Michelle Naylor fell over three years ago. And life hasn’t been the same since.
Three years ago I forgot my name.
I’d been working late and not noticed the freezing fog outside. On the way home I’d pulled over to avoid the conditions but when I went to start the car again, my wheels were stuck.
I can’t tell you what happened next but, from what I’ve been told, I fell out of the car (perhaps numerous times), banged my head and lay in the road unconscious for some time. Oh, and changed my life forever.
I somehow managed to get back into the car and drive to my friend Lindsay’s house, where I slept on the sofa before getting home.
My husband Rob went off to work as usual, knowing nothing and not wanting to disturb me, and my daughter Rosey (then 10) found me vomiting and with a nosebleed. She called Rob from my mobile (earning herself a school bravery award in the process) and we headed off to A&E in a taxi.
The minute we walked in, I collapsed. They put me on a gurney and I started screaming, “Leave my fucking tonsils alone!” which made Rosey laugh. I shouted, “Who’s that girl laughing at me?” and that was the point everyone started to worry.
I stayed in hospital for around a week and a half. I don’t remember much about it, but I do remember them asking my date of birth every hour. I didn’t know it for the next year and, to be honest, I still couldn’t tell you with any great certainty if I’m tired.
It turned out I had a diffuse axonal injury, a traumatic brain injury. I was released from hospital with rehab and no idea whether I would be OK.
Over the next week I began doing strange things like locking myself in the bedroom. I would scream at my family to leave me alone and I was terrified they’d make me go back to hospital. Eventually Rob decided I couldn’t carry on and called the GP. He heard me speaking and told me to go to A&E immediately. I got really aggressive (which isn’t like me at all) and had to be forced into the car, kicking and screaming. On arrival I screamed at the doctor, “There’s nothing wrong with me!” He said, “You are the sickest person I have seen in a long time.”
I stayed there for more than three weeks and stopped walking and talking properly.
Before the accident I had been running a successful before- and after-school club and co-running an eco-cleaning company, looking after my two daughters and numerous pets. I was the busiest person ever, working at least 60 hours a week, giving people lifts everywhere and getting in everyone’s business.
A lovely lady who worked for me bought the club from me and I slowly started to get better, going from wheelchair to zimmer frame to shoe brace. I picked up. Often you’d barely notice anything odd about me.
Then about nine months later I started daydreaming – ‘absences’. I went to see my neurologist and he said I had developed epilepsy from the accident. I had a grand mal seizure at work and lost my driving licence. I went from hopping to Scarborough at a moment’s notice in the car to not even being able to get a bus or a taxi anywhere alone because of not knowing where I lived.
It took me a long time to remember my full name again. We moved house to somewhere where I didn’t need to drive to live (to add insult to major injury my husband snapped his Achilles tendon and couldn’t drive for six weeks).
“I go for a check-up every six months and every time I am shocked to find out I’m not getting better. For my children, I am the mum who went out normal one day and came back unrecognisable.”
I can no longer read like I used to, a fact I hid for months and months. I would pretend to be reading but it was all gibberish. I have been known to throw books across the bedroom in temper. I can read a bit now but I get words in the wrong places and when I’m bad I can’t begin to write a Facebook status update. A year’s speech therapy has finally taught me to say “text” instead of “sext”. Awkward.
I have good days and bad days. I lose time. I have a wonky side and I slur sometimes. Sometimes people think I’m drunk. If you try to give me directions or instructions I want to scream at you. I have regular seizures and I have dislocated my wrist twice from spasming and I’m regularly covered in blood and bruises.
I’ve been in hospital more than 30 times in the last three years – usually testing the services of the crash team – and I am on the largest amount of drugs I can be. When my friends hear an ambulance going by, they now call me. And I am thankful every single day for the wonderful NHS for keeping me alive.
I go for a check-up every six months and every time I am shocked to find out I’m not getting better. It’s something I have to get used to but I can’t. It’s embarrassing and unpredictable and for my children, I am the mum who went out normal one day and came back unrecognisable.
It’s changed me. I want to think I am the same person I was but I’m not. I was the most laid-back person you’d ever meet but now I can be tearful and easy to frustrate. Rob and the children, who have been truly amazing, have all had to have counselling. Rosey has become more clingy and Hannah’s behaviour has worsened. It’s changed us all.
But there is a part of me that’s the same go-getter I always was (to the exasperation of those around me). I have the most amazing set of friends, who are always game for anything and I live in a wonderful place. When I’m good, I feel I can change the world. I want to do everything – and I often try.
I’m still the last to leave the party (though don’t ask me what street it’s on) and always the first to suggest a ridiculous idea. Because, ultimately, I never know when it might be the last time I do.
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Michelle lives in Ilkley with her husband and two children. She likes hospital wards with WiFi, singing in the car and being beside the seaside. And Maltesers in a box.