No one knows what really happened to me on Friday, March 11, 2005. I remember nothing of the incident, and no one happened to be looking my way when it happened. One minute, I was calmly checking to see if my new Abetta saddle fit my mustang, Cobey. The next minute found me hurled headfirst into a steel pole.
Three skull fractures, a fractured hip, a bruised lung and what is known as a ‘traumatic brain injury’ landed me in the intensive critical unit of Western Medical Center in Santa Ana. There, I was in an induced coma for five days. Shortly after waking, I was transported to Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit in Valencia, where I would begin to relearn how to do things I had taken for granted my entire life: how to read, tell time and brush my teeth.
While I have no memories of being a patient in Western Medical Center, I have some of being a patient at Henry Mayo Newhall Memorial Hospital. Almost all of them exemplify what being a member of Delta Delta Delta here at UC Irvine means. As soon as they heard what had happened, each of my Tri Delta sisters wrote me a letter of encouragement.
My sister Michelle Culliton, a fourth-year psychology and social behavior and criminology law and society double major, brought me these letters during one of her frequent visits. At this point, I had been in so much pain that I adamantly refused to read, watch TV or do anything to strain my troubled vision. Though it seems a small expression just to write a letter, they carried the magic of what it means to truly be in a Greek family. Even though they could not be with me, I immediately knew each and every one of my sisters was pulling for my recovery. The very next day, my recovery process took an amazing turn for the better. It is incredible what a bit of encouragement from those most important to you can achieve.
Finally, I graduated to a six-month period of intensive cognitive rehabilitation at the Centre for Neuro Skills in Encino, or as I lovingly called it, ‘boot camp.’ Each day was harder than the next, and there were countless times I felt like giving up.
My sister, Sara Griffin, now a UCI alumna, called often for updates. ‘You sound so much better!’ she would exclaim every time I answered the phone. Hearing my sisters’ genuine happiness at my progress gave me the strength to push a little harder during those times when I felt I would never fully recover.
When I finally returned to UCI in September 2005, I knew I was coming back to a world completely different from the one I left. Many of my sisters had graduated, and I would have to come back and meet new ones. Moreover, I was different. I still had many cognitive problems that go along with having a traumatic brain injury.
I should not have worried. My fear of meeting a whole new pledge class was completely unfounded: they have upheld our Tri Delta tradition of love and support. In fact, everywhere I turned, there were girls devoted to helping me reintegrate into life.
I came back to a world full of understanding and encouragement. Andi Hoeven, a fourth-year criminology law and society major, was instrumental in making my first quarter back bearable. She took notes for me when I missed classes due to migraines, gave me advice on projects and let me cry on her shoulder when I felt that school had become impossible.
While the ‘big things’ like helping me study helped me to pass my first quarter back, the ‘little things’ my sisters did made me feel like a person again. Finding countless e-mails in my inbox after a particularly grueling lecture brought the sunshine back into my day. I will never forget third-year drama major Janine Ferrero’s wide eyes and even wider smile when she saw me for the first time since the accident. All of my worries and physical pain left me as Janine’s face began to shine. Even now, a few months after being back, I still remember that smile.
My memory continues to brighten the toughest of times. Something as simple as a sister’s smile can make all the difference in the world.
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