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laurel  russell

My daughter and I were on our way to a friendís cabin for the weekend one Friday night. I was in a really bad car wreck back in March 5, 1993. A 21-year-old girl that had everything in she owned in her car, hit me head on. She had a .32 blood alcohol level and tested positive for 7 different kinds of drugs in her blood! Both of us were doing 65 mph. on the old freeway headed up to the Sonora hills of California.

They thought my daughter had torn her colon due to a blood test, and had to do emergency surgery on her. There was only one operating room left in the hospital because there was a shooting that night. I made them take her first to the operating room and in the mean time, while we were waiting, I bled to death, but they brought me back. I suffered a brain injury, fractured my skull, had a shunt in my head, in and out of comas for 6 months in the hospital, 7 broken ribs, broken hip, 2 bulged discs in my neck, messed up both of my knees, internal injuries (found out 2 years ago that I damaged my gall bladder and had it removed), and carpel tunnel in both wrists. I have suffered with migraines every day of my life since then. Sometimes more than one a day. I have arthritis everywhere else.

I went through brain train and speech therapy for a long, long, time. I was blind for 6 months and talked like I was severely retarded with slurred speech. This was due to swelling in the brain they told me. I had to relearn just about everything. I had to relearn how to do laundry, how to cook, how to do math, how to spell, history, the states in the United States, countries in the world, who the past presidents were, who the people were that I have known, and still am relearning that, and so on. You get the picture. I was very dedicated in my relearning process and worked at it on a daily basis. I made really good progress, due to my dedication.

Four years ago March 29, 1998, I acquired a second brain injury when my EX-husband hit me over the head, and then put my head through a wall one night. We had been together for 6 years and he had never struck me before, and that's the truth. I still do not know to this day what caused his burst of outrage. I left him that night, and never looked back! I was bed ridden for 10 months after that with a 24/7 migraine, and seizures from that head injury. He also broke my eardrum. I had to relearn everything again! I have been in a lot of daily pain and have been for 9 years. The second head injury did not help matters any! 

You ask how I keep a positive attitude; this is why I must do so. You have to keep a positive attitude to make it through each and every day or the pain will eat you up inside, and believe me it did--before I figured this all out. So, I go through life now with my glass half full instead of thinking that it may be "possibly" half empty on bad days. It is ALWAYS half full no matter how bad the day is because I am just happy to be alive! I bled to death after that car accident, and they brought me back to life.

Or you could say that I had an "after life experience" if you will. That was an experience that I will NEVER forget! After going to the pearly gates and talking to my grandfather who had passed away two years prior, and he told me that it was not my time, and to go back; that my daughter and many more needed me. I returned to my crushed up body on this earth. My grandfather told me I would heal.

For the first year after the wreck I wondered when I would heal. When would that be that I would heal, when! Then I realized that I already had healed. I was alive and breathing every day with Gods grace! I have managed somehow one day at a time, to deal with the daily migraines for the past nine years. That's a LONG time, one day at a time, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. In pain that would bring most people to their knees in tears, I have managed not to become dependant on drugs for pain through all of this. I know some that have gotten hooked, and refuse to get into that position myself. So, I rarely take pain medication.

I did go to a pain clinic in Portland for 3 weeks to help me to manage my pain and learn some management techniques. About 4 months ago my neurologist prescribed a new medication that's out (an anticonvulsant zonagran 400 mg.) together with an antidepressant (nortriptline 75 mg). that helps to eliminate headaches. They did studies on the zonagran for headache patients with great results!

I have been on MANY combinations of medications similar to this in the past, anticonvulsant together with an antidepressant. Some helping a little and some helping none. Amazingly enough, this particular combination has done me wonders! My headaches are better than they have been in the past 9 years. As my neurologist has told me my body will get used to this medication and be less effective when it does. Knowing how long that is unknown. It could be 3 months or it could be 2 or 3 years. It has already been 4 months so we know it's not 3 months Yah-Hoo. I keep knocking on wood and praying that this relief from headaches does not go away and lasts forever. Maybe when my body does quit responding to this medication they will have something else to help me. I have to keep thinking with a positive mental attitude. I still get headaches but when I take my headache medicine (Imatrex) it actually works now. My headaches are less frequent and less severe as well.

In the past couple of months I have actually been living my life, instead of surviving my life, for the first time in 9 years. I have been so busy trying to play catch up on things that I have put off for so long because I did not feel well.

I am dedicating my life to helping others through volunteering. Facilitating the brain injury support group helps me to help others. It lets me share what I have learned with others so that they can have an easier time of dealing with all the things having a brain injury brings on. Being on the Governorís Task Force on Traumatic Brain Injury is another way of helping others with brain injury, so that they may not have to go through what I did when it happened to me. Sometimes I feel like I don't do much there but I guess I have to look at the bigger picture.

That's my story about life in the slow lane. I have to say that I have really learned a lot from all of this. It took me a full year to admit that I had "some disabilities". I kept telling my work that I would be back to work that management position and to save my big office. They held my job open for a full year before they hired someone to replace me permanently.

Before my accident I was climbing the corporate ladder. Working on how much money I could make, how much I could invest and save, how far up the ladder I could climb, and walking into that big office every day. I cowgirl on the side. Rode horses, gave riding lessons, and trained horses for people.

After my accident I then, and only then, realized that life is not all about climbing the corporate ladder, money and a big office. What it is all about is God, quality time with family, and the great out doors for a "big office", in that order. Not about how much money you make, because trust me, I certainly don't make the money that I used to make. The $8 to 10 K a month went away when I got in that car wreck. I do ok for myself now but I'm not rich with money any more, just love. It is all about spending time with your kid and being involved in her life. Taking the time to be there for her. Listening when need be. Following the new rule in our life, always have fun! Taking time to actually bend over and smell the flowers. Not just the roses, all of the flowers. I have been known to be riding my horse along a trail and see a wild flower, dismount and walk over to smell the flowers. Sitting and watching a sunset is much more pleasurable to me than being camped on a telephone in a stuffy office all day. These things I have learned to accept as part of my new life. A life as a person with disabilities. My values changed! Maybe at first, I did not want my values to change. I was mad and angry that my life was taken away and that my income had dropped so drastically. Accepting reality is hard at times. Looking at the "good stuff" comes easier with time. But in the end, it is a blessing to have your values change, if you let it be. With my glass half full.

Laurel Russell
Prineville Oregon

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