17: Taking Action

17: Taking Action

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries

Taking Action

All good writing is like swimming underwater holding your breath.

~F. Scott Fitzgerald

On May 21, 1995, my life changed completely when I was involved in a near-fatal bicycle accident in Scotch Plains, New Jersey. I don’t remember much, only riding by a local cemetery; the rest is a blank. I was air lifted to Morristown Memorial Hospital. After undergoing multiple surgeries, I remained in a coma for two days. I awoke to many wires and tubes attached to my body, but also to my family at my bedside.

In addition to my many bodily injuries, I also suffered a traumatic brain injury. Though I thought my life was over, I had actually embarked on a never-ending journey. Weeks later I was discharged and admitted to the Kessler Institute in East Orange, New Jersey. Though I am unable to remember everything about my month-long stay there, I do remember my employer, friends, and family coming to visit me and meeting people who were in the same predicament as I was.

Once I was released from Kessler’s inpatient program, my brother asked me to come live with him for a few weeks. During that time I started attending an outpatient program at Kessler consisting of physical and cognitive therapy to help me return to society.

In late November of 1995, I completed my cognitive program and a month later was released from physical therapy. After months of rehabbing at home, I was interviewed by the division of vocational rehab to return to work. I then began an industrial rehabilitation program at Kessler Institute.

In May of 1996, I returned to the workforce with the assistance of Project Pace, a program once sponsored by the Brain Injury Alliance of New Jersey. My coworkers said it was premature for me to return; others said it was just plain crazy. But I was bored at home and my family thought it was best for me.

That week, I attended my first BIANJ support group meeting and my group leader asked me if I was sure I wanted to return because I did not have to work. But my attitude was to finish what I started and not give up.

At about this time, I also began to write. I’ve had two books published and I re-learned graphic design. Every year I enter some of my work in a disability art expo, to show people my talents. When I became cognitively better, my support group leader empowered me to become a member of the Council for the Head Injured Community (CHIC). For years I have served at the annual BIANJ seminar, at the Kessler Institute where I did my rehab, and also at CAMP TREK (Together in Recreation, Exploration & Knowledge), BIANJ’s weeklong residential camp for adults with brain injury.

Months later I became a member of the legislative network, assisting BIANJ to get laws passed that benefit not only people who suffer from brain injury but also those who don’t. A year later I became a mentor (a program once sponsored by BIANJ). I would speak with my mentees weekly, listen to their problems, and try to make them feel good about themselves. Every year during brain injury awareness month I have gone to New Jersey’s capitol to meet with many lawmakers to help them understand the needs of people with brain injury. In 2009 I received the Merriam Goldman positive achievement award for staying positive and making a difference in the brain-injured community.

My road to recovery has been very difficult and it’s a journey with no end. There were many things that helped me and still help me with my recovery, activities such as writing, graphic design, speaking to others about TBI and photography. If I had known that I would cause great heartache to my family that day I went biking, I would have stayed home. But if I had, I never would have discovered this world of brave TBI survivors that I did not know existed.

Throughout the years I’ve learned a lot about being a TBI survivor. Many are worse off than I am but fight to live their lives to the fullest. It’s not only about me but others as well. There are many who don’t understand traumatic brain injuries. Many people believe they are indestructible but they’re not. Unfortunately, it can happen to anyone.

~Joseph Caminiti

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