Struck By A Car: Acquired Brain Injury
In 2011 I was accidentally struck by a vehicle as I was bicycling to the gym early one winter's morning. When I woke - lying on the ground, my entire body bound solidly to a board, and surrounded by ambulatory care personnel - I was terrified, in pain, cold, and very confused. I had no idea what had happened to me, why I was there, or what had torn me from the peaceful abyss of unconsciousness. Moments flash as I fade in and out, and then I am at the hospital. As I lay shaking on a gurney, a kindly woman named Joan (who was in the process of trying to capture a flailing arm in which to place my IV) gently informed me that I was in shock. More fading in and out, and now I must vomit - but I cannot move, and as I lay on my back am afraid to get sick. I feel my body tipped sideways, and as my head seemingly prepares to explode with pain, I barf into a bag (provided by the kind stranger Joan) and am placed on my back once more, still strapped in and unable to move.
Fade out and into a quiet, darkened room, where people inspect me and talk to each other. Someone puts a light in my eyes, and I hear the word "concussion". I taste something, garlic, and ask why that is (something was put into my IV to help ease my nausea). Fade out and in to a room full of loudly talking people; they manipulate my beat-up body and take x-rays, whilst talking among themselves about coffee and mornings, as I lay sobbing in pain and confusion on the table. Fade out and in, and am - gratefully - back in the quiet, dark room. I press the button they give me because I am scared to be alone. Someone comes, and they keep me company. I concentrate on keeping my fear at bay, and overwhelming pain becomes a general state of being. I don't know what is happening, but I am alive.
That was nearly seven years ago. As I sit here typing these words for the kind, funny, and thoughtful folks at SickBoy, I am shaking my head in wonder - and gratitude - at how far I have come since that cold January morning. :) Receiving an acquired brain injury is a bit like being re-born. You eventually realize that you must say farewell to Old You, your perceived identity, and of a lifetime of successful habits and strategies that helped shape you and your life. There are lots of interesting, mysterious, trippy, scary, and challenging experiences along the way as you navigate the wild, strange waters of a brain injury. Each facet is a chronicle both unique to each person with an acquired a brain injury, but also with commonalities, as well.
I slept for 10-12 hours a night, and 4-5 hours during the afternoons. I could not cook, speak properly, had lost my balance. Points of light sparkled and shone like diamond rainbows. I could not read. I woke shaking and screaming at night, covered in a sheen of sweat, as the last vestiges of my nightmares faded into oblivion. My self-awareness disappeared for the first year of recovery, and I reacted to the world as though a child, without much thought or contemplation as to my place in this world - I simply wondered in awe at all around me. In fact, the world had become a rather chaotic, noisy, and glaringly bright place, and so my family's home was my sanctuary as I slept and recovered and re-discovered bits and pieces of my world (like re-learning to use a can opener - victory at last, I knew this gadget was somehow meant to allow me access to the tuna inside!).
I've had an amazing amount of help on this winding and mysterious road to recovery: the love, support, and gentleness of my family and friends; a small army of doctors and specialists and professionals of all sorts; a very supportive employer; and a built-in eagerness alive and burning within me to return to life and living.
First, they took care of the acute items on my recovery list, like soft tissue damage, pain, and being able to take care of myself (personal hygiene, cooking, etc). Then (in my case, approximately 1.5 years following the accident), came the return of self awareness and a true understanding of the fact that I had an acquired brain injury. In the following years of working with OTs and others at the Acquired Brain Injury Clinic here in Halifax, I am so proud of where I am today, even this very night as I write this for you at the end of 2017. :)
I live in a cozy apartment in the city now, where I continue to rebuild my life. I feed and nurture and realize hopes and dreams new and old, large and small. :) My PTSD has also been properly addressed. Although I still have the occasional nightmare and flashback, they are no longer regular occurrences. I am working part time in my chosen field, conservation biology and science communication. Fatigue is ever-present, and I still nap every day as part of my strategies to keep my symptoms in control. My daytimer helps me to organize my days as well, so that fatigue and other symptoms are wrangled as I work, continue my recovery, take part in my hobbies, relaxation, physical and social activities, and in general attempting to live an enriched, well-balanced life. :)
To others out there who are also on this long, strange trip that is an acquired brain injury: even in your deepest moments of confusion or despair, know that you are not alone. What is happening to you is normal, as weird and wild as it feels right now. It's scary to have your life torn from you so suddenly and traumatically. And it's so confusing and frustrating to have your brain - once taken for granted - boot you out of your own life as it does what it needs to in order to recover from its injury. But you are an amazing human being, with so much to live for - to offer the world around you, to realize your full potential, and the gift that is New You.
Don't be afraid to ask for help. For a good start, here is a link to the Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) Program at the QE@ here in Halifax: https://www.cdha.nshealth.ca/rehabilitation-supportive-care-services-1
Once you stop looking backwards at your old life and move forward with New You, everything changes. That's when there real recovery begins, and when you use your new strengths, passions, goals, and inspirations to build a brand new life for yourself. To not be ruled by your brain injury symptoms or a life that is gone and grieved for. Look forward; take what you can with you, and gently say farewell to the rest. Then, you have something stable on which to grow upon. It takes time. For me, I had to realize and accept it may take the rest of my life. But I am alive, and every day I am grateful for that beautiful gift of being alive, and - following the accident - the chance to live again. To have this body, to have my self-awareness back, and be a part of life on this beautiful Planet Earth. :)