Where Did My Memory Go after My Brain Injury?
Where Did My Memory Go after My Brain Injury?
By Bridgid M. Ruden, ARNP
My memory and speech changed after my brain injury
In May of 2008, I suffered traumatic brain injury following a bicycle accident. I needed four brain surgeries, three of which were life saving entities. The fourth brain surgery replaced my previously infected skull bone with a titanium plate. My brain has responded to this trauma by forcing epilepsy into my system. Such trauma has shocked my mind and body especially since this has changed me. Frequent denial of this experience is my way of coping. Denial clouds aspects of my acquired memory loss and therefore distorts my reality.
Some of the most challenging aspects I continue to struggle with are aphasia and memory loss. Aphasia is the partial or total loss of the ability to communicate verbally or use written words. I required two years of speech therapy which has improved my aphasia greatly. I continue to experience aphasia in the following ways:
- Difficulty speaking effectively and recognizing the name of basic objects, streets, animals, food, etc.
- Reading two pages slowly and losing my memory of what I just read.
- Writing accurate sentences, spelling correctly and appropriately and effectively using a computer.
- Noise greatly impacts my ability to focus, concentrate and remember the things I am attempting to complete.
In addition to aphasia, I maintain significant memory loss, which truly impacts my life experiences. Memory loss is a frequent lifelong result for traumatic brain injury survivors. Therefore, I do not feel insane for the occurrence of my situation. I am challenged to understand and remember what people say to me. The slower a person speaks to me significantly enhances my ability to understand.
I usually forget the names of people and how I met them. In order for me to remember their name, I need to practice saying their name numerous times before it is obtained. In addition, I also have to see a person several times to understand where I met them or what they do. Sometimes I recognize the sound of their voice, potentially linking me to where I met them.
Searching for all those lost things
I frequently lose and forget where objects, such as a cell phone, were placed. Therefore, people have a challenging time reaching me. I have lost so many items and recently learned that I find them in the garbage can! We have had to purchase so many cat litter scoopers! Can you guess where I found the last one? It was in the garbage! Therefore, I continue to check in the garbage for any lost items when it is not too disgusting!
One of my most embarrassing moments occurred when I was doing laundry. I went to pull out the clothing from the washer and at the top of the clean laundry was a Playtex container that was scattered! All the tampons were still covered with plastic so naturally I tried to save them! When I got to the bottom of the clothes I found a full bag of brownie mix! At this point, I felt as if I had lost my mind, as I had no idea how or why this occurred!
I have a tendency to forget to put the washed clothes into the dryer and place things in the dryer that I have been asked not to mechanically dry! I frequently forget to take my seizure medicine which is prescribed for the morning and evening. I do not realize that I have not taken it until later in the afternoon or early evening. A properly labeled daily medication container is used but I often forget what day it is to make sure that I took the medication!
My memory affects my children too.
Utter sadness is instilled at the loss of my ability to assist with homework, play certain games with my children and cook effectively. Homework was challenging even when they were in elementary school! This was embarrassing and demeaning since prior to this brain injury, I used to be a good speller and could effectively use a computer. When I play simple games with my children, I am slower than previously, forget how to play the games and usually do not win or excel in my understanding or knowledge of the game. In addition, I cannot remember what is supposed to happen tomorrow even when I heard about it the night before. I also have a tendency to burn myself when cooking and forget a recipe I knew before. I need to read a recipe several times, slowly, to comprehend it.
Steps, seizures and driving bring more challenges
My memory loss and balance issues present themselves when I do not notice or recall uneven ground or steps. I have injured myself when I hiked on a wooded trail, walked on a sidewalk that was altered for the handicapped and when I departed from a podium. It is difficult for me to walk up and down stadium bleachers. Once I was on a podium platform sharing my story and as I left, I thought that in front of the area was a typical step. But this area was a huge single step downward like the front area of a stage! I am frequently asked, “How did you get your bruises?” Bleeding and bruising can result from secondary side effects of my seizure medicine.
I am finally able to drive again as my seizures have not re-occurred for six months! Being able to drive gives me such joy, especially since I have three children. I often forget where I parked the car or placed the keys. To help me remember where I park when I go shopping, I tell myself over and over again where I parked and which car I drove. The electronic key that activates the horn has been very helpful to me in locating the car. My worse episode occurred as I drove the car into the garage, parked, shut the garage door and headed into the house. There was a strange noise and I didn’t know where it came from. I stepped into the garage and I gasped as the car was still running!
Losing my sense of self worth and finding a new purpose in life
Sadness, despair and hardship surround my sense of self worth from the dynamics of my memory loss. I also lack the ability to assist with our financial issues which I easily understood previously. I no longer understand when payments are due, what we pay for and have trouble with adding and subtracting! One of the most debilitating consequences of my disabilities is that I no longer have the health care knowledge that I had previously as a Pediatric Nurse Practitioner. My health care knowledge has been significantly diminished!
Despite the aspects of my disabilities, I have learned and achieved an experience that has returned JOY to my soul! I speak publicly to health care professionals, legislators, survivors and their advocates to share what I have experienced in the process of exploring, managing and recovering from traumatic brain injury. I have achieved validation that my struggles are typical for other survivors. I am amazed and honored that those participants who have heard my story described it as inspirational, a powerful story, personally moving, amazing testimony and beneficial and necessary for health care professionals. Over time, I have slowly and gently learned and gratefully accepted that I still have a purpose in this lifetime!