Marc Dunbar’s Story

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First, it’s difficult to know where to begin.

April 16, 1981

There were 5 of us and we had driven from Ft. Myers, Florida to Orlando, Florida, with plans to spend the next day at Disney World. After spending at least 16, perhaps 18, hours at Disney World, and in the hot Florida sun, we decided it was time to head home.  My mother and her husband were in one car and my older brother, his wife (then fiance’), and I, were in the other car.  I was in the back seat and on the passenger side. We were just a few miles from home when the driver, my brother, fell asleep and we ran head-on into a tree, going approximately 53 MPH(according to the police report). In 1981 it was common for folks to not wear any seat belts, and that was the case with the 3 of us.  My brother was knocked out for the night, sprang his upper nose bone, and has a permanent scar on his right wrist where he put his wrist through the air conditioner vent.  His fiance’ was nearly pinned under the dash.  The car was a 4-door Chevrolet MalibuI had been sleeping up against the back door window.  When we hit the tree I slid right up the window and my head hit the metal frame around the window, causing the bone in my right frontal lobe to break and lodge into my brain.  At some point, the bone fell back out again, yet still attached to something(ligaments perhaps).  My brain was visible and now damaged.  The impact was so hard that it also stretched the optic nerve in my right eye, and enough to cause permanent and total blindness.

Behind us was a car with two gentlemen inside, and they stopped to help. Sometime after that, the ambulances arrived.  My brother rode inside one Pat and I rode in the other, as she was the only one I would respond to.  Somewhere along the way to the hospital I wasn’t happy with something and hit one of the paramedics.  To this day it embarrasses me to think of that, as I don’t hit anyone and am not a violent person at all.  I have no memory of any of this.  In my memory, I recall getting into the back seat and woke up a week later, after coming out of a coma, in the hospital.

While I was in a coma I underwent a craniotomy (brain surgery) to save my life.  The surgery was successful.  I now have a sponge-like material in my head taking up space where part of my right frontal lobe had to be removed. Prior to this, I had never had a broken bone before, nor any stitches.  So, now the only bone I’ve ever broken is my skull, and it took 200 stitches to close me up during surgery.  My right eyebrow had to be reconstructed as well.

I was in the hospital for two weeks, and out of work for an additional 12 weeks. During the 12 weeks I was out of work and still seeing both surgeons, my brother chose me as his “best man” at the wedding.  The ceremony was a very nice one and with lots of people.  I felt different though, and that’s hard to explain.  Wasn’t necessarily happy, and/or happy for my brother and his new bride.  Sort of felt like I simply existed, and lost, with no goals or any idea what to do.

I was told my right eye would forever be totally blind and that it would result in a complete lack of any depth perception, as well as limited peripheral vision.  The loss of my right eye was a tough one to swallow, as I would no longer be able to play tennis.  Tennis was, and still is, my favorite sport.  I had been playing tennis for about 2-3 hours nearly every day, prior to the accident.  Was also taking tennis classes in college.  A dear friend and classmate of mine was kind enough to spend some time on the tennis court after I was given the ok from my doctors to play.  Sadly, I could no longer play the game.

My doctors had told my mother that any rehab would not be necessary.  Of course, now we know better, after all the advancements in the area of traumatic brain injury.  Because of this I just had to continue with living my life.  The following August I chose to go back into surgery and have a plastic plate put in to cover and protect the new hole in my forehead.  The procedure was quick..  I spent a week in the hospital and the entire time, day and night, I had the worst headache.  Mentioned it to the nurses and my doctor/surgeon and all they would give me was extra-strength Tylenol.  The Tylenol did not help at all.  Ever since that time I’ve experienced very painful headaches every day.  Also, over nearly 40 years now, I have discussed the headaches with many different doctors and in 5 different states. The best I can do is a medicine that I now take, and all it will do is help keep the pain from worsening.  Typically, the pain will start in the morning and progressively get worse as the day progresses.  The medication is one to be careful of taking too much of, as it can and will, in my case, result in what it referred to as rebound headaches.  Basically, the medicine relieves the pain a little, and once the medicine wears off the pain returns with a vengeance.  Rebound headaches and also brain freeze (go figure) is about the worst pain I’ve ever felt or had to deal with in my life.  It’s called Fioricet #3, There is a generic, for those who may not already be aware.

Several weeks later I came to a decision to move back to Boise, Idaho, where I spent most of my growing up years. The effects of my brain injury were completely unknown to me.  At the time I didn’t have a car or many possessions, and when the time came I packed up suitcases and flew back to Boise.  Sadly, it never even occurred to me until months later, I never discussed the move with my girlfriend and didn’t even say goodbye.  It just didn’t come to mind to do either, much to my regret.

While living with my dad and step-mother I enrolled at Boise State University and moved into one of the dorms at the university.  Tried taking a full load of classes, only to find it was going to be too much.  It was necessary for me to work and the best job I could find was working from midnight to 8am at a bank and in their data center.  Note: I would recommend survivors of traumatic brain injury to NEVER try working the graveyard shift.  It just isn’t worth it. Because of working all night, and dealing with and learning about the brain injury, I wasn’t doing well at all in my classes.  So, I ended up having to drop all my classes but one, and flunked that one.  Found I was no longer able to remember what I tried to read.  At the same time I had to also move into a studio apartment.  The requirements of living in the dorm was to maintain a full time class schedule.  Thankfully, my dad helped me find a studio apartment just 2 blocks from the bank I worked at.  That helped a lot since I had no car.  Everywhere I wanted to go I rode my bicycle to get there.  Even in the snow, to get to the laundromat and back, and to/from the grocery store.  It was about  4 miles round trip to each.  I did manage to get pretty good at folding clothes, and hauling them back and forth in a military type duffle bag that also had backpack straps on it.

I began looking for work back in Boise, as that’s where I wanted to live. Regardless of the laws regarding health status, I was forthright about my TBI and made sure the hiring supervisor and her boss both were aware.  I was offered the job. It paid a little less than what I was making but was enough for me to live on, and I accepted the offer. My girlfriend at this time was aware of my job search, as I did tell her and let her know why.  I don’t think I said goodbye, again, before leaving.  She made it clear she didn’t have any intention of moving.  The drive was very taxing, and probably not something I would recommend survivors of TBI consider doing alone.

Once in Boise, at my dad’s place.  It took a bit of time and looking but I did find a nice 1 bedroom apartment.  About that time I began dating someone named Addie. After about 10 months of dating, Addie and I began having trouble with our relationship and neither of us could figure out why.  One evening I was up visiting my dad and step-mother, as the next morning they were moving to Portland.  I drove back to my apartment and found Addie had taken her own life (gunshot to the head). Again, I had a terrible lost feeling.  It was 3 years before I even considered dating again. A few days later I moved out of that apartment and into a different one. It’s now almost 30 years later, and if I were an artist I could paint what I saw and with a remarkable degree of detail.

Some years later my friend Dwayne married and I was his “best man”.  A year or two after that my friend Doug married and I was also his “best man”.  Both ceremonies, in my memory, are pretty much a blur.  Since the weddings, I’ve done what I can do to help both couples through some tough or challenging times.  Have always felt that’s my duty after having been chosen as their “best man”.

A short time after that I got caught up in a corporate layoff at Ore-Ida Foods.  Spent two weeks working 18 to 20 hours each day looking for work. Then realized I was going to collapse if I didn’t slow down. Unemployment checks were enough for me to pay all my bills and survive.  So, I ended up getting into sort of a routine, week to week, looking for work. My dad, now in Portland, had been watching for anything there too. After a lot of searching, I found an open position in the IT department at Fred Meyer.  It was at their technical help desk.  I interviewed and accepted an offer.  Had a lot to learn again but it seemed a little easier.  After the layoff at Ore-Ida Foods I wasn’t forthcoming about my TBI from that point on.  However, most were able to figure it out.  Especially since I have at least one scar on my forehead that I cannot hide, nor do I try.  I worked at Fred Meyer for about 23 1/2 years.  Each year would become more difficult than the previous year.  I had some very good supervisors and at least one not so good supervisor.

It was at Fred Meyer, and in the department I worked in, where I met my wife.  Her name is Doddie, and we hit it off pretty much right away.  We dated for many months before I proposed.  I think the wedding went without a hitch.  Well, as far as I can remember.  We honeymooned on the San Juan Islands off the Washington coast.  We have been married now for roughly 24 1/2 years.  I was 36 years old at the time of our wedding, and Doddie was 32.  Being married requires a lot of work and tons of patience.  This is especially true for survivors of TBI.  At least it is for me.  Roughly 4 years after getting married Doddie and I bought our first house.  Our only child, Jayme, arrived about a year later.  The birth is something I’ll not ever forget.  Jayme was born with a very healthy set of lungs and voice box.  The screaming was almost more than I could take, as the pain in my head shot up substantially.  The medical staff cleaned Jayme up, wrapped her up, and handed her to me.  I thought what?  Me?  Why?  I didn’t know how to hold a newborn, and had never done so before. Jayme did, finally, stop screaming.  My thoughts were a bit disappointing.  I wasn’t necessarily happy, and all I had running through my mind was “and so it begins.”  It was sort of the same when Doddie and I married.  The happiness and excitement was missing completely.  Over the years I have given this quite a lot of thought and can only conclude it’s a combination of the affects from my TBI, ADHD, and Addie’s suicide.  Jayme is 19 years old now.  Is working a full time job and is very responsible.  The one thing I am pleased about is Jayme doesn’t have any of my memory problems.  She has a brilliant mind.  Quick too.

After retiring from Fred Meyer I used a good portion of the severance to pay off my 2015 Toyota Tacoma 4×4 truck.  Wanted to make sure I had no vehicle payments.  Then spent the next 2 years looking for work but with no luck. I contacted an attorney (to help me) and applied for Social Security Disability.  Was denied on the first attempt, so tried again. On the second attempt I was accepted, and now receive a check once each month.  Budgeting when paid once each month is a very difficult thing to do. The nice thing is I now do not have to continue looking for work.

When I was about 50 years old I was tested and diagnosed with ADHD, which I likely have had my entire life.  Guess I’m glad to at least know now. Having a TBI with underlying ADHD makes for a rough go of it at times.  Other times, not so bad.