by Lauren Medel
When I was young my parents would constantly praise my for my intelligence. Not one day went by when I wasn’t reminded that smarts are more important than looks because “looks don’t last” and smarts do. Not one moment in my life did I not feel smart first and something else second. Always. And that was what was important and that’s what important people do- they value intelligence above all else.
In June of 2004 I was a 24 year old mom and wife who was headed to Grandma’s house when someone ran a yield sign. We were merging onto the highway so the impact was about 120mph on our bodies. My 16 month old son was in the back seat, and as we learned later, had broken his leg from my seat detaching and hitting it as well as his wrist- from the shear impact. I was trapped in the passenger seat for well over 45 minutes before the jaws of life were able to cut me free from the vehicle. I was flown to the hospital in Austin Texas.
Three days later I woke up in the ICU. There were these huge sausages where my fingers used to be. My head hurt and I couldn’t hardly move. My friends and family were by my side: “you’ve had a horrible car accident.” “do I have to go to work?” “no, not for a long while.” “Oh, good! I can catch up on Oprah!” I fell back asleep. After 6 days in the ICU and 50% of my liver re-growing, I was sent to the orthopedic floor. My dad and Step-mom came in from California to be by my side and help my husband deal with the madness.
I had over thirty surgeries over the next decade.
After a year, I had learned how to walk again and my husband starting using. I was fine so my son and I left. I had been working on my MBA at the time of the accident, so I continued to do that. I decided that I wanted to go to law school and my son and I went to San Antonio and I went through three years of law school. I moved to Dallas in June of 2011- six years after my car accident. And, even though I worked full time during Bar study, I passed the Bar exam on my first try.
It was not until 2014, when I was deep in post-partum depression- that I learned I had sustained a brain injury in my accident. My left temporal lobe was knicked and I’ve had to watch TV with subtitles ever since. I would constantly complain about not being able to hear things, but my hearing was fine. What I was really complaining about was an inability to PROCESS sounds. My auditory processing zone had been hit.
As much as my life made more sense, I was devastated. Did this mean I wasn’t smart anymore (a later IQ test shows my IQ has gone down over 35 points since I was 7 years old)? Does this mean I can’t be a lawyer anymore? Will my friends ever learn to enjoy tv with subtitles? Will I ever be able to understand a movie in the theater? An already depressed and anxious mind grew only more depressed and anxious. I had an absolute identity crisis.
My entire value was built around my brain and there I learned that it was now only average and DAMAGED.
I spent the next two years trying to come out of the depressed hazed. During that time it dawned upon me that my friends and family knew I had a brain injury and withheld the information from me. As I grew healthier and happier, I became more and more appreciative of them hiding that information. I know me, and they clearly know me, because I would have likely given up at that news. I certainly would have never gone to law school. And as it turns out, going to law school is what helped heal my brain injury (to the extent that it can heal) and kept my mind sharp.
In 2015 I broke my limbs because of a thyroid issue and decided to change my life. I write now, December of 2016, a fully changed woman from the one last year. I attribute a huge part of that change- for the better- to my injury. How so? Well- it lead me to volunteer for Disability Rights Texas and to volunteer for the Office of Acquired Brain Injury. That lead me to learn more about brain injury and disabled folks and their needs in Texas. I now run my own full-time law firm where I cater to those who are disabled or suffering from brain injury as well as other normal Texans.
If I went back and could advise my friends and family about discussing the injury with me- I would tell them to do it just how they did. They had my back. That’s clear.