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How Being Seriously Injured in a Motor Vehicle Collision Made Every Word Count

Some of you may have noticed that I haven’t written a blog post, attended professional meetings, participated in conferences, taught speechwriting classes, or conducted workshops in recent months.

An explanation: Back in the autumn, en route to visit an elderly aunt in Central Pennsylvania, I took Amtrak from Philadelphia to Lancaster PA. Less than 10 minutes after leaving the Lancaster train station as a passenger in a car, I was seriously injured in a motor vehicle collision. (And yes, I was wearing a seat belt – I always do.)

The chest pain was stunning. More frightening, I had an immediate loss of lung power. Unable to speak in those initial moments, I texted my Power of Attorney, my alternate Power of Attorney, and my doctor.

Never did words mean more to me. In a situation totally out of my control (talking was almost impossible), the ability to text people who could help was empowering. I made every word count.

An EMT team placed me in an ambulance (without using a neck brace, if you can imagine that) and took me to the Trauma Unit of Lancaster General Hospital. At some point, I lost consciousness.

The trauma unit diagnosed broken ribs, a hematoma on my chest, thoracic contusions, bruises/lacerations, an injured foot, and a concussion.

As an independent speechwriter, coach, and media trainer, I’ve earned my living via words – working steadily in my own business since How To Write & Give A Speech came out in 1984. Suddenly, I couldn’t work.

Talk is my business. Broken ribs immediately put that business on hold.

Phone coaching had to be declined.

Invitations to teach at conferences had to be declined.

Corporate workshops had to be declined.

Computer time was strictly limited. Initially, it was impossible. The concussion had made it difficult for my eyes to focus.

Related: 7 Tips to Improve Your Public Speaking Skills

Headaches appeared out of nowhere. A lifelong reader, I couldn’t open a book.

Eye “floaters” (read: black shapeless blobs) moved across my eye – disturbing both my vision and my concentration. Any writing was a challenge, to put it mildly.

For the first couple weeks, I couldn’t write even write a check. Writing a full speech? Unimaginable. 140 characters were pretty much my limit.

Noises became magnified – even soft classical music would hurt my ears. I needed silence to recover.

One time my son called me from Singapore, and I told him I couldn’t take “all the noise” in the background. He wondered what I meant: What noise? It turns out, he had water running in his kitchen sink. From half way around the world, even the faint sound of running water was too much.

That’s why I didn’t tell my online communities about the crash: I couldn’t process emails and couldn’t handle phone calls. Mostly I just rested quietly, as my doctors had ordered.

I told only a few clients. They were so considerate, thoughtful, and flexible. I told only my closest friends – asking them to not spread the news because talking and emailing tired me too much.

Medical professionals termed me “home bound” and assigned home health care for the first two months after the crash. I’m glad to report: Physical therapy works. I’m getting better. I’m looking ahead, not back.

But limitations continue.

Taking Amtrak from Philadelphia to coach clients in NYC or DC? Still not possible. (For the first month, it was hard to get out of a chair due to broken ribs.)

Physical therapy continues to rebuild my stamina. But flying to rehearse clients? That day has not yet come.

The home health care nurse said I was the most compliant patient she’s ever had. Well, yes. Let me put it this way:

When you’re happily self-employed … and suddenly you’re put out of business because two drivers had a collision … and you can’t walk 50 feet … and you can’t grocery shop … and you can’t visit friends … and you don’t know when you can even attend a professional conference, let alone lead a workshop at one … and you can’t go on a vacation … and you can’t do the work you love with clients who feel like family after all these years … well yes, you are highly motivated to recover from your injuries.

Related: How to Speak With a Calm Confidence

Compliant? File me under “Compliant Plus.” I want to get back to life and back to work. I’ll do all the PT it takes to get me there.

I’ve built my career on words, and strong communication skills have proven essential in handling my medical management tasks. Make no mistake: Recovering from a serious motor vehicle collision makes medical management a full time job. I spend hours each week just seeing doctors and processing the paperwork that powers their offices.

As my body recovers from these injuries, I’ll resume my career because I base my life on this fundamental truth: Words matter.

I saw the power of words when I was texting the people I needed from the back seat of that demolished car. “Help me” – and they did.