Thirty Years Ago Today I Got A Blue Medal – And Was “Scalped!”

On April 1, 1989, I was 17 years old, and was all dressed up and heading to the state solo and ensemble competition for band. I had been practicing my piece on my saxophone daily for months, and had already achieved first division ratings at the district solo and ensemble competition a couple of months earlier.

Long story short? Nailed it! I scored 87 points out of a possible 100 – and was judged not only on how well I played my prepared piece, but also on sight reading (playing something I’d never seen before), and my precision in playing major scales in a “circle of fifths” (which is nothing like the “circle of life,” LOL)! Then there was the “swimsuit competition” (I kid, I kid…)!

Here’s a pic of me and my friend with our blue medals at the University of Michigan-Flint (thanks to husband for the color correction):

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Ugh, FLORALS? I MUST have a talk with my 17-year-old self about that outfit! I think I wore a black dress to the earlier competition, maybe I felt like I had to wear something “spring like” (who knows what I was thinking).

Fast forward to that evening, and my friend and I went to see the movie Chances Are in a Burton, MI theater. It starred Robert Downey Jr. and Cybill Shepherd, the latter of whom was very popular at the time because she was one of the stars of Moonlighting. This was decades before RDJ would become a virtual superstar for playing Iron Man.  Before we saw the movie, we went to Wendy’s and had their taco buffet thing (which has long since been 86’d). Sounds pretty pedestrian, doesn’t it? A couple of teenagers having fast food and going to a movie?

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A scene from Chances Are. The plot involved Robert Downey Jr. having the “soul” of Cybill Shepherd’s dead husband. This is one of the only “romcom” movies I actually like watching.

On the way home, it was about 12:30 or so and…we were both involved in a traffic accident. I don’t remember all of the details since I was knocked unconscious, but police reports say that I ran a flashing red light and hit an oncoming car.

The first thing I remember after coming “to” was wondering why my “head was all wet.” I also remember that I couldn’t breathe –  I was having a severe asthma attack, and tried finding my inhaler in my purse, and used it when I found it. Then I was put into an ambulance and was taken to the hospital (my friend was taken to the same hospital). My jeans and jean jacket were both cut off me in the ambulance. Later, my mom would stitch my denim jacket back together (I still have that jacket and can still wear it, though I can no longer button it up all the way).

Below is a recent picture of me in that jean jacket, at a – fittingly enough – ’80s music trivia night (our team won first place):

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See the stitching? My mother went above and beyond the call of duty! She really put her “home ec” skills to good use…

I was kept awake for hours until almost dawn, even though I wanted nothing but to go to sleep. I guess if you have a concussion, you’re not supposed to be allowed to sleep (I’m not a doctor). While they kept me up, they stitched up my scalp, which was lacerated from hitting something inside the car (possibly the visor)? I had been wearing my seat belt, so I was kept restrained properly, but I’m a tall person – and my head had obviously grazed something it shouldn’t have in the collision. Air bags would probably prevent this from happening, but cars didn’t tend to have air bags back then. I wound up receiving about 40-50 stitches in my scalp (just above the hairline, you can still see the scars if you know where to look), and a short ways up on top of my head, too.

I wasn’t even allowed to use the bathroom – they put in a catheter to make sure they wouldn’t be interrupted by a pesky call from “Mother Nature.” More about “mother nature” calls in a bit!

I hear it was a very skilled plastic surgeon who took care of me that night (it was a female as I recall). I had been essentially scalped by my own car’s interior – and they sewed my scalp back together. I shudder to think what I must’ve looked like. I also received breathing treatments for the asthma symptoms, CAT scans (I joked later that CAT scans revealed absolutely nothing in my head), and had an IV drip feed put in (I DO NOT LIKE THOSE THINGS)!

Because I had a concussion, I had to wear a “pressure bandage” on my head and was initially put into intensive care. Also because of the concussion, I was quite nauseous, and got re-acquainted with Wendy’s taco bar, so to speak (I couldn’t eat that food again after having that accident).  When I had to use the bathroom, a duty nurse told me I had to use a bedpan. I was horrified – I didn’t want to use a bedpan, I would walk to a toilet just fine, thank you very much! So I held it – and waited until the next nurse came on duty and I was able to go use a real toilet. I can be…manipulative when I want to! The things I’ll do when I want to get my way (classic youngest child tactic).

I wound moving to a regular room later the next day, and wound up staying in the Flint Osteopathic Hospital for about four days (I think the hospital is called “Genesys” now, which is kind of “Star Trekky,” imho). It’s the same hospital I was born in.  My mom brought me MAD and other magazines to read, and even some doughnuts! Most importantly…she brought me underwear and a nightgown from home! Little known fact, they don’t provide underwear when you go to a hospital! They expected me – a teenage girl – to walk around in their open-backed hospital-issue “thing” and moon everyone? Uh, I don’t think so! It was nice having friends come visit me, and having cards brought to me that people from band signed for me.

I was not a very “nice” hospital patient! They kept administering “breathing treatments” which I did not need, and I told them so. I also didn’t need to be tethered to the IV. I don’t know if was a successful “Jedi Mind Trick” on my part – or what – but for some reason – they acquiesced to my requests! The breathing treatments stopped – and I didn’t have to stay tethered to the IV. I have long since outgrown my “childhood asthma” and have not needed any asthma medication for almost 20 years now.

During my recovery, I had to keep my stitched areas of my scalp clean, which required applying hydrogen peroxide to it daily. A little side “benefit” was I got little blonde streaks in my bangs for a bit! Even these days – when I’m 30 years older – I only tend to be fashionable by accident!

Other than having some recurring headaches after the accident, I recovered fully without any serious injuries. Though I do occasionally start randomly speaking “in tongues” (JK, JK – there’s my little “April Fool’s joke”). But my friendship with Jenni became strained, and I received a ticket for the accident. The 1987 Buick Century station wagon I’d been driving was totaled, and we replaced it with a Chevy Celebrity wagon, which wound up logging nearly 200,000 miles (that was a Hell of a car)!

Jenni and I did wind up reconciling years later, after we’d both graduated high school, and we still see each other from time to time. She teaches music in the Clio Area Schools district to elementary students. I’m not as active with music as I used to be, but it will ALWAYS be a part of my life – and I’ll always be a musician at heart!

I would have to say that was definitely the most terrifying night of my life! But…I’m alive – and in Native American culture, they would probably say I became a true “warrior” that day for having survived a scalping!

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