Written by Patricia I. for Brain Injury Stories
It’s been a difficult, yet enlightening journey recovering from a brain injury.
It began with a concussion sustained in a fall on October 10, 2016. I tripped as I walked down my attic stairs. My head hit a hardwood floor 7-feet from the bottom of the staircase. I blacked out. I must admit the fall was frightening as I was propelled into the air for a moment. I was sure my hand would break on impact as I landed on my fist. Blood was everywhere; on my shoulder, along my arm, on my hand, and on my hardwood floor. The source was a puncture wound in my left palm from screws I held. There was no fracture fortunately, only badly bruised knuckles.
I developed typical post concussion symptoms such as headaches, sensitivity to light and noise, dizziness, vertigo, vision problems, insomnia and sleep disturbances. The persistent headaches were the most debilitating symptom. NSAIDs weren’t an option for treatment due to an allergy, and no prescribed medication or injection alleviated my pain. The only relief was when I slept, so sleep is what I did. Mostly, I lived in bed.
In February 2017, I sustained a second concussion before healing from the first. So, in addition to the original symptoms, I developed new symptoms which brought more challenges into my life. I slowly began to develop cognitive impairment. I had difficulty thinking clearly, processing information, and retaining new information. I talked slowly and sometimes moved slowly. I struggled to form words. I had difficulty with reading comprehension and simple math calculation.
It reached a point where the severity of my symptoms made it difficult for me to live my life. It’s when my older sister stepped in and became my lifeline. She not only provided moral support, she came by my house every day to check on me. She brought me food and groceries, managed my bills, filled out documents, scheduled appointments, and drove me to and sat in on every medical appointment.
I never knew the day of the week upon waking. I often put a plate of food in the refrigerator thinking it was the microwave. It wasn’t unusual for me to leave the oven or burners on after cooking, forget to lock the doors at night, or lock myself out of the house. I didn’t know what I ate on any given day, and some days I didn’t eat at all because I didn’t remember to eat.
There were other challenges, as well. I experienced hearing loss in my right ear and tinnitus in both ears. I developed problems with balance. I became more emotional and grew irritable quickly. I lost the ability to write well which was a particularly difficult blow as I had been a news reporter and writer for a substantial part of my career.
I initially thought there was nothing worst than living with excruciating headaches, but I was wrong. I was living with a brain that constantly failed me. This was far worse. I felt completely and utterly broken. I felt dumb. I wasn’t me anymore. So, I shut myself off from the world. I stopped talking to and seeing relatives and friends. I may have looked the same, but inside I definitely was different; and it was noticeable.
I created a self-induced terribly lonely existence. My only companion was my 4-pound chihuahua, that is if I don’t count the despair that tormented me. Antidepressants rescued me from depression. A counselor helped me deal with this new reality.
Patricia’s sister, June
There were moments of “why me?” which I’m not proud to admit. It didn’t last long, however, as my headaches were too intolerable to focus on anything else. No one really understood the intensity of my pain. I’d ask people if they ever had a really bad headache that never went away. The answer was always no. Perhaps to some it appeared as if I were exaggerating. I was not. That unrelenting pain dragged on for a year before I began to show marked improvement.
By spring 2017, the mental fog that consumed me lifted. I began to experience clarity. The ability to write returned. I was able to express myself effectively. However, my short-term memory was still poor. I tired easily as I began to venture out more into the world. I was physically and mentally drained if I did too much. My body and brain seemed to shut down. I needed naps and quiet time to recharge. It sounds like preschool, but a typical nap for me lasted six to eight hours. There were times I needed an entire day to recover.
My world continued to change for the better as I continued to improve, but the progress didn’t last. There were more accidents as a result of dizziness, vertigo and unsteadiness, and more blows to my head. My clarity waned. A neuropsychologist suggested my recovery may have been impacted by a bad concussion sustained in a head on collision with a truck in 2004. I was in and out of consciousness following the collision. I experienced temporary memory loss. PTSD may be impeding recovery, as well.
A Christian counselor offered sage counsel. She told me I could view this experience as something devastating or as an opportunity. I choose to view it as an opportunity. I have experienced difficult life challenges in the past and came back from each one. I am convinced I will beat this, too. But, in late summer I regressed. It devastated me. Frustrations with recovery overwhelm me. Staying hopeful is a challenge at times.
I’m not as far along in my journey as I’d like, but I have come a very long way. I am thankful for that. I now live my life as is, which means embracing the good days and managing the bad. My focus continues to be on recovery. I rest my brain to further healing. I stimulate my mind to improve cognitive function. I write every day. I play the piano. I work on projects that nurture my creativity. I keep a memory journal and place post it notes around the house as memory aids. My alarm clock displays the day of the week and date. I am disciplined and very organized.
It’s been difficult, but I have learned to take the bad with the good which has brought me peace. I view the good days as gifts. I am grateful to wake up each morning. I’ve discovered I am stronger than I ever imagined. I realize I can take whatever life throws at me and keep moving forward. I believe each day brings me closer to recovery. I trust God will see me through.
I wouldn’t be able to navigate this difficult journey if it weren’t for my older sister and my daughter. Although I am demanding at times, not always fun to be around, and totally stress them out, I know I can count on them for love and support. They continue to encourage me and push me. I am blessed to have them in my life. It’s impossible to put into words the deep gratitude I feel.
Patricia and her daughter
There’s an expression that time heals all wounds. I really am counting on it. However, I realize with life there are no guarantees. This may be as good as it gets. But, it’s okay. I will be fine. I will make the necessary adjustments and keep living and enjoying my life.