By McKenna Pegrim
It was January 8, 2021, when Brooke Harbula became a victim of gun violence, but that was not the day she gave up her power. After being shot during an armed robbery, Harbula’s physical and mental health have suffered, but that hasn’t stopped her from becoming the person she is today.
“I remember asking the paramedics if I was paralyzed because I couldn’t feel my left leg,” Harbula says. “Then it became a sudden realization of death…and how close I was to it.”
After spending 10 days in critical care, she was sent home to begin her journey toward recovery.
Harbula explains the varying ways in which she received support from her loved ones and others in her community. She says her boyfriend, Jacob Bostian, was and still is her biggest supporter.
“I received a lot of support from my family, my friends and especially my boyfriend,” Harbula says. “He dropped everything and moved in with me and my family to take care of me for about four to five months.”
Harbula was unable to do a lot of things that most people routinely do in their day-to-day lives, such as fixing a meal, getting a glass of water and taking a shower. She explains how Bostian was there for it all and more.
While she received lots of care from many directions, she mentions the complexities of the lack of support from people she least expected.
“It was strange, other support that I received was kind of ‘fake’ support because it felt more like they were checking something off their to-do list,” Harbula says. “Some people haven’t reached out to me since it happened.”
Harbula says that she does not belong in the center of everyone’s mind, but rather she believes that anyone experiencing hardship, of any degree, should receive encouragement.
“That goes for anyone going through a hard time, to just be very mindful of how you support someone,” says Harbula. “I think you just need to be very intentional with what level of support you’re giving to the people around you.”
Through this experience, Harbula, a nurse technician, has been able to connect with her patients at CHI Memorial in unexpected ways.
“I do think I have a different perspective in my field and I feel a lot more empathetic towards people,” Harbula says. “Just kind of remembering how helpless I felt and being able to understand what those patients must be feeling.”
Even in the triumphant moments when Harbula feels she can provide a new perspective in her line of work, she still lives with daily reminders of her trauma.
“The biggest thing for me is the scars,” she says, “because if I didn’t have a daily physical reminder, then I think it would be easier on me emotionally.”
Harbula mentions that the scar on her abdomen ranges between eleven and fourteen inches long.
“There’s obviously an entry wound and an exit wound from the bullet,” Harbula says. “Then where they had to do a graft of my artery from a vein in my leg there’s about a seven-inch scar.”
Harbula shares that she adjusts through each step in therapy, which has ultimately helped her recognize her accomplishments. Her goals have continued to evolve throughout the recovery process as well.
“I think the hardest part about moving forward is working through change,” she says, “First it was learning how to walk, then eventually walking without assisted devices, and eventually it was about the scars.”
Although her scars hindered her emotional recovery in some ways, Harbula says it has become easier to move forward.
“I’m kind of used to my scars, so they don’t trigger me as much,” she says. “At the beginning, it was a daily reminder. I looked at it and I was like, wow, I almost died. But now that’s gotten a little bit easier.”
Despite the constant reminder of her painful past, Harbula acknowledges that bad things happen to good people and that she is stronger than her scars.
McKenna Pegrim is an aspiring Photojournalist currently attending the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga pursuing her Bachelor of Science in Communication. Pegrim has special interest in photography, journalism, and graphic design. Her passion for visual communication encourages her grow as a creative individual and cultivate a unified community here in Chattanooga. Pegrim is currently gaining valuable experience as an Intern for The McCallie School, which has opened her eyes to the many possibilities ahead. For business inquiries or questions, you may contact McKenna Pegrim at email@example.com.