Brooke doesn’t know the exact distance she fell to this date, but she’d be happier if she knew. She doesn’t also recall most of the previous events that happened before the accident. The fall was near-fatal, and it caused her brain damage, which she is still recovering from today.
As Brooke tells her story about being in a coma, all she can say is that “comas are not what Hollywood makes them look like.” It’s a crazy story about much more than a coma as her tale took a dark twist. Let’s dive into the story of Brooke Knisley.
Who Brooke Was Before the Accident
Brooke had struggled with a drinking problem since she was 14. She would drink alcohol every day and even go to school intoxicated. Brooke’s teachers and her parents were not happy with her school performance, and the teachers would try to talk to her about it.
She went to the University of California, Santa Cruz, for her junior school, where she met her closest friend, Cassie. Brooke mainly got C’s in her exams because she forgot to hand in her assignments most of the time.
An Intelligent but Troubled Mind
She recalls one time she managed to hand in her assignment and score an A in one of the papers. The teacher’s assistant was happy about it and said to her, “you are brilliant when you turn things in. Imagine if you were more diligent.”
In Brooke’s head, this teacher’s words would have a better meaning if she said, “imagine if you weren’t depressed if you weren’t a drunk, if you were just a better person.” Could she manage a day without alcohol? And did she really desire to be a better person?
She Coped By Climbing Trees
Instead of quitting alcohol and being a better person, Brooke would take alcohol and climb trees. This seemed to be her favorite hobby and her way of fighting depression. Because why else would someone want to be drunk and on top of a tree?
Besides, she was picky with the trees she climbed because initially, she did not climb redwoods. Things were different on this fateful day. Although Brooke cannot remember most of the things that happened before or on that day, Cassie says she had taken only two bottles of beer when she got the courage to climb a redwood tree.
Her Life in College
Brooke remembers joining Santa Cruz for her junior school. She and the other out-of-town transfer student were moved to another dorm and occupied the first floor when she reported.
Most of the students of that dorm missed most classes in their post-high-school years. It seemed they had worked a little harder in the common units that earned them a chance to the university.
How Brooke Met Stanley
The night Brooke, together with her dorm mates, moved in, the other students were all over catching up and tossing shots. Others were secretly pouring Cassie’s homemade wine without her knowing. Brooke was not in any of those groups.
She sat at a wooden desk near her bed drinking whiskey while listening to her USB speaker music. Since the rest of her hallmates could hear the music, she stopped for a while and asked if any of them disliked Tom Waits. “Anyone dislikes Tom Waits?” Brooke asked. “All right, well, that’s what we are gonna listen to now,” she replied.
A Common Love of Tom Waits
As everyone minded their business and Brooke concentrated on her whisky and slightly loud music, a short, too young to be drinking boy walked in towards her. It would be the start of a turbulent friendship.
He was pointing, he said, “I like Tom Waits, I am Stanley.” and that is how they met. It was a common interest over an acquired taste in music. Brooke was impressed with his enthusiasm.
He Visited Her in Hospital
Stanley is the young man who came to the hospital when Brooke was in a coma. He told Brooke’s mother that he was her longtime boyfriend. Brooke’s mother was skeptical at first, but she later realized that Brooke liked it when Stanley was around. Cassie, Brooke’s friend, had had a bad experience with Stanley, and she has not liked him since.
Cassie, Brooke’s friend, had had a bad experience with Stanley, and she had not liked him since. The both of them were a little uneasy about him being at the hospital.
How Brooked and Stanley Became Close
“Let me guess; you like Rain Dogs. That’s fine ’n all, but we’re going to listen to some sad shit right now.” Brooke joked to her new companion at that party. As they got to know each other, Stanley confessed to Brooke about his first impressions of her as he thought Brooke was a bitch but soon warmed to her.
After the first meeting, Stanley kept knocking on Brooke’s door every day and asked her out. He would ask her to go and walk in the woods with him or go mountain biking. Brooke would accept the offer to spend time with Stanley.
The Relationship Became Intimate
The relationship grew, and Stanley stopped flirting with other women and concentrated on Brooke. It did not take long before the two slept together. They had also met each other’s families at thanksgiving, but they had not made it clear to themselves where the relationship was heading to.
Brooke and Cassie’s friendship was mainly built on their common habit; drinking. Later in the year, they both moved to different dorms. Cassie moved into UC Santa Cruz’s, the closest dorm to the tree Brooke would fall from a year later. Brooke moved into an old Victorian on Mission.
Distance Started to Drive Them Apart
She figured that Stanley would minimize his frequent visits when she moved dorms because they lived far apart. Surprisingly, or not, Stanley stopped visiting Brooke frequently. However, he would pass by her window, rap on it, and soften his eyebrows as Brooke opened the blinds to see who it was.
Brooke and Stanley grew apart until she fell from the tree, went into a coma, and was hospitalized. That’s when Stanley showed up claiming to be her boyfriend. Brooke remembers meeting Stanley at the hospital when she talked with her mother after waking up from the coma.
He Claimed To Be Her Boyfriend
She remembers seeing this fairly young boy, who was her age with a clean-shaven chin under his feminine lips, walking into the room she and her mother were in. The boy was wearing a baseball cap and had the look of a surprised toddler. When he entered the ward, he first said, “Now you have physical therapy.”
Brooke’s physical therapist, a blonde woman with chin-length hair, entered with a clipboard in her hands. Immediately she entered, the other nurse who was with them left the room to create space for her.
Brooke Had Suffered Brain Damage
The therapist then pushed a rolling walker to Brooke’s bed edge and told her to rise. Brooke reached for the rocker’s handles but missed. She had suffered a traumatic brain injury that affected many aspects of her body, including movement, coordination, vision, and even speech.
Although her parents and friends were not given a specific prognosis (that happens when the patient’s chances of waking up are low), she thinks she must have fallen on her backside. She self-diagnosed this because most damages were in the occipital lobe, the lobe at the back of the head that controls vision.
She Suffered from Confusion
Brooke would see images in doubles. Even when the therapist asked her to pick the rolling rocker, she missed it because of the double vision on top of what she thought was the rocker. Her therapist then helped her to get out of the room.
A day after the therapy session, Brooke started regaining her memory back slowly. That day, the boy with the baby face slipped into her hospital bed. He whispered into her ear that he had been telling everybody in the hospital that he was her boyfriend. Brooke felt like it was a déjà vu. This was not happening for the first time. However, she was not sure about it because her memory had been failing her lately.
Stanley Being There Didn’t Feel Right
She remembers the small boy turning to the TV immediately after uttering those words to her and Brooke later telling her “new boyfriend” that her face was numb. All he had to say was, “yeah, you have been saying that.” She then asked Stanley what happened, and for the first time, he paid attention to the question and asked her what she remembered.
Brooke remembered Stanley moving his stuff into her room, and that’s when she knew that Stanley was not a stranger. However, the claims to be her boyfriend felt strange, and she didn’t feel that it was right.
He Tried To Get Her to Remember
Stanley was surprised that Brooke remembered the part about him moving stuff into her house, and he opened his eyes wide open. “You allowed me to move into your apartment temporarily,” Stanley said and then asked her if that was the last thing she remembered. “You don’t even remember what you had been doing that day?”
“What day?” Brooke asked. With exaggerated impatience and rolling his eyes, Stanley said, “The day you and Cassie climbed a redwood near the trailer park, and you fell 25 feet out of it.” Brooke’s mother told her that every time Stanley came to the hospital and announced to be her boyfriend, Brooke would throw out an arm. And that’s how her mother knew Stanley and Brooke were dating.
Brooke Was Happy To See Him
He visited Brooke every day, and she felt good to have someone who was concerned and came to play word puzzles with her in the hospital bed. Her other friends did not trust Stanley, but his insistence on being there for Brooke suffocated all the other opinions her friends had to give.
Brooke’s mother did not know much about her romantic relationships, and she came to the hospital intoxicated most times. She, therefore, did not have any conversation with Stanley about their relationship, and it seemed she believed him because Brooke reacted like she liked being around him.
She Was Discharged and Improved
Months after Brooke was discharged from the hospital, she made cookies in the kitchen with her mother. It may be insignificant for most people, but Brooke felt like this was a big step.
Her memory had improved quite well because she could recall most of the recipes, mixing ingredients, the measurements, and the order of the cooking, and she and her mother were happy about the significant step.
Her Mother Gave a Shocking Revelation
Brooke remembers this particular day her mother was swirling a glass of champagne next to the kitchen sink, and she started a conversation out of nowhere and said, “Three days into your coma, Stanley told me we should pull the plug on you.”
Brooke froze. She stopped to look at her mother, with her one eye closed, not to be distracted by the double vision caused by her damaged occipital lobe. She could not believe those words, but it perhaps showed that Stanley was scared of Brooke’s memory coming back.
Things Started to Get Odd
Her mother told her that Stanley would sit by her bed all day long trying to guess her phone’s passcode. He seemed desperate to want it. “And you seemed like you wanted him around.” She said. And it was because of this, Brooke’s mother and the nurses did not push Stanley away. But why would the little boy Stanley want Brooke dead?
Later after Brooke was discharged, Stanley insisted on going with her because he claimed to know what Brooke always wanted. Although she was a bit uncomfortable with that idea, Brooke was too weak to make Stanley leave.
Brooke Started Having Doubts
He visited her at her parent’s house every day, and he’d tell Brooke to stop focusing on rehabilitation and focus on her physical appearance. Stanley’s words to Brooke’s mother made Brooke realize that he was not a good person.
Cassie had also told her awful stories about Stanley that she did not believe and others that she did not remember. One of those was that Stanley started sexually assaulted her before Cassie stopped him. That was the beginning of Brooke cutting him off. The full truth remains unclear.
Brooke Suffered Serious Injuries
Although she does not know the exact distance she fell from, Brooke suffered near-fatal injuries on her brain. The exact nature of the accident remained a mystery, but doctors pieced it together from her injuries.
Her injury was a closed-head brain injury because her skull was not penetrated. With this type of accident, the brain bounces inside the skull, hitting on hard surfaces. It can cause serious damage, which includes the tearing of brain tissue.
She Had To Live With Double Vision
Doctors said that the occipital lobe injury that caused her double vision also called diplopia, needed surgery to be corrected. Brooke was happy to go through with it but had to face a long wait until it could be fixed.
The surgery would only be carried out nine months after being discharged, meaning she would close one eye to see clearly until nine months were over.
Other Medical Issues Followed
She also suffered balance problems called ataxia. She lost her monitor skills, and she could barely grip anything. It was an indication of just how bad her fall was.
This was an indication that her cerebellum part of the brain was injured. Her body could not regulate temperatures which was a confirmation that the brain stem also suffered injuries.
Brooke Often Laughed Inappropriately
Her inability to remember anything and her fits of laughter confirmed that her mental frontal lobe was damaged. When Brooke woke up from the coma, she had a social worker intervene with her drinking.
The medical social worker told Brooke’s mother to show her a picture of how injured she got from the fall and how she was hooked up to machines, but Brooke burst out laughing instead.
Therapy Was Going To Be a Long Road
The social worker told Brooke’s mother that the laughing was because of the injury. “You almost died, and your drinking contributed to it — don’t you care?” the therapist asked. But Brooke did not stop laughing, and her mother told the therapist that she had always been like that.
Brooke’s brain damage meant she had to relearn everything from speech, swallowing, walking, and writing. Her speech therapist would teach her how to eat, like a 2-year-old child. The therapist also gave her memory techniques to remember details slowly and remember past events.
Brooke Slowly Started Getting Better
Her occupational therapist took care of her in the kitchen. She would show Brooke how to find stuff around, cook, wash dishes, and bathe herself. The therapist also helped her remember if she had done things like how many times she conditioned her hair or the number of times she stirred the eggs.
Her physical therapist was responsible for her strength for balance and helped her learn how to swing her arms as she walked to not walk like a robot. Relearning all these things was tough because her short memory was injured. She gradually started to get better.
Her Hospital Stay Caused Other Issues
Every day for Brooke felt like a new day to learn something new. The speech, occupational and physical therapy she had been doing while in a coma helped her after she became conscious. She hardly remembered her therapists’ names.
Brooke contracted Clostridium difficile, commonly called C. diff, towards the end of her stay at the ward. This condition is common with people who stay in the hospital for a long time, and the patients are given antibiotics to treat it.
She Had To Use Crutches
The antibiotics that treat the C. diff kill the good gut bacteria, which affected Brooke’s gut health, and her digestion deteriorated. This made her lose weight, and she became even weaker, considering she had lost more weight while in a coma.
Her handwriting was poor because she could barely hold anything steady, and she had also forgotten how to write, so she was learning how to write from scratch. When Brooke was released from Santa Clara Valley Medical Center, the doctor always ordered her to use an arm crutch to walk.
A Slow Move Back To Normality
Brooke returned to her parents’ home in San Diego, where she was enrolled for brain injury day treatment every week, from 8 am to 3.30 pm. This program helped her learn how to read and write again and do eye exercises. She did exercises that helped her frontal lobe improve.
Brooke had improved within two and half months and was only required to attend the classes three days a week. She was able to walk without a crutch. Within four months, Brooke was good to go home. She returned to school to complete her bachelor’s degree at UC San Diego. She would later go for her eye muscle surgery nine months after her discharge.
Lucky To Be Alive
A year after the accident, Brooke had made many improvements that she was told were the best she could recover.
A study done by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention revealed that most people who suffer severe traumatic brain injuries die within five years of their injuries. But medics said that Brooke was doing well, and they were pleased.
Back Living a Normal Life
Later after finishing her bachelor’s, she started working as a production assistant at an academic publisher. She went to work on her own and started applying for health insurance.
Although she looked fine, and no one could tell whether there was any problem with her, Brooke was still struggling to do stuff independently.
How Is Brooke Today?
It has been five years since Brooke fell from a tree and went into a coma for ten days, but the problems persist. Her injuries were very severe, and she is fortunate to be functioning on her own. However, she knows that she is permanently disabled.
Brooke’s body is not connected to her brain fully because it does not take orders from there. She is also not as good at mental math as she was before the accident. Her cognition fails her when it comes to mental math and memory.
Every Day Is a Different Challenge
She is lucky to have her long-term memory still intact. Brooke remembers her childhood well and her family too. However, it takes longer to process most information from her past. She also doesn’t recognize places immediately, and she might take a while to know who a person is or place them in their context.
Sometimes Brooke loses her words when talking and will not recover them. Every day is different, and although she is doing well, some days are worse than others. Although she learned how to write, she still can’t hold a pen for a long time or write more than a few sentences.
She Had To Make Adjustments
Brooke uses a lift most times in her home. She also asks for a lid every time a liquid is served in a cup or tin, and she has to walk around with it because she does not have the stamina to keep it still and not cause it to pour.
Every time someone on the bus asks for her seat, Brooke feels embarrassed to explain that she is too tired to give it out. She instead leans on a pole and closes her eyes, and by the time she arrives at her destination, she is shaking and very tired.
Alcohol Dependency Never Left Her
You may expect that Brooke is alcohol-free, considering the damage that it caused her. But is she? No. Brooke is still an alcoholic. Although the coma served her a detox, she has agreed that she will always be an alcoholic, but drinking isn’t as easy as it was.
Brooke cannot go to the bars because of her inability to walk and the other brain damage, which made her stop drinking. She explains that she has deteriorated since she stopped using beer. She also cannot drink because she gets cut off after a bottle of beer. “My ataxia gives me a permanent wobble after.” She explains.
Things Are Under Control
Brooke explains how she does not mention that she has brain damage to anyone because they would instead start wondering and not give her any beer. She knows that going back to drinking will kill her, and she agrees to live with it, although she is still an alcoholic.
Therapy and stories have helped her stop thinking about alcohol and venture into doing better things. She doesn’t suffer from depression because she is under medication. The College she teaches has good people who respect her viewpoints and limitations, and her students are patient with her. Brooke says she is happier now than before she fell from the tree.
And What about Stanley?
Brooke doesn’t care about Stanley. She doesn’t even know where he is or what he is doing with his life. All she knows is that he caused her pain and drove a wedge between her and Cassie. She hopes that he is doing some self-reflection.
She has suffered physical deficits, and she has accepted that these are an everyday part of her life now. The trauma of her accident gave her a new identity which she is learning to live with, unlike the effects Stanley caused. She is paranoid about romantic partners, and she goes to therapy to help her with the paranoia.
Slowly Developing Emotional Trust
Despite all that, Brooke is in a romantic relationship with her old friend, but it’s long-distance as he loves on the other side of the country. Brooke is happy with what she has, and she says that that’s all she can manage.
She has a lot of herself to take care of and does not want to be responsible for another person’s emotional stability. It shows the damage that her trauma caused and the emotional scars that Stanley left.
The Recovery Never Ends
Although the accident was nearly fatal and caused brain injuries that forced her to learn things from scratch, Brooke says she does not regret that it happened.
She understands the weight of her actions, and she is sorry for the grief the accident caused her family and friends, but she is not sorry it happened. She’s clearly a very strong person and continues her emotional and physical recovery every day.