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A Car Accident I Walked Away From Changed My Life Forever

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I used to work in Hollywood.

I was good at my job. I had a knack for reading scripts and understanding their position and value in the market. If they were good – I knew why. If they were bad – I knew why. I earned the trust of big names, and if I continued to put my head down and work relentlessly, my future had the potential for a fairy-tale ending of its own.

Stories were my thing.

In December of 2017, I was on the way to a Del Taco for a break from my Sunday script reading. I wasn’t even that hungry – I just needed a break.

It was then a young woman ran a stop sign onto Pico Blvd and hit my car on the passenger side, sending me 360 degrees into opposing traffic, re-hitting her car upon return.

I remember seeing her Honda sedan hit a wall, airbags deploying. I remember seeing her driver-door open, a body rag-dolling out.

I don’t remember the rest very clearly. I remember screaming for help. I remember bystanders responding to it. I remember learning the other driver didn’t die (but was injured). I remember being told how lucky I was to have been OK.

Because I was.

No marks. No bruises. My airbag didn’t even deploy. Sure, my car took $15,000 worth of repairs, but me? I was able to call my roommate to simply take me home. A traumatic night, for sure, but one that I assumed would stand alone. I even finished reading my scripts that night and pitched them well the next day.

It took a few months for the pain to become unbearable. I assumed it was just a pesty muscle in my shoulder blade that annoyed me from time to time, but the “time to time” had become “around the clock.” It was becoming more difficult to concentrate at work, and my boss noticed a shift in my behavior, urging me to seek medical advice. Stubbornly, I did — especially when I started losing the use of my left fingers.

An MRI showed three cervical bulges including a herniated disc. We spent almost a year doing epidurals and any treatment you could think of before resorting to surgery – an anterior cervical disc replacement at the C6/C7 level. I was 29 years old. Unfortunately, that surgery resulted in the accidental paralysis of my right vocal cords, resulting in another surgical implant to properly speak again.

And even after all of that, my pain still didn’t go away. Add on multiple procedures and surgeries later, and it still hasn’t. Unbeknownst to me, Del Taco had truly become my undoing, and not just due to their burritos.

But I simply refused to accept it. Any of it.

It sounds illogical, but I simply tried to ignore and suppress the pain and severity of the situation. Neurosurgery? No big deal, I’ll be back to work soon. Lose my ability to speak? No big deal, I’ll just get another surgery. Pain still there? No big deal, I’ll just continue getting more surgeries.

It’s now been four years. Four years of surgeries and ceaseless doctor appointments. Four years of losing hair due to anesthesia, gaining weight due to inactivity, adjusting to different medications, and making excuses to get out of social engagements. Most significantly, it’s been four years of hardly anyone knowing what I’ve gone through, because I didn’t care to even admit to it myself.

For someone whose profession was to digest stories, I had hardly realized my own.

Because, to me, the story wasn’t even that good or intriguing. I’d find my mind racing:

But my airbags didn’t even deploy. But I look fine from the outside. But I was just going to get a taco. But I had the world ahead of me. But I didn’t even have a bruise. But it can’t be that bad. But, but, but…

It was almost as if I were looking for reasons as to why my story was invalid, or untrue. Surely an event I could walk away from couldn’t alter my life forever.

And in that denial, I had lost my power.

And that is why I am sitting here and writing this.

Because the day I learned to accept my story was the day I recognized the rest of it was left for me to write. And perhaps, not accepting my story, even for four years, is just a part of it.

My name is Carolyn, and I am a patient with chronic pain.

And this can be just the beginning of my story.

Getty image by Staras.

Originally published: October 25, 2021
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