I had an appointment with my neurologist yesterday. It involved a trip into Tri-Cities, about 50 miles from home. Road trip! It was nice to get out-of-town for a day. I enjoy where I live but a change of scenery was refreshing. The appointment went well. There is nothing in my latest MRI that is concerning. The doctor thinks I’ll have a full recovery in a matter of time. My brain needs to retrain to function.
After the appointment, my friend and I talked about recovery. I expressed frustration that I’m just not healing. She explained what is happening in a way I understood. My brain is healed. There is nothing physically wrong with it at this point. However, my brain took damage.
As children and adolescence, the human brain is not fully developed. The brain undergoes rapid growth, making additional connections and pathways rapidly. The brain is like a car sitting in the middle of an empty field. As the car moves to a new destination, it leaves behind a road that allows for a smoother journey on the next travels. Depending on the function of the pathways, it may take a few trips to have a completed, four lane paved highway. But, it happens relatively rapidly.
My brain underwent a natural disaster at the time of the accident. An earthquake shook, rattled, and battered the physical and electrical pathways of the brain. Some of the roads were severely damaged. Other damage was less severe and took little time for repairs to happen. My roads are full of potholes. Some are completely obliterated, requiring a full rebuild.
At times, my brain stubbornly tries to follow the same dead-end road, leading the frustration of not being able to complete a given task. The information is not available. My brain now has to build new roads through the fields, detouring around the damaged areas. It can be a frustrating process. Unlike a child, an adult’s brain does not build new connections easily. Instead of few trips through the field, the brain starts at the beginning. It has to clear the brush, level the field, put down the road bed, and only then pave the road. Like a governmental project, it takes longer than expected or desired. The process creates chaos, confusion, and frustration. There is nothing more frustrating than going on a well-known road, only to find out the road has been closed, and the new road is still under construction.
The good news is that my brain will rebuild the connections. The surrounding tissues do not show sign of permanent damage. Rebuilding my roads is a matter of years, not months. But, everyday I improve. I feel better. I get stronger. There is a chance that some of my roads won’t be a smooth as before. I may have some disabilities that will continue long term. However, I know I will find a way to adapt to the changes and still have a rewarding life.
Some brain injury survivors are not as fortunate as I. Their injuries were much more severe. The ground underneath the roads was also broken, fractured, and damaged. At times, they have no way to route new roads, and they lose functions, abilities, memories, etc that were stored in those isolated areas. Other times, the roads can reconnect but they are never as smooth or fast.
Every brain injury is different. People recover to different levels at different times. Comparing one brain injury survivor with another is useless. My HR person made a comment today that I must be closed to fully recovered now. She hinted that I am either malingering or exaggerating my continued symptoms. No. My roads aren’t open yet.