Anniversary: 1. The yearly occurrence of a past event. 2. A celebration or commemoration of a past event. (Dictionary.com) There’s no celebration here.
April 25, 2011. My life changed forever in less than a second. I was in a roll over motor vehicle accident and sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury. I survived. But I will most likely never be the same. This past year in recovery was a mixture of hope vacillating with fear and anger. Getting an actual diagnoses of TBI was the first hurdle. The ER treated and streeted. I presented “too alert” and with an “unknown history of LOC” to be sseriously injured. Really? If someone responds, “I don’t remember” when asked if they were unconscious, guess what? Something is not right there. Most likely they were unconscious. Not surprisingly, as the swelling in my brain grew, my symptoms progressed. The medical field finally got it right when I had unequal pupils. slurred speech, and walked like I had imbibed in some serious drinking. And still, I was sent home alone. I knew there was something wrong with me but could not communicate it to the medical providers at my local ER. It was a relief when a friend, who is also a medical provider, started attending appointments. She ended up a powerful advocate. Every person needs an advocate in early brain injury. The injured person is not functioning at full capacity. If he/she is lucky, the medical providers recognize this and make allowances. Almost two weeks after my injury, they diagnosed a TBI. It was a relief.
When I started testing, and then the therapies targeting my deficits, I felt hopeful. In the past, I always recovered quickly from injury. I worked hard. I actually started therapy before I ever had an appointment. I can’t stand on one foot? I practiced until I could. Couldn’t walk heel to toe? Same thing. Whenever I was awake, I worked on something I had trouble doing. Therapy just identified and formalized my targets and provided direction. I knew I would heal. In my delusions, I still had hope of deploying with my unit to Afghanistan.
But, brain injury doesn’t work that way. Brain injury, excuse the pun, has a mind of its own. Unlike broken bones that have a fixed treatment and recovery, the brain is unpredictable. My cracked ribs have long since healed. My injured brain remains changed. The physical injury and swelling is no longer present. Even microscopic damage in a brain impacts function. My rattled neurons still work to reroute signals through undamaged territory. New roads must be built. The result is my slowed speech and cognition, the ongoing sensory overload issues, fatigue, and headaches. The brain is the headquarters of all we are: our emotions, knowledge, personality, even basic survival all reside in that 3 pound organ.
Koda and Tosca explore my OCIE
I have made progress in the past year. I returned to work part-time and recently increased my hours to 20 a week. I work on special projects and still do not see patients. However, my supervisor and I have a plan to re-introduce clinical work into my duties. I built my stamina for running. Last weekend, I completed a 9 miler without triggering a migraine. I still took a healthy nap afterwards. I signed up to run the half marathon (13.1 miles) in Missoula, MT. on July 8. Prior to my injury, I would have done the full marathon (26.2). I plan to design a shirt to wear about brain injury survival. My headaches are not as frequent.
There’s so many things I have either lost permanently or temporarily. Given the nature of head injury, I am not sure what skills and abilities I will recover and when. That uncertainty leads to a war for control. Like all people, I want control of my life. However, the head injury has blessed me with the knowledge that control is only an illusion. There are so many factors that go into what happens in life and what direction life moves. What if I had driven the other route? Or left 5 minutes earlier or 20 minutes later? What if the airbags deployed? I can’t control my recovery. I can only work towards the goal. My brain will do what it wants.
I see myself as “Me Before” and “What’s Left Over.” It’s a process of identity. I am more compassionate and understanding of limitations. My coworkers say I am more relaxed. Of course, they don’t see me in my really stressed moments. I am broken. In my brokenness, can I be whole? That is new path I must discover. My identity before is not who I will ever be again. The hard-charging, motivated, high energy individual died in that car accident. Who I am now is a different person. In some ways, I am both quieter and more outgoing. There is value in who I am today. But, I still miss the “Me Before.” Last night, I dreamed that I was running on the beach. It was a clear day, with a light breeze. My body was comfortable and centered. I felt I could run forever. I miss that feeling. Running now is work, although I still enjoy the process. Going on a 5 mile run is no longer effortless. But, I have a new understanding of the people who find it hard to run. I understand how a Soldier could struggle in a PT test. I never understood it like this before.
I read an article a few months ago about survival. An Army veteran injured in Iraq shared his “Alive Day.” The day he nearly died from an IED was his “Alive Day.” He was able to see his life in a new light and embrace the person he is today. I’m not there yet.
April 25, 2011. My Alive Day. Maybe next year.
My First Alive Day