Interviewed by Veronica Farmer for @madebeautifulbyscars.com
"I am a survivor, I am a warrior. I am unstoppable!"
I have no memory of my life before I was 9 years old. I was hit in the head by a soccer ball at school. At the time, no one realized how severe the injury was. I was sent to the school sickbay, to rest. I then returned to class, only to start vomiting. Again, I was sent back to sickbay. Occasionally a few kids my age came in and checked on me only to report that I was asleep - little did they know I was unconscious and bleeding heavily into the brain. It was only when the teacher came in to try and wake me, that they figured something was very wrong. I wasn’t responding.
I went to school in a rural area, and I was very lucky that a major polo match was being played that day next to the school. This meant that there was a helicopter on the field, and a team of paramedics.
I was airlifted to the nearest major hospital, in a critical condition – the clock rapidly ticking, as a team of surgeons worked around the clock to save my life. My family were told that I had a very, very slim chance of survival (about 5%) and if I ever did make it out of surgery, I would most likely have serious brain damage. So, there was very little hope going into surgery, but those doctors had no idea how fierce my spirit was, even at 9 years old!
I spent weeks in intensive care, in a coma. My parents taking turns to sit by my bed, like shift workers - days turning into nights, over and over again. I can’t begin to imagine what they went through, as they sat by my bedside, staring at this tiny, frail lifeless body hooked up too many monitors and life-support machines.
Although I couldn’t move, open my eyes or speak, I was aware at times of what was going on around me. If you have read the book or seen the movie “The Diving Bell and The Butterfly” by Jean-Dominique Bauby, it would give you an idea of what was going on for me then. I was in a form of locked-in syndrome, where my mind was coming back, but hadn’t yet formed a connection to my body so that I could use it. Frustrating doesn’t even begin to cover it.
I remember, there was a nurse on the ward and I really didn’t like her. I dubbed her ‘the witch’. Every now and then she would do a test of my reflexes by pricking a needle into my toes. I could feel it on one side, it wasn’t pleasant! But I was paralyzed on the other side of my body, couldn’t speak, or show anyone that I was aware of what was going on. My fury had begun to build with this woman.
As Dad sat with me one day, I remember hearing him have a conversation with this nurse. They both thought it was time to test what was going on in that brain of mine, if anything. She began what felt like torture and I absolutely hated this. I mustered every ounce of strength and courage I had and brought my left hand very slowly out of the blankets. I was able to lift my middle finger in the air, and I gave it to her!!! My father said, “Yes! I think she’s going to come out of this just fine.”
It was quite a fight just to survive, let alone return to who I was before, but I was determined to do it. As my memory before that traumatic event had essentially been wiped, I struggled with piecing together anything from my life prior to this event. Somewhere in my brain’s hard drive, the memory of who my family were remained, yet all the memories associated with the first 9 years of my life had disappeared.
Intense speech therapy, physiotherapy, memory clinics and brain rehabilitation followed and after five months of this I was making some good ground much to the surprise of everyone. Out of the blue, a second brain hemorrhage hit me and all of the work I had done to regain small amounts of movement and speech once again, felt like it disappeared. I spent the better part of 1996 in a hospital bed feeling incredibly sorry for myself as I started to learn basic movement, speech and somehow piece together this life that made no sense to me.
It took be about six years of very regular therapy and a lot of love and dedication from my family to get me back on a semi-normal path of living. High school was very tough, as I was bullied for being outside the norm - the only kid with a disability, and so much slower than the others at learning. I found it incredibly difficult to retain information, and deal with the constant state of confusion. So, I left school early. I sunk into a depressive state and I got lost there for a good five years.
I felt utterly lost. I spiraled into a dark place, escaping through reckless drug and alcohol fueled nights for years on end. I wasn’t happy about who I was becoming. I knew something had to change. It was at the age of 20, I saw something that sparked a fire inside - an advertisement online for volunteer teachers to go into third world countries and work with kids. I knew I just had to go! I ended my relationship at the time, booked my flights and was on the plane two weeks later… terrified and excited, all at once.
I flew to Sri Lanka and ended up living there for six months in total, teaching English to disabled orphans. I can’t begin to express how much that experience changed my entire outlook on life. I got to see first-hand that there were people out there who were suffering in an infinitely worse way than me. I had a family who loved me and the world was mine to explore. These kids had little hope for their lives; they rarely got a hug, let alone had a view of a future.
That experience defined me and helped me find purpose and direction. I saw with some excitement that I could turn my scars into something incredibly powerful that would help other brain injury sufferers. I began to see how far I had come. In my life I had to rediscover speech, memory, how to move and control my body, how to walk and talk. I thought “You know what! With so many people battling brain injury alone, I can turn this into something inspiring and motivating for them.”
I was driven to see how far I could go with self-healing. There is still paralysis in my right hand, so I decided to start challenging my body, in the hope that I could somehow start gaining more movement and feeling. What better way to really put all this to the test than take up rock-climbing. Terrified of heights and a hand that doesn’t work...perfect combination in my eyes! I figured that putting myself in this situation would force my hand to start doing what it needed to do, and very slowly I started to see tiny improvements. This was enough for me, I was hooked. I had always loved the outdoors, but this just re-ignited my love for nature - I wanted more! So, I began hiking and mountain-bike riding (yep, even had a good crack at downhill…pretty scary when you can’t feel the brakes!!!!) and paddle boarding.
If that wasn’t enough, I also decided to also hit the water to work on my breathing problems. Due to the rigid tubing of life support, I developed Tracheal Stenosis – which left my trachea heavily scarred and very narrow, making breathing difficult, uncomfortable and at times painful. So, I figured that I would push myself way outside my comfort zone and give free-diving a go (since I was not allowed to scuba dive because I wouldn’t pass the medical in a million years). I loved it! I got to challenge breathing, whilst also falling in love with the meditative feeling of being under the water.
I can’t tell you the amount of times my surgeons and medical team have told me the chance of doing these things would be very slim – my response has always been the same, “Oh Yeah? Watch me!” .....
THIS IS AN EXCERPT FROM RANI'S FULL STORY... To read more, join our mailing list below to make sure you know when the book is out! "Made Beautiful by Scars" BOOK ONE will have more than 30 powerful human stories that inspire!!
To connect with Rani, reach out to www.thebraininjuryproject.com
@madebeautifulbyscars is a human global story series created by Author and Therapist Veronica Farmer, capturing real stories from men and women who have refused to let life scars hold them back from creating an extraordinary life.
Made Beautiful by Scars is a powerful movement for change around how we see our life scars. Instead of hiding our wounds, we share them and the lessons richly learned.
Our storytellers are everyday people alongside those in the public eye - internationally recognised writers, actors, artists, world record athletes, scientists and eco-warriors. These stories are raw, real and unputdownable! In our wired in world, these short stories offer a peak into the rich workings of a vulnerable scarred heart and heal our own.
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