The Hard Realities Of Life After I Shot Myself In The Head
There are 94 successful suicides every day, and one attempted suicide every 38 seconds. Most suicide attempts fail, and 70 percent of the people who fail will not attempt again. Attempting suicide is a reflection of a few moments -- a short, awful period that a lot of people survive. They get through it. Their lives go back to normal, and the idea that they ever wanted to die seems like a surreal joke. In June of 2010, "Jessica" attempted suicide by putting her husband's .40 caliber handgun under her chin and pulling the trigger, and the fact that she was able to talk to us without a Ouija board makes her fairly unique, since guns are actually the outlier in the world of suicide statistics: 90 percent of suicides involving a gun succeed. She told us her story and, even though it ends well, it's pretty terrifying. Fair warning.
I Have No Memory Of Attempting Suicide
"One day I woke up in the hospital, and I had no idea where I was," Jessica told us. "I had paper bags on my hands and I was tied to bed, and everything hurt."
Jessica was tied down because she kept trying to touch her face, and her hands were in bags because she kept waking up and undoing her restraints. Jessica's mouth was a thorn-bush of razor sharp wiring that sliced the insides of her cheeks and gums, and her tongue was held together by several dozen stitches. And she had no idea why. You might have already guessed that firing a bullet through your head at close range would have an effect on your memory:
"I had to ask 'Leon' (her then-husband) what had happened, and he had to tell me," Jessica said. "I was just in disbelief. I thought there was no way I could've actually done this. I thought a) chicks don't shoot themselves, and b) I'm really cute! Cute people don't shoot themselves! It turns out that was about the tenth time he had had to explain everything. I feel so guilty about that -- making him explain, over and over. It was so difficult for him."
When waiting to see if your spouse survives the night isn't quite stressful enough.
That was early in the treatment, but the pattern continued. Her family kept having to explain her own suicide attempt to her again and again, like they were all living in a sadistic Groundhog Day. Once she woke up with her parents beside her, just before a nurse gave her a shot of pain medicine. Jessica didn't even realize she was in a hospital. She just thought it was a stranger sticking a needle in her arm while her mom and dad watched, and did nothing.
"The medication made me throw up. And they hadn't done the surgery to remove the mangled pieces of my tongue yet, so I threw up my tongue. And I'm crying and I can't talk so my mom gave me paper -- I still have this paper -- I wrote down 'Mom please take me to the hospital. I have insurance.'"
We... will take her word for it.
It Was a Spur of the Moment Decision
Like 80 percent of all suicide attempts, Jessica's was an impulsive act, driven by a thousand little problems she didn't know how to solve, from being sexually assaulted by a family member (and having her husband be the only person who believed her) to some less major shakeups at the bank where she was employed.
"They took our chairs away! And suddenly we weren't allowed to surf the internet, no matter how slow it was. And when the 2008 recession hit, we were suddenly in charge of telling customers about our, ya know, mildly predatory policies. Then the bank got robbed by a guy with an actual gun, actually pointing it at us. It was around then people started saying stuff like, 'I need to go have a drink.' I was like, 'Me too!' That's when I learned that when life is hard, you drink."
Which, though we can hardly believe it either, isn't a perfect solution, long term.
These problems sound pretty familiar to most of you. And some things that might seem downright terrifying in retrospect seemed perfectly ordinary at the time.
"We had a handgun for self-defense. We kept it in the nightstand."
Clear signs of trouble, here: drinking, trauma, and a gun. So what was the last straw? What was the final, traumatic incident that made everything fall apart and Jessica decide to end her life? Turns out it was ... nothing.
"I don't know if I can remember the night, or if I've just been told the story so many times that my brain created memories," Jessica admits. "Apparently on this night, neither Leon or I cooked, so I went to get fast food. We argued over Wendy's, and I was mean to one of our dogs. So he stormed into the bedroom and shut the door between us. I put on his swim trunks, got his gun and walked down to a nearby canal. I remember being worried about making a mess and affecting the property value of the building. Then I sent my husband a text message."
"Never let it be said I can't drunk text with flair," Jessica said, when she emailed this picture to us.
"I fired one shot into the water so that I'd know what to expect, and doing that sprained my wrist. And we think that's the first time my life was saved that night, because with a messed-up wrist I wasn't able to get the proper angle once I put the gun under my chin."
I Was Awake And Trying To Communicate With A Bullet Hole In My Face
Leon didn't hear the gunshot, but when he got the text he ran to the canal.
"When he saw me floating in the water, his first thoughts were 'Oh thank God I made it in time.' Then I turned around, and he saw my face."
We'll just let you extrapolate what this must've looked like a minute after it happened.
The bullet entered under Jessica's jaw and exited above her nose. Her tongue was almost completely severed, her palate was shattered, and her left eye socket, and her lower jaw snapped into several pieces. But she was lucid, and she even would have been able to talk if her teeth hadn't been ripped from their sockets and embedded into the flesh of her mouth and throat.
When the police first arrived and pulled her from the water, they wanted her to lay on her back. But she started choking on what was left of her tongue and teeth, and kept trying to roll on her side, or lay facedown. It wasn't until the paramedics showed up and let her move that she was finally safe (relatively speaking). She was able to communicate a little through hand signals -- according to the police report, she even gave them a thumbs-up at one point.
"Here's a pic of my clear forethought in wearing my husband's swim trunks, showing off a sweet yoga move," she said.
It was Leon who called the police, but since the gunfire had cauterized the wound below Jessica's jaw, they only saw the hole higher up on her face, and initially assumed Leon had shot her. He sat handcuffed in a police station for several hours with no idea if Jessica was even okay. When paramedics found the real entry wound, the whole story became clear.
Some Doctors Aren't Fond of Suicide Victims
Jessica doesn't recall the surgery, as is kind of the general idea of general anesthetic. But she does have some memories of her recovery in the hospital:
"One day a doctor came in and told me they had to re-open my forehead," Jessica said, describing her recovery. "They injected me with lidocaine. Lidocaine, by the way, tastes horrible. I had a hole from my mouth to my forehead and anything injected in my head dripped down to my mouth. Then they poured water over my face to wash away the blood, and even though I was breathing through my trache, my brain thought I was drowning and put me in panic-mode."
No trip to the ER is complete without an impromptu waterboarding.
That sounds more like torture than medicine, and it very well could have been. Jessica described an encounter with her doctor that was downright nightmarish.
"One day a man walked in with a few of the residents and introduced himself as head of the department that was treating me, and he was the one making decisions about my care. My mom was with me and neither of us had ever seen or heard of him. We had gotten to know all the doctors, nurses, and techs by then, so we were surprised," she said.
"By the way, Jessica, there are two kinds of people in this world," he said. "There are victims, who get hurt by someone, and we do everything in our power to help them and make sure they need as few surgeries as possible. The second person is the perpetrator. The criminal. Them, maybe we don't help them as much as we should. We don't help them as much as we have to because they don't deserve it. And Jessica, you're a perpetrator."
We don't exactly have the Hippocratic Oath memorized, but that seems like something that's probably not in it.
Needless to say, that is a terrifying thing to hear while you're stuck in a hospital. We reached out to a surgeon from one of our earlier articles to ask why a surgeon might say something like that, and he was quick to explain that it's completely unacceptable.
"Ethically, everyone should get 'standard of care' treatment. If we define that, it's 'this is what a competent doctor does in this situation.' No matter who we're talking about -- a pedophile, murderer, someone who shot a cop -- any ethical, good doctor treats them the same."
But with traumatic injuries, it can be more complicated.
"When you talk about trauma, especially a gunshot wound to the head, we might talk about 'futile' or 'heroic' care. That's where things get iffy. When you look at someone and realize they can't meaningfully survive the situation. If you give them the best treatment possible, you've just turned a perfectly good dead person into a vegetative person in a nursing home. That's tough, and it should always be based on the injury."
That explains the thinking, but our source wanted to be clear that it does not excuse it:
"It's completely inappropriate for any doctor to say that they didn't provide the best care available because of a suicide attempt."
Jessica and her family were furious, and chose to move hospitals:
"The co-chair of the OMFS [Oral and Maxillofacial Surgery] department (his counterpart) did seem a little too nice, and it was clear he was concerned about [what the surgeon said]," she told us. Jessica and her family didn't want to press the matter any further, though: "We just wanted out of there."
They never heard from him again, and the rest of the staff treated her and her family with kindness and respect. And that doctor's still out there, following his passion: haranguing attempted suicide patients.
My Body Keeps Eating My Bones
Obviously Jessica has scars:
Two weeks after
Six months later
"When I meet people, I feel like I have to bring up and explain the scars. And I wanna joke about it, so people know that I'm not going to cry if we talk about it. I've told the story enough that it's like repeating a grocery list. I constantly think about it when meeting new people, do I wait for them to bring it up? Or do I get out in front of it and tell them?"
It's always on her mind for many reasons, but mainly because, even though this happened all the way back in 2010, her reconstruction isn't complete. Her body keeps eating its own bones.
Which is apparently a thing that happens, so enjoy that paranoia every time you have a sore bone for the rest of your life.
"I have peach fuzz on the roof of my mouth, because that skin is from my arm. Parts of me aren't finished. Your maxilla is your upper jaw -- your teeth attach to your maxilla. I only have half of one. On the left side, there's nothing. I have a retainer that looks like teeth. They took bones from my hip and put it up in my upper jaw so they could add implants, but my head ate the bone. I didn't realize that could happen, but, yeah."
Turns out if your body doesn't think it has any teeth, it might decide it doesn't need those silly jawbones either.
So if you wanted this X-ray from earlier to seem even more unsettling, there you go.
"[It] was 'okay, we'll take bones from your tibia,' but I lost my health insurance so we had to stop reconstructive surgery."
Thankfully, she doesn't have a lot of work left. Less thankfully, she's still missing bones in her head.
You Can Come Back From Anything
As bad as everything sounds, it's important to note that this wasn't actually rock bottom for Jessica. When she recovered from the attempted suicide, all the problems that had initially driven her to the act still existed. In 2012, she and her husband separated, and she began drinking again. The reconstructive surgery, the help, and the outpouring of love and support from her family ultimately didn't make her feel any better about herself.
"You feel like you're beyond sympathy, because you did it to yourself," She told us. "You feel like you're supposed to suffer, to repay the hurt you caused."
That's actually a pretty common reaction.
But she did eventually move forward, and it wasn't exactly like in the Lifetime movies and the inspiring Tumblr posts. It all started with the death of her dog:
"A few months after I got out of the hospital, my dachshund Eve injured her spine and had to be put down. I was utterly devastated and cried for months. My therapist pointed out that I wasn't only grieving for the loss of my dog, but for all the loss I had experienced. Up until that point, my only focus had been on surviving and getting to tomorrow because looking at my broken face and life hurt too much. Crying over Evie released my emotions and allowed me to really look at what I'd done and grieve in it."
Let it never be said that life doesn't know how to properly kick someone when they're down.
Tattoos helped as well:
"I won't go into all the ink I have, but two of them helped me recover at different periods of my post-attempt life. The first is the French phrase 'fait accompli' on my side, which means 'a thing that has already happened or been decided before those affected hear about it, leaving them no option but to accept it.' Because I have no real memory of that night, and it permanently changed my life, that seems like a good verbalization of the experience. I also have a large, stylized phoenix on my back. For trauma this big, there's no 'getting back to your old self,' and that can be scary. I think people understand my obsession with the phoenix.
"People can come back from more than you think. I had a bullet travel through my face and out my forehead. I lost 60 percent vision in my left eye, lost my sense of smell. Yet I can drive, work, take care of myself, make friends, and do the things most people do. The confidence and peace I have now, the person I am today, is different from who I used to be. I hate a lot of the things I had to go through. Having my upper jaw cut out of my face, for example."
"I'm not proud of what I did. But I am proud of who I've become since."
The suicide hotline is 1-800-273-8255, and you can chat online with them here.
For insider looks at suicide, check out 4 Surprising Things You Learn After Considering Suicide and 5 Disturbing Things I Learned Working At A Suicide Hotline.
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