Our miracle: my family shouldn’t have survived Carbon Monoxide poisoning

BY: SHELLEY TAYLOR

Seven years ago, Shelley’s family survived what should have been a fatal carbon monoxide leak in their house. She writes how her faith has helped her family survive and thrive in the seven years since.

Shelly Trammel standing outside her church
Shelley Taylor

In the blink of an eye, so many memories vanished. I wish I could have chosen which memories I could keep and tossed out the ones I wanted to forget. I know the memories which remain are what make me who I am today. I would be a different person right now breathing, talking, and living if I didn’t retain some of the things I lived as a child and as a young adult.

Valentine’s Day 2010 would turn into a complete game changer for my family, a day we will never forget. I’ve documented this day in words so if the day comes that the memory is gone I can always, reflect back on our second chance at life.

We were experiencing a Texas Winter and the six inches of snow which covered our town knocked our power out for three days. Fed up, on the third day we ran a generator out in the front driveway with the garage door and windows open. The Fire Chief later told us that the lack of wind and frigid air that day meant the gas settled into our home via the eave troughs instead of blowing away.

That night, my daughter, Taylor, woke suddenly to someone screaming her name. She jolted up in bed, tried to stand and quickly realized her legs wouldn’t hold her up. She fell to the floor.

Shelley and Taylor pose in their living room
Shelley and her daughter Taylor

From there, she crawled to her door and tried to stable herself but couldn’t and collapsed again, all the while having the frightening feeling of tunnel vision where you can’t really hear or see.

The thud of her fall woke me up and I ran to her. My then husband, Charlie, heard from the living room and he and I met at her doorway and found our daughter lying, lifeless and facedown. Not knowing what’s wrong with your daughter, when its too dark to even look her in the face is the worst thing I have ever felt.

Charlie was shaking her and trying to get a response. He sent me to get a flashlight that was on my nightstand. We were beside ourselves with fear. On my way to the bedroom, I started feeling as though I was losing control, and as the seconds passed I knew I had to let Charlie know something was seriously wrong with me. I had the flashlight in hand, and started running back to the hall, but the closer I got to Charlie, the further away he seemed. Everything was spinning out of control and I was losing awareness of where I was.

I knew if I didn’t make it back to him he wouldn’t know to come find me.  When I turned the corner to the hallway I collapsed face first without my hands or arms to brace me, falling onto the metal flashlight and cutting my forehead open, exposing the skull. Charlie was searching in the dark for the flashlight as it had rolled when I fell and I was trying to tell him I felt blood running down my face. Things were completely out of control.

Once he found the flashlight, with one look he said he had to get me to the hospital.  I said, “What is wrong with Taylor, doesn’t she need to go?”

Somehow in my head I knew she had started this whole ordeal and my mommy intuition kicked in. I was more scared for her than me!

Shelley Taylor poses for a selfie

Meanwhile, Taylor was drifting in and out of consciousness. Charlie managed to wake her, and told her she had to go get a towel to put on my head to help with the bleeding, which was now pulsing out of control from my head. We were all covered with my blood. How she made it to the bathroom to retrieve a towel is beyond any of our comprehension.

Immediately after she returned, Taylor lost consciousness again.  Charlie dragged her over and propped her on top of me, against the wall as I was having convulsions and banging my face into the floor.  My eyes were rolling back in my head, and Charlie yelled at me not to die on him.

Charlie called 911 and first to respond were the police. They used their flashlights and the first thing they saw were my bloody handprints in our hallway where I tried to stand, and Charlie covered in my blood. Needless to say, they turned their suspicions onto Charlie.

Shortly after the fire department arrived, and the Fire Chief began asking different questions. Charlie explained we were using a generator and immediately the Chief went to the truck to get the carbon monoxide detector. The truck was parked at the street and within steps of entering our driveway the readings on the detector began to rise quickly, so much that the Chief went back to the truck to recalibrate the device as he was not believing the high readings. Once again, walking in the driveway up to our front door the readings began to creep higher and higher. Upon reaching the door he called for his crew to exit the home and began to get Charlie, Taylor and our dogs out. A couple of paramedics were left inside with me to get me stable enough for transport to the hospital. Once outside, they realized that Taylor had “started” this whole incident and the firefighters told Charlie they wanted her checked out as well. I left by ambulance and Charlie and Taylor in his truck.

On route to the hospital, through nothing other than God’s grace, Taylor made some of the scariest and bravest phone calls she’s ever made to my sisters alerting them of what had happened and seeking their immediate help.  She was much too young to understand what was going on or what was wrong with her mom, she just knew they had to get there quickly!

Several firefighters went above and beyond the call of duty and stayed at our home to open windows and stay and watch our dogs for sickness and make sure they were in a safe place before leaving.

Once at Mansfield Methodist Hospital they checked mine and Taylor’s blood gases and they were “through the roof”. Worse, my daughter’s levels were much higher than mine.

They began preparing us to be transported to Dallas Methodist Hospital to get in their hyperbaric chamber. First my head had to be stitched up, 15 stitches total, and I had to have a CT Scan to make sure I was transportable. Then off we went, on the ice, Taylor and I in the ambulance, her sitting and me on a stretcher both with oxygen on.

Upon arriving at Dallas Methodist Hospital, a doctor explained the procedures for going into the hyperbaric chamber, which was difficult to understand considering everything. I must add that at some time after our arrival we found out that the family which had just been in the chamber all died, except the father!

I was terrified for Taylor and myself!  Taylor and I are both very claustrophobic, but we are survivors after our approximate three hour stay in the hyperbaric chamber.

Two Ambulance rides, one CT scan, two blood gases, two Hyperbaric chambers, 15 stitches and one concussion later, we survived!  Nothing says ‘I love you” like a brain injury on Valentine’s Day.

My sister, Kimberley, moved in with us for about a month. Physically I was trying to heal my head, but mentally I was left with a traumatic brain injury.  I started over with kindergarten flashcards, looking at an apple and saying library, and my friends and family completed most of my sentences. They scooped Taylor and I up and helped us heal.

My neurologist told me that people don’t survive what we went through and there really aren’t patients like Taylor and I.  He said he didn’t know how to treat me. I cried and he was visibly shaken. Through his honesty, he became a great comfort to me as I struggled with memory and cognitive skills. We became a little closer that day and I knew he had chosen the right career.

On another of my early visits, he took his hand and made a fist and began knocking on my forehead. He said the poison goes into your brain and destroys whatever it attaches to and we have no control over what functions it destroys or limits.

To this day, my short-term memory is horrible at times, and I’ve lost so many precious memories.

Taylor and I have a saying when it comes to trying to remember things, we just look at each other and say, “Did we have fun?”

The one who remembers says to the other, “Yes, we had fun!”

That’s all that matters. But, to be alive, in whatever capacity, is amazing!  I continue daily to deal with migraines, balance, breathing, vision, memory or the lack thereof. These are daily struggles for both Taylor and I.

I have fallen more times than I’ve stood, and had injuries that ranged from Band-Aids to orthopaedics visits. For six years, my greatest challenge was breathing, but now I struggle with a chronic migraine.  Right now, I am close to 100 days straight of my head hurting. Every day at some point I struggle to breathe and coughing has become my norm. Some days are better than others. Sunny days are my friend. On cold, wet days I lean on my faith for every breath I take.

The more I talk the worse my coughing gets and I talk so much for work. Recovery continues every day for me and Taylor and luckily her Dyslexic brain is used to accommodating skills and this continues to be her saving grace on a daily basis.  She is young, so strong, her faith is incredible, and healing has come differently for her, but memory and migraines are big battles for her.  I’d love for you to pray for her right now.

image2           Many days are challenging and bring a stream of tears but I try my best to remember that God knows the plans for me and Taylor.  He knew the breaths that would follow would bring challenge, He knew this, He knew.  Through it all, truly through it all I will trust Him.

God used this disaster to dissolve a broken marriage and link my life with the most amazing man, through merging tears, broken hope, and many answered prayers.


Taylor Trammell graduated in May with her Associates degree and will soon be an American Sign Language Interpreter. 

Shelley Taylor will publish her book, “With My Last Breath, I’d Say I Love You: When your FAITH and HOPE slip, GRACE wins every time” March 1, 201

 

8. Follow her on Instagram @shelleylovesTaylor

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The passage of time after brain injury

BY: MARK KONING

Time flies over us, but leaves its shadow behind. ~ Nathaniel Hawthorne

Being a brain injury survivor sometimes feels as though I have both lost and gained time. My injury occurred when I was six-years-old, and it is as if those first six years of my life have been erased. (It is hard to say for certain, because, well, I was six.)

Screen Shot 2017-03-24 at 2.23.51 PM
PHOTO: MARK KONING

I have some ideas of what things were like in my early years, mostly because my Oma (Grandma) shot many home movies and my mom took tons of pictures, plus all the stories I’ve heard along the way. It’s hard to tell what is my own memory, and what has been planted there by someone else.

It wasn’t until many, many years later, that I was diagnosed with an acquired brain injury. (You can learn more about that in my memoir ‘Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path’)

Growing up without the knowledge that I had an ABI, but at the same time sensing something was wrong, I often wonder if I spent too much time questioning things or if I was spared certain other anxieties. Ignorance is bliss, right?

Regardless of my past, I can say this about my present: while I might seem to have enough time to get things done, I do not. I do pretty well, but there are things on my list that don’t get checked off. No matter how much I have trained my brain, and knowing my need to slow down, it can still be frustrating to not get stuff done!

My accommodation for work, and life in general, is needing extra time.

In some ways, taking things slow and affording yourself more time is good, but I still only have 24 hours in a day like everyone else. You see? Frustrating!! I do what I do with the time I have, just like we all do.

I feel pretty lucky, regardless of time; and I still cherish it all. As much as I may need things to slow down, taking things at a calm pace allows me to appreciate those little things I think sometimes tend to get forgotten or taken for granted.

For those of us who have come to appreciate a cautious approach to life offer a unique ability for the serene. ~ Mark Koning #challengingbarriers

Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com

Courageous Chris

The heroes of brain injury are assembling for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll on October 1st!

As we prepare for Race Day, BIST has selected a special superhero squad of amazing heroes of brain injury we will feature on a weekly basis until the big day.

Meet Courageous Chris, son of Awesome Anne, and #2 in our Heroes of Brain Injury Series.

Be sure to collect all six heroes!

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Can you talk about how you acquired your brain injury?

Chris acquired his brain injury during a bike race – his first race ever – in 2010. He had just landed his dream job as head chef at a luxury hotel in Toronto, and had a five-year-old son, Jesse, at home. He and his mom, Anne, describe what happened:

Anne: His bike broke in two pieces. Christopher was lying on the ground. They didn’t have paramedics [at the race]. .. He was posturing. His feet were connected to the petals. He was still on the ground when his friends cycled past him.

Chris: My feet were hooked on to the half piece. Could you just imagine someone lying there, the first piece broken off? I have the frame still. I put all the pieces of that on to my rain bike. It’s only 15.5 lbs. and my broken frame is in my room behind my TV so I can’t look at it every day. It used to be on my balcony and I’d go out and look at it every day.

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Courageous Chris and Awesome Anne

How long have you been involved with BIST?

 I started going to the movies [this spring] because it’s away from home and that gave me the opportunity to go on a bus and get rid of my anxiety. 

Why do you participate in the BIST 5K?

I run everyday, and running with people will help [my] anxiety. I run everyday by myself no problem. But with a group, I have problems with groups.

[I’m running] to challenge myself. This is how I was going through cooking school to become a chef. It’s all about challenging yourself to see how far you can take it.

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Chris with his son Jesse

What does being a hero of brain injury mean to you?

I can accomplish. I can go forward.  Its all about going forward. It’s not slowing me down.

What are you looking forward to on Race Day?

I’m going to run as fast as I can and then [meet up with my mom] and walk the rest of it with [her].

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Join the Heroes of Brain Injury Squad – sign up for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll TODAY!

 

 

 

 

Awesome Anne

The heroes of brain injury are assembling for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll on October 1st!

As we prepare for Race Day, BIST has selected a special superhero squad of amazing heroes of brain injury we will feature on a weekly basis until the big day.

Meet Awesome Anne who is #1 in our Heroes of Brain Injury Series.

Be sure to collect all seven heroes!

1

How long have you been involved with BIST?

I signed [my son] Chris up about a year ago, and we started coming with BIST to the movies in May.

Why do you participate in the BIST 5K?

Just to support BIST. I’m doing the AIDS Walk too. 

What does being a hero of brain injury mean to you?

I think that it’s important for all family members to support someone who has had something happen to them of a traumatic nature. It’s the same way we supported our [other] son when he came home and said he was HIV positive. So many of his friends, their parents kicked them out and didn’t want anything to do with them. 

But I also push Christopher to step out into the world and do things on his own. He knows that if he needs help I’m there, but I’m still going to push him to do the things that he would like me to do.

And I’m confident in his ability to even go out with [his son] Jesse and go places.

What are you looking forward to on the day of the 5K?

Just going out and having fun!

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Join the Heroes of Brain Injury Squad – sign up for the BIST 5K Run, Walk and Roll TODAY!

Coming back to BIST’s peer support program

BY: MARK KONING

I recently went through a re-training session to once again become a mentor in BIST’s peer support program. It felt good, returning to a cause that is both helpful and important.

After a two-year stint as a peer mentor, I needed a break. Now, a year and a half later, I am stepping up to the plate again and returning to the program. It feels like the right thing to do,  I have things to offer from my experiences both as a survivor, and as a caregiver of a brain injury survivor. The partners I was matched with in the past were pretty awesome and I think things worked out beautifully.

BIST peer support program

So why did I leave? Why turn away from something I enjoyed and I knew was making a difference? Because I needed to take action for myself.

We often think of ‘taking action‘ as doing something to benefit others or society as a whole. But I think we often forget to take care of our physical and mental health.

I know this is a difficult thing for me to do. As a survivor, the ABI I carry around like a shadow often makes me forget about self care. At the same time, I am fairly certain it is also my brain injury and experiences from it that have given me this type of feeling of social responsibility. This social responsibility is something I have heard other survivors experience as well. It is probably why most mentors are survivors.

Experience has taught me a lot, and I continue to grow and understand as I move forward. I cannot be afraid to take action and step back, especially when I am doing something such as mentoring, which affects others.

Peer Support Program

The BIST peer support program is a great thing to be involved in, but I think taking a leave (from anything really) can benefit ourselves and whatever it is we are doing. In this case, I think it can only make the program stronger in the long run if partnerships remain successful.

‘Taking action’, both inwardly and outwardly, is something that always needs to be considered. Because even if at first glance it may seem as though we’re moving backward,  if we are really cognizant of what we are doing, we are always moving forward.

Do you feel like it’s the right time for YOU to become a peer mentor?
We have a training happening this spring – ABI survivors and family members welcome!

For more information, contact our programs and services coordinator, Kat Powell at: connections@bist.ca or 647-990-1485.


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com

 

The headache and heartache of romance

BY: MARK KONING

As Valentine’s Day approaches, love is (supposedly) in the air, but what does that mean to a brain injury survivor? Personally, I’m not a Cupid fan favourite. Are my feelings brain injury related? I don’t know.

heart that says 'stay single'
PHOTO: ANTI-VALENTINE’S DAY

The thought of recognizing a shared love with close family and friends basically sits well with me. But the celebration of romance? That just gives me a headache. I don’t have anything against the concept of a relationship between two people – whether it’s in a marriage or a ‘going steady’ deal – but the idea of personally entering into a romantic relationship with someone causes an intermittent cranial pain.

I find just the idea of cramming liaisons between two partners into one day overwhelming. I understand that romance is a blossoming thing that is not just about one calendar day, but still…

I’ve experienced a few relationships throughout my life which have resulted in happiness and heartache as tag-alongs. Some of these I’ve written about in my book, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path.

Nothing I’ve gone through has grown into a long, lasting, relationship. These experiences have, however, lead to feelings of discomfort. I’ve been faced with not knowing what to do or say, and seeing as how I’ve grown up not knowing what to do or say, the feeling scares me. I’ve had, and still have at times, difficulties understanding myself, so trying to understand the opposite sex can result in a spinning effect.

It has taken me some confusion, and heartache, to understand and feel comfortable with who I am. I don’t know if I am ready for anything else.

This ABI has presented so many difficulties, but I think, for me, has also offered so much clarity. I’ve learned to work hard and take things in stride, so perhaps my Valentine is still yet to come.


Mark’s passion to lend a helping hand, offer advice and give back has developed into a moral and social responsibility with the goal of sharing, inspiring and growing – for others as well as himself. His experience as a survivor, caregiver, mentor and writer has led to his credibility as an ABI Advocate and author of his life’s story, Challenging Barriers & Walking the Path. Follow him on Twitter @Mark_Koning or go to www.markkoning.com.

 

Part 2: Trying to treat an ABI-related sleep disorder

BY: DONALD NICOLSON

This is a follow-on from my On trying to treat an ABI-related sleep disorder post and deals specifically with my experience of chronotherapy, which takes its name from Cronus, the Greek God of time.

feet sticking out of bed
photo credit: Sockless ! via photopin (license)

These writings are not intended to replace your physician’s advice, because I am not a medical doctor. I am however a PhD, and spent a large part of my life researching the effectiveness of medical treatments. But that is not what I do here. (Consider this more of an experiential tale). One last disclaimer, the attempt I make at explaining the treatment is based on my own knowledge and opinions. It might be right or otherwise; but it’s ‘my take’.

As I explained in my previous blog, I have for long been suffering from Advanced Phase Sleep Disorder, where I fall asleep early at night, wake up ridiculously early in the morning, and get little restorative sleep in between. The bigger problem for me was that this resulted in me having sleep attacks during the day, which would have knock on effects for my quality of life and daily functioning. I explained in the blog how I had tried various drug combinations which had a short term effect but then wore off, and so left me back at square one.

It was decided as a (not quite) last roll of the dice, that I would try chronotherapy, taking the supplement melatonin. Melatonin is a hormone produced in the pineal gland, which acts as a signal to tell the brain to switch off for sleep. Light (artificial or natural) stops production and so stops the person from feeling sleepy during the day. Darkness leads to the production of melatonin, to tell the brain to prepare for sleep. Thus a melatonin supplement, which I take every night, acts on my brain to signal when to go to sleep. On the other hand, early morning sunlight would stop the production and release of it, and so my brain and body would wake up.

Bottle of melatonin
photo credit: 21.5 Zzzzz zzZzZ via photopin (license)

In Scotland (where I live) melatonin is only available by prescription, whereas in Canada it is available over the counter. More so melatonin is only available in slow release form in Scotland. That means in theory it will take longer to be absorbed, and so can have a longer lasting effect. To slow down its absorption, it is recommended to have something to eat before taking it. Some people might say that because melatonin is a naturally produced substance, the melatonin tablet is not a drug.

Chronotherapy is a new area of medicine based on the rationale that medicines work best when administered and metabolised at a particular time of the day. (This can be for any medicine). For myself it was thought the best time to go to bed would be at 2 a.m. after taking the melatonin supplement at midnight because the previous sleep assessment had found my waking time was somewhere around 2.30 a.m. The hope was that I would in effect recondition my body to learn to be asleep around the time it was accustomed to waking up. The eventual plan would be to move backwards in bed time one hour every two weeks, eventually to 11 p.m., thus dragging back my time of falling asleep to something more ‘normal’; while hopefully remaining asleep at the time I was accustomed to be awake.

man sleeping
photo credit: must sleep via photopin (license)

The first two weeks were hell because going to bed at 2 a.m. was a real challenge. Having been used to going to bed at 9.30 p.m. – 10 p.m., suddenly I was forcing myself to stay awake five hours longer. Some nights drinking an evening espresso and then settling down to my favourite DVDs helped. Others, I was falling asleep even before taking the melatonin, far less afterwards.

My new late night wake routine had some benefits. It introduced me to TV shows that I had never heard off, far less seen, that had been airing for years – here I am thinking Drifters and Toast of London.  I found that when I took the melatonin at the required time, I would often begin to have sleep attacks within 20 to 40 minutes, falling asleep three or more times. Staying awake until 2 a.m. was impossible (even when Man V. Food was on TV), and I was usually fast asleep by 1:45 a.m. On the only occasion that I did stay awake until 2 a.m., it was because my wife stayed up with me and refused to let me fall asleep early. Sleeping in until 8 a.m. was equally impossible, either because I was wide awake around 7 a.m., or woken by an alarm clock. My consultant, I’m sure with no insincerity, recommended that I expose myself to bright natural light for 45 minutes from wakening. Living in Scotland he should have realised that in autumn and winter, it is as rare as hens teeth to have such illuminating and restorative sunlight so early in the morning!

After the two weeks, I did my first reduction. I took the melatonin an hour earlier, went to bed at 1 a.m., and got up at 7 a.m. That then became my goal for a fixed wakening time. It was easier being able to stay awake until 1 a.m.; although I was still falling asleep around 20-40 minutes after taking the melatonin, so it was agreed that I could take the melatonin one hour before going to sleep. For me sleep or getting to sleep was never a problem. It was the staying asleep and waking at what might be seen as an ‘inappropriate’ hour that had been the problem. After initially promising results, I was again awake in my sleep, and waking up in the middle of the night. The sleep part I had long ago learned to live with. It was the sleep attacks that drove me to the GP.  Perversely the frequency of my sleep attacks increased when I began the chronotherapy, despite my sleep (seemingly) getting better. I suspected that I had developed tolerance to the melatonin at 2 mg and so it was increased to 4 mg. This can be increased to 8 mg if need be.

alarm clock
photo credit: Alarm via photopin (license)

I was told at the outset that chronotherapy might not resolve my sleep attacks problems. Based on nearly three months on the regime, I think that was a fair warning so far, because I experienced an increase in the frequency of sleep attacks at this time of year in comparison with previous years. The initial benefits to my sleep disappeared as I grew tolerant to the melatonin dose, which is understandable. Many people are put off or stop taking a medicine because of the side effects. Thankfully I have not had any apparent side effects to note. But that is not to say that that would be so for everyone.

Chronotherapy is a very precise treatment regime, based on taking the drug at a specific time every night diligently, and likewise for time going to bed and awakening. I was warned that I had to without fail adhere to the bedtime regime. I have stuck to it diligently, more often than not. But the ideal wakening time went out the window long ago. That was not an issue for me and I am quite practical about that. Mind you, I take pleasure in the few occasions that I do sleep until or after the allotted time. These are few and far between and must be treasured. To paraphrase Irene Cho; ‘I do find time to sleep. But I just find it difficult to do so’.

As I write, I have not had a sleep attack in over two weeks. That is equally something to be treasured. But it is not to say I am over them. I am only one quarter of the way into the chronotherapy, so there is a long way to go yet before I know IF it has worked.


Donald worked in academic research for 13 years and published over 30 research articles.  He is now a freelance writer and provides online academic support.