It’s been two years since that terrible night that changed my life forever.  Being a normal high school teenager seems like just a dream now. I took for granted the daily routine of my life, getting up, combing my hair, walking to the bus, talking to friends, and eating in the cafeteria. These were all ordinary events, which suddenly disappeared on the night of January 1, 2004, when I was definitely in the wrong place at the wrong time. 
Many kids think that nothing will ever happen to them.  I used to think that.  Now I know anything can happen to anyone.  I would like to tell you about it and maybe it will prevent someone else from going through this.

I can still remember that night like it was yesterday. My Mom drove me to my friends’ house. I gave her a hug and kiss goodbye and walked into my friends’ house.  There we decided what we wanted to do.  We went out to dinner; I can still remember exactly what I was wearing, where we went, and where we sat in the restaurant.  After dinner we decided to go out with a couple of friends. The boys arrived to pick us up and three of us packed ourselves in the back of a very small sports car.  I always wore my seat belt and why I didn’t that night I will never understand.  We headed to a little restaurant in Portland where my cousin worked.  While we were on Rte 9 South the driver decided to test out his speed.  The other two girls and I began to get very angry.  When we hit what seemed like 100 we screamed for the boys to stop or at least slow down, we were so scared.  We started shouting louder and louder and all grabbed onto each other as the speed increased.  One of the other girls remembers the boys counting the speed up to 127 trying to beat their last record of 125. 

I don’t remember anything after that but was told the driver had then lost control of the car, it hit the guardrails on the right side of the highway and then flipped left rolling across Rte 9 south, through the median, landing on Rte 9 north where it was then struck by another vehicle heading north.  At some point while the car was rolling the three of us were thrown through the back window.   We landed in a pile, me on the bottom, and the other two girls on top of me.  Three witnesses in a car said we passed them at well over a hundred and as they rounded the curve they saw our headlights flying through the air.

I had just become a statistic, a victim of a horrific car accident involving teenagers, cars and speed.  The precise details of this life-changing event read the same as millions of other tragedies that happen everyday on our roads.  A group of kids hop in a car and the new driver sees how fast he can go.

The following information comes from one of the Cromwell EMTs who happened to be one of the girls mother.  When she arrived a medical transport vehicle from Rhode Island was on the scene.  They came across the accident minutes after it happened.  She said two girls were already moved to the side, one was lying down, she had a concussion and some cuts and the other was sitting screaming covered in blood while people tried to pull larger pieces of glass from her body.  She then saw one of the boys on a stretcher; he also had some cuts and the other boy standing to the side unharmed who turned out to be the driver.  She then turned and saw me laying in the median.  She said my body was face up and motionless, she thought I was dead.  One of the girls remembers holding my hand before anyone arrived and asking me to squeeze hers.  She said I squeezed once and then my eyes rolled into the back of my head.  At this time because I was unresponsive the paramedics put me on life support right in the median while people held up lights.  Someone had called for life star but both helicopters were out on other calls so they decided to transport me to Hartford by ambulance.  From that night on I never took another breath on my own for 30 days.

They took me to the emergency room at Hartford Hospital where I was immediately transferred to the ICU Head Trauma Unit.  
They called my parents but because my brother was on the phone they couldn’t get through. The accident was at nine and they reached them just before 11:00.  A Chaplin spoke to my Dad.  All he would say was that I had been involved in a very serious auto accident and to come to the Hartford Hospital Emergency Room.  As much as my dad begged for more information he would not tell him anything except at that very moment I was still alive.   So my mother, father, sister, and brother, all got in the car and headed toward the hospital.  They said no one said a word all the way there but they all knew their lives would never be the same.   

When they got to the hospital, they were sent to a in a little waiting room, till a Doctor came to talk to them.  They said 15 minutes felt like forever.  When the doctor finally came in he told them I was on life support, my eye and mouth were cut very badly, I had a pelvic fracture, a contusion on my front right lobe, and a diffuse axonal brain injury. He told them he was not sure I would survive this. There is a Glasgow Scale for head injuries entering the trauma unit, the worst a 3 and the best was 15.  They were told I was a 3!  At this point the doctor said they could go in and be with me.

As they entered the hallway of the ICU they realized the Chaplin was behind them and the nurses were gathering around the room. My mom and dad walked in first. My mom said she felt numb, she didn’t know whether to cry, scream or to just tell herself it wasn’t really happening. My sister came in and just broke down crying so a nurse took her down the hall. My twin brother came in, looked at me touched my hand and began to shake.  The nurse brought him water; he took the water and started to faint, he fell backwards into a chair spilling the water down the front of him. My lifeless body lay in this huge bed with machines surrounding me and wires and tubes coming out of every part of me.  My hair was full of blood, my face had road rash on it, my mouth was all cut up and you could see my eyeball through the large cut below my eyebrow. 

Eventually the nurses and doctors told my family to go home.  They told them if I made it, it would be a long haul and they would need to sleep a few hours each night to get through this.   They were home no longer than an hour and the doctor called to say my brain had began to swell uncontrollably. They wanted permission to drill into my skull at the hairline and screw a bolt in to it monitor the swelling of my brain. My parents said yes, sat a few hours and headed back to the hospital. When they arrived they said reality set in. My skull was wrapped were they drilled a hole for the bolt and a wire was running from the bolt to the machine which beeped every time the brain swelled so they would know when the pressure was too much against the skull.  They had sewed up my eye, and inside my mouth and my lips, my road rash had begun to ooze, and my face had begun to swell.  Usually the 3rd and 4th day are the worst and then swelling starts to go down but for me in the 2nd week I was still fighting the swelling.  Every part of my head was so swollen, it tore the stitches in my eye open and my tongue was so swollen it didn’t fit in my mouth. 

They had taken the breathing equipment out of my mouth and given me a tracheotomy because I was still unresponsive.   In these two weeks there were many times the staff didn’t think I would make it. After the doctors would come in and give the bad news each day the nurses would say “never give up on that little window of hope” By day 21 the swelling had stabilized but I was still not responding nor breathing on my own.  I had developed pneumonia, a fever, stomach infections from the feeding tube, and had poison ivy from lying in the grass median on the highway.  

My Mom said she didn’t know the body could take so much medicine. I was getting morphine for pain, three medications for the brain swelling, antibiotics for pneumonia, aspirin for fever, medicine for stomach infection, and steroids for poison ivy.  Through these weeks they kept suctioning my lungs to keep them free from fluid. If you have never seen this you don’t want to. They have to remove life support and push a suction tube thru the tracheotomy, down into my lungs to clean out all the mucous that was causing me to breathe so hard. Doing this causes the body to be with out oxygen and involuntarily convulse and gag.  My parents hated it when this had to be done, which was many times a day.  

The hospital sat with my parents and told them my future did not look good. I would not walk or talk or have much brain function again so there wasn’t much more they could do for me. At this point they were moving me to a place called step down at Hartford Hospital till my parents could find a facility to take me.  This is day 22. They put me in a  chair at this point but every part of my body including my head are strapped in I still can not move or control  any part of my body. The nurses did everything for me. I did nothing on my own. I came into the hospital at 99 pounds and was now 80. At each stage of my recovery my parents said they were thinking about and preparing to take care of me in that condition.

About day 24 my eyes started to follow movement and my left side starting having little twitches and from they’re moving erratically. When my parents weren’t sitting with me I had to have all four limbs strapped down. These next seven days were exciting and scary at the same time. I started using the breathing machine less, there was movement starting on the other side, I even tried to sit.  The scary part was when things weren’t connecting right I had to be strapped down so I didn’t try to get up or tear out my tubes. On day 28 I moved to an acute rehabilitation program at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

If you think school is a long day you do not want to be in rehab.  Six days a week I was up at 6 o’clock being checked by doctors, I had speech therapy, occupational therapy, physical therapy, schooling, and emotional therapy.  I truly never appreciated the simple things, like brushing my teeth or chewing gum. All day, six days a week, I had to relearn everything from walking, to talking, to adding simple numbers, how to brush my teeth, manners, dressing myself, everything we take for granted everyday. I felt horrible, they had removed my tracheotomy on day 40 but were still feeding me thru my stomach, my body hurt, my head hurt, I wanted to give up but they wouldn’t allow that.  They were very kind and caring but kept pushing me.  It was very hard I hadn’t been home in 61 days.

My mom lived in the same room with me and my family was there every night.  My Dad, my brother and sister stayed sometimes on the weekends but I still wanted to go home.   On March 2, They felt I could go home. It felt so good, my house, my dog, and my own bed. I still needed a lot of care as I was very unstable on my feet. I needed directions and lists everywhere as I relearned my home and daily routines. And finally, after 74 days, on March 15th I went back to have my feeding tube removed. Things were still hard for the next 4 months I had to keep going as an outpatient for therapy 4 hours a day, 4 days a week. This was tough on my family, my dad took the whole month of January off and my mom took 8 months off.

Now that I am home, life is very difficult for me.  Every morning I wake up ready to face a new day!  Just looking in the mirror and seeing scares is a constant reminder of the accident.  I think the hardest, lowest time for me was when I came back to school in August 2004.  All summer I spent most of my time in therapy and at doctors’ appointments.  I worked hard and did everything they told me so when I came back to school I thought life would be just like before the accident.   I WAS SO WRONG!!!  I can’t concentrate the same, the hallways seemed noisy and overwhelming, some people who used to be my friends no longer talked to me or called me anymore, I had to admit to needing the learning center to get through my courses, and when I headed off to my afternoon school, The Greater Hartford Academy of the Performing Arts, to study the special talent I possessed I could no longer sing the same.  I saw many specialists but I had cognitive damage and physical damage to my vocal chords. I was also fired from Tommy’s Pizza in Portland for not remembering things. I felt like I hit a brick wall. I hated myself for getting in that car, I hated the driver for speeding, and I hated the world for letting this happen to me. My brain couldn’t handle the frustration, the hate or the anger, it just wasn’t me! I hated what I had become and things just didn’t seem worth it. No one outside my house understood. I wished I had died in the accident.  It seemed easier for my family and for me.

Things seem to be getting better.  I have learned to except there will always be scaring on my face and body, partial loss of vision in my right eye, problems with my jaw, restricted breathing, and that I didn’t graduate with the kids I spent 12 years with, I did graduate the Academy but understand that I know longer posses that special talent and must choose a new career path, I am still trying to accept that I need a lot of help in school and that my brain is not always going to work the way I want it to and I am excepting that not everyone can handle the changes in me or deal with what I am going through.  It was hard enough being 17 never mind dealing with all this while watching everyone continue forward.

I hope in hearing my story, you will remember this could happen to you.  If you think because you’re a survivor it’s easy you are very wrong!  None of these options are good ones so please think about what could happen before making your decisions.  I am here to tell you my story, because once you make a bad decision, there is no turning back.
CONTACT NIKOLE AT
Dazlindiva769@yahoo.com
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