain.  This is a long one, but I promise you a funny line or two in the end! Keep reading!

In terms of what happened, I've pieced together what I think happened based on my injuries and Tar's change in behavior when faced with certain stimuli.  The young ladies who found me, found Tar first.  They told the trainer or the farm owners, I don't know which because my mother told me, that Tar came running out of the woods without a rider.  They caught him and put him in a stall in the barn.

Given this report of how Tar was found, I assume he wheeled around on the trail to come running out of the woods.  Basically, he turned and high tailed it out of there. Horses don't run towards danger.  But, why was he afraid? Why did it happen?

Since the accident, Tar has a new fear of motorcycles or things that sound like motorcycles--riding lawn mowers, for example.  He was exposed to motorcycles before the accident and was never phased by them.

Now, he wheels and takes off in the other direction when he hears that noise.  I can watch him do it in his paddock when there's no one around to que him to run.  It was a dramatic change in behavior for such a laid back horse.

Based on this behavior change, I assume someone came towards us in the woods on an ATV or a dirt bike.  The boarding barn property is extensive and did not have a perimeter fence.  It's very easy for people to come off-roading on that property and no one notice.  It would be easy to do it and never encounter a horse and rider.  Who knows if that mystery rider ever saw me and Tar, probably not.  Or, it was a kid who was scared and drove away.

I assume that unusual circumstance spooked Tar.  Horses like for everything to be the same.  A dirt bike or an ATV had never met him on a trail before.  I'm sure he had no idea why that strange "creature" was here now.  So, he did like any good prey animal and ran.  It's instinct.  It's not bad behavior.  That explains why it happened. 

I assume when he made his exit, we must have been close to a tree.  I guess that my head got a little too close to that tree.  I was not wearing a helmet, that's not what Western riders did when I learned to ride.  Besides, a helmet would not have protected the side of my face anyway.

So, when he turned, my the right side of my face hit the tree trunk.  The bark likely abraded my face to make it look like I had been drug across asphalt.  In this instant, I must have thrown my right arm across my mouth and chin, because that area was unaffected.  My right arm, when held in that position, had a perfect bruise pattern for it to be the case. That explains my face, dislocated jaw, and black right arm.

The huge hematoma on the back of my head leads me to believe the impact to my face was so forceful, it knocked me off of Tar backwards instead of to the side as most falls occur from horseback.  My right cheekbone took the blow from the front, my left rear skull took the blow from the back when I landed.

The broken right rib and nerve damage to the right hip I explain by the fall backwards from five feet six inches off of the ground. That is the height from Tar's back.  When my body went "BAM!" from that height, my rib and hip took the impact along with the back of my head.

Falls from over five feet tend to be fatal.  I didn't know that until my brother, a certified Wilderness First Responder, told me after the accident.  Ok, does that mean I should only ride short horses from now on?
I have no memory of all of this.  It is just my supposition from the location and nature of my injuries, but it's probably a pretty good guess.  I have no memory of regaining conscientiousness and stumbling out of those woods.  I have no memory of being found.  I have no memory of being in pain.  I have no memory of being afraid. Nothing. It's all gone.  It was captured and hidden away by amnesia.

A level three concussion now translates into a mild traumatic brain injury. Six years ago, we were on the threshold of researching MTBIs and they were still called "concussions."  The word "concussion" is still used, but it's not the preferred medical term anymore.

Fortunately for me, my mother was Chief Operating Officer of a large behavioral health care company with a brain injury division.  Her brain injury expert flew in to see me when I came home.  He interviewed me.  He prepared us for what was to come in the healing process.

He mentioned the symptoms I was having: irritability, easily over stimulated, slow mental processing.  He assured us it would pass, but everyone heals at a different rate.

I would thank Randy here, but he passed away of few years later from a massive stroke.  He had just finished a round of golf.  He was a young man. 

Strange how life unfolds. I lived after a traumatic accident. He died after a round of golf. Strange.

The MBTI caused by blows to the front and back of my head, thus brain,  is why I have so much memory loss around the accident and the weeks that followed. It's why my mental processing was so slow for weeks.  It's also why Shaken Baby Syndrome is so dangerous--blows to the front and back of the brain as the baby is shaken back and forth.  In my case it was more like Shaken and Stirred Cowgirl!

For probably three months, even after I returned to work, people speaking to me normally felt like I was being bombarded with rapid fire information. The concussion also caused me to be hypersensitive to any stimuli--noise, light, touch, everything was too much for my brain to process.

It made me very irritable.  That was hard on my family.  I couldn't control it.  I was in total sensory overload because of the trauma to my brain.  All we could do is wait for it to heal itself.  Finally, it did.  Just in time for all of the trauma with Tar and Spot's simultaneous illnesses.

My face was very swollen and my dislocated jaw wasn't painful, so no one noticed it in the hospital.  That injury wasn't discovered until two weeks after the accident when I decided to keep a dental appointment for a cleaning.

What was I thinking?  I wasn't.  But, I walked around the corner to my dentist's office since I couldn't drive.

When I opened my mouth, my dentist was shocked.  He said my jaw looked like it had unlocked like a snake and skidded off to the side.  I couldn't feel it.  That's nerve damage for you!

As an aside, the nerve damage also caused my eyes to blink separately.  My clients said it was really weird to talk to me in therapy sessions with my eyes like that.  Sorry folks!  Nerve damage is a b*tch!  I'm glad that freak show feature finally went away.

My dentist referred me to a maxiofacial surgeon.  That guy said if my jaw didn't stick that way and it didn't hurt or interfere with my life, just leave it alone.  Leave it alone?  Huh? I'm going to end-up as a One Woman Freak Show!  Yep.  Leave it alone.

To this day, if I open my mouth wide, you can still feel and see my jaw dislocate on the right side.  It's pretty weird, but it doesn't cause any problems.  So, that's how it stays.

As to any other lasting physical damage from my accident, I did not end up as a One Woman Freak Show.  I do have the unlocking snake jaw on one side, but the separately blinking eyes finally got back in sync.

As the crushed cranial nerve healed over the next two years, I was able to feel more of the right side of my face.  The tissue damage and raw exposed nerves in my face were painful to the touch, but the check bone never caused pain.  After the tissue damage healed, it still took months for my face not to be painful to the touch.

It was odd because moving my face wasn't painful.  There was no throbbing sensation of pain.  But, touching my face, Holy Cow!  That hurt, for a long time.

Now, I have one inch diameter spot at the top of my right cheek bone that remains numb.  It doesn't hurt, it just doesn't feel anything.  It was the healing of the same nerve that finally let my eyes blink together again.  I'm glad that part healed!  I can deal with the numb face.  I prefer not to freak people out with the separate eye blinking!

I have two small scars on my face.  One at my right eye brow.  One at the top of my right lip.  They are so small no one notices them, but me.  The deep bruising remained for months and was hidden by make-up when I returned to work.  But, there's no remaining disfigurement to my face.  I am so lucky.  I could have looked really bad.

The nerve damage in my hip resolved eventually.  Again, it was still there when I returned to work.  That nerve damage hurt.  Standing up from a sitting position really hurt.  Like the rest of the injuries, it's gone now.

The old broken rib still hurts when it rains or gets very cold or there's a big change in barometric pressure.  It hurts like it's still broken at those times.  It's like the rib didn't get the memo that the body healed up.  I can go months without any pain from it, then it gets me.  Nothing helps the pain, so I gut it out.  It goes away again, eventually.  I'm glad for that, too.

I am not afraid to ride.  There's no lasting psychological damage.  I am not afraid of Tar.  I can't ride him right now, though.  Why?  Because my farm is close to a main road.  I can't control when motorcycles go by.  I've already fallen too many times when that's been the case.

The last time he stepped on my foot during his exit.  It broke a bone in my arch.  He didn't mean to hurt me, he was just getting away.

I was teaching a lesson at the time.  I got up.  I caught Tar.  I tied him up and finished the lesson.  I wrapped my foot in vet wrap and kept going for eight weeks until it healed.

Yes, it hurt.  But, I've got a business to run.  I saw my orthopedist.  That was his advice, too.  Wrap it as I had done, realize it's going to hurt, and keep going.  I like my orthopedist.  He's very practical.

That is the only reason I don't ride Tar.  I have a business to run.  I have people and animals who depend on me.  If he had stepped on my leg, my abdomen, my chest or my head, it would have broken a lot more important stuff.  If those areas get broken, I can't run my business.  This is a practical decision. It is not a fear based decision and it is not Tar's fault.

 "But, you said he was giving you a hard time that day.  Maybe that's why he did this to you?"  That's what the trainer and the barn owners said to me later.  Even my brother said it to me.  I never believed Tar did anything to me purposefully I know now that his behavior at the boarding barn, the entire time he was there, was erratic because he was in a constant state of low-grade colic.

That was discovered when he was hauled to the university for surgery and in his months of recovery after wards. He cannot eat the thin shaft hay that grows here.  It packs up in his colon and makes him sick.  The kind of hay he can eat, must be hauled in now. 

Let's be very clear about all of that.  None of this has been Tar's fault. It wasn't my fault. It was a freak accident.  It could happen to anyone.  But, it happened to me. So, I get the final word.  End of story.

Now you know what happened as well as I do.  The only one who could correct me is Tar.  And, if Tar starts speaking English, you'll know because I'll be making a bundle of money with a talking horse.  I won't be teaching riding lessons anymore.  Tar and I will be taking our yacht around the world putting on a show.

Thanks for reading folks!  Have a good Monday!

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