Sunday, January 28, 2018

Depressed woman survived shooting herself, now helps other trauma victims

At around 7am on a foggy October morning in 2010, former data management specialist Christen McGinnes, then 41, set about cleaning the two-bedroom apartment she shared with her roommate. She tidied up the living room and kitchen, trying to make it look nice for the people she knew would be seeing it later.  But this wasn’t because she’d invited friends or family round for a happy social gathering. Instead, it was because later that morning she planned to end her own life by shooting herself in the head, and knew that in a few hours, after her roommate came back from work and found her body, her home would be swarming with police and the emergency services. What she could never have predicted, however, is that when she pulled the trigger, she would survive to tell the tale. "I used to love life," says Christen. 


Christen said she lived a charmed life before her suicide attempt
"Up until 2009, I would even say I had a charmed life; I had great friends, I loved my job and I was dating a really nice guy. I was a happy, normal person. But then everything started to go wrong." First, Christen lost her job, which she’d had for 18 years, after staff cutbacks. Then her beloved grandmother died, followed soon after by her pet dog. Christen’s relationship also ended, and she started having money problems as, with no income, she was relying on her savings. "I hadn’t been sleeping well, and I started having panic attacks," she recounts. She tried to soldier on, but she was becoming more and more depressed. "I had asked a few people for help," she admits, "but I felt like a burden, going on about my problems, so I isolated myself." Month followed miserable month, and eventually, on that fateful morning in October, Christen got out of bed after yet another sleepless night and thought about killing herself. "I just didn’t see a way out. It took me about an hour to decide to do it, and once I did, I felt at peace. It was a conscious, deliberate decision. I didn’t want to phone anyone to discuss what I was planning to do, as I’d got to the point where I couldn’t bear to be a burden any more." Selfless up until the end, her main concerns were how to minimise the mess the shooting would leave, and be as considerate as possible towards others. She realised that tidying the apartment wouldn’t do much good if the place ended up covered in blood, so she decided she would pull the trigger out on the balcony. Christen chose her method of suicide, in part, so she could still help others.  "I wanted to shoot myself in the head because I’m an organ donor, so I wanted to preserve as much of myself as possible," she explains.

The blast shattered her jawbone

With everything prepped to her satisfaction, and just one hour after making her decision, Christen decided it was time to act.  "I remember everything about those last moments," she says. "I picked up a little Christmas ornament in the shape of an angel to put in my hand. Then I went out onto the balcony and sat down with my gun, a .357 revolver I kept for protection, then said a quick prayer. And then I pulled the trigger…" To her surprise, the gun just clicked. There were five chambers, but she’d only loaded four bullets.  "I basically won at Russian Roulette," she jokes. "I laughed. I thought, 'I can’t believe that after everything I’ve failed at, I failed at this too.'" Christen wondered if it was a sign that she shouldn’t go through with it, but
she stiffened her resolve and put the gun back up to her chin. This time when she pulled the trigger, it didn’t click.  "The noise was so loud," she says, "and almost immediately I couldn’t see." However, unbeknownst to Christen, her roommate was asleep in the next room.

"The next thing I knew was hearing him scream, 'What’s that? What’s happening?', and I thought, 'Oh my God, he wasn’t supposed to be home.' He came running out to the balcony and the noise that came out of his mouth was the shrillest, most panicked shriek I’ve ever heard."  The bullet had blown off Christen’s right jawbone, shattered a third of her teeth and her tongue, destroyed her right sinus, bounced off the bone of her nose and exploded, destroying her right eye, although it didn’t pierce her skull. Christen was still holding the angel when she passed out, and the last thing she heard was ambulance sirens in the distance. 

After spending three weeks in the Fairfax Inova Hospital in Virginia in a coma, she finally woke up to find her father holding her hand.  The very first thing I remember is seeing him, and him saying, 'The only thing you have to do is heal; everything else is being taken care of. Everything will be OK – you just have to get better.' He told me I’d been saved for a reason, and we were going to find out what that reason was."  Christen had beaten some very slim odds to be alive – only 3% of people who try to commit suicide by gunshot survive. She found out that while she’d been in the coma, so many of her friends and family came to see her that the hospital lifted the restriction of only two visitors at a time, and her bed was surrounded by flowers, cards and gifts. Lying there, Christen experienced an emotion she’d never expected to feel: she was happy to be alive.