98: “Just Trauma”

98: “Just Trauma”

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

“Just Trauma”

Your present circumstances don’t determine where you can go; they merely determine where you start.

~Nido Qubein

One snowy Berkshire morning I packed up my four-wheel drive vehicle and took off on a four-hour drive. As a boarding school admissions officer, domestic and international travel was the norm for me. I don’t remember anything for the next thirteen days after that morning, but my family recalls it all too well. My nine- and eleven-year-old daughters were met at the bus stop by their dad and must have known before he spoke that something was very wrong. He told them I was at a trauma center an hour away with multiple fractures as the result of a car crash on black ice.

Two weeks later, my first memory was that of an uncomfortably scratchy blanket around my neck as I was driven somewhere in an ambulance. I spent the next three weeks in a hospital near my home with daily visits from my family. I was in a cloud in which I couldn’t remember names; I couldn’t sleep, and all the doctors repeatedly told me that it was “just trauma.” My world seemed to become one long grueling physical rehabilitation session, re-learning to walk, managing to speak with my jaws tightly wired, and trying to understand why my thinking was suddenly so strange, my memory so poor and my ability to find the right word gone.

There was no mention of brain injury.

I spent the next four months focused on healing, first with rehab at home and then daily trips to and from the hospital. However, beyond physical healing, I knew I was a different person. My balance was terrible; my previously gentle self suddenly had periods of anger or tears for no apparent reason. I fought to remember where I had to go, how to get there, what I was going to cook, how to manage household chores and, above all, wondering what had really happened to me. That began my search for the answers and battle for help.

A good patient who believed that all of my doctors certainly had my best interests at heart, I returned to work, changed employers and accepted a demanding new post. Meanwhile I read everything I could about my symptoms, and decided I had a vestibular disorder of serious concern. It made sense; my severely fractured jaw was in the same area, and so I managed to convince my case manager that I needed to have an evaluation at Massachusetts Eye and Ear Infirmary’s vestibular lab.

Four years post injury, after a day of comprehensive evaluation, the result was not what I had guessed. The doctor told me it was not vestibular; rather I had sustained a severe and classic traumatic brain injury. That moment instantly changed my healing journey, and I left the office already set to begin something new—brain injury rehabilitation.

I resigned from my job and for two years I traveled across Massachusetts by train each week to meet with my neurologist, neuropsychologist, and speech therapist, as there was no brain injury rehab near my home. My homework was demanding and life changing, but I finally had the ultimate team of professionals at my side. My family planned every minute around my rehab and we all learned that it would take a lot of education and hard work for me to get to be my new best. I spent more of my days doing volunteer work for the Brain Injury Association of Massachusetts (BIA-MA) and agreed to take over the facilitation of the Berkshire Brain Injury Support Group. My life has become a fulfilling combination of rehab, volunteerism and motherhood supported by a remarkable family and new friends at the BIA-MA. I have been honored to be a member and former chair of the Massachusetts Brain Injury Advisory Board, a member of the BIA-MA board, to have sat on the board of the Brain Injury Association of America and to have worked with brain injury projects in other states.

The human spirit is resilient and brain injury tries to push each of us to our unknown limit. The struggles are many and the burdens seem intolerable, but if one can find a handful of people who are willing to learn about brain injury and link to some of the resources, other connections begin to appear. It is certainly not easy nor is it an experience any of us would choose, but each of us has skills and talents we can offer as we build a team of support. The trick is to find a sparkling glimmer of hope on the darkest of days and to stretch toward one dream at a time.

~Suzanne D.K. Doswell

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