How 20-Year Old Whiplash Still Dominates My Mom’s Life

As part of our International Women’s Day celebrations, we present eight inspiring stories that will touch your heart and kindle your soul.

Priyanka Rao is an IT ninja by day and a professional clothes-folder, picker-upper and booboo-fixer by night. Mommy to two under two, she lives with her husband and children in Kuala Lumpur. Here, she describes how her mother’s accident in 1996 has left an indelible imprint 20 years on.

As a child who grew up across Air Force bases in India, my childhood was a vibrant potpourri of experiences. My parents were originally from Hyderabad, but I didn’t draw my identity from my roots. I was an outgoing child and I learned to embrace new people and cultures wherever we moved; so much so, that my hybrid, locally-flavored vocabulary could have supplied a whole new dictionary with words and phrases I’d picked up along the way.

As life in the services goes, my parents were regulars at officers’ parties and gatherings. It was on one such evening in 1996 as my parents made their way to a fellow officer’s anniversary get-together that their car was violently rear-ended by a van with a drunken driver at the steering wheel. The collision crushed my parents’ beloved Fiat in half, but they were saved by a whisker. Other than horrific memories of the night and severe whiplash, they both got out unscathed. That unfortunate accident however, would have long-lasting consequences for my mother, but it would be another fifteen years before we learned the exact degree of damage.

On an ordinary weekday in 2011, my mother called me, insisting she couldn’t turn her head. I was at work at the time, with an urgent deadline to meet. So in the urgency of the moment, I brushed it off. It must be a neck sprain, I told her. It’ll wear off. Only it didn’t. Not the next day, or the day after that, or the day after that. With my brother in San Francisco and me in Kuala Lumpur, my mother had little help back home. My dad had passed away several years earlier and my mother lived by herself now. I requested a cousin to ferry my mom to the hospital and have her evaluated. She did, and the orthopedic on duty uncovered a memento that my mother had carried with her for the past one and a half decades: a damaged neck joint from that fateful collision in 1996. He said my mother must have recently jolted the injury, aggravating the pain.

When asked why she hadn’t said anything about her injury before, my mother told me she had thought it too much trouble to speak up. It was alright while it lasted, she told me. It had only gotten really bad this past week. The doctor, however, expressed concern. Whiplash usually doesn’t last more than a few weeks, much less a few years, he said. So, the fact that my mom had symptoms of chronic whiplash was a concern. After assessing her situation and performing a spate of scans, my mom was advised physiotherapy and given muscle relaxants to ease her pain.

Nowadays, my mother’s neck is constantly in a limbo. There are some good days and some bad days, and chances are, her symptoms will never completely recede. She still attends physiotherapy once a week to loosen her neck muscles, but there’s no cure for her condition. My mother’s experience has made me more cautious about injuries that I may have taken for granted ten years ago. Life has a funny way of catching up to us when we least expect it. By insuring myself against injuries, I think I can get a head start.

Why wait until it’s too late? Be proactive and manage preventive health assessments for yourself and family members overseas. With preemptive measures, you can stop injuries from scarring you in the long run. Change your fate with OurHealthMate.

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