There was nowhere to go. No route for escape.
So Elizabeth Penny clenched the steering wheel, watched the speeding car grow in her rear view, and steadied herself for a crash.
Shortly after, she climbed seemingly unscathed from the wreckage and went home, unaware she had suffered a concussion that would drastically alter the rest of her life.
Seven years following that rear-end collision, Penny, 62, is still plagued with debilitating symptoms including migraines and memory loss. But she can’t forget the terrifying moment before impact.
“Nothing I could do,” said Penny, who has written a book about her struggles. “I was stopped because someone had stopped in front of me to go into a farmer’s field.”
“I looked in my rearview mirror and I could see the person coming straight at me. I braced myself. It was just all of a sudden and I blacked out.”
Penny details her long recovery in the new book, Post Concussion Brain Empowerment — The Voyage to Happier Living, in the hope of helping others facing similar struggles. The book is laid out with specialized font and extra white space so it’s easier to read for people with acquired brain injuries.
But she also donated her time writing it as a fundraiser for the Brain Injury Association of Windsor and Essex County, which has been “instrumental” in her ongoing recovery.
The book covers different types of brain injuries and the symptoms, the obstacles they create and how Penny overcame hers.
“It’s like you’re being tossed in another world,” said Penny, now an association board member. “Everything seems so strange. It’s like an out-of-body experience. I explain in the book that you have to be the captain of your mind.
“Your mind gets kind of extorted after you go through this because you’ve lost connection with your neurons. So you have to rebuild some of the pathways and some of the habits that you previously had in order to do things. They’ve got to be all relearned again.”
The crash occurred on a two-lane highway in the Durham region in 2014, the year before she moved to Windsor. Her car was at a dead stop. The vehicle that rear-ended her was going about 80 km/h, she said.
Penny was strapped in, but her head flipped forward and snapped back, slamming against the headrest.
She didn’t have a scratch afterwards, though, so she called her husband to pick her up at the scene of the crash.
“I didn’t think there was anything wrong with me when I had the accident because I was able to walk and talk,” said Penny.
Later that day, after seeing spots and starting to feel unwell, she ended up in an emergency department. Scans revealed neck injuries, a frozen shoulder and a concussion.
The symptoms crept in over time, starting with headaches like someone was tightening “giant clamps” around her head.
“A week or two weeks later I started getting worse,” she said. “I couldn’t walk. I lost my balance. It really started to decline cognitively.”
Most of the symptoms persist to this day, including sensitivity to daylight, speech problems, constant fatigue and hyperacusis, an abnormal and painful sensitivity to noise.
“It’s frustrating because you’ve lost a lot of your abilities you used to have, but your mind still thinks that you have it,” said Penny. “If you push yourself too hard, you burn out all your energy. It’s like a battery.”
Despite that, she keeps pushing forward every day. Not even lingering cognitive issues including memory loss could stop her from writing a book.
“Over time, what happens is there’s a mixture of medications and treatments, then you develop what really works,” said Penny. “It’s trial and error. Now I’ve got the right mix of medication, treatment, so I can develop that baseline so I can be functional on a daily basis.”
Post Concussion Brain Empowerment — The Voyage to Happier Living is available for $19.95 at amazon.ca or by calling the Brain Injury Association of Windsor and Essex County at 519-981-1329.