In the emergency room, I was greeted by the controlled chaos of trauma management. I was intubated, and a ventilator took over the responsibility of breathing for me.
I was in really bad shape. Remember how I said I’d gone from “a little responsive” to “not at all responsive”? In medical terms, I was a “GCS 3” – ranking a 3 on the Glasgow Coma Scale. 3 is s as bad as it gets. On the Glasgow Coma Scale, there is no “2”. You are a 3, or you are dead. Once you are a GCS 3, statistically speaking, there is an 80-96% likelihood that you will either die or be catastrophically brain damaged.
My clothes were cut off me with a what must’ve been a brutally sharp pair of scissors – they cut right through my tough leather belt and my heavy winter coat. I’m a modest person, and if I had been conscious, I assure you I would have been mortified.
It was around this time that I was first identified. I’ve never been a fan of purses and was not carrying one on this night. Instead, my wallet (including my drivers license) was tucked into my pocket. With my clothes removed, they could finally retrieve the wallet. At the same time, one of the residents removed the class ring from my right hand and read the name inscribed on the inside. Surprisingly, she had gone to high school with my older sister, and recognized my name.
A CT scan of my head and spine diagnosed a severe traumatic brain injury. During the accident, my brain had been thrown forward, striking the inside of my skull and shearing the blood vessels of the dura mater and arachnid mater, two of the membranes surrounding the brain. The bleeding created pressure against the tender nerve endings in my brain. This was why I was unresponsive. This bleeding was monitored; if it did not resolve itself, quickly, they would have to perform brain surgery, opening the skull to remove the blood and allow the brain to swell freely.
My spine, thankfully, was uninjured. There was suspicion that I had internal abdominal injuries, but CT scans and x-rays showed that, miraculously, my internal organs were fine. The CT scans also showed that I had a form of mildly collapsed lungs resulting in reduced oxygen exchange.
Further x-rays diagnosed a broken collarbone with torn ligaments (a “distal clavicular fracture with grade 3 acromioclavicular separation”), probably caused by my seat belt. My nose was pretty badly broken (“bilateral nasal fracture”), which probably happened when my head hit the steering wheel (I had a steering-wheel bruise across my face to confirm it). I had bruises all over my body. Below my left eye, a significant laceration was bleeding profusely and required multiple stitches to close.
Specialists from all over the hospital were brought in to treat each of the injuries: a neurosurgeon, of course, to treat the brain injury; an orthopedic surgeon to treat the broken collarbone; a maxilla-facial surgeon to treat the broken nose; a plastic surgeon to stitch the cut under my eye; and, just for good measure, two general surgeons, two residents, one attending physician, and a daily gaggle of medical students. (It WAS a teaching hospital, after all.)
My parents were contacted, and in the wee hours of the morning, I was moved to the surgical ICU.