The Slow Crawl of Brain Injury Recovery by David Grant
So much of life happens between those moments of normalcy.
The sun rises, the sun sets, many of us go to work, care for our children, spend time with those we cherish, and never give much thought to the fact that life can change dramatically in the blink of an eye.
And so it was for me in November 2010. On a cold, blustery day here in New England, my life was forever changed. Local police estimate the speed of the teenage driver who broadsided me while I was cycling at 30-40 mph. In two ticks of a clock, my life unexpectedly and abruptly changed course. I was thrown from my trusty bike into the strange new world of traumatic brain injury (TBI).
I did not then know the scope of “America’s silent epidemic” in today’s society, blissfully unaware that more than 1.7 million Americans a year sustain a TBI.
Recovery from a brain injury is like nothing I have ever experienced.
If you are a survivor, you already know this. If you are a family member or a caregiver, you know this as well. But to live life as a brain-injury survivor, there are no past experiences I can draw upon that have helped me navigate this new and uncharted life territory.
In the days after my cycling accident, I saw doctors of many specialties. The orthopedic doctor let me know that my broken arm would heal, that I would be in a cast for a couple of months, and feel a bit of pain for six months. Right on cue, at the six month mark, my arm pain stopped.
But recovery from a brain injury cannot be defined by an end-date circled hopefully on a calendar, though I thought this at first. As my broken body began its slow crawl toward wellness, as my bones knitted, and as my bruises faded from black to yellow and then to memories, the extent of how my brain injury was affecting my life became clearer.
My journey to my “new normal” may or may not be typical.
Brain injuries are like snowflakes—no two are alike. In the days after my injury, I had a CAT scan, an EEG, and other tests to see if my cognitive abilities were compromised. I passed all my early tests with high honors and was congratulated by many within the professional community for dodging a bullet.
But all was not well. Most all of my symptoms, those cues that let me know I had sustained a TBI, came slowly, in many cases weeks after my injury. Word-finding issues were among my first challenges. Then came significant challenges with my memory. We can add to the list a couple of new-found speech impediments: stuttering and aphasia.
Yes, on the outside, I “looked” normal. But under the hood, it was becoming very clear that something was wrong. Another trip to the neurologist revealed a new, multi-facetted diagnosis. Grateful that my body was mending, and still confused over some of my newest challenges, I was told I have a very clear-cut case of post-concussive syndrome. At this same time, several months after my accident, I was also diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder.
By nature, I am hard-wired to be a problem solver, an overcomer. Whenever a life event comes to pass, the optimist in me tries to pull whatever positive I can from the experience and move on.
But with a brain injury, there is no end-game.
There is no magical date on some future calendar page that is circled in red, perhaps with a smiley face, that I await. I have learned over the last couple of years that recovery from brain injury is lifelong. I have learned that the brain recovers in its own time, sometimes at glacial speed. And if I try to hurry the process, I am left disheartened and frustrated.
Life as a brain injury survivor is vastly different than I ever expected. Challenges I never considered in my old life can overwhelm me. Akin to learning to drive a new car, I am slowly learning how to navigate through life with my new limitations.
But there is good news.
By being respectful of my new limitations, and surrounding myself with people who love me, who care about me, and who want me as well as I can be, I am building a new life after TBI. Yes, much of it is more difficult. But much of it is surprisingly more wondrous. I have slowed down to a pace I never had before and now take time to see, feel, and experience my world with deeper appreciation than I ever thought possible.
And for that, I am profoundly grateful.
About the author
David A. Grant is a writer based in New Hampshire and the author of Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury. A survivor of a harrowing cycling accident in 2010, David openly shares his experience, strength, and hope as a brain injury survivor. Recently recognized by the Brain Injury Association of America, David’s book offers real-world insight into life as a brain injury survivor. www.metamorphosisbook.com