A sister reflects on her brother’s brain injury and how it has changed her life.
When he was 13, Paul Coskie was hit by a car when riding his bike with friends. He sustained a severe brain injury. Life for his family — his parents and his now seven brothers and sisters — changed forever. Here, one of his sisters — Anna-Theresa, age 16, seven years after her brother’s injury — talks about how his injury continues to affect her today.
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It’s weird how one can live through something understanding enough, but not understanding completely. It’s weird when you reach an age where you are actually conscious of what happened to you, where you are smarter and more experienced than you were, and have the ability to really think about what you went through when you were 9 years old — and what you continue to go through today.
Sometimes I feel as if Paul got in his accident yesterday. When I was 9, when he was hurt, I knew he was on the verge of dying. But now … now I go back to the first day I saw him. The wires, the beeping, the bandages, the nurses, the doctors, the sadness ... I relive it every day. And at 16, I say “Wow, what the hell did I go through? Why am I still going through it so many years later?”
I listen to my best friend say she wants to be a nurse in the Intensive Care Unit because there is “a lot of action,” and I want to cry or hit her, or both. It’s as though I visited Paul yesterday in that ICU hospital room. That was not exciting, that was not action, that was real life — and real death. I yell at my friend, “Have you ever been to the ICU? Do you understand that it is not fun and exciting and full of action? It's about real people.” She tells me to calm down.
Does no one get it?
Do I even get it?
I guess not. I guess it’s one of those things that will be in the back of my head until the day I die. I’ll never get those images out of my head. I’ll never make these feelings go away. But why do they have to intensify now, during the most important year of my high school career?
I can’t live my life the way I want to. I am slowly shutting down. I am slowly shutting people out. I am slowly shutting myself out. I am giving up on everything, the people around me, and myself. And I don’t know how to stop. It’s something that I’ve always done, subconsciously, and I haven’t realized it until now.
Brother gets hit by car. Brother suffers from traumatic brain injury. Family falls apart. Girl studies to keep her mind off life. Girl makes honor roll. Girl is amazing. Brother strives to get better.
Girl turns 16. Girl realizes traumatic brain injury changes everything. Girl feels lost. Girl feels crazy. Girl is depressed. Girl blocks out studying to focus on self. Girl doesn’t make honor roll. Girl is failing. Nothing, and no one, gets better. Girl needs a helping hand.
I need to stop doing this. I need to move on. I need to live. I need to focus on what I need to do to get better. I need to have opportunity. I need to watch the news, write my research paper, and study for the AP test. I need to read my history book and write the papers on what happened in this country years and years ago. I need to write my chemistry paper and take the notes and do my best to understand the chemical reactions that make life happen. I need to learn how to pass a math test. I need to realize that learning a foreign language will help me someday. I need to do well in school because I need to get the heck out of Upton, Massachusetts. I need to get far away from this town, and its memories, and a high school where no one cares.
This is what I need to do. But it’s what I can’t do. My body is tired, my brain is tired. I don’t have the mental capacity to think beyond the emotions and thoughts that are constantly buzzing through my brain. And if I’m lucky, I can maybe concentrate on something for five minutes.
What have I become?
Who am I?
Who am I going to be?
Will Paul ever get better?
Thoughts on Anna-Theresa (now 21 years old) by her mother, Dixie Coskie
As Anna-Theresa’s mom, I will never forget the panicked look on her face during the period of time when I needed to be with Paul at the rehabilitation hospital. She was just 9. Her small arms desperately held onto me, not wanting me to leave, clinging, scratching, grabbing my waist, arms, neck. Her eyes cried fearful, fretful tears; her sobs echoed in my heart. So many tormented days.
Up until Paul’s crash, Anna-Theresa’s biggest concern was whether she was going to have a peanut butter sandwich or swing on a swing. She was devastated. Silent, except for the never-ending weeping. She has always clung a little harder, wanting reassurance that her brother, who she loved and idolized, would be okay … would live.
Anna-Theresa held tight to her older siblings for comfort and, in the process, her insight, wisdom, and sensitivity grew. She began to pray. There is a dimension to Anna-Theresa that is deep, angelic, sweet, and sincere. As she matures, I see the subtle scars left behind, the fear that lingers. Yet, what shines is her cheerful smile, her intuitive eyes and mind, and her loving unselfish heart. Her love for family, her brother, is everlasting, real.
Paul eventually started occupational, speech, and physical therapy. Ann-Theresa eventfully began counseling and meditation. Brother and sister began to take steps that they hadn't thought they were capable of taking.