When Harriet Fowler woke up in a hospital bed in the winter of 2007, she felt as though she was still dreaming. Her muscles felt weak, her throat was parched and she was soon told she had lost months of her young life.
“I thought I was in a spaceship,” Fowler told Peace Arch News. “I was confused at first. I couldn’t move, I had no muscle, I was basically a lump… I honestly thought I was having a bad dream and I was going to wake up in my own bed and pyjamas.”
It’s been seven years since Fowler, now 25, was in a horrific car crash in New Westminster.
The Elgin Park graduate, who is currently looking to publish her memoir, You are my Sunshine: The journey though my recovery of a traumatic brain injury, was driving with her brother and her mother when a dump truck T-boned their car. Fowler was sitting in the rear passenger seat.
“I hit my head on the window, and the window behind my mom had closed up so much, it was right beside me,” Fowler recalled. “I became non-responsive with my eyes half-open, because I have visual memory of it.
“My brother was in shock and my mom’s head broke the glass. So she was stuck with her head embedded in the glass of her window.
“That was her saving grace, though, because my brain, the white and gray matter, sheared against each other, so that’s how my (brain) injury created itself.”
Fowler was rushed to Royal Columbian Hospital, where she underwent neurosurgery. The then-18-year-old was put into a drug-induced coma for a week, but stayed asleep long after.
Waking up 3½ months later, the cerebellum was most affected.
“I had to reteach my self to do everything – from blinking, to eating, to swallowing, to talking, to walking,” Fowler recalled.
With the support of her parents, Dawn and Simon Potts, her brother, Joseph Fowler, and longtime boyfriend, Tyler Ronaghan, the former ballerina began to rebuild her life.
“They’re just all amazing people. I think some inner personal strength, as well,” she said. “When you’re stuck with ‘be a vegetable for the rest of your life or get out of bed and do something,’ you get out of bed and do something.”
The South Surrey resident was encouraged by her mother to write her thoughts down – a difficult task at first, as she was only able to use the index finger on her left hand and she couldn’t keep her energy level up.
That changed, however, when Fowler went to visit a friend at Royal Columbian Hospital.
Her mother suggested she return to the unit where she was in a coma, to visit the caregivers.
“I said that I wasn’t going to remember anyone, but she said, ‘they’ll remember you and they’ll be happy to see you,’” Fowler said, noting that the last time she was seen by the hospital staff, she was in a coma. “Now, I was walking with a walker, and all of a sudden, all these faces looked up at me and said, ‘wow.’”
A young boy, in his teens, was sleeping in the bed Fowler had occupied. A nurse introduced Fowler to the boy’s father, who was looking over him “with a look of hell on his face.”
“The nurse turned to him and said, ‘she was in this bed,’” Fowler said. “He said, ‘what? Five years ago?’ And the nurse told him it hadn’t even been a year.
“He was shocked.”
The father immediately called his wife and told her about his experience meeting Fowler.
“The look on his face was so touching. I knew then I had to make my writings into a book. Because if I can add that much positivity to someone from just seeing me, imagine what I could do if I wrote about it,” she said.
“You’re told all these bad things. Doctors always tell you the worst, but the thing you have to remember is to not give up, no matter what doctors tell you.”
For more of Fowler’s story, visit www.harrietrose.org