Garrett Ebling: 'Emotionally, I'm stuck'

  • Updated: July 28, 2012 - 10:45 PM
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35W bridge collapse survivor Garrtt Ebling played with toy cars and trucks with his 16-month-old son, Cooper, at the family’s Andover home.

Photo: Jim Gehrz, Star Tribune

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Ebling's car landed on its front end, partly in the water. His seat belt severed his colon, requiring immediate surgery. Ebling, 37, had a collapsed lung and a ruptured diaphragm. He broke both feet, his left arm and bones all over his face.

Garrett Ebling is starting to get comfortable with the new face in the mirror.

He looks different than he did in photos five years ago, after surgeons rebuilt his jaw, cheeks and forehead with mesh and metal screws.

His jaw still aches, he lost his sense of smell and at times he is bothered by headaches and dizziness.

But as Ebling bounds through his new sandwich shop in Blaine, customers have no idea how he's changed. They may glimpse scars on his arms, but they don't know how his body was shattered and they can't see that much of his spirit is still bruised.

"How's your sandwich today ma'am?" he says with a smile. "Hi, guys! Welcome to 'Which 'Wich. How you doing today?"

It took two years to recover physically, but Ebling continues to battle "adjustment disorder" -- a condition he says is similar to post-traumatic stress disorder. He remembers falling in his car, but doesn't remember what happened after that. He woke from a medically induced coma 18 days after the collapse.

"Emotionally, I'm stuck," he said. Ebling was married a year after the collapse, and they had a son 16 months ago. But in many aspects of his life, Ebling struggles to feel joy.

It's been hard on the couple's young marriage, he said. In counseling, he hears words like "emotionally distant" and "guarded." He feels an urge to control everything, he said, because he couldn't control anything on the bridge that day.

He continues to make progress on his emotional recovery.

"As bad as I was physically injured, that healing process was completely easy compared to getting emotionally healthy," he said. "That's been tough."

A former newspaper journalist, Ebling wrote a book about his experience. "Collapsed" was published recently. Processing his thoughts through writing was the best way he knew how, and he hopes it will serve others struggling with trauma.

Ebling went skydiving with an instructor nearly two years ago; for the first time since the bridge collapse, he found himself free-falling again, without control. He laughed the whole way down.

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