An energy drink stopped my heart. I landed on a glass I was carrying, and a chunk of it punctured my jugular. My blood pressure was 70/40 when paramedics arrived and it kept dropping lower each time they raised my arm to take it, and I’d pass out. I fractured my cheek and jaw in that fall and got a traumatic brain injury (TBI) as a bonus.
I had an out of town funeral to attend the following day. The drive was going to take about [six] hours. I was gassing up my car, and at the last minute, I decided to get an energy drink because I was driving at night. I get sleepy, and I since I had our son Trevor with me, I wanted to be sure I’d stay awake. So I went in the store and got myself a drink. I remember having second thoughts as I grabbed the can from the cooler, like that deep gut ‘oh I’m going to get busted’ feeling, but I went against it and grabbed a biggie… the biggest mistake of my life.
I had arranged to stay with a girlfriend, and as I was getting off the freeway, I called my husband Chuck. He stayed home with our oldest son because of work and school. Chuck teaches Marine Corps JROTC and he couldn’t take the time off work. I told Chuck I’d call him when I got there but since it was after midnight, I called as I was getting off the freeway instead. I said I’d call him the next morning and told him I loved him, not knowing that was almost the last time I’d get to say it.
I got to my friend’s house and made myself at home while I waited for her to get home from work. I went out on the patio and suddenly began feeling a little nauseous, immediately feeling like something was seriously wrong. I didn’t want to collapse on concrete, so I went inside. I had a glass of water in one hand and my big ‘ol large diet coke, like 64 oz big, in the other. I had gotten it later on the drive. I had a lot of caffeine. I remember standing at the corner of the kitchen counter and the next memory is me opening my eyes and I’m lying on something red. My head was between the legs of a butcher block table and a vintage cast iron stove and my head was touching each of them — table on the left and stove on the right. I sat up and felt stuff falling on my chest from my face and something was in my mouth and on my lips. It was shattered glass. I started spitting it out and wiping my chin. As I continue to wipe it off, I ran my hand down my chin and under my jaw where I felt something snag my finger. I was so out of it, I grabbed around the glass and squeezed it out. I was an X-ray tech and medical assistant and I also taught CPR/First Aid. I know not to pull objects from the body, ESPECIALLY THE NECK!
I remember looking at the claw-shaped glass now in my palm and telling my friend’s son I need to wash my neck. My friend’s kids were home, and when I fell, they heard the glass shatter and came running. Her son [Colton] came up from behind me and saw the glass in my hand and blood running down my chest, and her daughter and son’s friend came in from the other direction and saw me from the front. Between these three, one got me up, one called 911 and the other got towels. My head was starting to hurt and so was my face. I leaned over the sink to wash my neck, and everything goes white. No pain, no speech, no sight, and my legs buckled. I collapsed into Colton’s arms and what I could hear sounded like kids playing at the end of the block. A male voice came to me and told me I was dying. Oh God no! I didn’t want to die. Trevor was with me and I didn’t want to tell him I loved him because I didn’t want my last words to be in that moment, but I wanted him to know I loved him. And poor Trevor — he was in the next room listening to me moaning and repeating that I loved him when the paramedics were taking me. I don’t remember that, but it has traumatized him. He has Autism. I remember thinking I was having this internal pull and a second man’s voice came to me and told me to keep my eye open and if I closed them, I’d never wake up. So I began to fight.
The sounds I heard was my friend’s son Colton screaming next to my head, and her daughter Jesse frantically trying to get the Paramedics to her house. Colton was holding me while trying to keep pressure on my neck. Can you imagine being him, having to hold dead weight up because you can’t let go of the towel? When the paramedics got there, I was set down on a chair and each time the paramedics raised my arm to take my blood pressure, I’d collapse. I remember hearing the paramedic saying I was lucky because I nicked my jugular. My BP was unstable and I was fighting to keep my eyes open like a 3-year-old not wanting to take a nap. It was the longest ride to the hospital and every bump along the way, I’d bottom out.
When the emergency room doctor walked up to my gurney, I told him, ‘Listen doc, I need to be out of here by 6:30 a.m. because I have a funeral to be at by 9.’ He said, ‘Just be glad it isn’t yours.’ He also said it would’ve happened while I was driving if I had further to go. I went down for a funeral. Oh, the irony. I was being wheeled in, and morphine was mentioned but I didn’t know why. Apparently, I bounced off the butcher block table with my left cheek and hit the cast iron stove before my head got nestled between the two.
The ER doctor said the combo of the energy drink mixed with the extra fluid from the Diet Coke, and both being a diuretic, caused the problems in my heart, because of my having to use the restroom [six] times on the trip down there. Using the restroom caused me to lose critical electrolytes we need for our heart to function. He told me, ‘Next time, leave earlier and drink coffee instead. No more energy drinks for you!’ I received a couple more shots while there, and boy I was hurting, but I was eventually discharged.
I made it to the funeral after all, but ended up driving the wrong way on a one-way street in front of the cemetery. You’re probably thinking I was determined to be buried that day. After that little fiasco, I was refused the right to drive home for [three] days. That drive home was difficult and long. I kept getting sleepy, and that kept up for quite a while. It’s been [seven] years and I can just now drive [three] hours by myself without anyone else in the car. I suffered a traumatic brain injury with that concussion.
The effects of a TBI are devastating. I lost a part of my life I’ll never get back. My memory. I can’t recall my children’s milestones and when the doctor asks about them, I feel like a failure for not knowing. A common phrase in our house is, ‘Mom, we already watched that.’ The most treasured part of us is our mind/memory and mine has forever been altered, and when they’re ripped out from under you, it’s a disheartening feeling. It angers me most. Probably because I didn’t listen to my gut when I reached in the cooler.
Memorizing phone numbers is a thing of the past. I can’t do it. Three digits in and I’ve already forgotten the first two. I forgot how to write a check. I forgot how to sign my name, let alone know what my signature looked like. I‘ve forgotten how to hold a pen. I’ve forgotten how to do many things and had to relearn them, and that is maddening. This energy drink accident changed the lives of everyone in my home. When someone grabs for that can, they’re only thinking of themselves and the instant gratification they’ll get in that first sip, and not about who’s left to pick up the pieces. It makes me so mad my life changed so drastically because of that choice I made.
If I can change one person’s energy drink habit, I’ll be pleased. It would mean the world to me if I can save at least one person’s life. Sadly, Colton lost his life a year after my accident as well. It was said he had [two] of those energy drink beers a few hours before his heart stopped. He died because his heart was enlarged, and it just wore out.
These drinks are like liquid heroin because of the addiction for the energy. One sip and you’re hooked because the extra energy is easily accessible. These energy drinks don’t have to be consumed on a regular basis to cause an injury. I drank maybe two energy drinks a year if that. I’ve probably had [eight] in total over a six-year period. I stopped [six] times to use the restroom on that drive and that caused me to lose critical electrolytes we need for our heart to function. I don’t know if the rapid heart rate is worse than electrolyte depletion, but the combo can be dangerous. Our heart muscle is constructed like a net, unlike our long muscles. Each of those tiny branches [has] a lifespan, unlike the long muscles. They’re like a rubber band and wear out like an overused rubber band does. That’s what people don’t understand.
We take 50 of my husband’s cadets to a Marine Corps Base during spring break and whenever I see our servicemen carrying one, I’m diligent about walking up to them and telling them what happened to me. My husband incorporates my accident into his instruction too. They’re more than just bad, they’re destructive.
My goals of becoming a sign language interpreter ended that day. I couldn’t remember my signs and I struggled for [two] years until I resigned to the fact I couldn’t do it. I call myself a housewife now, but my husband says I’m not, I’m the boss of our home. I like the ring of that. I now just dedicate myself to educating others about the energy drink dangers every opportunity I can. My husband and boys have been incredibly supportive… even sitting through the same movie for me. We just say I’m forgetful now. It’s less hurtful.
“I was too stubborn to die and here I am, and I hope my photos and story impacts others to quit.”
**This story was written by Tara Mundorff and originally appeared on Love What Matters. Used with permission.