Memories before the crash

Lethan Candlish Part Three

memories before crash

Lethan talks about his memories before the crash. They are not necessarily accurate, as we see brain injury survivors sometimes do confabulation.

Lethan waves goodbye to his French teacher in the rear-view mirror. This distraction could have caused his accident. But he doesn’t have memories of the accident, like everyone with a severe brain injury.

As mentioned in prior parts, he was driving his sister to school where he saw his French teacher. He and his mom had gotten in a fight before he left. A car passed him on the country road going back to his house. He is not sure how the accident happened. He could have swerved to avoid the vehicle or a deer. Maybe he was going to fast and lost control of the car. No one knew the exact reason. It could have been a number of different possibilities. “Any, any one of a million other possibilities, but somehow I swerved and hit a telephone pole,” he said.

We can’t even rely on these memories as being authentic. After a severe brain injury, the brain tends to put bits and pieces of poorly stored memory together into something that seems coherent, even if they have no rational relationship to what actually happened. Lethan was likely doing something we call confabulation. He was trying to make sense of his memory by filling in gaps in ways that make sense to him but may have no basis in reality.

When he tells the story of waving to his French teacher, that is in all likelihood, confabulation. The close proximity of that memory to his injury and the lyrical quality of the memory, makes it indicative of confabulation. He says he may have hit a deer. He doesn’t remember hitting a deer, just that it seems a logical explanation as to how he lost control. He is just trying to make sense of something he can’t totally remember by putting together bits and pieces of his memory.

Lethan was in a coma for between five and seven days. Those days were a period of waiting for him to wake up by his parents and a time for the community to gather together in support of Lethan and his family. His accident actually filled the hospital chapel with people. While waiting, one way in which his friends and families connected was to tell stories about Lethan.

He was in the hospital for one month before they felt he was progressing enough to be sent off to a rehabilitation center.

Lethan tells the story of his friend from rehab named Tony. Tony was in a single vehicle crash with his fiance, but Tony doesn’t remember the accident or the week leading up to it. This is much more typical of a length of retrograde amnesia for a severe brain injury survivor. Tony was just told that is what happened.

But Lethan adds to the story, saying that Tony wakes up and remembers the moment before the crash. He opens his eyes and sees the front of his car crash into a roadside embankment. He remembers being thrown straight through the roof up about 2,000 or 3,000 kilometers.

Tony also remembers waiting in a line with a strong man in a robe at the front of the line. When he gets to the front of the line, the man, the angel, tells him that it is not his time. He remembers falling, falling down to Earth. He slams back into his body. When he wakes up, he had been in a coma for six months.

Lethan’s other friend from rehab, named Sarah, said she remembered being in a white room with God. She laid her head in God’s lap, and God told her she had to make a decision.

Confabulation, as mentioned before, is the brain trying to make sense of its gaps in memory, but it may have no basis in reality. Lethan, Tony and Sarah, all have memories we must be skeptical of. This is not a religious or near-death experience. It is just how the brain digitally enhances images and memories it has to try to fill in the blanks. The problem in enhancing something is that in an effort to increase the resolution, you may create something entirely different. See our next post about who Lethan was before his accident.


Gordon Johnson

Attorney Gordon Johnson is one of the nations leading brain injury advocates. He is Past-Chair of the TBILG, a national group of more than 150 brain injury advocates. He has spoken at numerous brain injury seminars and is the author of some of the most read brain injury web pages on the internet.

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