Woman of Steel
It was a spring night, a storm looming overhead, a busy intersection and an unforgettable night, but for Nicole Bauerle, it was one she wouldn’t remember. On the night of March 23, 2012, the now 26-year-old psychology and sociology major was hit and dragged down the street by a storm chaser van at the intersection of Bethel and Centennial avenues in Muncie, Ind.
Muncie residents familiar with the confusing intersection know how dangerous it can be to cross the street. Her accident happened when she was crossing the street.
Bauerle can’t recall every moment, but she does remember that she woke up wondering why it was past Easter. “I wasn’t conscious until April tenth. That was the first day I remember existing,” she said.
The injuries Bauerle suffered from the accident were extensive. She said, “The injuries I received from the accidents would just be easier to tell you that my right leg is real. Everything else is fake or broken.”
Bauerle broke her right shoulder blade, both left and right humorous, her left leg from hip to ankle: fibula, tibia, patella and femur, a couple ribs and her skull in three places. In addition to her numerous wounds, she had to learn to live without the irreplaceable ones: her sense of smell, sense of taste and a lot of memories.
Along with replacing both humeri, her left femur and knee are made of metal. Bauerle also admits, “I also have a dead person’s shin inside of me.”
It took Bauerle seven months to learn how to walk again, and it is still quite painful. Some days are better than others for walking, but Bauerle has learned to stop and wait out the pain. “If I freaked out every time I couldn’t walk, then I would probably be in a loony bin somewhere,” she said.
Bauerle tries not to walk alone because she can’t physically get herself back up. She also tries to ignore or laugh off the pain and problems her “baby leg” has brought her.
The real struggle to adjusting after the accident is a mix between her loss of memory as well as loss of taste and smell. “It’s really hard to start school all over, to turn back time, to learning things about work, to have to learn all sorts of things over, but not tasting and smelling is really hard to adjust to,” she said.
It’s been almost two years since her accident and Bauerle is still not used to losing her two senses. Using temperature and texture, Bauerle has managed to find favorite foods again.
Bauerle said, “Taco salad is the epitome of perfection.” Because of its range of temperature and texture, the crunchiness of the crust and lettuce and the gooeyness of the sour cream and beans makes it “magical.”
“When you lose your taste and smell, your other senses increase,” said Bauerle, “So I had super hearing.” For about six to nine months, she felt uncomfortable going out in public because she could hear every conversation.
“I would just sit there and try to focus. I couldn’t, so it got hard to handle. I wasn’t as willing to go out with people, but I’ve worked really hard on it,” says Bauerle.
After a lot of practicing and a six-week research study about brain injuries, Bauerle has learned how to focus and ignore noise of other people when she goes out.
Bauerle doesn’t exactly know how much memory she’s lost. “It depends on what category you’re looking at,” she said.
Bauerle didn’t remember her aunt or her boyfriend of two years, but she did remember what she had for dinner the night of her accident. Her boyfriend didn’t know what to do about not knowing him.
After the accident, her parents were relieved at first because she didn’t have to be flown to Muncie Methodist hospital. Later they realized she should have been airlifted, but because of the storm. A helicopter couldn’t fly her there. “My mom didn’t want to see me because I was hurt, obviously. And I wasn’t cute,” says Bauerle.
Her aunt helped Bauerle through the recovery. “She would be my representative because even though my brain wasn’t on top of its game, she knew what I wanted,” she said.
During her stay in the hospital, Bauerle couldn’t articulate what she wanted and had to be fed through a tube. So as a ten-year vegetarian, Bauerle was glad her boyfriend was there because he knew what foods she should eat. “They were also going to give me pudding,” she said, “and I’m allergic to chocolate, so he stopped them. I’m thankful for that.”
Since her accident, Bauerle has had to answer a lot of questions and deal with some pretty unusual comments. She has had people ask her if she can make metal pop out of her knuckles like Wolverine from Marvel’s “X-Men,” which she cannot do. But she did say, “I have had metal pop out of the side of my knee… but not on purpose.”
Many people have asked how she can get through metal detectors at airports, and she replies, “It’s really easily because I can show them scars and they know I’m not hiding drugs.”
She also has to manage with people not understanding her abnormal skeleton. “I have people come run up to me with magnets. They don’t realize that there are skin and muscles between them and that metal.” She gets a lot of dumb questions but “running at me with magnets is easily the dumbest,” she says.
Bauerle has tried alternative methods to get life back on track. She likes trace her life on social media to learn more about her life. “I don’t really remember anything, so thank you Facebook,” she says.
“I’ve probably forgotten about 75 percent of the classes I took here,” says Bauerle. She was expected to graduate in May of 2012, but due to the accident, she had to postpone her future plans.
“If you were to get ran over toward the end of March 2012 and forget all your classes, it does not make it easy to graduate,” she says.
Bauerle plans to go to law school in August after her surgeries are finished this summer. Bauerle has no idea where she sees her life going but hopes she can still attend law school for animal and environmental law.
|Click here to learn what it would be like to live without one of your senses.|