Patient Learns to Live in the “Not Yet”
Following a brain injury she sustained in a car accident, a Shepherd Center outpatient describes her journey of healing.
By Lindsay Corley
Shepherd Center Outpatient
In February of 2012, I walked away from a car accident unscathed except for a bad headache – or so I thought. It wasn’t until days later the pain became debilitating, and my friends realized something more was wrong. I will never forget standing in the CNN control room looking down at a phone and not remembering how to dial a call. I was subsequently diagnosed with a concussion and told I would be fine in a few weeks, but they were wrong.
The smallest hits in life can sometimes have the greatest effects. By the end of 2012, I lived in chronic pain, suffered from several cognitive deficits and could only read a few sentences at a time. A neurologist told me I wouldn’t recover any further. I was working part-time at CNN, but my co-workers were picking up the slack when I had trouble concentrating or would get sick from the pain. I felt hopeless. In a chance encounter, I ran into Dr. Sanjay Gupta in the hallway. His recommendation was to seek treatment at Shepherd Center.
I describe my experience at Shepherd Center as going from surviving to thriving. Last year, the idea of living most days pain free and without meds felt like a dream, but now it's reality. After a lot of trial and error, the staff at Shepherd Pain Institute found that Botox worked for me. (Yes, the same stuff that removes wrinkles.) I have 31 injections of Botox every three months to “turn off” the muscles causing the post-concussive pain. Botox isn’t a cure, and it doesn’t heal. Now two and a half years after injury, my physician at Shepherd Pain Institute doesn't believe the pain will ever go away. I live in the “not yet” – the tension between accepting present circumstances and the possibilities of the future.
I celebrate where I am now and how far I have come. With help from therapy at Shepherd Pathways, I can now read a chapter or two and have even completed a few books! I have gotten so much back in terms of memory and concentration, and I am still making improvements.
Doctors recently discovered my vision was affected by the accident. Since so much time has passed, I thought that any treatment would be in vain. To my surprise, after a lot of hard work and special prism glasses to help with double vision, my eyesight has improved. I have learned there is always hope, yet it often involves letting go of preconceived outcomes.
Everyone’s “not yet” is different: It could be the journey of healing from a catastrophic event, a seemingly minor hit or just waiting for change. In his book “Man’s Search for Meaning,” Victor Frankel writes, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.” So I learned to change – to stop over-functioning and pace myself. In 2013, I left a hospital chaplain residency mid-year after coming to terms with my own limitations.
When we come to the end of our own resources, we are forced to embrace limits. Endurance athletes train at 80 percent so they have the stamina to exercise day after day. The goal is to complete the race, not be the person who burns out after the first challenge. I have learned, slowly and imperfectly, to pace myself and work for endurance in daily life. It is sometimes frustrating, but it has made all the difference. My future career path is still unclear, but I continue to work with a greater understanding of my strengths and weaknesses.
Shepherd Center is my bridge from walking away from an accident to running again in life. I am training to complete my first triathlon in August. I love a challenge and view living in the “not yet” as an invitation for gratitude, hope and a lot of perseverance.
LINDSAY CORLEY is an award-winning journalist with more than seven years experience producing CNN’s daily newscasts and documentaries. She has also served as a chaplain, caring for patients at Children’s Healthcare of Atlanta and Northside Hospital. Lindsay has worked for several non-profits in Atlanta and Lesotho, Africa. In her free time, she enjoys training for triathlons, traveling and hiking with her rescue golden retriever, Jonah. You can connect with Lindsay via LinkedIn at linked.com/in/lcorley.
Shepherd Center, located in Atlanta, Georgia, is a private, not-for-profit hospital specializing in medical treatment, research and rehabilitation for people with spinal cord injury, brain injury, multiple sclerosis, spine and chronic pain, and other neurological conditions. Founded in 1975, Shepherd Center is ranked by U.S. News & World Report among the top 10 rehabilitation hospitals in the nation. In its more than four decades, Shepherd Center has grown from a six-bed rehabilitation unit to a world-renowned, 152-bed hospital that treats more than 740 inpatients, nearly 280 day program patients and more than 7,100 outpatients each year in more than 46,000 visits.