My Near-Death Experience that Inspired Transformation
A Simple Question
It started with a simple, innocent question – “Your car or my bike?” The question that would change my life forever with a near-death experience that would take years to heal.
Since I had never been on a motorcycle before, I enthusiastically answered “Your bike!” Owning a motorcycle had been my long time dream. However, it had been impractical for a single mom of two who has to drive her kids around. My friend promised to obey the speed limit and drive safely on back roads instead of major highways.
That being said, he gave me his helmet and we made our way to the beach. My nerves were on high alert as I watched his speedometer to ensure he was keeping his promise. After about ten minutes of watching how he was driving, I started to relax and enjoy the ride.
Then it all went black.
There are few things I could remember about that moment.
A stranger panicked while holding my head in his lap.
Paramedics hovering over me while blades whirred from above.
The sounds of beeps on strange machines and pain wake me. My eyes open to the brightness only a fluorescent light could be capable of emitting. Where am I?
Looking around, there is a hospital bed beneath me, a woman in a chair next to me, and a tube coming out of my mouth, trailing down to another machine. Panic and fear take root. What is happening? I can’t talk. My arms start yanking at the IV in my arm and the tube in my throat.
Who am I?
Hours or days later, I wake again. My focus is blurry and cannot be controlled. After a minute, I can see again. Looking down, the tube is gone. My brain can’t think.
Who am I? On my arm is a hospital bracelet – Trauma, Phoenix990, with a birthday of 12/25/1901. The name doesn’t sound familiar.
People start rushing to talk to me. It sounds like Charlie Brown’s adults that speak in ‘wahwahwah’s’. Who are they? Language is foreign to me.
Minutes, hours, or days later, the discordant sounds become words then sentences. It is clear again, these strangers ask me all sorts of questions. What’s your name? Where do you live? What year is it?
I don’t know.
My Only Constant
Days went by. Pain would be unbearable and constant. Medication wore off leaving me screaming, writhing, and shaking. Doctors refused to give me more despite the woman saying she was my mother begging for them to take the pain away.
There was nothing like the pain. That was the only thing that was my constant. The only thing that felt familiar when nothing else did.
The disappointment on people’s faces when I said I didn’t remember them was a different kind of pain. Somewhere along the way, I smiled and played along, acting like I remembered.
Even though it was a lie, it felt good to see people happy. They would tell me about the person I was and how much they loved me. Reminiscing on memories was a pastime for those visiting. Stories and jokes would be told, hoping something would make it click.
It wasn’t until a week later that I began to have any recollection of who I was or what my life had been. Looking back at that time, I had about 10% of my memory. My brain was functioning like that of a four year old. I couldn’t understand many things or process my emotions. Misunderstandings would lead to tears or anger.
Who was I before the accident claimed my life?
Just the week before, I was fiercely independent. I was working full time, had just obtained my degree, and had my children nearly full time with our custody schedule. Everything I ever needed, I did myself. Because of this my support system was nearly non-existent until this tragedy occurred.
It had been ingrained in my DNA starting at age ten after raising my brother and sister while my mom went to school and work full time. Any chances I gave to rely on others were met with pain and disappointment. So, it was me and my kids against the world.
The Hellish Reality that was to Come (Trigger Warning: Abuse)
Everyone had to get back to their own lives. No one had the time to care for someone who required round the clock wound changes and chaperoning (while my brain was down). My family offered to have me move in with them, but the house was too small with too many people living in it already. I didn’t want to lose having my kids full time or my place that I had worked so hard to obtain.
After a few weeks, my family left me in the care of the friend from the accident who was driving the motorcycle. He had road rash and a broken ankle, but he was fine otherwise. This man claimed to have been in love with me and that I was the one who got away in high school. With that, my truly hellish reality became my everyday for another four months of neglect and abuse.
To escape the terror of it wasn’t easy. In order to become fully independent again, I needed to go back to work just four months after the accident. Financial independence was the first step; so, I could keep a roof over our heads and kick my abuser out.
Going Back to Work
Doctors refused to give me clearance at first. This was due to the fact that I was still primarily using my wheelchair and my brain injury still presented symptoms everyday. Begging and insisting was my only option.
The doctors didn’t understand until later down the road when it was safe for me to tell them why. Finally, despite the doctor’s many warnings he signed the paperwork.
The position of child safety case manager wasn’t an easy role for anyone much less someone who was still healing. For three months, I attended the classes and shadowed other case managers. I passed the written test with flying colors and set off to begin my work with fifteen families who must be visited nearly every week.
Twenty five families.
Twenty eight families.
Just five months passed while I worked and drove between sixty to eighty hours a week – a total of nine months after my accident. Fun fact: I had severe PTSD whenever I drove.
(Trigger Warning: Miscarriage)
My body betrayed me in a way that devastated my heart and soul – a miscarriage with my fiancé at the time. All of these things together caused a mental breakdown. How could this happen after everything I had just been through? The doctor informed me that I would not be able to carry a baby to term for at least five years due to the trauma my body had been through.
My position at work was changed to one less stressful, but my PTSD kicked in harder than before. Panic attacks and blackouts made it so I could not drive for more than ten minutes at a time – which isn’t an option for a now Behavioral Health Case Manager.
Three more jobs come and go until I finally accept the hard reality that I was unable to work in the traditional sense anymore. Nearly a death sentence for a workaholic who has been working since the age of twelve.
Driving through a green light at the exact speed limit, a F250 super duty truck turned into us full speed. The more than three ton truck t-boned the motorcycle, crushing my left leg directly. A femur broken in four pieces, tibia/fibula in too many to count, ankle pulverized, a handful of bones broken in the foot, and my toes completely degloved. Tampa Bay Times reported that “The one with life-threatening injuries was airlifted to Bayfront Health St. Petersburg.” Reading that line of text still haunts me six and a half years later.
My next few moments were airborne as I was catapulted thirty feet into the air, colliding with a utility pole in my lower back and landing on my head – traumatic brain injury with a coma and Glasgow score of three as a result. The friend turned abuser had a road rash and a broken ankle.
How Travel Inspired Transformation
Years have gone by now. “Carpe diem” is my mantra no matter how cliché that sounds.
A year and a half later, I remarried and had a baby despite doctors saying it was impossible. Our family of seven (me, my husband, my two children from my previous marriage, his two children from a previous marriage, and our daughter together) is wild, but I wouldn’t change that for anything in the world.
My first big travel destination after the accident was to Hawaii for a tattoo sleeve on my leg to cover the immense scarring. Through my travels, I have been able to reconnect with my inner self after amnesia, gain a new perspective on life, and find a renewed sense of passion. It has helped me to break out of my comfort zone, explore different cultures, and make meaningful connections with people from all walks of life all over the world.
Everyone has the potential to for inner growth and transformation through travel. So, if you are seeking to reignite your own passion for life, I encourage you to embark on your own transformative journey and see where it takes you!
Have you ever had a moment that changed your life? Share in the comments below!