On February 18, Denver serial rapist Brent J. Brents nearly beat 33-year-old Tiffany Engle to death. She was his last victim—and she is also my friend.
Her injury has left her with residual maladies. Her vision and hearing will probably never fully return. She's dealing with some lingering dizziness that her doctor says should eventually subside. And, probably most bothersome, her senses of taste and smell are altered. Chocolate doesn't taste right anymore-a travesty for a self-described chocoholic. And there's a recurring smell of burnt rubber that Tiffany can't seem to shake.
There are other things, of course, that bother her. Having a piece of your skull surgically reattached is one thing, but putting a life back together means months of tedious tasks and myriad to-do lists. Tiffany had to find a new place to live. She had to get her car from the police and spend time trying to remove the fingerprint powder and police tape. She had to pass driving evaluations with Craig Hospital and the DMV so her car could be fully insured. At work, she says, she deals with a running paranoia that she's going to forget to do something or screw something up entirely.
Knowing that she'd order pizza for weeks instead of taking the bus to the grocery store, I took Tiffany to King Soopers. We made a mental list on the way-bread, peanut butter, sandwich meat, bananas, Miracle Whip, iced tea. The parking lot was completely full at noon on a Sunday. In a bit of a hurry, we scurried across the lot and Tiffany grabbed a cart. I quick-stepped toward produce and stopped when I noticed Tiffany had slowed to a crawl.
She was overwhelmed. I looked around and tried to see the grocery store through her eyes. Eyes that hadn't seen a grocery store in 10 weeks. Wrapped in a cocoon of recovery at the hospital, she had been insulated from the noises, distractions, and sheer velocity of normal life. People were everywhere. Kids were running around chasing each other. Carts squeaked. The "thunder and lighting" function was spraying down the broccoli. There were six different kinds of onions. Two were on sale if you had a club card. One was organic. A high-pitched voice came over the intercom to tell us the meat department was having a sale on New York strips. So I slowed down and let Tiffany take the grocery store at her own pace. For me this was normal-I'd chosen my onions just the night before-but Tiffany's still-recovering brain appeared to have shifted into sensory overload.
Her mailbox has been overwhelming her too. Each time she opens it, it's crammed with medical bills, explanations of benefits, and letters from hospital billing departments. She received a notice in August from Denver Health: While she was still an inpatient at Craig Hospital, Denver Health began sending medical bills to her apartment, a place she had given up when she was injured. The bills were returned to Denver Health without ever reaching her, at which point the hospital turned Tiffany in to a collections agency. "It's just adding insult to injury," she says with a laugh. Although she doesn't receive insurance through her job, Tiffany was smart enough to purchase her own major medical plan. If she hadn't, she would be responsible for all her medical fees, which right now tally around $260,000 but are certain to rise.