I survived a traumatic brain injury in 1991. My Volvo wagon was broadsided by a ¾ ton pickup which was travelling about 50 miles per hour, when I ran a stop sign and the vehicles collided. The collision broke my jaw and caused a brainstem injury. After the accident, I don’t remember saying to myself “Get it together, Self,” but I did get it together. MY ADVICE: Stop at stop signs and pay attention to your surroundings.
Airlifted to Palmdale hospital in Southern California, I remained in a collision-induced coma for 3 days. Doctors installed a shunt to relieve pressure on my brain caused by the buildup of fluid.
My husband and I had been college athletes and, after educating himself about brain injuries, he knew he could teach me what I needed to do, to get transferred to another hospital, rather than a nursing home, after my initial recovery. I grabbed a tennis ball held flat in the palm of his hand. At his request, and because I was able to respond to his instruction, I went to the rehab unit at Northridge Hospital near Los Angeles, California. Well done Gary! MY ADVICE: Surround yourself with understanding, positive, patient, and smart people.
I arrived at Northridge Hospital’s rehab unit with my jaw wired shut, for the breaks to heal, and no motor skills on my right side. I wasn’t just weak; on that side, all skills were gone. I spent the following 4 months in rehabilitation; physical, occupational and cognitive therapies. A nurse pushed my wheelchair across the street to a dentist, who tried to save my teeth with root canals, but my pearly whites died anyway. Several were then removed, and top and bottom bridges of new teeth were built. I remember actually dozing in the dentist’s chair. I began speech therapy after my jaw and teeth were fixed.
Doctors casted my right arm at increasing angles, away from where it had drawn up; balled fist to shoulder. During cognitive therapy I played the computer game, Where in the World is Carmen San Diego. I must have found her because I moved on to other things.
I recall walking with a shopping cart, between two parallel bars, up and down a set of practice stairs, on a tread mill, with a loft strand cane, a regular cane, and now unassisted. I don’t like using a cane now because for it to really work, I have to hold it in my good hand, and I like to have that available to catch myself if I fall. I don’t remember much of my cognitive therapy. I may have done some math and worksheets that looked like they were taken from an early elementary school class. And, I completed lots of puzzles!
In between all the physical and cognitive therapy, the occupational therapists put a knife in my compromised hand so I could cut an apple. I am fortunate to have received the rehab services, but after 4 months my insurance carrier would no longer pay for in-patient therapy so I continued therapy for a while as an out-patient. MY ADVICE: Do everything the staff asks you to do; they almost always know what they are doing.
I returned home with a wheel chair, a loft strand cane, a brace for my lower leg/ankle, a device to keep my hand open when I slept, high tops, and an orthotic for my bad foot. My husband hired a nanny to care for me, my 2 children, and a few things around the house because I spent a lot of time at therapy and I was very tired after therapy.
Shortly after I came home, I had eye surgeries to correct double vision. I still have double vision, but to a much lesser extent. One eye continues to wander. I walk with an unmistakable limp, and my balance is horrendous. I ride a recumbent bike, and flail about in a small pool for exercise. After sustaining my TBI, I worked in education, as a teacher, and then as a Special Education aide for about 12 years. My previous husband and I went our separate ways, but we still have a great friendship even though I have a new husband. I am now on Disability, but I continue to hold paid coaching positions in cross country and track. My ADVICE: Keep your passions alive, and do whatever you can do to break a sweat.
In conclusion, I think the education, experiences, and attitudes that were engrained in me before the accident, helped save me after the accident.
- I surrounded myself with good, positive, and supportive people.
- I maintained a positive attitude.
- I was determined to win.
There are things I am sorry for having done or said, but I now know there was a reason. My ADVICE: Don’t walk around with a black cloud over your head, stay as positive as you can, but allow yourself quiet, alone time.
Thanks to Lexie Wyman for sharing her story; and all the people who, directly or indirectly, made it possible for me to include the picture and text I used in this post.