My First Experience Dating After Becoming Disabled Landed Me In The ER

by Brooke Knisley

I’ve never had the best luck with dating. I guess I just attract the wrong sort of people or I have my own issues — a little of both, honestly. But dating after becoming disabled has shown me my selection process needs even more refining than I previously believed.

In 2015, a 25-foot fall from a tree put me in a 10-day coma and left me with a severe traumatic brain injury. Throughout that whole ordeal, a former hookup claimed to be my boyfriend while I was out, which is a whole other story in itself. This was the beginning of my dating while disabled troubles. After the former hookup weaseled his way in and out of my recovery, another man from my past emerged from the woodwork.

Around the winter holidays of 2016, I started receiving text messages from a guy I knew during high school in San Diego — we had never been close, though, and I hardly remembered him, truth be told. Through mutual friends, we had reconnected many years post-high school but only in a very casual capacity. Evidently, he took a liking to me, though — whenever he was in California visiting from his grad program in North Dakota, he would send me a politely probing text that I would politely push away.

Pam Knisley

But this time, after the horror show that was my last relationship, I decided to take North Dakota Dude up on it. After all, he had been nothing but tenacious, right? That had to be a good sign.

We met up to go to see a local band play at a nearby bar. In an Uber over, I mentioned I didn’t drink anymore — he sipped water when we reached the venue. All good signs. Then we slept together — an even better sign.

When he returned to North Dakota, we stayed in contact and he invited me to visit during his school’s spring break. I took him up on it and found myself stepping off a plane in Fargo during the last death throes of North Dakota’s winter.

My arrival in North Dakota set the tone for the rest of the week. He didn’t pick me up from the airport, and when we did meet at a coffee shop in Fargo — six hours after I had arrived — he came with his roommate and another woman he insisted was “just a friend.” Throughout the week, he sprinkled troubling details about himself into conversation, including that he couldn’t date me because of my “personal problems.” Leaving was something I would have loved to do had it been an option, but booking a last-minute anything — hotel, flight, etc. — isn’t exactly in the budget of a disabled writer.

Pam Knisley

The end of the week was St. Patrick’s Day and, despite my inability to stand loud noises and crowds since my injury, coupled with my new non-drinking self, he took me to a crowded bar where he proceeded to get plastered. When he had his fill, we returned to his room where he grabbed me by the wrists, fell back like a dead body, and tried to drag me with him.

I think his intention was to pull me so I fell on top of him — y’know, since women with head injuries love being roughed up? But instead, my emaciated body, which hadn’t quite regained the mass it lost during the coma, went careening forward into a desktop computer he had on the floor for some reason. My face smacked the computer and he, with a dismissive wave of his hand, crawled under the blankets of his nearby bed.

Meanwhile, I knew something was wrong. An eerie sense of a calm settled over my body and my face felt wet. A trip to the bathroom revealed the flesh under my eyebrow gaping open like an angry mouth spitting blood into my eye. Great — I was stranded in North Dakota with a passed out d*ck of a host and a profusely bleeding face.

Brooke Knisley

First, I requested an Uber on my phone — ambulances are expensive — and then headed down to the street to meet it. It was 2 a.m. As I waited, the drunks emerged from their St. Patrick’s Day festivities. A sloshed man leaned on the same apartment building I squatted near.

“What are you doing tonight? You looking to do something?” he asked.

“I’m waiting for my ride to the hospital,” I replied, pointing to the bleeding wound on my face.

“Oh, damn,” the man replied as he covered his mouth in shock, clearly having not noticed it initially. “You still look good, though.”

The arrival of my Uber saved me from formulating any kind of reply. My driver double-checked my destination and then handed me a napkin.

“For your face,” he explained cavalierly. With that, we pulled away.

When I arrived at the emergency room, it was so empty, I thought it was closed. But it wasn't. A blessing and a curse, I guess, since I was called back quickly, but the staff was free to shoot me judgmental looks as I hobbled down the hall. My disability gives me a messed up gait (ataxia) and causes me to mince my words (aphasia), making me appear drunk while sober. Bane of my existence.

“You’re sober?” the ER doctor asked me as he cleaned my wound and prepared the lidocaine injection. “You’re sure?”

“Yeah, I have a traumatic brain injury so I don’t drink,” I replied as he administered the injection. “B*tch, b*tch, son of a b*tch." A pause. “S’cuse my language.”

“The lidocaine can burn sometimes. OK, let’s get you stitched up. You said your boyfriend was drunk and accidentally knocked you over?”

“He’s not my boyfriend.” I felt stupid for saying it, but it seemed like an important point to clarify. None of St. Patrick’s Day had been anything I agreed to and none of the trip had turned out like I expected. I thought he liked me, and I had really liked him — otherwise I wouldn’t have agreed to go to North Dakota at the end of a winter that wouldn’t die. An uncertain part of myself felt I didn’t have the right to be choosy anymore.

Brooke Knisley

After the stitches were in place and I had provided my menial insurance information, I summoned another Uber, but I didn’t go back to North Dakota Dude's place.

“The Denny’s on 32nd?” the driver confirmed.

“Yeah, I need a damn cup of coffee.”

By midday Saturday, I looked like I had been punched in the face. Hard. North Dakota Dude claimed to have no memory of the night before and conveniently forgot I had even left to the hospital. Even though I texted him. And left him a voicemail. And spoke to him on the phone — that morning.

Luckily, I flew back to California shortly thereafter and decided to conveniently forget his phone number. It was obvious that North Dakota Dude was, to put it diplomatically, not a good prospect.

Thus I re-entered the world of singledom armed with a sad truth: People will conveniently forget or ignore my disability and needs when it suits them. I dated one person after this, someone else I knew before the accident and knew the extent of my injuries — explaining how I relearned how to walk and swallow just isn’t something I want to do anymore. It didn’t pan out either, but I was able to advocate for myself this time around. Growth, right?

A bit disillusioned and definitely disinterested, I’m taking a break from dating and re-evaluating what makes a suitable partner — ideally, someone who doesn't drink or live in North Dakota.