I wake up on the road in intense pain. I don’t know what’s happened. Who are these people? Where am I? Why is my right shoulder killing me? But it’s only when I get home from the hospital that the extent of my injuries start to emerge. I can’t read, I can listen to music, I can’t be around my family. What is happening?
Episode 1 – The Accident
Theme music by Jonathan Zenti. Other music by JT and the Clouds, Epidemic Sound and Blue Dot Sessions.
Thanks to Roman Mars from 99 % Invisible, and Max Linsky and Aaron Lammer from the Longform podcast, for letting us use snippets of their shows. Also Amy Poehler and the fabulous Parks and Recreation TV show, which played a significant role in keeping me sane during my recovery.
Sarah: This is what it felt like after the accident. My brain felt like I’d pushed it to the limit. It was like I’d been studying a really hard subject…. like my brain was stretched to capacity.
When I first get my audio recorder to make this podcast… I try it out in our backyard with my daughter Emerald.
I can’t believe how loud the traffic and neighbours and airplanes are when I listen back. Normally our yard’s pretty quiet. I ask the sound guy that sold me the recorder. He reckons the traffic’s actually always loud but our ears, or our brains, are used to it we know it’s background so we cancel it out. We’ve got good at just honing in on what we need to listen to.
After the accident I can’t do that anymore..…. Instead my brain’s like the audio recorder…picking up everything. It’s all the same volume. It’s overwhelming.
Sarah MacDonald: I think the first time I’d even heard that you’d had the accident was that you’d posted a picture of yourself on Facebook.
Sarah: I wake up on the road in intense pain. I don’t know what’s happened. Who are these people? Where am I? Why is my right shoulder killing me? I try to get up. But strangers tell me not to.
Sarah MacDonald: And I messaged you and you said you’d been in a bike accident and I remember thinking how awful you looked and that it seemed that you didn’t realise how serious it appeared.
Sarah: I’m on a stretcher. I don’t remember the ambulance arriving or being lifted inside it. I scream out in pain. The paramedics can’t get the morphine into me quickly enough. My veins are useless. The paramedic’s frustrated with me because I’m complaining too much.
Miles Merrill: It took a few seconds to figure out what was going on. You know because My first thought was it was some sort of prank….imagined somebody standing on the side of the road. All these thoughts went through my head like if you’re in the ambo how did you know to ring me. Was it like her telling you to ring me
Sarah: My stretcher’s parked against a wall in the hospital corridor. The morphine starts working but the cannula keeps falling out.
I’m in a bed looking at the ceiling in the corner of an emergency room. The morphine makes me nauseous. I keep vomiting. The anti nausea IV falls out again. The nurses try other veins. The shoulder pain just keeps coming back.
Miles Merril: Don’t think I spoke to you while you were in the ambulance but eventually obviously I did because you said don’t come right away.
Sarah: So I was very confused and I was a bit obsessed that I didn’t want kids to see me like that, face all scratched up. So I kept saying to the drs when do you think be ready to release me, like My partner wants to come and visit but I won’t get him to come and visit until I’m actually ready to go. He must have thought it was odd. He was like yeah I don’t know when you’re going to be released, He kept saying do you have any family or friends coming and I kept saying I’m waiting until I’m ready to go. laughs. then I think what happened was you eventually you rung and said we want to see you we’re just going to come
Sarah: I’m so out of it from the shock, the morphine and the head injury, that I don’t realise how serious this is. No one does. I’m deliriously ignorant. I don’t know that my life is about to change forever. I have no idea that I shouldn’t be on my phone, texting people with the news. I text backwards and forwards with my friend Miream to update her.
(Text message) “No, I’m still in hospital, not sure when I’ll be home.”
(Text message) “Yes, still come for dinner tonight”.
I’m injured… I’m on drugs and I need someone to take my phone off me.
(Text message) “Sure later, I’m just being wheeled in to have a CT scan of my head, I’ll call you back when I’m done.”
What I don’t know is that my brain is injured. The nurses and doctors know I have a head injury, that I’m concussed, but they don’t know how my brain is failing me.
Miles Merrill: Ah yeah you seemed ok. You seemed fine. scratches and bruises and think you’re arm in a sling or something like that
Sarah: After a few scans and X-Rays I’m discharged about 5pm. The doctor warns me that if I get a headache when I try to read or watch anything, I should stop immediately. He insists no work for at least a week, not even emails. Luckily I’ve just wrapped up a big project so I don’t need to hand over any work.
Miles drives me home and I climb into bed. I keep waking up all night.
Miles Merrill: You know weren’t able to sleep very well that night because you were in pain a lot and um that you found it hard to move. I think you were just really groggy and kind of slow and don’t really wanna move much and needed help with lots of things and
I do remember at one point driving away one morning and getting call from you saying couldn’t turn shower off and so had to come back and help you with that so I thought that was that was pretty full on
Sarah: The next day everything feels overwhelming. I’m so foggy I don’t even get how bad I am. It’s lucky I don’t know the extent of my injuries. I pick up the novel on my bedside table. I open it and try to read the first chapter. Try to read the first page. I read the words. I read the sentences. But I can’t connect them. The strain of trying to make sense of the paragraphs brings on an intense headache. I love reading! What’s happening?
Two days after the accident I go to the police station to give a statement. I tell them the little I remember:
I left my house just before 8am. I rode my bike down the hill, under the railway bridge, through the roundabout. That’s it. Next I was lying on the road.
The officer fills in the gaps. A driver cut the corner. He was on the wrong side of the road. Didn’t see me until it was too late.
My bicycle T-boned the car. My helmet was bent out of shape from the impact.
I’m so sensitive to noise. It feels like The volume’s turned up on everything. The treble’s up. The bass is up.
Just turn it off. Please! Talk quieter. Talk less. Maybe just stop talking.
It’s not just the noise, it’s the focus and concentration needed to decipher the noise. To cut through it, pick out what I need to hear and comprehend. Podcasts are out. So are films, TV, news radio.
Miles Merrill: Yeah we couldn’t have music on or TV in the house or something like that. Yeah I just remember The kids like just doing their normal thing had to be quieter. And a Week or two later you were like I just can’t listen to music.
Sarah: I spend months avoiding music. I dread walking into a room and finding music playing. It doesn’t need to be loud. The melody fights with whatever else I’m trying to concentrate on. Lyrics make it worse…more voices to digest. I no longer get that feeling of a good song washing over me and relaxing my mind. Music’s always been a big part of my life. Now I’m this annoying party pooper that comes in and turns the music off. My poor kids have to wait until I’m not home to listen. Emerald often asks….
Emerald: Does this hurt your head mama?
Sarah: Miles suggests I try listening to some Chopin soon after the accident. He thinks classical music might be good for my headaches and give me something to do. I listen to one song but I don’t even make it through the first couple of bars. I feel like my head’s about to explode. I wrench off the headphones.
Miles Merrill: And we started Parks and Recreation and you were fine with that for some reason the filming of Parks and Recreation and cutting the pacing and editing and logical connections between characters. But Then we started watching Arrested Development and you were like I just don’t know what’s going on the cuts are too quick I can’t figure out the relationship between the characters, it’s giving me a headache, which was strange as I couldn’t see much difference between the two…then looked and saw Parks and rec had longer takes and fewer cuts . Wouldn’t have picked up on that otherwise.
Sarah: I get headaches all the time but they don’t feel like the normal ones I used to get occasionally.. It’s a dull pressure that builds quickly if I don’t stop what I’m doing.. I have an intense urge to get away from the stimulation that’s triggered it. The pain’s not actually that bad…It’s more the sensation of not being able to think, focus or understand….The pressure building.
I’m sitting in a noisy cafe….. I can hear staff at the counter taking orders….. the barista shouting out coffees, the other customers. The voices aren’t background. They’re at the same volume as my friend Toni I’m here with….and I can’t follow what she’s saying. It’s all going blurry. My brain’s not focusing on what’s in front of me. It’s taking everything in, randomly.
Even conversations with me need to be straightforward, linear, simple and not too fast. Best to make them not too deep either. But I still don’t know what’s going on. I’m too out of it to join the dots.
Once I’ve got a headache I’m stuck with it for hours. Painkillers don’t work. I can’t do anything. All I can do is lie on my bed meditating or sit in my garden staring at the big pecan and frangipani trees. Eventually I’ll figure out my remedy, but I haven’t got there yet.