On February 25, 2015, I experienced my 12th head injury. It was a seemingly innocuous jolt to my head that occurred during a car accident. My previous head injuries had occurred during athletic activities. None of the 11 injuries seemed to affect me. The 12th injury was the tipping point. Like the Jenga game, the effects of head injuries peacefully stack. They lie dormant until the final seemingly silent blow causes one’s world to come crashing down.
This is what happened to me.
Within three days following the seemingly uneventful event, I lost complete control of my world. My speech was slurred. I began to stutter. My balance was off, causing a fall that resulted in a broken rib. My peripheral vision was not functioning. I couldn’t think or plan ahead. I was confused and frightened. All I wanted was to continue on my life’s path but because of my injury, I only had the energy to sleep. I lived alone and there was no one to help or actually observe the changes that had occurred. I was in deep trouble. I was even politely and kindly excused from my educational pursuit to become a nurse.
Prior to my injury, I was having a wonderful time creating a new life’s path. I had made a bold move and extricated myself from a difficult marriage and was on my way to completing my nursing degree at Southern Maine Community College. I was excited to see the pieces of my plan coming together. I was hired to ride my bicycle through the back roads of Europe for a bike-touring company, where I’d carry my EpiPen, an emergency cell phone and a camera to document the customers’ experience. It was a plan that would afford me great satisfaction by ticking off many of my bucket list boxes: meeting new people, discovering new places, being athletic every day, helping people when in need, and getting paid for it!
But that’s not what happened.
What did happen was that I learned that life had a better plan and more opportunities to offer than those I had ever imagined. I was going to discover more about myself than I had ever planned. I was going to do something entirely unlike anything I could ever have imagined. My traumatic brain injury was a gift of many realizations, periods of growth and opportunities. A new direction was forged in that instant of injury.
Upon being diagnosed at the hospital with a Grade 3 concussion, I was handed two sheets of white paper that explained the different types of concussions and what I was to do if I felt nauseous or vomited. I was confused and tired. I was released from the care of the hospital staff to drive myself home. I did not drive for weeks after that as my ability to drive deteriorated day by day.
Now, think about this: When patients are treated at the hospital for a wide array of procedures, they are usually wheeled out to an awaiting vehicle and someone drives them. They are provided discharge papers, and nurses meet with those who will be caring for us, similar to post-surgery or the post delivery of a beautiful healthy baby.
However, when someone living alone is diagnosed with a head injury and released to drive themselves home – and then expected to care for themselves post-diagnosis – it is downright criminal and reckless. Then, to expect that individual to even advocate for themselves is just as preposterous.
It has been six and a half years now, and my abilities have improved immensely. I am still not back where I left off, but I am so much more improved in many other ways. My life has been enhanced by the presence of people and opportunities that would never have become were it not for my traumatic brain injury. My stutter vanished. My refusal to abandon myself and my needs never wavered.
As time passed, using my drive and former competitive spirit to propel myself beyond the cognitive and physical entrapment paid off. The journey has been enlightening and inspiring. I made discoveries that now help others. I have written two books and I am working on a third that is an instrument to help others in their brain-recovery journey. I learned that many concussion victims do not realize what is – and what is not – helpful in traumatic brain recovery. I speak the language and help those experiencing difficulty understand traumatic brain injury and move effectively and efficiently through the recovery process.
Every brain injury is different, and there are events that victims have in common and can therefore be helped by. A systematic approach for identifying and addressing challenges must be implemented. There are many solutions. That is why I am here. To help illustrate that there are better ways than sending one home alone to heal alone. There are answers. The brain’s marvelous neuroplasticity is something that should be recognized in order to provide all who struggle with this hope and create an avenue to enhanced brain health.
To learn more about Gail’s insightful books and brain injury advocacy, visit here.
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