Saturday, October 15, 2011


The memories:

I remember waking up in the ambulance, strapped to a board, and all I wanted to do was bend my knees and relieve the pain in my back. I couldn't move my head. I was in a cervical collar and it hurt and I wanted it off, but I couldn't move my arms or legs because of the restraints. There was a paramedic sitting next to me, staring. I asked him to unstrap my legs so I could bend my knees, and he shook his head. No.

He didn't say anything else. I thought it was strange that he wasn't answering me, but I learned much later that this wasn't the first thing I had said to him; it was just the first thing I remembered. I'd been screaming like an animal since they removed me from the car.

I remember rocking my body back and forth, back and forth, trying to wriggle my legs free of the straps. Eventually, I did. I looked up at the paramedic in triumph. He stared back. We didn't speak.

I remember throwing up in the ambulance, lying flat on my back and unable to turn my head. The paramedic flipped the whole board sideways so I could throw up on the floor. I don't remember how that scene ended.

I remember waking in a hospital bed. I opened my eyes and saw my dad. Staring at me. His face was chalk white. My mother's voice came from beside me: "Honey, do you need to go outside?" 

"I just need to sit down," my dad said, his voice faint and shaky. "I just need to sit down."

I remember there was a man in the room, a nurse. He was cheerful, loud, asking a lot of questions. "Have you had anything to drink tonight?" he said.

"Yes," I said. "Hot chocolate."

He laughed. My parents laughed. I thought, why is that funny?

I remember throwing up again, still flat on my back and strapped to a board in the ambulance. Someone tipped me to the opposite side from before. I thought, I must be in a second ambulance. They wouldn't want me to barf on both sides. 

This was true. It had been determined that my neck wasn't broken and my life not in immediate danger, so I was being sent to a different hospital for surgery.

I remember waking up deep inside an MRI machine. There were loud, crashing noises and I opened my eyes and saw that I was lying in a tight tunnel, the ceiling a few inches above my nose, the entrance somewhere down beyond my feet, and I thought, It's a good thing I'm unconscious right now or I would be freaking out. I closed my eyes and surrendered back to the darkness.

I remember waking up in another hospital room and hearing my friends Matt, John, and Chris talking nearby. My eyes were closed. They were speaking in hushed voices. Suddenly, Matt's voice rose above the others: "Dude, look at her chin! I can see her throat moving through her chin!"

I heard him move closer to me. He wanted a better look. "Stop it," someone said. "Stop it."

"That's so cool, look at that," said Matt, and he let out an amazed, frantic laugh. It sounded cool.

I remember waking up again, sometime later, and the guys were gone and my parents were there. The head of my bed was propped up and the cervical collar was gone. I was chatting with my mother, about what, I don't remember. Every time I moved my head, it would fall to one side like my neck was made of string and I would have to lift it back up with my hands. I didn't stop to think about how strange this was; I just tried to keep my head still so it wouldn't tip off my shoulders.

Another strange thing was that every time my head lolled to the side, I felt something warm and wet wash across my forehead. I kept wiping it away with my hand. We kept chatting.

At some point, after another head-tip and another wipe of the forehead, I looked at my hands. I was covered in blood. "I'm bleeding," I said, surprised.

"Yes, dear," said my mother. She actually smiled. "You've been bleeding for about ten hours now."

Interesting. I went back to our conversation.

I remember they came to take me into surgery. It had been 11 hours since the accident. They would be closing up the rent in my chin and pulling the shards of bone out of my forehead and trying to piece them back together in the hole over my brain. 

As they were rolling me out the door, I looked at my mother and was shocked to see she was crying. "Don't worry, mom," I said. "I'm fine! I'm fine!" Why is everybody so upset? Everything is fine!

I remember waking up some time later, coming slowly into awareness in the dark. Voices. There were voices speaking softly all around me. I couldn't open my eyes. I listened. People were talking. They were drinking coffee. My mom. My dad. Matt. John. Chris. I couldn't see them. 

"Mmmuuhhh." I tried to speak and a croak came out. There was immediate silence, and then they all began hushing each other in loud whispers. "Shhh! Shhh! She's waking up, she's awake, she's awake!"

After a moment, someone spoke. "Katie, do you know who this is?"

What a strange question. "Matt," I said, my voice strangely soft and slurred. It was hard to move my mouth. I heard him draw in his breath.

I said, "Do you know who this is?"

Everyone burst out laughing. Matt's voice again, louder than the rest: "She made a joke! She doesn't have brain damage! She doesn't have brain damage!"

Sudden silence in the room. Then a nervous chuckle. A cleared throat. 

Oh, I thought. Oh. He just answered a question.


  1. Kate -
    I, like others, had no idea what you'd been through and I find myelf shivering and tearing up as I read through your blog. I've been reading through your posts 2-3 times because it's all so unbelievable that's the only way to make it real. I learn and understand a bit more with each pass. What you've done in the last few years has been incredible and I feel lucky and honored to know you and follow you in this journey.
    [insert profound quote here :)]

  2. Feeling honored to have access to these words. And dare I say mildly inspired to be a little more brave with mine. Don't stop writing your story, Kate.

  3. Yes, the sense of the blinking between memories. Very cinematic. See! Your craft is in there!

  4. What is so striking to me is that it seems that you never had the full picture. This seems like pieces, scenes, bits, but that the entirety of what had happened didn't penetrate. You were answering questions, wiping blood, thinking how cool it would be to see your throat move through your chin, positioning your head so it wouldn't tip off your shoulders. All very bizarre in the grand scheme of things. All as if it happened to someone else. Amazing what the brain and mind do to protect us from the horror of our own possible demise. So now it is becoming a scene you can see, that you are showing us. I read a description of trauma as something that you can't cast a shadow on. It is hard to cast a shadow on parts, you need a whole. You are getting there my friend!

  5. Yes! The presenter at the seminar talked about how we are wired to anticipate danger, even when it's not there (which is then super-intensified by trauma) because we're more likely to survive by running from the sound of leaves rustling in the wind then we are by thinking, "oh it's just the wind" when a tiger is about to eat us. He apparently has a blog post (which I haven't read yet) called "Pet the Reptile" about soothing that part of the brain. If you want to find it, his website is

  6. I'm pretty sure this would take my breath away even if it wasn't real, if I didn't know you. As it is -- jesus.

  7. KateTheGirlWhoLived30 October, 2011 21:18

    Yes. Yes, yes, yes.

  8. KateTheGirlWhoLived30 October, 2011 21:18

    Thanks, Julie. These are precisely the points I'm focusing on in therapy and why I'm telling the story this way. At some point, I will be able to look back at it from a place of safety and finally resolve the trauma. First, though, I have to convince my reptilian brain that I am safe. Who knew it didn't know, after all this time?

  9. KateTheGirlWhoLived30 October, 2011 21:18

    Thanks, Karen. I admit, the writer in me is delighted at this response. ;>

  10. keep writing. keep, keep, writing.

  11. I just left a seminar on the healing power of love and gratitude and safety. So as I read this, I'm so focused on the people who got you out of the car, who stayed by your side, who helped you barf, your family and friends rallying, your own presence and reassurance, your mind's ability to know when to check in and when to check out, the ways your brain was able to function for you, even in the midst of such trauma, and the process you are in right now, giving your self such deep healing. It's awesome.

  12. Karengraceoakley30 October, 2011 21:18

    Woah! You write so cinematically this could almost be the begining of a good movie, then i stop and think no that really happened to Kate and then some.....

  13. This should be required reading for everyone taking driver's ed. It should also be required reading for every person who forgets it the first time and then drunk drives.

    This flayed me alive:

    Suddenly, Matt's voice rose above the others: "Dude, look at her chin! I can see her throat moving through her chin!"

    Oh, my God. Why is this so powerful? Is it because your friend is so young here that he's dealing with his grief over your accident by making a joke out of the fact that you are torn to shreds?

    It's hard to keep my fingers out of my mouth as I read this. I think my hand is trying to protect my face.

  14. Kate, I didn't know you were writing this all down. I'm pretty shaken reading it as its bringing back my own memories of that whole thing...I didn't really expect to find myself crying just reading it. After all, it's your story, I was a bystander, but maybe your catharsis is helping with a smaller catharsis of my own.

    My dad was a fireman and I grew up hearing all manner of stories about bad car accidents. Not like he reveled in the gore mind you, he intentionally kept that stuff from me...but I was sneaky, and would ninja my way down the staircase to overhear him sharing his stress with my mom. I don't remember if he responded to your accident or not but I'm pretty sure your head shaking paramedic was Ed Poe Sr.

    But growing up with the stories really didn't prepare me to see you that way. Mirth is at least partly right, we were all so young, we had no idea what to think, so we turned to a little laughter perhaps as a release valve. I dare say your parents were very patient with us...

    All we really knew was that the fourth musketeer was badly smote and we knew not what to do.

    Kate - it was a horrible thing to behold. The stuff of nightmares.
    I don't mean to diminish any little thing from what you went through in the inside, but it was pretty damn horrible on the outside too. Matt, Bob and I thought you were going to die. It just seemed impossible that a human could survive that. In fairness, more years of experience tells me that people survive through even more incredible things but then again, they die from far less.

    What strikes me most as I read this blog is how little I knew of the aftermath. And I'm wondering, "could she really hide all of this so well?" - and I suppose that seems unlikely. Which leaves me thinking that i was just that oblivious. As if once the bleeding stopped we all just continued, mostly as if nothing significant had happend beyond a cool story about seeing your throat move...and at least I didn't grasp that such a big part of you was still back in Iris.

    For that - for my unawareness that shouldn't be accepted from someone who considered you my best friend - I'm very sorry., with that said, keep writing old friend.