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Emilie, Lost and Found
February 17, 2011 12:46 PM   Subscribe

On October 8, 2010, art student Emilie Gossiaux was struck by a semi-truck while riding her bike in Brooklyn. Left functionally blind, deaf, unable to communicate, and showing few signs of cognitive activity, Emilie was judged to be too mentally impaired to undergo rehabilitation. Then her boyfriend, Alan Lundgard, found a way to reach her.

(You can see some of Emilie's art, created both before and after the accident, at her main page.)
posted by Spinneret (66 comments total) 36 users marked this as a favorite

 
I heard this on Radio Lab this week and it totally blew me away. I was listening on my way home in the car and just had to sit parked on the street to hear what happened.
posted by Slarty Bartfast at 12:49 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Both inspiring and terrifying. If Alan hadn't been there, Emilie would have been essentially locked away for good.
posted by bearwife at 12:50 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


I was listening on my way home in the car and just had to sit parked on the street to hear what happened.

Same here, except I was being shooed off the train cause I was too absorbed to notice we'd gotten to the terminal stop (my destination, thankfully). The earlier stories are good too. But that's par for the course for Radiolab.
posted by kmz at 12:55 PM on February 17, 2011


That last line...garsh.

In weather-related news, it appears to be raining inside my glasses.
posted by superfluousm at 1:08 PM on February 17, 2011 [11 favorites]


Um, so they had decided she was hopeless before they ever put her hearing aid in, or activated her cochlear implant???
posted by orthogonality at 1:09 PM on February 17, 2011 [22 favorites]


With his index finger he spelled, one capital letter at a time, the words “I LOVE YOU.”

“Oh, you love me?” she told him. “That’s so sweet. Thank you.”


Wow. The ultimate, "But what have you done for me lately" response.
posted by CarlRossi at 1:10 PM on February 17, 2011


wait- did she finger spell the responses back or she was speaking in response to the finger spellings?
posted by raccoon409 at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2011


Was wondering the same thing.
posted by Jahaza at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2011


She refused to let them put the hearing aid in.

I listened to this at work and then immediately went and donated to the cause.
posted by papercake at 1:12 PM on February 17, 2011


raccoon409: She was speaking in response to the finger spellings. (It's clearer in the RadioLab podcast.)
posted by Spinneret at 1:13 PM on February 17, 2011


I don't understand, did she shake her head and wouldn't let them put it in? I mean, if the choice is declaring her unable to care for herself and sending her off to a nursing home or putting the damn thing in, why not sedate her, put it in, and see what happens?
posted by schroedinger at 1:15 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


No se puede vivir sin amar.
posted by Devils Rancher at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


Wow. The ultimate, "But what have you done for me lately" response.


Said the woman from her hospital bed.
posted by fixedgear at 1:16 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


So, it didn't occur to any of the trained medical professionals to use the most famous method ever devised for communicating with someone who cannot see or hear - the one we all learned in elementary school when learning about one of the most famous people in the world? For crying out loud.
posted by The World Famous at 1:20 PM on February 17, 2011 [29 favorites]


I don't understand, did she shake her head and wouldn't let them put it in? I mean, if the choice is declaring her unable to care for herself and sending her off to a nursing home or putting the damn thing in, why not sedate her, put it in, and see what happens?

If I remember correctly the explanation in the story is that she would slap them away when they would try or rip them out. I can't help but think that is a simplified description of what they must have tried.
posted by papercake at 1:21 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


No se puede vivir sin amar.

Fuck, I'll say. Talk about throwing someone a lifeline.

This story gave me chills. Good ones. And shit...I think I have a 2 x 4 in my eye...
posted by Skygazer at 1:24 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


hmmm it seems like the radio lab and nytimes story provoke very different responses... that or I am really missing something (I'm only able to read the nytimes story at this time)
posted by raccoon409 at 1:30 PM on February 17, 2011


hmmm it seems like the radio lab and nytimes story provoke very different responses... that or I am really missing something (I'm only able to read the nytimes story at this time)

I too can't listen to Radio Lab right now and you've got me wondering if there's a difference in the stories or if I'm a bit defective, as the bit of the NY Times story that got me was the bus driver giving his sick days to her mother. Well, that and I'm wondering if fingerspelling differentiates between capital and lower case letters, since the NY Times seems to think it does.
posted by hoyland at 1:36 PM on February 17, 2011


With his index finger he spelled, one capital letter at a time, the words “I LOVE YOU.”

“Oh, you love me?” she told him. “That’s so sweet. Thank you.”

Wow. The ultimate, "But what have you done for me lately" response.


It's clear from context that she didn't know who it was who was saying that - she thought it was some random hospital person, not her boyfriend.
posted by rkent at 1:43 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


As a cyclist, this is one of my greatest fears. I read somewhere that women get into more cycling accidents than men -specifically with large trucks turning right- because they obey traffic laws and don't start moving until the light changes. The trucks don't see them.
posted by domo at 1:51 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


To people who aren't able to listen to the RadioLab story but read the NYTimes link (and are missing the drama): RadioLab leaves you in suspense for most of the story about what happens to Emilie, how, and if, she ends up being able to communicate. I was a little surprised at how the NYT just blew the surprise so early in the article.
posted by telegraph at 1:52 PM on February 17, 2011


Affecting story, but I found the NY Times article surprisingly confused and poorly-written. I imagine the RadioLab episode is waiting for me to listen to it on my iPod, which I am now looking forward to.
posted by aught at 1:53 PM on February 17, 2011


There is definitely a huge difference in NYT and Radiolab's coverage. Radiolab goes more into the various attempts made to contact Emilie and her behavior in the hospital. It's more evident there that there was something more wrong with her beyong being blind and deaf. She asks to be pulled 'out of the wall,' and starts quoting lines from Sense and Sensibility, among other things.

It was a surprisingly emotional story, and very well edited by Radiolab. Hearing Alan himself and Emilie's mother telling the whole story adds an amazing layer to it, and I got glared at by my professor because I left my iPod on until it finished after walking to class.
posted by Hargrimm at 1:56 PM on February 17, 2011


Great, great story.
posted by Dasein at 2:01 PM on February 17, 2011


It's clear from context that she didn't know who it was who was saying that - she thought it was some random hospital person, not her boyfriend.

Yes, the RadioLab story explained that she didn't realize who Alan was until she finally heard his voice.

I really dislike RadioLab (I know, I'm the only one in America who feels this way) but mr. something made me listen to this and I'm glad he did. It really is mind-blowing that the hospital was so quick to write her off, and I've spent some time since then obsessing about the potential people out there who are conscious and locked away inside their own bodies without anyone realizing it.
posted by something something at 2:03 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


I'm glad they included Alan's recording of his work with Emilie, because the somewhat hesitant tone of her voice when she's trying to decipher his spelling followed by the very happy "Emilie!" is amazing and started me crying at work.
posted by sawdustbear at 2:06 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Affecting story, but I found the NY Times article surprisingly confused and poorly-written. I imagine the RadioLab episode is waiting for me to listen to it on my iPod, which I am now looking forward to.

Funny, I found the RadioLab piece incredibly distractingly assembled... I am unfamiliar with RadioLab, although I have heard it mentioned and praised on the blue many times: are they all this choppily edited into two-second-long sentence fragments?
posted by ricochet biscuit at 2:11 PM on February 17, 2011


I guess it's just as well that NYT is hidden behind a registration wall, I listened to the audio instead. And it was good!
I found the story kind of terrifying and tragic. Sweet, but just horrifying.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2011


Last Fall there were flyers all over Williamsburg and Greenpoint with the photos from Emilie's website, looking for people who witnessed the accident. I'd wondered what happened. The photos are scary, especially for someone who rides his bike to work every day.
posted by Drab_Parts at 2:12 PM on February 17, 2011


Man, I could swear this was posted before.
posted by briank at 2:14 PM on February 17, 2011


I am unfamiliar with RadioLab, although I have heard it mentioned and praised on the blue many times: are they all this choppily edited into two-second-long sentence fragments?

YES AND IT IS VERY IRRITATING.

posted by something something at 2:14 PM on February 17, 2011 [19 favorites]


This sad story illustrates why you take your lane when cycling. Prudence demands that motorcyclists and bicyclists assume that other road users can't see them at all; or if they can, that they have the intent to kill them. Better situational awareness in this case could have prevented this. NEVER allow a large vehicle to occupy the space beside you when on on two wheels like this.
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 2:17 PM on February 17, 2011 [8 favorites]




This sad story illustrates why you take your lane when cycling. Prudence demands that motorcyclists and bicyclists assume that other road users can't see them at all; or if they can, that they have the intent to kill them. Better situational awareness in this case could have prevented this. NEVER allow a large vehicle to occupy the space beside you when on on two wheels like this.


It sure pisses motorists off, but you're absolutely right.
posted by Stagger Lee at 2:27 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


This was hard to listen to, not because I don't feel an immense amount of joy for Emilie but because I do.

My mama never woke up from her coma. The doctors said she wouldn't, they said she was gone, but I know she could feel me. I know she knew I was there. I know she felt me hold her hand. A kidney infection took her before she could prove them all wrong and I'm sitting here, sobbing, because who knows what I did wrong? Who knows if there was anything I could have done to ease her way back to me? If she could feel anything, I know she knew I was with her, and that gives me a little comfort, but it's not much when faced with all the goddamn shitty reality that my mom died without hearing me tell her how much I loved her.

To Emilie and Alan, godspeed. You are an example and a joy.
posted by lydhre at 2:28 PM on February 17, 2011 [10 favorites]


Agreed! Bicyclists! Ride in the middle of the lane! Act like a car, ride aggressively, and MAKE SURE CARS SEE YOU! It might seem "scary" riding with the cars but it is SO MUCH SAFER. Don't ride on the side of the road! And never, ever on the sidewalks (cars don't drive there either, do they?)

I've known too many bicyclists who got injured because they were timid riders. If it's too scary, then don't ride in populated areas, please!
posted by special agent conrad uno at 2:30 PM on February 17, 2011 [7 favorites]


For all the choppy soundbytes of the RadioLab episode (which is a style I just LOVE...have you ever watched a dog desperately wait for its owner throw the damn ball after what seems like an infinity of fakeouts?...we are the guy on the beach watching the dog watching the ball - with the omniscience of the owner and the zeal of the dog), there is a whole lot of nuance going on. Just what IS the backstory between Alan and Emilie's parents? The framing is so bizarre. Do they hate him? Still resent him? For? Because for as touching and tragic and lovely as this whole thing is, I can't ignore this undercurrent of unrelated dark that seems to be lurking there. Anybody else feeling that, too or is it just me?
posted by iamkimiam at 2:44 PM on February 17, 2011


!
posted by exogenous at 2:46 PM on February 17, 2011


Well, anyways on second thoughts, it's none of my damn business. But I did just absolutely love that episode and was captivated by it all.
posted by iamkimiam at 2:50 PM on February 17, 2011


MetaFilter: I can't ignore this undercurrent of unrelated dark that seems to be lurking there.
posted by hippybear at 2:50 PM on February 17, 2011


I got the same vibe from it, for what that's worth. I think part of the reason is that Alan and Emilie's mother have separate narratives, and then there's this talk of things that you KNOW would have provoked a lot of emotional discussion and maybe bad blood between the two 'sides' (the idea of moving her away from New York, away from him), where that discussion just isn't acknowledged. It seems like the relationship between Alan and Emilie's mother is painted with this antagonistic shadow that doesn't really come out and make itself known, and it's just subtle enough to leave you wondering if it's just the magic of editing leaving you to fill it in for yourself.

So, yeah, none of our business, but I think that layer makes it even more captivating. The story itself is amazing and would stand just fine on its own, but the details keep you wondering.
posted by Kosh at 3:05 PM on February 17, 2011


Yeah that is the standard Radiolab editing and it drives me crazy too. They generally do have these great stories and then subvert themselves with this distracting style. I imagine it's meant to be edgy or something but to me it feels more like the Simpsons episode where the videotape is chopped to make Homer look like he's fondling the babysitter as she gets out of the car.
posted by zoinks at 3:24 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Personally, I kind of like the adventure in editing that is Radiolab. It's like they're trying to push the boundaries of the medium by coming up with a new aural editing language. It's taking a bit for them to refine their technique and for the audience to be trained in listening to it. It's less easy to understand than, say, Eisenstein's editing in Battleship Potemkin. Or is it? I have no idea what that movie was like to watch from the perspective of then, because I have all this training in how to watch edited films.

I do wish they'd refine things a bit, or something. I find it especially confusing if my attention was drawn away when they introduce one of the voices early on and then never mention who it is again. Unless the context clues are huge, I spend a lot of time wondering who this is who is talking.

But overall, I find their pieces work better on the 2nd or 3rd listen. There's a clear sense to what they're doing. It's just not quite ready for the casual listener because it's a different style and grammar.
posted by hippybear at 3:30 PM on February 17, 2011


Truly inspiring! No surprise RadioLab is great!

I agree about riding like a car. That means stopping at stop signs and red lights too. I live in Minneapolis (the most bike friendly city in the US) and I often see bikers riding on the sidewalk, not stopping at lights...

Amazing story. Kudos, RadioLab!
posted by lhc67 at 3:35 PM on February 17, 2011


This was a driveway thing for me too - I'm really heartened to hear stories like this.
posted by disclaimer at 3:41 PM on February 17, 2011


in another episode of radiolab called After Life, they illustrate a story about people in comas and how to reach people. a "is there anyone in there?" type of exploration. so the doctor would ask the patient to imagine playing a vigorous game of tennis. which in these coma patients that have had absolutely no response at all suddenly the premotor cortex lights up on a brain scan. so yes, there is something, some part of the mind that is still aware. aware, but unable to return back to us.
posted by cristinacristinacristina at 4:00 PM on February 17, 2011


Continuing the radiolab derail: I've also found the editing style annoying and pointless. But I have to admit that the stories they do are, quite often, brilliant. I started listening to the podcast and I find now that I hardly notice what used to drive me nuts.
posted by lex mercatoria at 4:10 PM on February 17, 2011


When I first started listening to Radiolab, I found the editing annoying as well. After 10 or 15 episodes or so, I got used to the style and now I thoroughly enjoy it, it's in fact become my favourite podcast.
posted by cerbous at 4:29 PM on February 17, 2011


I totally thought the mom and the boyfriend hated each other. To me, having only listened once, it sounded like Mom and Dad did not like that art-focused Emily was potentially screwing up her life by suddenly doing ga-ga over a boy. A bit of using the apron strings to tie the kid up, and getting mad when that doesn't work. Not that I can fault them for wanting her to go to a facility near them, as opposed to near the boyfriend of, what, nine months? But yes, there seemed to be some issues there.
posted by jenlovesponies at 7:14 PM on February 17, 2011


Anybody else feeling that, too or is it just me?

Nay, it was definitely there. Kid was what, 20? And all of a sudden she drops out of school for a semester and moves in with this kid she just met? I can see why the parents were skeptical, and why they might have been inclined to indulge in a little subterfuge about their long-term plans. She was their daughter, and so far as they knew she was going to be in a coma for the rest of her life. Joined how Radiolab split some of the joy between them. Boyfriend sounds like a great dude, I hope it works out for them. Hard on both sides in a way --- she'll need a lot of care for a long time, and to live the rest of your life owing the debt she owes him is a heavy thing, too.
posted by Diablevert at 7:24 PM on February 17, 2011


Wow, take-your-lane preaching in a thread about a miraculous medical recovery! You guys sure are doing your part to advance the cause of cyclists! I am an avid cyclist and ride on the streets of downtown Toronto on a regular basis, and I have to say that take your lane is utterly ridiculous. If there's no bike lane, and there's parked cars in the rightmost lane, do not take up the entire left lane. I almost want to say you'd be more likely to be run over by a driver whipped into a frenzied rage than you are by a right-turning driver who doesn't see you on the right side of the lane.
posted by tehloki at 7:56 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


tehloki.

Taking your lane is important, if you do not try to be seen often you are not, but I understand the driver frustration. I operate just like a tractor on a country road, I take the lane and don't allow people to pass UNTIL i find a safe place to move to the side, a friendly wave gives people an idea to overtake quickly, and then i reassert my position when it is safe. I rarely need to stop. Of course this doesn't work on all roads, but the roads you can't I just try to avoid.
posted by Raff at 8:46 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Was there anything at all stating that she was riding between the truck & the kerb?

All I saw was a vague "Ms. Gossiaux was riding her bicycle in Brooklyn on the morning of Oct. 8 when an 18-wheel truck making a right turn struck her."

There are any number of ways that might have happened, for example if she'd been riding on the footpath, and attempting to cross at a pedestrian crossing - the single most dangerous riding practice, in terms of fatalities.

Also, this being Brooklyn & all, there's a not unlikely chance that she was riding without a helmet, on a fixie with inadequate brakes. If we're going to get on a soapbox about taking our lanes, might as well emphasise the usefulness of (safety-rated) helmets, and having proper front & rear brakes.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:02 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


Also, this being Brooklyn & all, there's a not unlikely chance that she was riding without a helmet, on a fixie with inadequate brakes.

Also, this being blah blah blah ((unintelligible rage))

Also, On the morning of the accident, Mr. Lundgard put her helmet on her, strapping it on tight.
posted by setanor at 9:05 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


Ah, I missed that. Merely trying to highlight the silliness of presuming how the accident happened, with so little information. My own speculation there was a perfect example.
posted by UbuRoivas at 9:09 PM on February 17, 2011


If there's no bike lane, and there's parked cars in the rightmost lane, do not take up the entire left lane.

If there are parked cars in the lane, they're there illegally. If you're talking about parking spots, then it's not a lane. Therefore, it's not taking up the "entire left lane," it's traveling down a single lane. All vehicles, from bicycles to horse carriages, to cars and trucks, all have equal rights to the road. The dearth of bicyclists is what makes people impatient and unaware. The more people who're willing to stand up for bicyclists' rights, the more drivers will realize that bicyclists are people, too.
posted by explosion at 9:24 PM on February 17, 2011 [1 favorite]


There are many 2-lanes-each-way streets in toronto that give up the right lane to parked cars between certain hours.
posted by tehloki at 9:55 PM on February 17, 2011


Also, as a cyclist, I don't believe I have the right to obstruct the flow of traffic completely in the name of my personal safety.
posted by tehloki at 9:56 PM on February 17, 2011 [3 favorites]


A bus driver at the Louisiana school district where Susan Gossiaux works — a woman Ms. Gossiaux’s mother had never met — donated 106.5 sick days so that she could be by her daughter’s side.

I'm not sure where to begin with this, so just to the point: it is just fucking unacceptable that someone in the mom's school district had to donate presumably all of his sick days so that she could be with her daughter. Can't there be some policy where if your daughter is hit by a fucking Mac truck and is in a coma in another state that you can't, I don't know, just go be there with her without losing your job or going without pay? Christ.

Also, I'd endorse restraining the patient and trying out the whole cochlear implant thing. Did they honestly declare her nearly brain dead / unresponsive without actually trying that?
posted by pkingdesign at 11:05 PM on February 17, 2011 [2 favorites]


If she was mentally alert enough to be able to rip out the hearing aids every time the doctors put them in, why would they think her unresponsive? She was responding already to the unwelcome stimulus of someone putting her hearing aids in through her action in trying to take them out again. Is there some rule that a response has to be in the form of articulate language before its admissible?

I haven't listened to the link, so this might already have been answered.
posted by talitha_kumi at 3:43 AM on February 18, 2011


hoyland wrote:

"I'm wondering if fingerspelling differentiates between capital and lower case letters."

I believe he was simply tracing letters of the alphabet on her palm with his finger, not using sign language. If that's the case, of course many letters are formed differently depending on whether they are capital or lower-case. Take the phrase "I LOVE YOU". Think about how different an "e" would feel when traced on your hand, vs. an "E".
posted by parrot_person at 5:36 AM on February 18, 2011


This story gave me chills. Good ones. And shit...I think I have a 2 x 4 in my eye...

You described my reaction to a "T."
posted by ericb at 6:31 AM on February 18, 2011


I was a little surprised at how the NYT just blew the surprise so early in the article.

Inverted pyramid. Newspaper writers don't generally do suspense.

it is just fucking unacceptable that someone in the mom's school district had to donate presumably all of his sick days so that she could be with her daughter.

I wouldn't presume it's all his sick days. That'd be less than nine years of sick days for my job and some government jobs are more generous. It's a lot, but over a career, it could easily be a third or less of his sickdays.
posted by Jahaza at 7:35 AM on February 18, 2011


I haven't listened to the link, so this might already have been answered.

Yeah, listen to the Radiolab bit.

I listened to it in the car this morning. I cried.
posted by The World Famous at 10:00 AM on February 18, 2011


Also, as a cyclist, I don't believe I have the right to obstruct the flow of traffic completely in the name of my personal safety.

You're not obstructing traffic. You are traffic. If you won't look after your personal safety, what makes you think that Sally cell-phone user over there in her steel cage will?
posted by PareidoliaticBoy at 7:30 PM on February 22, 2011


Also, as a cyclist, I don't believe I have the right to obstruct the flow of traffic completely in the name of my personal safety.

The point is not to obstruct traffic to but to ride with enough confidence and presence, to ensure that you are SEEN at all times, or heard (everyone should have a bike bell, it's one of the best investments I've ever made), so that you give drivers a clear understanding of your intentions. Sometimes that means you get out in the middle of the street safely and occupy the lane to avoid some idiot that hasn't checked his side mirror closely or his blind spot and opens a door unexpectedly or pulls out into traffice, and somtimes that means you STOP, even if it is an inconvenience if a driver is not making their intentions clear, and sometimes it means ringing your bell aggressively and sometimes it means yelling if that's what;s needed to get someones attention.

Main thing is to ride defensively, look for cars with drivers in them or whose back lights are on, and if things are just too confusing get yourself up on a sidewalk.

Really, obstructing traffic is the least of it. No one, not you and not the driver any kind of vehicle wants to deal with a potentially fatal collision.

I also try and use the least busy streets I can, and will even drive against the flow of traffic for short parts of the trip if those streets are more quiet.

That's just the way you do in urban areas. And I wish this girl had been more experienced or aggressive. Being to the right of a truck or a bus is always risky and should be avoided.
posted by Skygazer at 1:48 PM on February 27, 2011


(Oh, and if you must STOP, as I wrote above, get off the road and up on a sidewalk and let the traffic thin out....)
posted by Skygazer at 1:50 PM on February 27, 2011


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