Dr. Val FarmerDr.Val
Rural Mental Health & Family Relationships

The Day The Music Stopped

November 9, 1998

A high school junior, a daughter of friends, was gravely injured in a car/pedestrian accident. The police estimated the car was going 50-60 miles per hour. Her life hung by a thread and the best medical help science could offer. A physician, to quote the parents, "an amazing guy," encouraged them to hope and be patient when others counseled them not to take heroic efforts to save her life.

To have her alive is a blessing, a miracle. Other teens and young adults who have suffered accidents of this proportion have much less function and their prospects for life are dim. Death would have been easier. Yet parents and family members keep their faith and hope alive that there would be a life for their loved one.

Her name is Elizabeth. Her recovery has come with a price. There have been countless surgeries. She is a remarkable fighter, absolutely gallant in her struggle to take the next step, both literally and figuratively. Yet when her parents view her loss of potential - what she might have been, it is heartbreaking.

Elizabeth had everything in the world to look forward to. She was a budding pianist who practiced long hours at home. She was getting quality instruction. Just before the accident, her parents had just purchased a grand piano. If they could describe the trauma of what happened to their daughter and themselves, they would name the event, "The Day the Music Stopped."

She was a sweet gentle spirit, full of love and energy. She still is. Her parents are thankful that the accident did not alter that part of her personality.

She now has deficits. Her traumatic brain injury has left her with less intellect. She has paralysis. She has memory and organization problems and has become more self-centered. Her next rehabilitation hurdle is to recover the nuances of social skills and cues - to learn again appropriate behavior and how to be sensitive to others.

Rehabilitation professionals call victims of traumatic brain injury "the walking wounded." Their disabilities aren't obvious to the public. They are not understood and not given enough leeway for their unique struggles. Depression is common. Many gain weight. Some despair that they will ever marry.

Elizabeth's friends were great and stood by her. She was their miracle too. Unfortunately they have journeyed off to college while she remains at home.

How did this affect Elizabeth's mother? Her career came to an abrupt halt. After the accident, she was thrust into 24-hour care and vigil. It was awful. She will never be the same.

When asked how Elizabeth's accident changed her, she said it made her much more compassionate. She can talk to anybody who has had a tragedy and offer genuine comfort. She can talk about how the bitter experience fades. She is stronger. She now feels she can live through anything. In a moment of reflection about the trial of her life, she found herself longing for the "special loving feeling" that came with experience. She banished the thought quickly.

She learned patience. Rehabilitation goes slowly. Progress is minute. Nothing goes fast. Everyone is in it for the long haul. "One goal at a time and move on."

Elizabeth’s parents have formed a sweet bond. They went through it together. They cooperated with her care. Their prayers became more meaningful. There was no other way to go but on their knees. They learned to pray for specific things. God did not leave them alone. There were special spiritual experiences to reassure and comfort them.

Elizabeth's older brother couldn't deal with the accident and pulled away from the family. He became distant and uncommunicative, "selfish and awful." He was a second source of heartache. With time he gained insight. He later wrote a college paper on how he had deserted his parents.

Elizabeth's younger brother compensated the other way. He would go to the hospital, love her, hug her, talk to her, devoted his time to her. He would fast for her. He was positive with her and with the family. Because of Elizabeth's ordeal and her care, her parents and this son have a special bond. When confronted by less than mature behavior from his peers, he would comment that he "knew too much" to join in their antics.

They received wonderful family support - siblings from both sides pitched in. There was church support too - "meals for a year." Elizabeth’s grandparents have stopped their "snowbird" winters to offer assistance. One grandfather has taken a special painstaking interest in helping Elizabeth to recover the use of her hand.

There were some wonderful nurses. The mother says, "I will love them till the day I die."

Other nurses were not so wonderful. Elizabeth’s mother is sure some nurses regarded her as, "the pit bull mother from hell." She counsels other parents, "not to be afraid of medical service. You are their customer."

Still, she learned to let go and trust Elizabeth's care to others. She learned she needed to take time for herself. She imparts this final word of advice to other parents on a similar path. "Have faith! Never give up!"