Carol's Story

Published April 2014

The Faces and Facts of Disability / Stories / Carol's Story

When she awoke from an induced coma following a traumatic brain injury, Carol began a long, arduous journey of rediscovery.

The day an incompetent driver hit her bicycle from behind, her life changed in ways she could never have imagined. "Many folks in the hospital thought I would die," she writes today. She survived, but swelling in her brain impaired her permanently and wiped out most of the memories she had formed before the accident.  She had to learn all over again how to walk, talk, and feed herself. In her words, she had become "an infant again at 43."

Eventually, she moved on to studying reading, writing, and math alongside her first-grade son. It was great, she said, that they happened to be at the same level.  As she gradually regained cognitive function, her hopes grew that she might someday return to her former profession as a well-respected paper and book conservator.  With her husband, who conserved paintings, she had been highly successful in this very specialized field.  More importantly, she had loved her work and believed it made a meaningful contribution to society.

As time went on, however, it became apparent that she would need to set more realistic goals for herself. Not only would she never again take up the tools of her old craft, her injury would prevent her from working in any capacity.  Besides being unable to retain long-term memories, she suffers from constant dizziness, frequent bouts of confusion, and a tendency to become easily exhausted.  Any sort of worry causes her to stop functioning. Consequently, she can manage only one simple task at a time, and even that requires her full concentration.

Carol's Social Security benefits make coping with her lifelong disability a little easier. "Having been awarded Social Security has been an enormous gift," she explains, "as it has allowed me to focus on healing."  As she takes back charge of her life in small ways, her husband can now go about his work without having to worry about her every minute.  Most importantly, she is able to devote more of her limited energy to their now-teenage son.

Carol expects the process of recovery to continue indefinitely. Although she is not able to work, she sees herself as belonging to a community of people taken off guard by disability - from battle survivors to victims of "simple accidents" like hers - who must redefine what it means to be productive.  For Carol, it's all about family.