444 || Surviving Brain Injury, a Marriage Under Fire
But he was almost wrong.
It Was a Hit and Run
The accident sprawled David, his wife and their motorcycle across the highway pavement and left them unconscious, barely breathing. As doctors used defibrillators twice to revive David, Carole had to be taken to a separate hospital.
Alone and separated from his wife, David was treated for multiple fractures, broken ribs, a collapsed and a crushed foot. The doctors were certain they’d have to amputate.
But Carole faired far worse. Her head hit the ground with enough force to crack her helmet and put her in a coma for seven days, fighting for her life. Her doctors were unsure how she would recover—if she even survived.
And survive she did, but Carole wasn’t the same woman David married and raised three now-grown children with. She became a compulsive spender, a compulsive eater and withdrawn. Emotionally, Carole flatlined. The once caring and confident Carol was now defensive, solitary and unsure. Worst of all, she wasn’t even aware she had changed.
In less than a year, David found himself frustrated and angry, facing financial ruin and a future with a woman he no longer knew. After 37 years of marriage, David mentally and physically packed his bags and made plans to leave their home.
Maybe they wouldn’t defy those odds after all.
The Steilers 2.0
Before the devastating accident, David and Carole lived a Norman Rockwell painting. They were pillars of their small-town community. David ran his own repair shop; Carole worked at the courthouse. Their children were grown and pursuing lives and families of their own. Planning for retirement and enjoying their success, David and Carole decided to buy a Harley-Davidson© so they could ride and enjoy the countryside together, out on the open road.
Life was good.
But after the accident, life was a mess. The new Carole hid herself inside their home in fear of how people would look at her now. Would they mock her? Would they pity her? Would they just stare and wonder what was different?
Her withdrawal from the world camouflaged itself as safety. Her confidence and competence were replaced with constant self-deprecation. David, who already had a short-fused temper, had no idea how to deal with the new Carole. Anger was often his default reaction.
David’s attempts to help Carole merely fueled her feelings of ineptness. In Carole’s new world, she twisted his efforts to guide her into assaults on her self esteem—even though it was David who had helped Carole relearn the things she had forgotten.
It wasn’t just the changes in Carole that had David at his wits’ end. The bills were bigger than their savings could cover. By Thanksgiving, the Steilers were financially drained. It had been over five months since the accident, and the insurance company had yet to pay them a dime. Legally, insurance had up to two years to pay, and they seemed intent on taking just that long. The mortgage company, however, insisted on payment a bit sooner.
Carole’s new compulsion to spend money didn’t help. Nor did her new habit of covering it up. As financial ruin seemed more likely than retirement, David neared his breaking point.
“We were out of patience, out of money and just about out of our minds,” David recalls.
Unable to climb the stairs in his own home, drive or even consider running his store, David found himself with no source of income. Bills depleted their lifetime savings, and still the insurance money didn’t come. Their attorneys made call after call, but each time there was another glitch, another form to complete, more proof of this and evidence of that.
Every day was a struggle. Between Carole’s newfound compulsions, the pain and frustration of his own medical situation, and the increasing debt, David’s temper had no fuse at all. He was a ticking time bomb, ready to explode at any moment.
Life was intense. And David wanted to wave the white flag of surrender, just leave it all behind.
But he had made promises. He and Carole had shared so much.
A Break in the Storm
In their Norman Rockwell days, Carole regularly attended church; David was an agreeable bystander. Content to watch his wife and kids head off to church on Sunday mornings, he rarely attended.
One day, after the accident, one of David’s friends came by the house to check on the Steilers. He’d heard about their situation and extended an invitation to come to church. It didn’t take much convincing. David thoughtfully replied, “Yes, I think that I would like to go.”
The following Sunday, David rolled through the back doors of the church in his wheelchair. The pastor immediately recognized him and joyfully announced, “Look everyone! It’s the man we have all been praying for!”
In that moment, David realized he hadn’t been alone after all, and he felt the weight of loneliness and despair lift. Feeling encouraged and supported, he determined he wouldn’t leave Carole to fight alone either. Whatever he had to do to make it work, he would do it. They started this together, and they would finish together.
Nor would they do it alone. Those same people, and others in their hometown, pitched in to help like never before. Some came by to help them clean their home and mow the lawn. Others provided financial support.
Use the Shovel
He knew it was going to be long and hard, but David knew he wasn’t alone. “God gives us the shovel, but we have to do the digging,” David says. So he took his shovel and with patience and kindness, retaught Carole everything she no longer remembered: how to, cook, clean, fold laundry.
When Carole exhibited her compulsive behavior, he began to try to help and understand rather than losing his temper. It was by no means easy, but David found the strength love provided to keep trying day after day.
Step by step, Carole began trusting him again. David joined a band as a way to relieve stress. Eventually, the insurance company paid on their policy, and the Steilers were able to repay all the tremendous help their small-town community had provided.
As they began living again, David and Carole took trips together. Some days were better than others, but they were both trying. And simply in the trying, they were finding success.
It’s been more than ten years since the accident, and David and Carole still take life one day at a time.
“People ask how did I not question God through this experience,” David says. “I simply reply, ‘Easy. It’s only by faith in Him that we made it through.’ ”
To read more about David and Carol’s story, be sure to get his book, “The Ride, the Rose, and the Resurrection: A True Story About Crisis, Faith, and Survival. You can find it by clicking here.
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