Irene Fischer

The Accident

I divide my life into two parts.

Before and after.

By the time I was 24 I had already finished a diploma in Television and Film Production; completed a degree in Journalism at the University of Pretoria and then also completed a Post-Graduate Certificate in Education (PGCE) at UP.

I felt invincible, untouchable and pretty clever, yet my life was merely a bunch of meandering years filled with enriching, educational experiences as well as tough challenges, joyous victories and heart-breaking failures.

I desperately longed for something meaningful to do with my life.

In 2009 I was 26 years old and it seemed that my life was finally getting proper direction when I started working as a radio personality at OFM in Bloemfontein. My life was beckoning with wonderful possibilities in the entertainment industry.

I felt like I could conquer anything life threw at me.
Life took me up on the challenge.

In the OFM studio in 2009

I was on my way to work to go read the latest traffic news on the breakfast show when a truck carrying 25 ton of maize skipped a red traffic light and slammed into my car.

To put that into perspective, the average elephant weighs approximately six ton. 6000 kg. So basically there were four elephants on the back of the truck. How cool is it that I survived the miniature stampede of elephants?

My car was not that lucky, though.

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The wreck of my car

My body took quite a harsh beating that I will go into ever so briefly, not to invoke feelings of sympathy but mainly to serve as the basis to later show you that the human body has a flabbergasting ability to heal and a remarkable way to adapt in order for one to find one’s balance again.

Right, here goes.
My liver and milt tore.
One of my ribs penetrated my right lung.
My right shoulder and collarbone were broken.
My pelvis fractured, as well as my skull.

I was rushed to Medi-Clinic in Bloemfontein with serious brain and chest injuries.

There my heart stopped twice.

I know what you are probably wondering and no, my life did not flash before my eyes. I did not see a blinding white light. I was not suddenly filled with this soothing feeling of “knowingness”.

My life is not a Hollywood movie.

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In hospital, barely conscious

I was diagnosed with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) and my parents were told that I might survive for only 72 hours. But here I am, years later, talking to you.

Due to the extent of the TBI I suffered, I sustained unescapable damage to my brain. Brain damage.  After the accident such heavy words became part of my vocabulary and for a long time it would define the way I saw myself.

See, I use to think that everyone who suffered brain damage was immediately robbed of their IQ and instantly stripped of all logic. I thought this then unavoidably changed their personality to a large extend and that their behaviour became suddenly explosive, impulsive and irrational.

Now I hang my head in shame for harbouring such appalling assumptions.

Though this is indeed the most common consequences of a brain injury, the damage to my brain mainly affected me physically. It left me permanently disabled – as a hemiplegic with a speech impediment.

Hemiplegia occurs when the brain gets severely injured, be it by a traumatic brain injury sustained in a car crash or during a vicious, physical assault; a stroke or an aneurysm.

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As a hemiplegic I experienced paralyses on the right side of my body immediately after the accident

During the three months I spend in hospital, I had to relearn how to talk, eat and swallow. Imagine if you suddenly had to relearn how to eat, talk and walk at the age of 26. Quite a reality check that put things quickly into perspective. Makes you grow up fast. Made me realize how much I took for granted.

When I was finally out of harm’s way, I was send to Pasteur Rehabilitation Centre (also situated in Bloemfontein), because I had to relearn how to walk.

A lot of people assumed that I am dumb just because I walk and talk differently than the average person and I experienced plenty of unkindness and impatience. I decided to do something about it.

I started to give inspirational talks in English and Afrikaans, and I wrote a nonfiction memoir to try and shed some light on the often dark topic of brain injury and the numerous life changing disabilities it can lead to.

I also wrote a book to teach people how to treat me. I have a heart, toenails, a bellybutton, nose hair and a bladder – just like you – because I remain a human being. All I am asking is a smile. Look me in the eyes and smile. I would appreciate that little bit of acknowledgement. I think any person deserves that common courtesy whether they are disabled or not.

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Some of my personal heroes during my stay in Pasteur