By Mary Lou Smart
Debbie Wilson was disabled 22 years ago when the 16-year-old driver of a pick-up truck knocked her down and backed over her at a Kentucky Fried Chicken.
He was driving the wrong way, against the arrows, as he left the restaurant. The tail end of his truck clipped her jaw, knocking out her teeth and throwing her to the ground, head first.
The injury dramatically altered her life.
Prior to becoming disabled, Wilson enjoyed a career in law enforcement as a felony probation and parole officer for the state of Florida, and was also in her second year of law school.
She had grown up and trained in Tampa, where her father was a supervisor of federal probation and parole officers and her mother was a U.S. marshal.
Her husband, who is now deceased, was a county deputy sheriff. In a split second, the swipe of a pick-up truck dramatically changed her life.
She could no longer hold her 3-year-old son. She became reliant on others.
For two decades following the accident, she wore a helmet from the time she woke up until the time she went to sleep. She suffered from migraine headaches and uncontrolled seizures, including several grand mal seizures every week and daily partial cluster seizures lasting for hours.
Seven years ago, a loss of balance led to a repeat head injury that did more damage to her brain and exasperated her seizures. She learned to walk, talk and tie her shoes for the third time in her life.
Nothing was under control. Her neurologist admitted to her that she was one of up to 30 percent of seizure patients whose seizures cannot be controlled by conventional medications.
Ten years ago her large intestine was removed, leaving her with constant irritable bowel syndrome (IBS), and necessitating diapers. Dehydration from diarrhea all day every day regularly caused her potassium level to plummet, resulting in several hospitalizations a year to stabilize life-threatening hypokalemia.
Wilson ’s pharmaceutical regimen was considerable.
Pain meds for migraines; high doses of central nervous system depressants for non-stop seizures; eight Lemotil, a Pfizer pharmaceutical intended for short-term use, daily for years for IBS; and antidepressants to deal with a life spent taking pills.
The pain medications to control the post traumatic headaches were ineffective, possibly because of the seizure medications she was taking.
“I was opiate resistant, and I think that’s because I was taking so many anti-epileptic drugs in such massive proportions,” she said. “At one point I was taking 400 milligrams of Phenobarbital a day. My doctor told me that it was enough to put two men comatose.”
Wilson has been under the care of doctors specializing in high-risk patients for years, and has been told that she’s one of the worst seizure patients they’ve ever seen.
She’s been turned down for seizure studies because her condition is so precarious. While trying to stabilize the seizures, doctors occasionally poisoned her with too many seizure medications.
Charcoaling with a substance that binds to drugs and prevents them from being absorbed into the bloodstream is one method of dealing with drug overdoses. She estimates that she’s been charcoaled 30 times in the past two decades.
She developed type 2 diabetes five years ago, and began taking medication for that.
Constant anxiety from spiraling health contributed to a diagnosis of post traumatic stress syndrome.
Throughout it all, Wilson , 57, advocated for others in similar predicaments.
“The most hopeless group of people I’ve ever met are not in wheelchairs,” she said. “They are people with traumatic brain injuries, and that’s no lie. We are given no hope. I can’t tell you how many doctors wrote me off as just not worth it. This goes to show you that doctors can be wrong.”
Fifteen years ago she started a website to write about traumatic brain injury. That site, domiciled in England , has had over 8 million hits. A Google search of TBI + Debbie Wilson leads to her story, poems and prose about living with a brain injury.
Through her writing, she’s tried to help a wide range of people, from infants to war veterans, that suffer from serious head injuries. Physicians and lawyers specializing in traumatic brain injury, and even the manufacturer of the wheelchair she uses, feature her poetry on their websites.
One year ago, she went to Chicago for out-patient treatment for her migraines, which were getting worse. Head trauma patients often suffer from chronic headaches, and chronic pain is also known to cause changes in the nervous system that can worsen over time.
The physician she visited insisted on admitting her for a 14-day treatment, but his hospital would not take Medicaid. Her insurance did not cover in-patient care. With only Medicare being accepted, a daily out-of-pocket expense of $500 would have been beyond her reach. She could not afford the treatment that she needed.
On the train ride back home, she decided that she needed to take her life back. Having head aches and seizures non-stop while taking multiple medications was bad enough, but wearing a helmet and diapers all day was pure hell. She thought about it for several days before asking a friend to buy her some marijuana.
For a former law enforcement professional who had never smoked marijuana, the decision was not an easy one.
“I’d come from the other side of the law,” she said. “The way I had been raised, I would never have considered crossing the line and doing something illegal. I had never experimented recreationally.”
“First of all, it helped my headaches, and then after a few weeks I started noticing that I wasn’t having diarrhea any more,” she said. “When it helped the seizures, that was just the icing on the cake.”
With cannabis, her chronic migraines were immediately relieved. Her uncontrolled cluster partial complex seizures, which previously would have continued for hours, could now be stopped quickly and without hospitalization. Even her diabetes improved.
When her blood sugar level stabilized, she stopped taking diabetes medication.
Prior to cannabis, she’d been told by her doctor that the brain injury caused her brain to stop producing serotonin, which is why she needed antidepressants. When she began feeling better all over, she went off of the antidepressants.
“It really was the miracle cure. I went from 40 pills a day to none, and after 13 years of never being able to watch my grandchildren on my own, I finally can because of cannabis.”
“The secret is the CBD-rich tinctures, but where I live there is no medical system for me to get it so I’m always worried. It would be nice to be able to move, or have my state allow for medical marijuana.”
Now that she is saving taxpayers $4,000 each month by not taking her prescription pills, she is still unable to work, but only because this Phd would fail a drug test, and not because of any disability anymore.
“Sadly, the same thing that allows me to have a better quality of life now and gives me the strength and ability to be a productive member in society is the same thing that makes me fail a drug test.”
“As a former probation officer, I know how they think, and it’s still black and white to the black and blue. They just don’t know any better.”
Mary Lou Smart is a freelance writer based on the East Coast. She maintains her website, Medical Cannabis Art and has many of her articles and artwork available for your own publications. With more than 20 years as a journalist, Ms. Smart has the experience and expertise to help shape the stories she writes with a solid understanding in this complicated plant science.