Traumatic brain injury and me

In a nano-second on an otherwise lovely Sunday afternoon, I sustained a traumatic brain injury. There are currently 45,000 Arizonans living with TBIs, according to the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona, and prior to the accident which caused mine, I never thought about any of them.

Now, I think about them every day when I say my daily prayers. That’s how it is, isn’t it, that we don’t really relate to those who suffer with A, B or C, until we become one of the unlucky ones also suffering from A, B or C.

On my worst days, I wish there was some way people could “experience” life with a TBI for a day or two. (Virtual reality people, let’s move from putting people on relaxing beaches to mimicking a severe concussion.) Because only in experiencing the panic that occurs when you realize the thing that controls every aspect of your body – from the automatic breathing you do to walking up the stairs to reading this sentence – isn’t working anymore can you understand what someone goes through with this type of disability. And only in that understanding will you do things like pay way better attention when you drive.

My column today in the Arizona Daily Star is about my life since I sustained a brain injury through a car accident in Oct. 2019. I had to cut out one important thing due to word-count limits, and I want to share it here: You cannot drive while talking on the phone – even hands-free – without putting someone’s life in danger. And I want you to stop doing it.

The research on this is clear. It is all about cognitive distraction. The part of my brain that is most damaged is my occipital lobe, which is what controls the way your brain perceives visual stimuli. When a human is talking on the phone – even hands-free – that part of the brain essentially goes “blind” because it is busy imagining the person you are speaking to on the phone. Ergo, it doesn’t see what your eyes are looking at … while you’re driving 65 mph in a 4,000-pound deadly weapon.

People have focused on the physical distraction of picking up a phone and texting or calling or even doing something like applying makeup while driving. With the advent of “hands-free” technology, we have convinced ourselves (I used to use hands-free phones in my car) – despite the science to the contrary – that they are “safe” to talk and drive. That belief is, as the Brits would say, rubbish.

My wreck wasn’t caused by someone talking on the phone; the woman who caused my collision was distracted by something else that drives me insane. Find out what it was by reading my column here. Then, imagine your life without the basics of brain function and commit to never calling while driving.

5 Replies to “Traumatic brain injury and me”

  1. Thanks for sharing your story Renae, have enjoyed your columns since my long time friend, Roxie C, turned me on to you!
    My father passed away Feb 3rd this year and I spoke at his service. Many didn’t know that my dad had a TBI and other injuries when I was 2 in a car accident. It was the summer after his first year in medical school. It took some years before he was accepted back and he started over as a freshman.
    He graduated and had a successful medical career but not without struggles. He retired young so enjoyed many years golfing and spending winters in Tucson with my mom. He passed away at 91 in Rapid City SD. I’m so glad to hear you are making progress but difficult to be patient I’m sure. Sending you my best for a full recovery.


    1. Dear Nancy: Thank you so much for subscribing to my blog so you see my columns. I am glad we share Roxie in common – what a gift to the world she is! I am so sorry about the loss of your father, but I am so glad he had a long life and THANK GOD HE WAS A DOCTOR! That gives me hope. Thank you for writing!


  2. Thank you for sharing your story of bravery and perseverance, Renee, and bringing attention to such a critically important issue. Keep fighting your way towards recovery — I will be rooting for you and sending prayers.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. thank you, Rachel! Today, working on my novel, I sat on the floor and cried and thought, “Maybe I just don’t want to write anymore. Maybe I just should start making quilts or walking dogs or playing the piano – anything that brings immediate feeling of accomplishment.” Then my husband said, “You’re a writer. You just want to stop now because its so much harder now with your disability.” So, I guess I’ll keep on for awhile! 🙂


      1. Oh dear — sorry to hear it was one of “those” days…but I agree with your husband – you’re a writer, and writers gotta write (even if we have to sit on the floor and cry sometimes, and wonder what the heck we’re doing attempting it). I mean…even WITHOUT a disability, I believe this is true for EVERY writer. Please be kind to yourself and take a moment each day to recognize how far you’ve come! I for one am so proud of you!!


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