The Skye’s The Limit
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The Skye’s The Limit- one girl’s story of having Traumatic Brain Injury and epilepsy in her 20′s is an amazing journey of Skye MacQueen’s life, as told by the author, starting with the moment when it changed completely. Left comatose and with a traumatically injured brain after a terrible car accident, the 20-year-old MacQueen began the agonizing journey of rediscovering her life, her memory, who she was and—more importantly—who was the woman she was becoming. Told with a riveting and brutally honest journalistic approach, Skye bares her soul and deepest secrets for the reader, in the hopes that her story will help and inspire others who suffer from TBI.
“In the opinion of this reviewer, this volume should be on the assigned reading list of all graduate students in psychology – both, those wishing to become psychotherapists and those wishing to specialize in the field of neuropsychology… this book should also be on the shelf of the reference books of neurorehabilitation professionals.”
Yehuda Ben-Yishay, Ph.D.
Professor of Clinical Rehabilitation Medicine,
NYU School of Medicine
Founder and Director of the NYU Rusk Institute
Brain Injury Day Treatment Program
“Her journal entries reflect the uncertainty and ambivalence experienced as she relearns how best to be the individual she wants to become as she ‘recovers’ from her neurological injuries. She offers a first person account of her successes, failures, strategies and supports while generously offering these for others’ use when addressing the chronic needs after TBI. And yet, in a broader perspective, she has written a universal allegory relevant to all of us, injured or not, as we develop and mature in our search for self, love and acceptance.”
Gregory O’Shanick, MD
Center for Neurorehabilitation Services, PC
Chairman, Board of Directors,
Medical Director Emeritus
Brain Injury Association of America
“This is a book of courage, day-to-day hard fought courage. This is a book of strength that shows the reader how to ‘Skye above’ even the worst setbacks. Lastly, this is a book of love, personal love, family love, and love for everything right about the world. Ms. MacQueens’s journalistic style of writing is filled with captivating anecdotes that shows the progressive exploration of one’s self that many survivors of brain injury experience. Heart breaking at times as this book is to read, it is also full of hope for the next day.”
Ronald C. Savage, Ed.D.
President, North American Brain Injury Society
From the Author
I don’t and never really wanted to be viewed as a ‘survivor’ of a ‘Severe Traumatic Brain Injury’. I tried to de-label myself over time. It’s complicated. Things happen in your life. Sometimes physical damage can lead to other issues, depending on various factors of the initial damage. How everything in your life is dealt with by you, by others, the information that you or others consider when caring for your brain and body as well as other decisions, make up your thinking. You have to pick and choose what are the most important issues to think about, when you’re first putting your brain back together.
Science used to say 10 years for the most recovery to happen after a TBI. This book is primarily made of excerpts from my journals after October 8, 2000. The book spans over an 11-year period.
I moved often and I traveled often. I am the Family Liaison to the North American Brain Injury Society. I have a non profit Foundation called Skye’s the Limit Foundation. The reason for the same name is that I wanted people who have memory issues from their brain injuries, to simply remember the name.
I traveled around the world going to conferences and hospitals, speaking with the most intelligent people I have ever known. I was in search of a way to heal the brain. The age group most impacted is 15-24. This is when the majority of the data says that the majority of the injuries occur. Of course this is the age of the impact, issues last much longer. My point is, that I was trying to find a way that I could do the most good with the information that I had. The end result is I wrote this book.
Born: May 26, 1981
Car Wreck: October 8, 2000
I can tell you a story. Most of it will be true. I’ve been told of the day so many times, I know it. It could almost be a memory, but the truth is, I’m just repeating a story that’s about me.
This is how I imagine it:
Geof and I had left college for the weekend to visit my dad in Gulf Breeze, Florida. It was October, my favorite time in the panhandle of Florida. The humidity and heat were not as intense, and there was a breeze that felt nice. I showed Geof my hometown that weekend; he had been there before, but this time was different. We were so in love.
The weekend came and went. At a bar, where my friend’s band played, Geof won a guitar. I imagine that I was excited; he needed one and I loved it when he’d play. I know Geof beat my dad at ping-pong. I know that I saw my little cousins and I was proud of them. Meredith was five then.
It was time for us to leave my dad. I worried about my dad a lot; I suppose all daughters do.
We sat in my Nissan Pathfinder in the driveway. Geof was going to drive so that I could study. My dad became teary, like he always does when he says good-bye to me. He kissed my cheek, held my face and said, “I love you.” I smiled and said, “I love you, too, Dad.” Geof was used to me being emotional, but he didn’t expect it from my father.
Geof was driving and I was looking at pictures of us and our group at college. We were driving east on I-10, going back to the life we knew together at college in St. Augustine. I was trying not to study and Geof was fine with that. His hand was on my leg. G. Love or Ben Harper was playing on the stereo. I’m guessing it was G. Love because I was probably nostalgic looking at pictures, but G. Love’s tone made me hyper. I pointed out something on a picture. “Remember that? That was such a crazy night.” Geof looked when he could at a picture.
We were going 75 to 80 mph. We were happy, as usual. Geof looked away from the road and then looked back and he was very close to the truck in front. He swerved. He swerved again. He lost control of the car. The car flipped three times. I was told that my head hit the ground. I was thrown 130 feet out of the car, 180 feet in all.
When the car settled, Geof looked over to me to see if I was okay, but I wasn’t there. He got out of the car and saw that other people had stopped to help.
He found me with my eyes rolled back in my head and convulsing in the bushes. An ambulance came. I was unconscious.
I found the EMT’s report 10/11:
Jackson County Fire Rescue (beyond words, thank you)
Location: (HWY) to 1st Hospital
Breathing: walls, sounds
Circulation: radial, carotid
Glasgow Coma Scale
Eyes – none
Verbal – none
Motor – none
Total = 03
Did my heart ever stop? There was a time where it could have happened. I suppose it doesn’t matter.
Geof stayed with unconscious me the whole time, from the first hospital to the next. My family’s friend was a neurosurgeon at UAB in Birmingham, Alabama, so that is where I received the majority of my care. The evaluation showed:
• a broken pelvis, on the left and right sides
• two cracked ribs on the right side
• a collapsed lung, right side
• broken clavicle, right side
• two fractured vertebra
• closed severe TBI (Traumatic Brain Injury)
• Glasgow Coma Scale: 6
Later, more things would be found, but this was the first and the worst of the evaluations. I would later learn that a broken bone just gives you time in life, time to catch up on the life that you’ve been living. It’s the damage to the nerves that steal from you.
What Are limitations?
Journal entry: 1-12-10 New York, Columbia Hospital
I didn’t feel right being there, but I wasn’t myself again.
I was in the social worker’s office. I had a confusing situation that led to a lot of places. “So you’re coming to terms with your limitations,” she said.
I was thinking she was Russian, not because of what she was saying, of course, but how she said it.
“Maybe, yes, I am,” I said. I often agree or disagree with things without thinking about them much. Sometimes, this hurts me.
Just like being named the worst speller in the 6th grade.
It felt like an answer for a bit, but still, it made me feel very confused. My epileptologist (epilepsy doctor) sent me to the social worker, who was now going to send me to a psychiatrist.
I had limitations, and I was unhappy.
I was 28 and had just moved back to New York City. I had a severe Traumatic Brain Injury with epilepsy. My seizures were acting up so I couldn’t remember very well. I had a non-profit foundation. I was a board member of a surfboard company. I was the family liaison to the North American Brain Injury Association. I was president of Clear Skye Productions and I was writing a book.
Now I just found out that I had limitations!
I felt terrible.
How dare she say that to me or to ANYONE!
She didn’t know me. She didn’t know every person with a severe Traumatic Brain Injury. She knew what she knew from her experience with social work.
I was Skye MacQueen. My dad was an international businessman who taught me the ways of the world. He was a pilot and I was his Amelia Earhart. She was the first woman to fly across the Atlantic Ocean in 1932, and she had crashes, but they didn’t stop her. I believe a crash for her was her own inspiration to perfect what she was doing, in her own way. Amelia attempted a flight around the world and on the last leg, communication was lost. There are all kinds of theories about what happened and if she survived. No matter what, I believe Amelia Earhart was a strong adventurer. I imagine her living secretly on an island telling children about her adventures and teaching survival skills.
I take my morning, noon, and night medicine and fight seizures with an electromagnetic device in my chest.
I love the young and the old.
I have no limitations.
I’m not kidding, I don’t. Neither do you.
I know that I can’t skip my medicine for a day and jump out of a plane. But I can still take my medicine and go flying. I need to take my medicine every day and eat at the right times so I don’t have a seizure. I could probably build my endurance and jump out of a plane with another person attached to me and be fine. I know the brain is complicated, I’m the first to admit that, but you have to start with a grain of sand to build a sand castle.
There are so many with brain injuries who are told they have limitations.
This is not fair. You have to keep trying, keep pushing. It may take extra time or special glasses or a cane or a wheelchair. Just keep that brain working.
I’m not saying that I live the perfect life, but I don’t believe I’m disabled or that I have limitations. I actually live a pretty normal life, with more doctors than most, and I get sick sometimes.
It all started when I was 19, attending a small college in Florida. This is when the big change happened. What followed were so many changes. That’s life though; it’s your own life. If your brain is damaged, it’s ”your” brain. There are people, family, friends, doctors, and caregivers around who may or may not make an impact on your brain. Always remember that it is your brain if you are 18 years old and older, unless the responsibility has been taken away from you legally. Always remember when making difficult decisions, it is good to talk to someone you truly trust. That’s how I’ve done it.
Right now, I’m back in New York, like I said. I’ve moved a lot. More than I’d ever recommend to any person, with or without a severe TBI. I have so many projects with which I keep getting involved. I am not the most stable person, and I’m hard on people, including myself.
I ask myself why I’m giving advice to people. It’s a big responsibility that many take too lightly.
There is this. I’m 28, I’m a dual citizen of Canada and the U.S. I went to high school in the Holy Land. I was a teenager with the embassy kids. I rode a Bahai bus for three hours to high school, from Haifa to Herzliya. When I returned to the States, I went to a liberal arts school in one large, old room. I graduated from a typical high school. Normalcy before I went to college.
I went to a small private college on the beach in Florida. My high school boyfriend and I went our separate ways; for two years, Justin and I were in love. The split from Justin was one of the most difficult things in my life; I didn’t feel it. When difficult things arose, I had an invisible choice: either I just didn’t feel something, or I felt it too much.
College was intense, in all directions. I loved it. We would study hard and party harder. The professors were great. The friends, my friends, were amazing. I had always been close with guys throughout my life. I remember that it started with
Shannon; he and I were in art history class together. I think we were the youngest in the class so we sat together. One night we decided to go out together, as friends, and try this bar called The Giggling Gator. We knew we had found a home. It was the beginning…
It was Florida’s version of fall. We had a beautiful campus. I was getting out of psychology and planning on going to my dorm room. I had to have a snack. I really wanted one of my granola bars from my room. I walked the way that passed all the older students, right in front of the main hall. It’s not like I had a huge selection of paths to take; it was a small private school. I watched them as I walked by; there were so many people who were relaxing, sitting on benches. I smiled and thought, “That will be me soon enough.”
Just then, Geof popped up. I knew him, but not well. He was on the soccer team and I would go watch the games with my roommate and her sister because her boyfriend was on the team. There were other reasons, too. One, I loved soccer. Two, that’s what college was—you got out and did things with your roommate to make more friends. If someone would have asked me about him then, what I thought about him, I would have said, “I think he’s a bit cocky.” Truth is, I hadn’t thought much about guys because I was with Justin. Now, now I wasn’t with Justin.
Geof was in front of me. I’ve never been what you call smooth with guys. I didn’t really know this guy. I guess he was cute, really cute, but I didn’t have much time to think about that.
“Skye, so I hear you’re good at math. I have a big test that I need help on.”
I thought, do I seriously have a reputation for being good at math? I mean I love the idea of being good. Yes, yes, I am good at math. I’m feeling a little weird about this.
“Sure, I’ll help you.”
“How about outside the library at 5?” he asked.
“Okay, that’s great. Make sure to bring your book and notes.”
Yes, I’m very smooth and on top of things. As I walked away, I started to feel very weird. Justin and I had just split up. I didn’t even know what kind of math he was talking about. I’m not even taking any math this semester. Wait, is he smiling at my roommate’s sister?
The time came, it was 5:00, and I was waiting. A few minutes passed and he walked up with some daisies he had picked. It was cheesy, but it got to me.
“So, are you ready to study some math?” I asked like I was some kind of professional tutor. I still wasn’t sure what he wanted, but all I knew was we were going to study math!
We picked a place in the library. We talked about where the other was from and how we liked school. We talked about the friends that we’d made. We talked for hours without opening that book.
“Do you want to go to the bar?” he asked.
The Giggling Gator held so much. It was where love started and ended. Secrets were told and kept. It was where friendships made you cry, mostly for the good, but at times, for the bad. It was where trust started. It was where we grew, all of us.
Time passed and Geof and I were sophomores in love. We were all living on the beach in different houses and going to college. Geof lived on A Street with Brent, Jeff, Jonathan and Eddie. I lived on 13th street with Laura and Jessica. There were so many others, but we’ll start here. We were so happy. We were 19.
Geof writing in my journal:
October 11, 2000
“I know how you never wanted me to read your diaries, but I just had to get something, I had to hear or read something you thought.
We just went through the scariest thing in our lives, God, I wish I could just talk to you; you know how bad a writer I am so please bear with me. I’m just trying to get every thought and emotion racing through my head on to paper. Why am I not with you right now? Why am I such a coward that I came back to school?. The doctors have told me that they gave you medication that will make you forget that anything happened. Which is great; I want nothing more than for this to never have happened. God, I love you so much! And I’m so sorry… So sorry. I’m starting to cry again. Okay, now I have all my thoughts together… maybe. (Deep Breath)
Okay, I’m just going to tell you the past days’ events.
Skye, we had a great weekend at your house in Pensacola. We hung out with your dad, we went to the Handle Bar to see your friend’s band. Remember, I won a guitar? We spent the day at Sea Side picking out our future home for us to live in when we get married (you know how dangerous I feel it is for me to say that, yet I said it). God, I’m ready to start caring and loving you the way you deserved to be loved.
You are the greatest thing to ever happen to me… Ever. And I care about you more than anything in the world. I’m just sorry I had to finally realize this through such a tragic event. Anyway, back to the build-up. We took great pictures at Sea Side, ate lunch together and I was so happy just being with you, sharing our company together. … Sorry for the pause, but I just answered your door and it was flowers from Laura’s parents to Laura, Jess and me.”
He wrote this, of course, after the wreck.
Skye MacQueen believes that you are never done growing. She spent the beginnings of her life in the panhandle of Florida. Skye moved with her parents to Israel when she was a teenager. She traveled a lot before and after her Traumatic Brain Injury which happened in college. Skye believes that her travels have helped her to understand life. Skye has worked with the North American Brain Injury Society since it began and is now the Family Liaison. She is on the board of Aviso Surf Boards. Skye has worked on several films, and enjoys the entertainment industry. Some of the most satisfying work that Skye does is her non-profit, 501c3 Skye’s the Limit Foundation. www.skyes-the-limit.org