83: Adjusting Your Goals after TBI

83: Adjusting Your Goals after TBI

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

Adjusting Your Goals after TBI

Patience and perseverance have a magical effect before which difficulties disappear and obstacles vanish.

~John Quincy Adams

My life changed completely as a result of my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I was in my third year of law school at Suffolk University in Boston. I had dreamed of becoming an attorney since I was in high school. I was a few months away from graduating and beginning my career as a trial attorney. At the time, I also worked part-time in an insurance defense law firm. I was in the top two percent of my class and made it to the quarterfinals in many trial competitions at school. My husband and I had married the summer before and were just starting our lives together.

My TBI happened as a result of a car collision. I had just left my job and was driving to Suffolk for my afternoon class. I was on a winding road heading towards the highway. I came around one bend and another driver came in the opposite direction, passed out at the wheel, crossed the median into my lane and hit me head on. I don’t remember the accident, or even anything that first week, but I had the best witness in the car behind me: an FBI agent!

After the accident, I was in a coma for five days at Massachusetts General Hospital. A cranial bolt was placed in my skull to monitor the pressure in my brain. My family and friends stayed by my side waiting for me to wake up but the only person I remember visiting me at MGH was the dean of Suffolk University. I had just taken his trial practice class.

I spent the next five weeks at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital where I received speech, occupational and physical therapies. My biggest problems were short-term memory, word retrieval, remembering names, and loss of abstract thinking. In the beginning, I could not count from twenty to one backwards and could barely read. One of the most vivid memories I have at Spaulding was when the speech therapist showed me flash cards with pictures on them. I simply had to name what was on the card. The pictures always started with basic objects like a ball and then would become more complex. I remember always getting stuck on one card, a picture of a frog; I could not name a frog.

I improved rapidly with all the therapy at Spaulding. Before I was discharged, the lead neurologist held a team meeting so we could learn their outpatient recommendations. While I sat there, I waited for one to comment about me going back to school. I did not understand the seriousness of my injury. When friends came to visit, I told them that I was not going to graduate with my class but I would go back to school in the fall, finish up and take the bar exam in February. I waited and waited for someone to discuss my academics but no one did. Finally, I asked them about it. After a very long pause, the lead doctor stated that she did not think I would be ready for school in the fall and that maybe I would never be ready. I finally understood the reality and seriousness of my injury.

After I left this meeting, I told my family that I just could not believe this prognosis. The doctor came back to talk to me that day and recommended that if I was that resolute that perhaps after undergoing more speech therapy I might be ready in the fall to go back to school but should only take one class at a time. Despite all the sadness and shock in trying to understand my fate, I now had a long-term goal.

For the next year and a half, I participated in outpatient speech therapy at a local hospital. I did go back to school, and with the help of my speech therapist, took my classes one at a time. I would often bring my law school books to therapy and read her the cases that I needed to comprehend. I would then explain to her what I had just read. She would also review writing assignments to make sure that my ideas flowed. I didn’t do as well with my classes as before my TBI but I did complete them. Two years later, I finally graduated cum laude and took the bar exam. With extra time accommodations, I was able to pass the bar on my first try.

I also have epilepsy because of my TBI. I began having partial complex seizures right after the accident. Periodically, I would have a grand mal seizure and I had one status epileptic seizure, a continuous, unremitting seizure lasting longer than five minutes. I have been on many anti-seizure drugs and have had to live with many side effects but still do not have complete seizure control. Almost eight years after my accident, I chose to have an operation to help, a left temporal lobe resection. My operation is considered a success because I now have just one or two partial complex seizures per month instead of a dozen, although I still have to take multiple anti-seizure medications and probably will for the rest of my life.

I had to go through a lot to come to terms with the reality that I am not able to practice law but can use some of the skills to move on to another career. I found a way to use my talents working at the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA). At the BIA-MA, I helped to implement the Ambassador Program. I recruit Ambassadors, either survivors or family members, to share their knowledge and personal insight into brain injury and to make a seamless link between prevention and real life examples. I assist Ambassadors to write their awe-inspiring stories. The Ambassadors then present their stories to a variety of audiences, including at local civic groups, businesses, and medical facilities. Finally, I am using my legal skills to implement a better Advocacy Program for our organization for TBI survivors. I am trying to make things better in a small way for the brain injury community.

~Kelly Buttiglieri

You are currently enjoying a preview of this book.

Sign up here to get a Chicken Soup for the Soul story emailed to you every day for free!

Please note: Our premium story access has been discontinued (see more info).

view counter

More stories from our partners