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Silvana Montero, on traumatic brain injuries, her multicultural upbringing and getting your ‘ride smile on’ with Bicibits

(Publication Date: 4.9.24)

n this episode of We Are Chaffee’s Looking Upstream podcast, Adam Williams talks with Silvana Montero. 

Silvana, a road cyclist, recounts the harrowing experience of when she was hit from behind by a motorist driving more than 45 miles per hour – and the seemingly divine instruction she heard in that instant that might have saved her life. That accident led to the first of two traumatic brain injuries that Silvana has been living with since. 

They talk about how her life has changed, including the social isolation and grief that came with loss of friendships along the way, and how we all can show up for our loved ones in those critical moments.

SHOW NOTES, LINKS, CREDITS & TRANSCRIPT

The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Departments of Public Health and Housing, and is supported by the Colorado Public Health & Environment: Office of Health Disparities.

 

Along with being distributed on podcast listening platforms (e.g. Spotify, Apple), Looking Upstream is broadcast weekly at 1 p.m. on Tuesdays, on KHEN 106.9 community radio in Salida, Colo., and can be listened to on-demand via khen.org

 

Silvana Montero

Website: bicibits.com 

Instagram: instagram.com/bicibits 

Facebook: facebook.com/bicibits 

 

We Are Chaffee

Website: wearechaffee.org

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffeepod 

Facebook: facebook.com/wearechaffee

Instagram: instagram.com/wearechaffee

CREDITS

Looking Upstream Host, Producer & Photographer: Adam Williams

Looking Upstream Engineer & Producer: Jon Pray

We Are Chaffee Community Advocacy Coordinator: Lisa Martin

We Are Chaffee Graphic and Web Design: Heather Gorby

Director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment: Andrea Carlstrom

TRANSCRIPT

Note: Transcripts are produced using a transcription service.

Although it is largely accurate, minor errors inevitably exist.

 

[Intro music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams (00:13): Welcome to We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream, a conversational podcast of humanness, community, and well-being rooted in Chaffee County, Colorado. I'm Adam Williams.

(00:22): Today, I'm talking with Silvana Montero. Silvana has a really interesting perspective based on some big life experiences that started at a young age. We talk about those early years, which were spent growing up in three different countries, which notably distinct cultures and different languages.

(00:40): Then we get into the heart of a life-changing instant that happened 14 years ago. Silvana, a road cyclist, recounts the harrowing experience and the, I don't know, divine instruction that she heard in that instant that saved her life when she was hit from behind by a motorist driving more than 45 miles per hour. That led to the first of two traumatic brain injuries she has been living with since.

(01:06): Traumatic brain injuries, TBIs. This was a learning opportunity for me for sure. Maybe it will be for you too, as I imagine it will be for many. We get into the very lengthy list of what day-to-day challenges are for Silvana and can be for anyone who suffers a TBI. She lived a very vibrant and curiosity-filled adventuring life prior to that moment in 2010 when the first accident happened.

(01:33): She still lives that way as much as possible, but you'll hear how her life has changed, including the social isolation and grief that came with loss of friendships along the way and how we can show up for our loved ones in those critical moments.

(01:48): We also touch on Bicibits, her creative work that's about getting our ride smiles on. The Looking Upstream podcast is supported by Chaffee County Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority. 

Show notes, including links in a full transcript of this and all Looking Upstream conversations, are available at wearechaffee.org. You can support the podcast by following wearechaffeepod on Instagram and the wearechaffee account on Instagram and Facebook.

(02:14): Now, here we go with Silvana Montero. 

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams: I know you were born in South America in Uruguay. How long were you there?

Silvana Montero (02:35): I was young. I was only five when we moved.

Adam Williams (02:39): When you moved to Canada?

Silvana Montero (02:40): We moved to Canada outside of Montreal. My dad had already been there, I think for about a year, getting work and a place to live and things like that. It was during a time of turmoil in South America, so we were lucky to get out through friends and this and that.

Adam Williams (03:04): That is why the family moved?

Silvana Montero (03:06): That's one of the biggest reasons, yeah.

(03:08): Also, they foresaw a different future for us. My father was a textile engineer. He was in textile and apparel and things like that and worked for a global company at the time.

Adam Williams (03:21): You were five. That's a fairly young age, but do you have any memories of your time there?

Silvana Montero (03:25): I actually do. I remember the house we were at, my aunt's house. I'd been back since a lot, so my aunt's house probably was a memory a lot from that. But had five... No, at the time I didn't have five cousins. I had four cousins at the time, an older brother, and our little house. I remember my brother and I we had bunk beds, and he used to scare the heck out of me at night. He used to that when we were older, too. Some things never change.

(03:59): I remember playing in the park, going to the beach, being popped over waves by my parents and just being in the ocean. I'm a beach kid at heart. Love it. I remember my grandparents, my grandma cooking Saturday. We would have a huge Sunday meal, like the entire family, the uncles and grandparents, the whole 20 people or whatever, 30. I don't know how many. She would do the pasta and I would get to go hang out and help. That usually meant grating the cheese and my grandfather sneaking Coca-Cola from under the cupboard and pouring me a little espresso cup full.

(04:43): Because we weren't allowed to drink Coca-Cola back then, especially since I think it was like the real thing.

Adam Williams (04:49): You mean with coke in it?

Silvana Montero (04:52): Yeah.

Adam Williams (04:53): Okay.

Silvana Montero (04:56): I never needed more energy. I was always pretty hyper and wound up and going, going, going. But I'll never forget those Saturdays with my grandma.

(05:08): These were my mom's parents, and then my dad's parents as well were there.

Adam Williams (05:15): Well, you were pretty young. When you moved, who all of your family left?

Silvana Montero (05:20): Our immediate family. It was my father, my mom, my brother, and I.

(05:26): I remember I think we went through New York, had a helicopter ride, which is really weird. Landed in Canada and it was snowing. I'd never seen snow. It was just the most amazing thing. We're driving up our street and I'm like, "Wow. Snow."

Adam Williams (05:45): Yeah. Do you mean a helicopter ride from New York to Canada?

Silvana Montero (05:51): I have this really weird memory of that, and I should ask my mom because it's always been there. It's like I don't know if we had a helicopter ride from one airport to another.

(06:06): I mean, we were right across the border there. I honestly don't know and probably shouldn't talk about the legal aspects of it all at the time, even though it was a very long time ago. It was probably really difficult for us to do something like that at that time. People were disappearing in South America: friends, relatives, people my parents knew. Things were crazy.

Adam Williams (06:43): What were the actions of those people? Meaning were they part of a revolutionary sort of energy and movement of some kind or-

Silvana Montero (06:53): It was the '60s. There was a lot of revolution, there was a lot of political just insanity going on. I'm sure a lot of folks have heard about people disappearing being put in stadiums, this, that, and the other. The whole group of the Chilean women walking in circles, they still do it today, with their missing sons and children and husbands.

(07:23): All over South America: Brazil, Argentina, and even little Uruguay. Paraguay was bad depending what side of the military you were on. Were you on the side of Che? Where are you on the side of the government? Were you a guerrilla extremist?

(07:43): The history there is it's like every other history, it's usually told by those who win. We have to remember when we speak a history I believe that it's his story. From the beginning of time it's always been his story, and so that's always skewed a little bit. My uncle was in the military, so that was a good and the bad thing. Good thing because we were a little safer, bad because it was scary. You never knew what was going to happen.

(08:15): But then there was also the regular life. We went to the racetrack. I loved horses. My uncle loved horses. I wanted to be a jockey. I remember being on a horse when I was like three, four years old. The first time they sat me up there by myself and could barely get my legs over the padding.

Adam Williams (08:37): How is life different in Canada then, besides seeing snow for the first time?

Silvana Montero (08:41): Besides seeing snow, being very cold. I didn't speak the language. We didn't speak the language. My father did. My father spoke some English. My mom spoke English. She used to work for Pan America, so they were well traveled before they us. Even after they had my brother and I, they traveled all over the world on standby. Got to visit amazing places and learn so much culture and things like that.

(09:06): Actually my mom was very, very pregnant standing in front of the Taj Mahal with me. These days they probably wouldn't let you fly being that pregnant. Yeah, I still have a hard time with Indian food. I love it, but it doesn't love me back.

(09:22): But Canada was cultural. I mean geography, we were used to... I was born in Montevideo in Uruguay. As far as the Monte, the mountain, it's a mound. We live up here in the Rockies and it's really flat down there. It's ocean. We're squeezed in between Argentina and Brazil. We have sand dunes and piney beaches, which is cool.

(09:57): And then you go to Canada and the pines are stories tall and the birch trees and cities and cars and snow. So much snow. People go nuts today about, "Oh, we're getting two feet of snow." I'm like, "We used to get eight feet of snow," so you couldn't see stop signs. You flagged your cars on the road because you didn't want the snowplow to take them away.

(10:28): Sometimes there were no snowplows because they couldn't get through. You did walk to school in that, by the way.

Adam Williams (10:35): Uphill both ways?

Silvana Montero (10:37): Nah, it was one way.

Adam Williams (10:40): But that's a lot of snow. It's a lot of snow.

Silvana Montero (10:41): It's a lot of snow and it would be packed, so you would take your toboggan and go places with that. As kids, you played in the snow. We had neighbors who were the same age as us kids. They were three boys. Eventually, we were three kids. My sister was born there.

(11:01): We played outside until you just weren't allowed anymore. It's like you have to come in now type of thing, so life as a kid was okay except for the language.

Adam Williams (11:14): Was it also French? Did you have French and English around you?

Silvana Montero (11:16): French and English.

(11:18): We spoke Spanish at home. My dad tried to always make sure that we kept speaking Spanish at home. We battled that as kids because you wanted to be like the other kids. But at the same time, it's what we spoke. I know at later on in life my dad actually wanted to be rid of his accent because it caused, what he believed at the time, or how people acted around him and stuff like that in work situations and so forth, that Latin accent wasn't a thing.

(11:54): But being in that cosmopolitan type of area, I don't think it was a big deal. I think to him it was, but not to anybody else. Us as kids, it was a thing because going to school in the morning, you'd get on the school bus, I was the geeky kid. The glasses, buck teeth, the long hair, didn't speak the language. But my brother was big and he would stick up for me. Even though he didn't understand either, he knew that they were poking fun at me and everything else.

(12:34): And so one day the bus driver came home and told my mom, "Your son can no longer come to school on the bus." She's like, "Why?" He's like, "Well, he's starting fights." My mom was shocked because my brother's like this big gentle giant. He is like just would never start a fight. He's like, "Well, they're making fun of her."

(12:58): There was that, but I adapted once grade school started. My brother did defend me a couple times there. I picked up language really quickly, English, French, not a problem. Kept with my Spanish. I also kept to myself a lot, so it was natural for me to do that. It wasn't an issue being different.

Adam Williams (13:23): What did you do by yourself? Was it to sit in a corner and read or did you just go ride a bike for hours at a time? How did you entertain yourself?

Silvana Montero (13:31): Reading was a big thing. You say that I had a closet, literally a closet full of books. I loved to read.

(13:41): I read a ton. I played outside. I skated, loved hockey. Had to learn to figure skate, but loved hockey.

Adam Williams (13:50): Why did you have to learn to figure skate?

Silvana Montero (13:52): Because I was a girl.

Adam Williams (13:54): Well, was that a social thing or was that from, say, your mom? Or who was it that insisted?

Silvana Montero (13:59): It was probably more my father and social–

Adam Williams (14:04): Expectations.

Silvana Montero (14:05): –expectations at the time. Girls learned to figure skate. Boys played hockey.

(14:10): But in front of our house was a big field and the city would put up boards and make a rink and we had the small rink on the side and then we had the hockey rink and as well as going to the regular ice rinks. Every evening we'd be out there and we'd be playing hockey.

Adam Williams (14:30): So Canadian, right?

Silvana Montero (14:31): Yeah, right.

(14:33): I will come up with that every once in a while and it's about.

Adam Williams: And you lived there until you were, what, 16 or so?

Silvana Montero: 15 going on 16, yeah.

Adam Williams: Okay, and then moved to Dallas, Texas.

Silvana Montero: Yeah.

Adam Williams: Another cultural shift.

Silvana Montero: That was a huge cultural shock.

Adam Williams: When was this? What decade are we talking?

Silvana Montero: This was 1977. It was the year after the Montreal Olympics, so people knew Montreal.

Adam Williams (15:04): At least if you said this is where I've just moved in from, there was some sort of cool factor, maybe. Okay, and so you were a teenager, you're moving in I assume in high school.

Silvana Montero (15:14): Yes. Which was weird because high school in Canada and high school in the US are two very different things. High school started, at least then, I'm not sure how it goes now, but sixth grade on you were in high school. We didn't have that whole middle school thing.

Adam Williams: Was it called high school or just secondary?

Silvana Montero (15:32): It was secondary and high school. I think schools were named both depending on the language as well. We did till 10th grade, and then 11th. You did CEGEP, which was like a junior college, before you went to university and so forth.

(15:50): Came to the states and all of a sudden you're backtracking a little bit, they want you to take this class and that class and the other. You're like, "Well, I've already had your American history. Did you know you had slaves here?" No, we didn't. I'm in Texas, right?

(16:09): Honestly, education was backed up a little bit as far as we were concerned. It was interesting, the culture. It was a little scary for me, honestly. I was used to not having issues other than when I was very little and didn't speak the language. But kids are going to be kids.

(16:30): But as a teenager, everything from everywhere up in Canada there were the... Yes, there was a whole big deal with the French versus the English and this and that. But as far as your ethnic backgrounds and your color and your accents and this and that, it didn't matter. There was no difference. I never saw a difference anyway. I am sure there was. There always is a little, but it wasn't a big deal.

(17:03): And we moved to Texas. There were still Klansmen in Texas outwardly seen. There was schools were pretty much segregated because of law or because of choice. Education was at definitely a lower bar.

Adam Williams (17:26): Did you find yourself lumped in with those from Mexico, or however they might've drawn other in that case, because of Spanish heritage, Latin heritage?

Silvana Montero (17:38): They actually were freaked that I wasn't speaking French because they saw me as Canadian. I don't look Latin, so unless I actually bring it up, nobody knows. Unless you know something people like-

Adam Williams: Unless they heard you speaking Spanish with someone.

Silvana Montero (17:54): ... unless they've heard me. I've had people occasionally go, "Wow, you really look Basque," or, "You really look Spanish," or, "You really look Italian," or whatever. But that's a rare case. Those are people that have lived there or from there or something.

(18:12): But otherwise I'm just your average a little bit darker than white-skinned girls.

Adam Williams: Sure, yeah.

Silvana Montero (18:21): That wasn't it, but they all thought... They were surprised that I spoke English. They all thought being from Montreal Quebec area that I would be French. I'm like, "You guys, the Olympics were there last year. Did you not notice people speak..."

(18:38): I actually translated for the Mexico and Argentine equestrian teams when I was in Canada during the Olympics for some of them. We had horses back then. Some of the teams stayed at our barn, and so I got to do a lot of the interpretation and stuff.

Adam Williams: That's cool.

Silvana Montero (18:58): Yeah, that was fun.

Adam Williams (19:00): These moves that had some significant cultural differences and experiences for you, I wonder how those might've influenced that when you were an adult, when you became an adult, that you would also travel in the world and you would live in some different places. I wonder how all of that might've factored in to you wanting to explore or to be an adventurous sort of person.

Silvana Montero (19:24): I think I was born a Gypsy and my parents' curiosity of the world and their ability, not financially because they didn't have any money when we were in Uruguay and stuff like that, but mom working for Pan Am and all that made the world accessible to them.

(19:52): Yeah, I was always curious. I've still really curious. I still have a huge list of places I'd love to go.

Adam Williams: There are so many.

Silvana Montero: There are so, so, so many.

Adam Williams (20:03): I think for those of us who like to travel, there's just always going to be a list of places I'd love to go. Because there's always going to be well where now, where next?

Silvana Montero (20:10): Yeah, if people ask you, "Where's your favorite place?" I'm like, "I haven't been there yet." I think I know more or less. I've traveled a lot in Europe. We traveled as kids with our parents a lot. We went back to Uruguay as much as possible.

(20:28): Unfortunately they didn't take us around South America much, but usually because we were going to see family. Honestly with all the cousins and uncles and grandparents and this and that and the other, I would be exhausted too and not want to drive around with my kids for a while.

(20:49): Yeah no, I love culture, food, music, language, just the whole human experience. Not to use the cliche, but yeah, it's amazing out there in the world.

Adam Williams (21:07): It is. It is, and I think that you have been a free spirit who's enjoyed an amount of that.

(21:14): I'd like for you to describe if you would then what that was like going through your 20s, your 30s, your early 40s, the early portion of adult life. What has been your passion in life? What are the things that you have enjoyed doing?

Silvana Montero (21:29): Learning. I think that's been a huge practice in my life. From the time I was a kid. I love to learn. Why? Who? When? Where? What? I used to get in trouble a lot because of why.

(21:46): Old European background generation, my parents, grandparents, I was a girl, you don't ask why. You just do, but that was never good enough. I wanted to know why. Why not? I'm good with no if you tell me why not. Yeah, no, why and how? How do things work?

(22:12): Loved to take things apart with my neighbor. His dad was a mechanic and he wanted to be a mechanic. He was the older of the three boys, take apart his dad's engine and try to get it back together before your dad comes home. Things like that. Take apart the bikes, do this, do that. Like I said, I rode horses. I loved horseback riding.

(22:38): Back to the question, my travels, my world, my passions, honestly it all comes from wanting to learn, to experience, to feel, to smell. I think senses are so huge, such a huge part of my life experience.

Adam Williams: Curiosity goes so far, doesn't it?

Silvana Montero: Yeah. Yeah, it really does.

Adam Williams (23:04): The reason I said 20s, 30s, early 40s is I've been working our way toward a pivotal experience in your life, that this is who you are, these are the matters in your heart. But then in your late 40s when you were riding your bike, a car, a motorist, hit you from behind when you are on your bike. That led to your first of two traumatic brain injuries, and this changed your life.

I'm curious to know then if we go from that vibrant life beforehand how you might describe that life was changed from that day forward.

Silvana Montero (23:50): Yeah, completely derailed my life. I had a big, beautiful, wonderful, not easy, amazing life before that day.

(24:06): I had just come back from a couple of months in Europe. I was training for a big bike ride in Colorado. Big, huge mountain ranges. I'm a roadie. I've always been a road bike gal. I love mountain biking, I love all biking. I love motorcycles, I love anything. Horses, motos, cars, things that go zoom. Love to go fast.

(24:37): I was going thankfully fast that morning. I was on a divided six-lane road, quiet, regular practice. I was training for the ride. I had just gotten back from Europe, so I'd put on a little weight, ate my way through. I knew where I was and I remember stopping at the trailhead, giving a young man directions. 

He asked me if I wanted to keep riding with him. I said, "No, I'm heading home. I've just done my training." I had just killed the music on my earbuds, hopped on the road for my four or five blocks that I had left to go to my mom's house. I was in Texas at the time.

(25:24): I never made it. I heard a noise. It was an explosion of metal and glass and screeching. It was an explosion. I've heard explosions before. I've been in places where bombs have gone off, and that's what it sounded like to me. But I didn't realize that it was me. I don't have much memory. I actually don't remember what you asked me.

Adam Williams (25:57): Just about how your life changed from that day forward–

Silvana Montero: How life changed.

Adam Williams: –and what that experience was. I appreciate your description.

Silvana Montero: Sure. I don't remember much. Three things I tell people that I do remember of that day and one was that conversation with that young man. Two was the noise. Actually, four things. But three was a different noise. It was a voice. It was this beautiful, beautiful voice. It said to me three times, hang onto your bike, hang onto your bike, hang onto your bike. It wasn't my voice because I know what my voice sounds like and this thing was... It was like a song. It was beautiful.

(26:44): I hung onto my bike with all my might. I was hit from behind by a man driving at about 45 plus miles an hour. He admitted to going over the speed limit. He hit my seat, so everything from behind my saddle was pretty much dislodged. I went up onto his hood, through his windshield, onto the roof. By that time he'd come to a dead stop, and I went flying across the road, still clipped into my bike, left handlebar over the right. I held so tight I literally bent it over. Curled up into my little yoga ball, which I think saved my life that I was quite flexible and bendy.

(27:43): But my head took the hit. Front, rear, side, back, front again, just boom, boom, boom, boom, boom. I was told by witnesses I unclipped, I stood up, I took my helmet off, I saw that it was ripped apart. The man was getting out of his car. I threw the helmet at him and then I went back down on the asphalt.

(28:15): I don't remember. I know people stopped. I know they called 911. I know they called my mom and I... All these things happened, and the only thing I recall was getting into the ambulance and the paramedics couldn't put me in. The firemen had to pick me up and put me in. I was hanging onto him for dear life and arguing about getting into an ambulance saying, "Make it stop. Just make it stop." All I can figure was that everything was spinning and moving and just going and loud and crazy. But little old me fought off paramedics and stuff. It's like, no, I didn't want to go. And then life changed.

Adam Williams (29:03): To what do you attribute that voice to saying hold on tight?

Silvana Montero (29:09): I get asked that a lot. Do I believe in angels? Maybe. I believe there's spiritual world out there that we're all stardust, we're all connected. Somebody, something, even me, I don't know, said, "You need to hang onto that bike. It's going to save you."

(29:47): It physically did. I only broke an ankle bone. Little miracle child at 49. It was amazing.

Adam Williams: Well, besides the head injuries, of course.

Silvana Montero (30:00): Besides breaking my brain, yes. It was what they consider a closed head moderate brain injury. It's pretty severe, except there was no blood on the outside other than little cuts and scrapes. My whole body was road-rashed and bruised and banged. I still get splinters every once in a while coming out of joints and things from that day.

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Adam Williams: Like splinters of...

Silvana Montero: Of metal, glass, road, bone.

Adam Williams: And this was around 14 years ago?

Silvana Montero: 14 years ago.

Adam Williams: Wow.

Silvana Montero: Yeah.

Adam Williams (30:42): Wow. I want to note a number of the symptoms of a traumatic brain injury, which you shared with me what your experience has involved.

(30:52): I want to share that with listeners. Because I think there might be a number of things we think of with a TBI, which for example, memory loss, you had 90% loss of your memory for the first three years after this accident. You would not recognize yourself in the mirror and get scared. Am I right?

Silvana Montero (31:13): Yes, yes. I had full-on amnesia, and I had no instant recollection. From literally millisecond to millisecond that didn't happen.

Adam Williams (31:28): There's also blurry vision that makes use of screens and reading difficult. There's loss of balance and coordination, difficulty retaining information or participating in conversations, like this one I assume is tiring you, possibly.

(31:46): Head, face, and neck pain, nerve pain, migraine headaches, aphasia or loss of words when speaking. There's difficulty with name and facial recognition. There's impulse control disorder, changes in personality, a loss of filter, hypersensitivity to light and noise.

(32:07): And then some that to me were even less maybe considered or thought of on my part. I wouldn't have necessarily considered the change in appetite that would lead to weight loss and challenges with your nutrition. Loss of skin pigmentation, is that correct?

Silvana Montero (32:27): Yeah, my forehead, my upper left side, went white just in the corner by my hairline. A whole streak of hair and my eyebrows and eyelashes turned white and fell out. Thankfully, some grew back.

Adam Williams (32:44): Okay. Yeah, I mean that's not something I would've necessarily expected.

Silvana Montero: They say severe trauma does that.

Adam Williams (32:53): Okay. There's also then the chronic mental fatigue. There's paranoia, there's PTSD, time disorientation, depression, low self-esteem, disconnection with others, social isolation, a change or loss of sense of humor.

(33:09): I think along with all of these challenging changes in your life and to your experience, there is the lack of social support, empathetic understanding of your experience. That comes from friends, from family, from even sometimes medical care professionals.

(33:27): This was not even the full list of your experience, or the full list that I imagine others was TBIs experience, and of course did not address any of the physical things. You mentioned your ankle, but you had surgeries on that. You also had then a long physical recovery besides all of these things.

(33:46): I think it's important to share this. I appreciate your having shared the list with me because I think it's educational. It helps us take a step forward in having empathy for those sorts of injuries that we cannot see in a person.

Silvana Montero (33:59): Yeah, you can't see it. It's all in my head except for the scars and little signs. My eyes will droop, my face will droop. I had palsies from the accident. I start to fidget a lot more than usual. Can't sit still. It hurts. Everything hurts for lots of reasons, but brain injury is a spinal injury. It starts at your neck, at your head.

(34:35): I just want to add real quick into all of that. Women are more prone to a brain injury because our necks are not as strong as men's, even those who are physically strong. I was very athletic. I still very athletic 60s are the new 40s. I'll run around circles most 45 year olds I know.

(34:58): Yeah, it's a lot of stuff and there's more. Every single brain is different. Every single brain reacts differently. Every single brain recovers differently, every single brain.... We'll get back to the curiosity. It's a curious thing, the brain.

Adam Williams (35:20): A mystery to a lot of us, maybe to every … I mean, do medical professionals, those you've dealt with, do they have a good sense of this?

Silvana Montero: They can see things a lot better now than they did years ago even during my time. I was dismissed from the hospital that same day, by the way.

Adam Williams: Oh, my goodness.

Silvana Montero: Yeah. I was sent to neurologist who said I'd be fine once my memory came back. Yeah, that was a lie.

Adam Williams: Where did this accident happen?

Silvana Montero: In Dallas.

Adam Williams: And your mother still lives there, right?

Silvana Montero (35:49): My mother still lives there.

Adam Williams (35:51): So then did you go from that accident to having her... Were you living with her for that care period in amnesia and things?

Silvana Montero (36:00): I was living with her, thank goodness. I was a teacher back then. Obviously, could not go back to school. I don't recall retiring. I don't recall cleaning out my classroom. Almost three years of amnesia, which I've gotten some memories back. I went to Patagonia, Chile–

Adam Williams (36:24): During that time?

Silvana Montero: During that time, I wandered around Big Ben Park all by myself. I did a lot of things that I probably shouldn't have, I probably should not have been allowed to. But because I was so misdiagnosed and brain injuries are not a sudden whammy here are all the symptoms and effects at once. It's a bit of a roller coaster, sometimes a little smoother valleys and hills type of thing. Symptoms come and go. Some are huge and obvious and noticeable, and like the amnesia or if you're physically off or this, that, and the other.

(37:12): The sensitivities to sight and noise and some of those are kind of obvious. I have severe tinnitus. They said some of that would go away. No, it just is intensified through the years. But I didn't look like anything was wrong. I have really strong language skills, so I faked it. I really faked being okay because I kept being told that I was going to be okay.

(37:53): I woke up every morning and for those few first seconds thought, "Oh, got to get up and go to work, be a teacher." But then I would sit up and my whole world would just be off because... Wow.

Adam Williams (38:09): I'm in my late 40s and if you and I went out for a bike ride now, and you mentioned that you could, as an athlete, run circles around somebody much younger...

(38:20): I wonder what is the difference between a day when you feel up to whooping me on a bike ride and maybe what that takes to get you ready for such an effort? Or maybe what it takes for you to recover? What are the real day-to-day effects of that? Because I want to make sure I'm clear and understanding I don't think you're suggesting that everything is perfectly how it was pre-accident, that you could just ride on any day at any whim of a moment and have that success.

(38:51): What is the difference between a day when you can perform in the ways that you want to energetically and a day when you can't?

Silvana Montero (38:59): I can no longer perform the way I want to. Let's be completely honest there. I just happen to be very lucky that I am strong-willed, keep up my physical strength, and just keep a bitching attitude, shall we say.

(39:24): I have days where, every day actually, I just want to stay in bed. Every day I don't want to do this anymore. Every day I get angry. Every day I feel sadness, quite often alone, lonely. I don't have a problem being alone. Let me be very clear about that. I like me. I don't mind my company. I was never big into team sports. I liked the solo sports. I liked my time for whatever reasons, whole other stories, but to get on a bike and go for a ride, no problem getting there. The recovery could be horrific. It could take a couple hours. It could take a couple of days.

(40:22): You never know, so that makes it difficult. Today's conversation it'll take at least a day's recovery to mentally function properly. Physically, I'm good. My muscles get sore. I worked out this morning, hopped on the trainer for about 30 minutes, did my PT exercises, this, that, and the other. An hour's workout. I'm not sore except a little bit in the shoulders because I had to shovel a bunch of snow and gravel the other day. The gravel was the hard stuff, but don't tell my PT.

(40:56): Recovery is really tough, and you never know what's going to cause you to have to recover. It could be a long conversation, it could be a day at work, it could be going to lunch.

Adam Williams (41:08): Do you feel like you live your life then with anxiety or fear about, well, if I go do this thing that I want to do, what are the consequences? Or are you that, again, if it's a free spirit is a word that applies, that adventurous person who's willing to leap? Are you willing to take that leap and then say, "Well, I will take the consequences, whatever they are, that's okay because I want to go on this bike ride"?

Silvana Montero: Both.

Adam Williams: Okay, fair enough. Yeah.

Silvana Montero: Both, and then there's always the third answer, right? What should you do? Yeah, I am in anxiety every day about doing things. I have to mentally schedule my brain that you're going to do this till this time of day.

(41:53): 14 years later, I have not been able to get past the 1:30 bonk time at 1:30 time changer. Not different states, different countries, it doesn't matter. My brain just goes, bang.

Adam Williams: You mean 1:30 in the afternoon?

Silvana Montero: 1:30 in the afternoon.

Adam Williams: That's it for your day?

Silvana Montero: Yeah, I start to lose cognitive skills. My fatigue is just beyond normal. I mean, everybody gets it. Heck, I was a third grade teacher. Yes, that time of the day you're tired. You want your sugar or coffee buzz or whatever it is, or exercise, or fresh air, whatever it gets to wake you up. No, there is no waking me up.

Adam Williams (42:36): It's an exhaustion far past the norm.

Silvana Montero (42:38): Yeah, it's mental fatigue and it's really bad. I do events and things. I am on medications to do those. I don't like to have to take medications, but I will fall asleep after a shower in the morning.

(42:56): I get really tired taking a shower, if that makes sense. I know it sounds crazy, but it's exhausting. I don't know why. It shouldn't be mentally. It's not physically exhausting, but it's mentally exhausting.

Adam Williams (43:10): Is it the executive steps of anything like that where it's like, okay, mentally I need to think, okay, I do this first, then I need to do this step then... Is it going through those that tires the brain?

Silvana Montero (43:22): A lot of it, yeah. More than two or three step instructions? Yeah, that's a lot of thinking involved.

Adam Williams (43:28): Cooking by a recipe would be a lot.

Silvana Montero (43:30): Oh, yeah. My cooking's interesting. Thankfully, I'm not a baker. I bake a couple of things, but baking is hard because baking you have to follow the recipes pretty much to a point, unless you're really good and you're experimenting.

(43:46): I like to cook because what happens, happens. What you got, what you can throw in there, what you have to spare in the fridge, spices, this, that, and the other, it's all good. That's how I feel my life is. Whatever's in the mix, if I can do it and it comes out okay, great. If not, well, we'll just keep trying.

Adam Williams (44:11): You had a second accident in 2017, right? About seven years around, seven years later? At any point have you asked, "Why me? Why did this happen, and why did it happen a second time for crying out loud"?

Silvana Montero (44:26): Yeah, I'm sure we all who experience any kind of trauma, physical, mental, whatever in their life, think that. Why me? I am so much luckier than so many people I know, especially with brain injury because I get to sit here and talk to you about it.

Why me? Yeah, that one really pisses me off. I am a good person. I believe I'm a good human. My whole life I've honestly loved really big. I give of me whatever you need. I'm that way. I am really open in that respect. Communities, individuals, whatever, and then stuff like that happens and you're like, "Well, wait a minute. I've got stuff to do."

(45:37): I get pissed. I get angry because I think it's not fair because I really do have a lot of stuff to do that I want to do and that I have to do. Maybe I don't have to in the great scheme of the world and humanity, but in my heart, yes. I can't and it makes me sad. It makes me sad because I want to go bum around Europe some more.

I traveled by myself a lot, by the way, just easier. I have a couple friends that are great to travel with, and I miss that. I miss that life. I miss learning. I miss my friends.

Adam Williams (46:17): I think the piece of lost friends and social isolation is really important and useful for you, if you'll share with us what that experience is and why you think that might happen.

Silvana Montero (46:30): It's one of the things they tell you. I know because I wrote it in a book. People are going, well, if you had amnesia, how do you remember all these things? I said, "I wrote down. I journaled." I've always journaled, and I journaled all during this journey.

(46:48): Friends, some stayed until they realized that, oh, she's not coming back. Some went away right away. I can't recall who showed up because honestly I think there were only two that actually showed up.

Adam Williams (47:10): Why do you think more did not?

Silvana Montero (47:13): Because people believe that I am me, that I was still invincible, that I was still Silvana who organized everything, who instigated everything, who's always going and doing and being.

(47:29): Because I looked okay and you post happy pictures, right? I don't know. Honestly, I can't say that they didn't care about me. I can't say that they didn't love me. I know I love them, care about them. I just think that people are not... Not all people are equipped to deal with stuff, different things. Some of it is lack of empathy, and it's a whole debate whether that's learned or intrinsic to your nature.

Adam Williams (48:06): I think that people, when they get uncomfortable with how to be with someone, how to sit with someone, how to just have that empathy and listen, I think sometimes we turn away from it because we don't know how to show up and be that person.

I think then there might be a pile of guilt and shame. The longer we go without showing up for you or for that person in our lives who might have needed us to show up, I think we feel worse and worse, and so we turn farther and farther.

(48:35): And so I wonder if there's something you might be able to share with all of us, that if there is someone in our lives, or someone in the future that we need to show up for or maybe would want to, how can we do that? Not be hung up on the awkwardness of our own discomfort and not knowing how to show up in some perfect way for them? What would you have liked for your friends who did not come in to have done? What would you like them to know that they could have done and it would've been okay?

Silvana Montero (49:06): To just do it. Honestly, that. Because I forgive you, all of you, and there's a lot: family, friends, doctors, lawyers, police. There's a big list of people I forgive during this journey because you didn't know better, because you couldn't handle it, because you didn't understand, because you didn't know what to do with those feelings. I had one person actually say to me, "I don't know how to be with you anymore."

Adam Williams (49:47): Were they putting that on you, or were they saying that about themselves?

Silvana Montero (49:51): I think both. Because I was tired, so I was a little cranky. I was hungry, and I was upset and I was like, "Please, you need to give me..." I remember this conversation of you need to give me this time in quietness. I need downtime, and I'm very good about saying I need downtime. I need to stop. I need to go now, or I'm done, or I'm hungry, or I need to close my eyes. Whatever it is that I need, I'm very verbal about.

(50:31): Somehow this person got angry with me because I wasn't who I used to be or the way I used to be. I'm still me, but there's a stranger that's taken up residency in my head and won't leave. You're going to have to deal with her, too.

Adam Williams (50:49): If I would've been your friend at that time and I was afraid to show up because I felt like I needed to have the perfect words and be that perfect support system, I think what I'm hearing you say is that you would've really preferred rather than my hideaway that I just show up and be imperfect. Is that fair to say?

Silvana Montero (51:09): Yeah.

Adam Williams (51:09): That would've had a lot more meaning and value to you. If I would show up and be willing to say things in not the best way, but show that I loved you by being there for you?

Silvana Montero (51:19): That would've been great. That would've been amazing.

(51:24): I always say I'm moving forward imperfectly. The world's mad and not quite sane, which is a good thing. Yeah, I mean I always try to relate to this as it's a chronic for life thing. I hate to call it a disease because it's a disorder. It's something that occurred to me or was incurred. I wasn't born with depression. I wasn't born with cognitive disabilities. I wasn't born with speech issues. I wasn't born with all these things.

(52:11): I was very, very, very sad a couple of times in my life. Traumatic stuff happened. My best friend, my father, and my dog all passed away within the same few months and I didn't know how to deal with that stuff. I went through menopause. Most women have a really hard time with that. Me, I just had crazy nightmares and my kids got cold in class because the hot stuff. But I tell them they just need some fresh air.

(52:45): But honestly, those are the only two times in my life where I've been really sad. Yeah, these things, you're going to have to give the question again because I lost my train of thought.

Adam Williams (52:56): No, that's okay. I actually want to move on to the last question I want to ask you because, as you already expressed, this is taking a toll on you. I'm so grateful that you are giving us your time and at the cost of the recovery that this is going to require.

(53:09): I want to ask if you would like to share with people about your creative work with Bicibits?

Silvana Montero (53:16): Sure. That's kept me going.

(53:19): Bicibits is me trying to get your ride smile on. It's me having learned to use my brain, my vision, and my hands, my motor skills. They say some people get artistic after brain injuries in really crazy, weird unimaginable ways. They become musicians, they become artists, they become this, they become that.

(53:50): Me, I lost a lot of stuff so I had to learn new things. I learned to bead again and I learned to do little crafty things and did some bicycle artwork and somebody bought it. From there, it started growing. Made apparel, jewelry, upcycled, repurposed parts from bikes all because I needed something to do.

(54:17): Two, because before my brain injury, I actually had a plan for retirement as a teacher. I planned to retire doing a business that involved manufacturing women's cycling apparel and getting more women on bikes, hopefully with the money we made. Getting sponsorships and things in countries through the Americas.

(54:42): There's a lot of this happening in Africa and Asia and all these other places, but not enough of it or at least at the time in Central and South America where bicycles are really, really needed. My goal was to get more women on bike, have them teach other people how to ride, have central bike World Ride [inaudible 00:55:08] libraries. They have an amazing program they do like this.

(55:11): Anyway, that was my whole thing with bicibits before the accident. After the accident, I couldn't do all those things, so I just started with little artwork and apparel design and doing events and working with charities. I volunteered brain injury networks and programs with Safe Street and Trail Initiatives and underdeveloped countries where I can. Neighborhoods as well, those that are not well-represented. Well, here goes the word thing, underrepresented communities where bikes are really needed, bike repairs are needed, things like that.

(55:55): That's what Bicibits is. COVID was hard, then bike shops started closing. A couple of my other shops started closing, so it's been a little tougher on business, so I'm shifting gears, shall we say, and moving on. I'm going to keep doing it, just a little bit different moving forward. But I'm still going to try to support all the causes and share awareness of what's going on in my head.

Adam Williams (56:27): I will include the website address and the Instagram handle for Bicibits in the show notes that are going to be on wearechaffee.org, so we'll help people be able to find that and learn more about what it is you're doing.

(56:41): Silvana, thank you very much for everything you've shared and for everything you're putting out for this conversation energy-wise to sit here with me. I feel honored for that, and I'm grateful to you.

Silvana Montero (56:52): Well, no, I'm grateful to you, Adam. Thank you. Thanks for letting me share what people don't see.

(56:59): There's millions. Just want to let you know out there, there's millions of us here in the US, nevermind the whole world, with brain injuries. Don't forget that every concussion is a brain injury, so don't let it slide that you're okay. If you're not okay, get out there and get some help. Talk about it, share it. That's the only way people will know because we look okay. It's all in our heads.

Adam Williams: Thank you.

Silvana Montero (57:28): Thank you, Adam.

[Transition music, guitar instrumental]

Adam Williams (57:37): Thanks for listening to the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast. If our conversation here today sparked curiosity for you, you can learn more in this episode's show notes at wearchaffee.org.

(57:48): If you have comments or know someone in Chaffee County, Colorado who I should consider talking with on the podcast, you can email us at info@wearchaffee.org. We invite you to rate and review the We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast on Apple Podcast, Spotify, or whatever platform you use with that functionality. We also invite you to tell others about the Looking Upstream podcast. Help us to keep growing community and connection through conversation.

(58:13): Once again, I'm Adam Williams, host, producer, and photographer. Jon Pray is engineer and producer. Thank you to KHEN 106.9 FM, our community radio partner in Salida, Colorado, to Heather Gorby for graphic and web design, to Andrea Carlstrom, director of Chaffee County Public Health and Environment, and to Lisa Martin, community advocacy coordinator for the We Are Chaffee Storytelling Initiative.

(58:36): The We Are Chaffee: Looking Upstream podcast is a collaboration with the Chaffee County Department of Public Health and the Chaffee Housing Authority, and it's supported by the Colorado Public Health and Environment Office of Health Disparities. You can learn more about the Looking Upstream podcast and related storytelling initiatives at wearchaffee.org and on Instagram and Facebook at wearechaffee.

(58:57): Lastly, until the next episode, as we say here at We Are Chaffee: share stories, make change.

[Outro music, horns and guitar instrumental]

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