Hello, I’m Kristin. You may have heard my story already; telling it feels like all I do sometimes. It’s one of those stories that instantly tops every other story in the room. People fall silent and I squirm under the unwanted spotlight. I’ve learned to share only when it has a purpose.
Recently I rode along to a volunteer event with a new guy. We made our intros well enough, then the small talk fizzled rapidly. The silence grew uncomfortable and “Jeff” started asking the traditional social questions. I sighed and said, “You go first, I’m a lot to take in and people tend to clam up after I talk.”
My new friend said, “Oh, I guarantee my story will top yours. If I decide to tell it, which I usually don’t.”
Challenge accepted. I told him how, on August 23, 2010, I went out for a one-hour bike ride and didn’t come home for two months. Six miles from home, on a busy 2-lane country road, an inattentive driver failed to notice that about eight cars were stopped behind a left turner. He slammed into the SUV at the rear of the line, then ricocheted right into me. I regained consciousness in a deep ditch, struggling to breathe with collapsed lungs. I remember much of the journey to the hospital, including the EMT radioing back to the hospital “abdomen hard and distended, partial amputation of right hand.” I lost consciousness again in the ER and woke up again after a week of chilled coma therapy, a respirator tube blocking my mouth. The injury toll: 15 fractures, including every one of my ribs on the left side, 3 spinal fractures, my skull, my scapula, my left arm shattered, traumatic and anoxic brain injury, lung, liver and spleen lacerations, and the giant white baseball glove bandage on my right hand—it remained to be seen if my hand reattachment would “take.”
I spent 3 weeks in the hospital, another 5 weeks in inpatient rehab, and 8 months in outpatient rehab. People actually ask me now, “So, are you back to 100 percent?” Anyone who would ask that doesn’t really understand the extent of my injuries. I’m like a car that has been in a rollover accident; the body shop made it look like new, but the doors will never close with that satisfying “thunk,” and the electrical system is haywire.
When I finished telling my new friend my story, he told me how he had a heart transplant 5 years ago and he had a massive stroke on the operating table. He spent a whole year in inpatient rehab. He feels pretty good now, but isn’t able to work anymore.
It was such a relief to both of us to have someone who could actually relate to it all—the story that shuts down everyone else’s. The way we look perfectly normal and have to explain ourselves to get a seat on the bus. The way our friends don’t really get it when we have to leave early, because we’re not visibly limping or clutching our sore body parts. The look people give us when we say we already went out last night and need some recovery time before we can go back out again.
I hope to create a space here where people with invisible or not-immediately-evident disabilities can talk honestly with others who get it. The exchange of tips and coping strategies is of at least as much value as one-on-one talking with a therapist.
In the future, we’ll get into our changed family relationships, issues with our friends, working life, dealing with care providers with varying degrees of cluefulness, and topics that readers—you—suggest. I hope you find a support group here.