True Confessions of a Crash Test Dummy – 13 Years After the Accident

Just nine days before the 13th anniversary of my accident, I crashed my own motorcycle at 40mph on the racetrack. What a difference being truly prepared can make!

I Survived A Horrific Accident Without Proper Protection

Thirteen years ago, half of my skin was ripped off in a motorcycle accident. I was a 20-year-old passenger, and the only piece of gear I was wearing (a full face helmet) happened to save my life.

After tumbling 522 feet down the highway in nothing more than jeans and a sweatshirt, I laid on the ground with third-degree road rash on 50% of my body (warning: image below is graphic) for 45 minutes waiting for emergency crews. While slowly bleeding out, I imagined what people would be saying about me at my funeral. I talked to whoever is “in charge” and accepted my fate. At first I was scared, but then I just wanted to die.

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A gruesome photo of Brittany’s road rash, damaged knee caps, dislocated toe, missing toenails, and half of her left breast removed after her first skin graft surgery.

I spent two months in the hospital and had nine surgeries. I developed a life-threatening blood clot and eleven different types of infection as a direct result of my injuries. My parents visited me every day – their lives put on hold. I begged them on a regular basis to “make it stop” and screamed in pain during my daily dressing changes, which drove my father out the hospital room on several occasions.

I became dependant on my pain medication (there were at least 14 in my system throughout my stay) and had violent mood swings with my doctors and family as a result. A complete stranger had to help me shower while I sat in a chair made of PVC pipe. After all the surgeries, I had to learn to brush my hair, sit up in bed, and walk again.

Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Physical therapy is grueling, just being vertical was a challenge.
Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany learning to sit up and walk again.

There were more consequences that would take longer for me to realize. Because of my injuries, I lost a military career path. I lost my favorite sport. I lost my youthful athletic body. I lost all of my hair. I lost my self-confidence. I lost my ability to bear children. I lost my clear and focused mind in exchange for PTSD and anxiety. I lost all these things at the age of 20.

For a long time, it felt like I had lost everything. People ask me how long it took to recover. Sadly, I fear the true answer is forever because I haven’t fully recovered, and it’s been 13 years.  I am still suffering from the physical injuries and ongoing mental effects of skinning myself alive. Every single day my life is affected by the outcome of that ride without gear.

There’s a lot more detail to the story. You can read my account of the entire first year after the crash, learn more about the consequences 10 years down the road, or take a look at the emotional struggle 12 years later.

You might think you understand. Very few actually do, and they are the ones who have lived through similar. Ask them to tell their story, and if you have the chance… listen.

Another Crash… In Full Gear

This September, just nine days before the 13th anniversary of my accident, I crashed my own motorcycle at 40 mph on the racetrack.

Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences Racing
Brittany, just before racing.

Of course, I was all the gear this time (it’s a requirement), and in fact, I was wearing full race-level apparel. What does that mean?

  1. ECE-R 22-05 certified full-face helmet.
  2. One-piece custom cowhide racing leathers.
  3. CE Level 1 D3O impact protectors in the shoulders, elbows, back, hips and knees.
  4. Armored road racing boots.
  5. Cowhide and kangaroo gauntlet-length gloves with floating knuckle armor.

After a short slide and a few tumbles, I got up and walked to the edge of the track without assistance. Once the track was clear, I helped a corner worker pick up my bike (her name is Breezy). I smiled when Breezy started right up. I would have ridden my banged-up Yamaha R6 off the track if it wasn’t against the rules. So instead, I jumped in the crash truck, which brought me and my bike back to the pits.

Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences Racing Race
Breezy had all the road rash this time around – that could have been Brittany’s skin AGAIN.

My boyfriend and parents were there, waiting and so worried. I immediately hugged them all and told them I was just fine. I drank some water and then helped fix my bike enough to pass tech inspection. I rode an hour later. I raced twice more that day, even after crashing, while the people who love me the most in this world watched and cheered from the stands.

Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany with her boyfriend, David, after the crash – All smiles!
Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany with her parents less than 1 hour after hitting the ground at the race track.

The Real Difference Protection Makes

Just one day after my crash, I was packing a suitcase and boarding an airplane. Two days later, I test-rode a new bike at a press launch in California for nearly seven hours. I never once questioned my ability to return to normal life. Once the small bruises on my elbow faded, it was like it never even happened.

Because I was wearing all my gear, I was protected from many types of injuries – from the catastrophic to the minuscule and everything in-between. I wasn’t just uninjured; I was able to continue riding, spend time with the people I love and return to work immediately after my crash because I was prepared and protected.

Each piece of gear I was wearing played a part, and together it made a difference in every aspect, including the immediate repercussions and any long-term effects. That’s the true impact of choosing ALL the gear, ALL the time.

Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
All The Gear Makes All The Difference – Just a few small bruises after a 40 mph tumble at the racetrack in 2018.
Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany spending “quality time” with her Mom and close family friends in 2005 after her big accident.
Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany’s Dad would brush her hair to keep her calm and take her mind off the agony of being strapped to a hospital bed after every surgery.
Brittany Morrow Extreme Roadrash Queen Bee Hospital Picture Motorcycle Woman Rider Crash Accident Injuries Consequences
Brittany meeting her childhood best friend’s future husband, Adam, for the first time while bed ridden between skin graft surgeries.

It Won’t Happen To Me!

Why do I still tell a 13-year-old story? Because I think it matters to every rider on the face of the planet. I will never forgive myself for what I put my family through in 2005 AND I will never forget how wonderful it felt to hug my parents and tell them I was okay immediately after my crash at the racetrack. Those two outcomes speak for themselves. You might think it will never happen to you, but there’s a large community of riders out there who have crashed, and who will admit that even the smallest injury isn’t worth the hassle if it could have been prevented simply by wearing gear.

The right protection can dramatically change your life and the lives of those you love and the people who depend on you.

When it comes to choosing what to wear when you ride – simply remember both of my stories and imagine yourself in my shoes.

Choose wisely, my friends.


The above story was originally published on WebBikeWorld.com on January 24, 2019.

10 Years as The Roadrash Queen – I Have Found My Purpose

I never would have thought that looking different could earn me credibility, respect and opportunity… and yet, here I stand. Respected. Purpose built. Powerful.

Every day I look in the mirror at my scars that are over ten years old. I remember when I couldn’t imagine looking and feeling this way for the rest of my life. I no longer dream that at any moment I might wake up from this nightmare and be comfortable in my own skin once again. When I look at myself, I am reminded of my mistakes. When I touch the thick skin on my hands, I am reminded of how lucky I am to be alive. These scars have given my life purpose, but they come with a great responsibility. Earning them was the hard part, owning them has become my life’s work.

It was a beautiful Sunday morning and the air was unseasonably warm for September in New Mexico. I was excited to be going on a ride through the Jemez Mountains on the back of my new friend Shaun’s GSXR 750. Before we headed out that morning, I had shed my favorite cowboy hat in exchange for a borrowed (and very ugly) red helmet. I thought nothing of the fact that I had no other protection against the asphalt besides that hunk of foam and plastic. I figured that we couldn’t get into a wreck; it simply wouldn’t happen to me. I was nearly dead wrong.

As many of us have been told, motorcycle helmets are made to withstand an otherwise deadly impact to the head. When helmets are designed, their main duty is to disperse the force from a single crash and then become obsolete. They are put through rigorous testing to ensure they perform this task with certainty. Helmets are rated according to their protective abilities and are manufactured by thousands of companies all over the world. They range in price from $35 to over $1000, and a popular saying suggests the price of your helmet is proportional to the value of your head. They are available at every dealership in the country, at specialty shops, and online. Chances are, if you ride a motorcycle, you own a helmet. However, not all riders choose to wear their helmet on every ride.

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Shaun and I were going an estimated 120 mph when my borrowed, ugly red helmet was put to the ultimate test. When I hit the ground, it was as if every breath I had ever taken rushed out of me in an instant. I could feel every inch of my body hitting the road; tumbling, sliding and grinding into the unforgiving surface. In my helmet, I fought to breathe as I gave into the force of the asphalt ripping at my flesh. In a matter of seconds, I had come to the conclusion that I was going to die. My eyes were closed but I was awake as I finished tumbling down the highway. Later, the police would tell me I had traveled a total of 522 feet. Unimaginable, yes. Unlikely, absolutely. It happened to me.

I laid there on the road for what seemed like an eternity before emergency help arrived. Eternity, as it turns out, is exactly forty-five minutes. Every nerve ending in my body was on fire; tingling, scorching, stabbing and burning. I had not gone into shock for very long, and the adrenaline had worn off almost instantly. Not being able to move was the worst of it. I wanted to pull my arm out from underneath me. I wanted to get off that hot road. I wanted the sun to stop shining so brightly on my exposed back. I wanted everything to just go away, but it wouldn’t go away. I wanted to die, but the people who came to my rescue wouldn’t let me give up. I had skinned myself alive and was still breathing because of that ugly red helmet.

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My road rash was so severe that my skin was not going to grow back on its own. I had lost too much surface area for the doctors to simply suture me together and send me home. After the blood loss had been controlled, the skin loss needed to be addressed. I was to receive full thickness skin grafts on over 50% of my body. In order to help my open wounds heal, the doctors had to cut off a thick layer of healthy skin from my legs and place it over my burns, stapling the new skin in place. This was the only way to “fix” me. The word painful does not begin to describe the experience, and even ten years later the thought of my time in the hospital can turn my stomach at a moment’s notice. In the end, it took the doctors two months, three blood transfusions, 31 dressing changes, and nine surgeries to put Humpty Dumpty back together again.

Near the end of my hospital stay I realized that I was forever changed in many ways. I was devastated about my scarred skin, but also thankful to be alive every day. I knew that what I had gone through proved I had the strength to survive anything else thrown at me in the future. I also knew that my outward appearance was extremely altered, and not for the better. It took me a long to time to accept my new skin and relinquish the hopes that I might one day be considered beautiful to the rest of the world’s standards. I thought looking the way I did would alienate me, but instead, it opened a door; people began asking me about my scars and I was given many opportunities to share my story.

Eight months after the day I skinned myself alive, I bought a brand new sportbike and a set of full gear with head-to-coverage . I learned some important things about myself in the months following my immersion into the sport and lifestyle that almost cost me my life. I realized how strong I really am, and that my parents weren’t lying to me when they said I could do anything I put my mind to. I learned that I never wanted to feel the way I did in the hospital again and I could actually do something to prevent it. I discovered that my appearance was now a tool to encourage riders to choose to wear full gear. And I learned that motorcycling safely was an attitude and a choice that I had to make every time I went riding. However, the most important thing I came to realize was that these lessons were not meant for me alone. I was newly and uniquely created to share what I had learned with the world.

Since this realization, my life and work has been dictated by choices that help to spread my message. In 2006 I wrote a full account of the accident and my experiences as a cautionary tale for riders. It was published online and embraced throughout the community, and began popping up on forums and websites in over 20 countries. I was invited to attend safety conferences and tell my story as a way to show riders what can happen and share information on how to help prevent it, and I brought that ugly red helmet as a tangible testimony. I was encouraged to do research on protective technologies and pursue a path of motorcycle safety education. I received a NAMS (National Agenda for Motorcycle Safety) grant to start a national non-profit web campaign for protective apparel awareness and education that became a household name for many riders. Three-and-a-half years after leaving the hospital, I became a certified RiderCoach for the Motorcycle Safety Foundation to teach new and experienced riders alike the importance of attitude, skill, protective gear, and lifelong learning. I have effectively become the prodigal child of motorcycle safety education and protective apparel awareness.

I did not choose the scars that now adorn my body, but they do represent a matter of dire importance to the motorcycle community. So, like a conscious and deliberate bumper sticker placed on the back of a rusty pickup truck, I will use my scars as a way to get a message to the people who I believe need it desperately. I do not hide my scars, nor am I ashamed of them. I will always wear them proudly in the hopes that they stir up as much attention as possible. My scars do not define me, but they do allow me to take a public stance on an issue I care for deeply.

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I am following the path of motorcycle safety and safety apparel education, and it is a constant process that continues to mold me into who I want to be. Over the last two years, I fulfilled my desire and dream to work for an envelope-pushing industry-leading gear manufacturer. Before that, I reached my goal of becoming an MSF site manager while simultaneously serving those who serve as a US Navy contractor. My existence since the crash has been dedicated to helping others realize that they have the power to change their own lives and never experience what I did in 2005.

I know now that receiving my horrific scars actually makes me best suited for my role as a passionate motorcycle safety educator. I’ve become thankful for the way I look because it empowers me much more than blending into the sea of beautiful bodies on bikes ever could. I never would have thought that looking different could earn me credibility, respect and opportunity, but here I stand. My scars radiate a message of tragedy, survival, and triumph that cannot be denied, replaced or discounted. I’d say that makes me quite qualified to do what I do, and do it better than any others.

I keep that ugly red helmet on a shelf in my house where I can see it every day, and most importantly, every time I get ready to go on a ride. Once upon a time, it was available for purchase to anyone who was interested in wearing a red helmet. When put to the test, it did exactly what it was made to do; it saved my life. Now it is beaten and broken, but it serves a greater purpose, and that is to share a warning with anyone who sees it.

I suppose I have become like my ugly red helmet. Although battered and scarred, it is hard to ignore my outward appearance and the message that comes along with it. I carry around a story of caution and wisdom and share it with everyone I meet. I will continue to share it for the rest of my life. I have been perfectly molded and beautifully adorned to serve a purpose, and when put to the test, I do exactly what I am made to do: save lives.

Survivor – 7 years Later

Brittany explores the true meaning of “survivor” and connects her recovery to others who have experienced disfigurement trauma. Originally posted on her blog: Bee Behind Bars – The Survivor Ride

Anyone who knows me knows my story and understands why I care so much about educating and serving the motorcyclists of the world. Most of those who know me also remember my epic CONGA ride last year and what a passion I have for long-distance touring because of it.

NEW FOCUS

Thanks to my 4200-mile-long trip to Wyoming and back, I was able to contribute to a cause that raised nearly $50,000 to fight Breast Cancer in 2011.  While there, I met many amazing women, including Tamela Rich who has redefined what a “newbie rider” is truly capable of. In her most recent newsletter she challenged her readers (and, subsequently me) to consider other ways to contribute to the cause beyond just raising money. Tamela has chosen to spend her summer adventurecating (yes, I made that up) rather than fundraising. I’ve taken her cue to heart and have decided to narrow my focus as well.  I’ve always related to breast cancer survivors as a trauma survivor myself. After all, I did sheer-off half of my left breast during my crash in 2005. Although I have never been diagnosed with cancer, I know what it is like to go through surgeries, medical treatment, and physical therapy only to find myself staring a lifelong recovery in the face. I just didn’t know how to connect the dots until I did a little bit of research…

THE BREAST CANCER CONNECTION

Patricia Ganz, MD is the Director of the Division of Cancer Prevention & Control Research at the Jonsson Comprehensive Cancer Center at UCLA, among many other things.  Patricia studies many of the aspects related to Breast Cancer Survivorship and the issues these women face post-treatment (both surgery and chemotherapy). In her study titled Breast cancer survivors: psychosocial concerns and quality of life, Patricia writes, “In spite of relatively good physical and emotional functioning on a generic measure of health status and quality of life, these breast cancer survivors reported a number of important and severe rehabilitation problems that persisted beyond one year after primary treatment. Especially frequent were problems associated with physical and recreational activities, body image, sexual interest, sexual function, and problems with dating for those who were single.”

Her study concluded that, “Breast cancer survivors appear to attain maximum recovery from the physical and psychological trauma of cancer treatment by one year after surgery. A number of aspects of quality of life and rehabilitation problems worsen after that time.”

In an article written by Margaret L. Polinski, much focus was placed on what she calls the “chronicity” of a breast cancer diagnosis. She writes, “For all cancer survivors what begins as a crisis involving diagnosis and treatment gradually becomes a chronic illness characterized by lifelong follow-up medical care, indelible psychological effects, and changes in social and employment relationships. In general, breast cancer survivorship is characterized by “mild morbidity” and non-life-threatening problems not likely to be mentioned to others. However, some studies have documented important longer-term effects of breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.”

Margaret pointed readers in the direction of an International Support Network called Reach to Recovery. I was curious about the group as I had never heard of them before. I found some information on the American Cancer Society’s website, but wanted to know more. And then I found it: Reach to Recovery International‘s website. I spent about 10.5 seconds looking at the homepage before I was on the brink of tears. What pulled on my heartstrings so strongly, you ask? They publish an educational newsletter called BLOOM which “promotes the exchange of current information on training, advocacy, research, volunteer and peer support.” Sounds a little like Rock the Gear, eh?  To top it all off, their next conference is in South Africa, the childhood home of my late friend Natasha Louis, who was killed in a motorcycle crash at the Jennings track early this year. That was all the sign I needed to indicate that I was on the right path. With that, my summer mission was born. So, without further ado, I dub this year’s adventure…

THE SURVIVOR RIDE

In 2012, the sole purpose for my ride will be to bring attention to the often forgotten SURVIVORS of breast cancer who need ongoing medical attention, psychological care, hope and encouragement, and most of all: the help and support of others.  When it comes to awareness prevention and finding a cure are at the forefront, but we mustn’t ignore the challenges of breast cancer survivorship. The women who do survive this terrible disease have a lifelong battle ahead of them. I aim to bring attention to this issue and the many programs offered for these women. I also hope to show everyone how they each have an opportunity to help. As an example, I’ve included photos from a campaign called THE SCAR PROJECT which aims to empower young breast cancer survivors by allowing them to cope with their battle by sharing images of their scars with the world. I truly identify with this group of women, because I share their struggle to accept my disfigurement on a daily basis. The best part? There are many ways to get involved regardless of your experiences, and I aim to encourage others to explore new ways to help while I trek across the country this summer.

If you’ve made it this far, thank you for taking the time to read through this entire post. I believe these women and I share a special connection and it’s time to shed some light on their struggle. I am truly honored to be partaking in such a mission and have charged myself with quite the task. I am confident that I am up for the challenge as a true survivor who knows there are no mountains too high, no valleys too low, no rivers too wide…  and if I have to cross a million of them to take a stand, you can bet I’m all in.

– Brittany Morrow

Extreme Roadrash – 1 Year After the Accident

Brittany’s original story, published Oct 3, 2006. This version contains no images, graphic or otherwise.

ONE YEAR HAS PASSED

It’s hard to look in the mirror and think that my scars are already an entire year old. Touching my stomach and rib cage, I can’t imagine looking this way and feeling this pain for the rest of my life. I still feel as if at any moment I will wake up from this terrible dream and be comfortable in my own skin once again. Knowing that it’s real, that there is nothing I can do to change it, I am reminded of my mistakes every minute of everyday. I am also reminded how lucky I am to be alive as I close my eyes and remember why I still feel pain after an entire year of healing. Imagining that if I had not survived the accident, I wouldn’t have anything to touch at all, I smile when my fingers run over a thick layer of scar tissue in place of my once soft skin. I know my life has a purpose, and I strive everyday to live up to the task that has been placed at my feet.

THE ACCIDENT

It was a beautiful Sunday morning even through my blurred vision. I was on the back of my friend Shaun’s GSXR 750 and was excited to be on a sport bike, even if it was as a passenger, after a long streak of no riding whatsoever. I had shed my prescription glasses for a pair of sunglasses, my cowboy hat for an oversized helmet, and quickly thrown on a pair of capri jeans, tennis shoes, and a sweatshirt over my bikini. I thought nothing of the fact that I had practically no protection against the asphalt if anything were to happen. I figured that we couldn’t get into a wreck, it simply wouldn’t happen to me. It’s amazing how fast life came at me that day.

Approaching mile marker seven on highway 550, I noticed that I had to start fighting the wind to stay behind Shaun without pulling on him too much. I placed my hands on the gas tank and pushed myself into him as much as possible without crowding him. As we came around to the right and went down the hill, we kept accelerating. I was scared, but thought I could handle the force of the wind as it suddenly picked up much more than in the moments before. I started to slide back on the seat and felt the cool air fill the small space between my chest and Shaun’s back.

I felt a rush of wind hit my face like a brick and our bodies separated in an instant; my visor had come completely open. The force pulled on my face and helmet so hard that it sent my head up and backwards, ripping my entire body off the back seat with it. I remember thinking that if I grabbed Sean’s t-shirt I would pull him down with me, but it was already too late to try and grab a hold of him. I was only in the air for a spilt second, but an eternity of thoughts ran through my mind. I had no idea what excessive speed I was about to hit the ground at or the damage it would do to my body, I just thought about how my life had led to that point. I remembered the basics of surviving a fall from a horse without injury, which I had done a few times in the previous year, and simply let myself go. I knew there was nothing else I could do.

When I hit the ground, it was as if every breath I had ever taken rushed out of me in an instant. I could feel every inch of my body hitting the road; tumbling, sliding and grinding into the unforgiving surface. In my helmet, which seemed so small and yet completely empty, I could hear my whimpers as I fought to breath and my prayer to God as I gave into the asphault. In a matter of seconds, I had come to the conclusion that I was going to die, and I was ok with it. I knew this was far worse than anything I had ever gone through and I was convinced I would not live to see the next day. My eyes were closed as I finished my 522 foot tumble down highway 550. I never lost consciousness, but I remember wishing that I had.

At first I couldn’t feel anything. A few moments passed before anyone was at my side, and I had the chance to try and move myself. Immediately, I could tell that I had lost my left shoe as my toes were burning on the hot road. My right foot felt stiff, completely unmovable, and I thought it was probably broken. I noticed that my knees were uncovered when the little pieces of what I thought were gravel scraped against my skin, only to find out later that they were my actual kneecaps grinding against the pavement below them. My right arm was trapped underneath me and my shoulder felt hot. My left pinky was the most noticeable pain in those first few minutes, a throbbing and stabbing pain, as it bled profusely right in front of my face. I could smell my blood as it pooled beneath me on the road.

By the time the ambulance came and rolled me onto my back, removed my helmet, and called the helicopter, I felt as if I had been cooking on the street for hours. Every nerve ending in my body was on fire; tingling, scorching, and burning. I had not gone into shock, and the adrenaline had worn off almost instantly. Not being able to move was the worst of it. I wanted to pull my arm out from underneath me. I wanted to get off that hot road. I wanted the sun to stop shining so brightly on my naked back. I wanted everything to just go away. But it didn’t. The people who sat on that road with me and came to my rescue saved my life. I wanted to die, but they wouldn’t let me give up, they wouldn’t let me close my eyes and go to sleep.

The helicopter ride was fast. The morphine had kicked in just around the time we landed at the hospital, and the rest is somewhat of a blur. I remember hearing a doctor saying I had lost my entire left breast. I remember another asking me if my family had been called. A third doctor asked if she could take pictures of my wounds for documentation. When it came time to clean off my skin, the doctors decided that a surgical debreedment of the dead tissue was necessary, along with invasive repair to my pinky, right big toe, and left side from hip to armpit. I don’t even remember being put under, and the rest is lost in the six hour surgery that followed.

THE HOSPITAL

I woke up wrapped like a mummy. I was on my back in an air bed, in a room I had never seen. Did I dream that Shaun had come and held my hand? Why were my parents here? I didn’t know what was going on, so I tried to sit up. Then I felt the intense pain on my back, my side, my shins, my feet, my thigh, my hip, my forearms, my wrists, my shoulder, my fingertips, my ribcage, my stomach, and my chest. It all came at me in one large rush, and I knew exactly where I was and remembered what had happened. I spent the next three weeks waking up to the exact same confusion, rush of pain, and realization of my surroundings. My condition never seemed to change for the better, no matter how many times I went through the process of attempting to sleep it off. The worst part about the pain was that it never completely subsided unless I was sleeping, and I had nightmares of the accident every time I slept. I couldn’t escape what had happened to me. On the rare good days, my Dad would brush my hair for hours; it was the only thing that helped me forget what I was going through.

My road rash was so severe that my skin was not going to grow back on its own. I had lost too much surface area for the doctors to simply suture me together and send me home. After the blood loss had been controlled, the skin loss needed to be addressed. I was to receive full thickness skin grafts. Literally, the doctors had only 2 places on my body to harvest healthy skin. My thighs were the only two places that had not received any abrasions. In order to help my open wounds heal, the doctors had to cut off a thick layer of healthy skin from my thighs and place it over my burns, surgically stapling the new skin in place. This was the only way to “fix” me, and I didn’t even have enough skin to graft all of my wounds at once. The doctors had to choose which areas to graft first, and which ones would have to wait.

Wound vac: a slang medical term that will give me goose bumps for the rest of my life. When I received my skin grafts, a suction cup was placed over the completed surgery in order to increase blood flow from under the new skin. These devices are called wound vacuums, and they ensure that the burn tissue does not die, but rather joins with the new skin to create a layer of dermis where none would have grown without the graft surgery. It feels like a leech, a constant sucking on the most painful abrasion you’ve had in your entire life. Multiply your worst skinned knee as a kid by 50, add it to 55 percent of your body, and then let someone suck on it with a handheld vacuum for 24 hours a day; only then will you know what it is to experience a wound vacuum on a fresh skin graft. Each graft received a dose of the painful sucking and after three weeks I was free from the noisy machines.

The only thing worse than the wound vacuums were the dressing changes. Even thinking about the pain today makes me sick to my stomach. In the areas the doctors were not able to graft within the first three weeks: my back, chest, rib cage, side, and stomach, they did daily dressing changes to make sure the wounds we being kept clean. My bandages acted as my skin where the graft surgery had not yet taken place. Every time the doctors changed my dressings, it was as if they were ripping off my skin. The oxygen hitting the open burns was enough to make me scream. Cleaning the wounds with water would send me into a rage. It is safe to say I would have rather been lying on that road again than go through a daily dressing change. This lasted the entire two months I spent in the hospital.

Physical therapy, as motivating as it was supposed to be, was just as painful as anyone can imagine. Struggling to sit up in bed, hold myself up without help, and lay back down without hurting the open burns on my back proved itself to be a daunting task. Attempting to stretch my skin, which was tough and thick as leather, once the grafts were slightly healed, made me wince and fear that I would lose all motion in my wrists. I remember getting dizzy just from trying to stand up, blacking out and throwing up from a wheelchair ride down the hall, and crying at night because I couldn’t get up to go to the bathroom on my own. All the abilities I took for granted in my everyday life had come back to haunt me, to teach me a lesson on why I should be thankful for every second I am breathing.

Everyday I would dread the moment the doctors came into my room. Whether they were coming to do a conscious sedation for my daily dressing change, whisk me off to another surgery, or put me through physical therapy, my attitude worsened everyday towards the people who were trying to save my skin. It drove me to act bitter towards the people who cared about me the most; my parents were there every day and I know it must have been difficult for them to put up with me. The pain I went through pushed me into a deep depression, but I refused to be put on medication for anything of that nature. I was taking 20 pills with breakfast and dinner every day, I didn’t need to add to that number. I was asked several times if I wanted to talk to a psychologist about the accident, talk about the nightmares my nurses always reported me having at night, but I denied the willing listener. In short, I made sure I paid for my mistakes dearly, not only physically, but emotionally as well, and everyone around me could see the old Brittany fading away.

After my final skin graft surgery on November 16th, I woke up feeling as if my back had been completely replaced. The noticeable difference between the open wound and the grafted burn was enough to lift my spirits. I was able to lay comfortably for the first time in two months. I knew the time had come for me to get out of thehospital and start the real healing: returning to my normal life. I had to beg my doctors to let me go home. I couldn’t stand the thought of returning to a physical rehabilitation hospital. With fresh donor sites on my left thigh and a throbbing pain worse than most I had felt, I walked down the hall on the fifth floor three days after surgery so I could go home. I cried with relief when they signed my release paperwork.

GOING HOME

I walked slowly into my house for the first time in over two months. The smell alone was enough to make me smile, as Thanksgiving dinner was being prepared for the next day. The warm air, the sound of my dog yelping at my return, the softness of my own bed sheets, and the glow of real sunlight pouring in through the bedroom windows gave me the most comfort I had experienced since the accident, and compared to the hospital, it was heaven. I was not on my own by any means; my Mom had to help me shower and give me my blood thinning shots twice a day in my stomach. Walking from my bedroom to the kitchen made me break a sweat, as my muscles had not been used in two months. I still had open wounds, was using a personal walker built for full body support to move around, and couldn’t even dress myself, but I felt a happiness that seemed almost unfamiliar.

Coming home was the best thing that could have happened to me. The doctors gave me a month before I would be walking without the walker, but I threw it in the back of my closet after the third day. I ditched my bandages after a week and started wearing jeans ten days later. I was determined to feel normal again, or at last appear normal to the unknowing passerby. I began driving after only two weeks out of the hospital and started living my life as if I had never fallen off that motorcycle. My friends and family could see how quickly I was becoming myself again. I truly believe being around such wonderful support helped me heal as quickly as I did.

I was still attending physical therapy, but was improving at speeds that amazed even my own doctors. I was walking up stairs without a second thought and riding the stationary bike with ease. It still hurt to do normal things, even bending my knees to sit in a chair would send pain up my legs, but I learned to ignore it all. I was so used to the way my skin ached, including the itching and burning I would feel every second, that it was as if I never really felt it anymore. My mind had blocked it out and unless I stopped to notice it, the sensitivity and uncomfortable nature of the healing skin grafts wasn’t even in my thoughts.

UNFORSEEN AFTERMATH

The morning my hair started to fall out I knew something was wrong. I had been out of the hospital for an entire month but the medication I was taking had just started to leave my system. The combination of chemicals that had kept me alive and comfortable in the hospital was now killing the seemingly healthy cells on my scalp and face. After a week of pulling handfuls of my own hair out and watching my eyelashes and eyebrows fall to my cheeks, I felt like a cancer patient taking chemotherapy. I cut my long blonde hair short to try and save as much of it as I could, but it never stopped falling out. You could see through the few thin strands left all the way to my scalp and there were even a few sections that had gone completely bald. I finally had enough and decided to simply shave my head and get it over with. I cried as the rest of my hair hit the bathroom floor.

After everything I had suffered as a direct result of the fall: 55 percent body coverage of third degree burns, severed tendons in my left pinky finger, a severely dislocated right big toe, and a large amount of blood loss; what really slowed the healing process was what I experienced in the hospital. Indirect results of the accident due to a prolonged hospital stay: pneumonia, urinary tract infection, pseudomonas infection, blood infection, a blood clot in my left leg, yeast infections, anemia, 3 blood transfusions with 1 adverse reaction, 8 surgeries, 31 conscious sedations, countless skin debridements, PTSD and depression. With these things in mind, the loss of my hair seemed minimal at most. My hair would grow back. I was alive, and thankful for that everyday. I knew that what I had gone through would give me the strength to survive anything else God had planned for me in the future. As long as I could walk, talk, and breathe, I was always happy to be on this earth and would never take the blessings in my life for granted again.

RETURNING TO RIDING

My heart felt heaving knowing something I loved so much had almost cost me my life. I knew the mistakes I had made and the consequences I never wanted to face again were a result of my decisions. I couldn’t imagine not riding because it was one of my few joys. I knew I would never again ride without my gear. Even on a hot day and a short trip, my helmet would always be on my head and I would make sure it was functioning properly. I was back on a motorcycle as a passenger a few times before I was rid of the debilitating fear. Once I was able to go highway speeds as a passenger, I knew I was ready and able to ride again. I wanted to feel the freedom that comes with being alone on the machine and rolling on the throttle, putting the rest of the world on hold.

I bought my 2006 Yamaha R6s on June 21st from a local dealer. I hit the racetrack for my first ride and spent the day learning the basics and getting comfortable with my new bike. For a few weeks afterwards, a close friend gave me free parking lot lessons that were tailored to my needs as a rider. I was taught the importance of knowing that while on a motorcycle, anything can happen at any time. I learned that riding prepared for the worst possibilities can help minimize injury in even the smallest wreck.

I know I never want to feel the way I did in the hospital again, and anything I can do to keep that from happening, I will do every time I get on a bike. I learned some new skills in that first month back on the road, but I also learned some important things about myself as well. I learned how strong I really am, especially after returning to the sport that changed my life after almost claiming it.

THE FINAL OUTCOME

My road rash will take several years to completely heal and will never look or feel normal again. I have conquered the only fear that kept me from riding and I will never put myself in the same position to receive such injuries as I have lived through this past year. I stress the importance of wearing full gear to each and every person I ride with, talk to, or even who happens to read my story. I believe that my experiences are a lesson to every type of rider or passenger. I would never wish the pain I felt and still feel today upon anyone in this world. It is completely avoidable with a few extra layers, and I can’t say it enough: it is undeniably worth it to gear up. Everything I have gone through this past year will not be in vain if my testimony is enough to save someone’s skin.

: graphic content!