Road to “Recovery” after Brain Injury

Posted by Marilyn Lash

I’ve been closely following the progress reports on Congresswoman “Gabby” Giffords.  Frankly, I’ve delayed writing about her brain injury because, like all of us across the nation, I was horrified by this tragic shooting.  As I followed the reports on her condition day by day on the morning and nightly news, I simply could not find the words to express what I was feeling. 

As I’ve watched the media reports over the last several weeks, I am struck by two things.  First is the outpouring of loving support – from friends, family and strangers all over the country and the world.  We all hope for the best possible recovery and outcome for her, but those of us in the brain injury community know just how difficult it is – in fact, impossible – to predict what her future will hold.

I have been dismayed and disappointed in the media.  Too often I hear reporters talking about her amazing progress, rapid recovery and the lightning speed of her transition from the ICU to rehabilitation.  These messages make good sound bites, but underplay just how complex and uncertain recovery is for anyone after a severe trauma to the brain.  It seems to me that the media is missing an opportunity here to educate us about the complexity of the brain and the rehabilitation process.  Rather than the positive spin that sells the story, we need information based on best practices for medical care, scientific evidence for rehabilitation treatment, and data to support expectations for recovery.

Those of us who either live with the aftermath of a brain injury, or who work with the survivors who face the consequences of brain trauma, know that rehabilitation is a life long process not a short term event.  We know that much more is uncertain and unknown than certain and predictable in the world of brain injury.  I only wish that the media would take this opportunity to acknowledge and explore the complexity of treatment for traumatic brain injury and what it really means when we talk about “recovery”.  

Such reporting would not only honor Congresswoman Giffords but also respect the struggles and accomplishments of the many men, women, children and veterans who have preceded her and accompany her on this brain injury journey.

7 responses to “Road to “Recovery” after Brain Injury”

  1. Bill Jarvis says:

    Thank you Marilyn for this important insight. Generally, people do not understand the degree of difficult that lies ahead for a TBI survivor. What seems like progress, and it is, is just the beginning of a very difficult life. We need to understand better what will help improve and continual information about advances in treatment to promote healing.

  2. Bobby says:

    I personally had a traumatic brain injury just after the first of the year. I feel backwards on ice and my head hit a brick wall with the full force and weight of my body. My brain was swollen and I was bleeding in my frontal lobe. I spent 9 days icu and was not allowed to work or drive for a very long time. I have recovered well and could not have done it without the support of those who are close to me especially my girlfriend who never left my side. I do not want to sound preachy by any means but I also prayed and believed that a higher was going to help me recover. I could have died but I didn’t and I thank my higher power for that. I also used hyperbaric oxygen therapy for my recovery it help to take my headaches away and it helped to accelerate my physical healing process. I strongly recommend people recovering from TBI to try this therapy with their recovery. I found a site that lists hyperbaric clinics and facilities nation wide. The site is I hope it can help anyone who reads this.

  3. Marie G. Cooney says:

    God bless congresswoman Gabby Gifford, her family, friends, and all those seeking to help them along the very long and lifetime road of recovery. I agree that much of the media attention has missed the boat and not taken the opportunity to truly educate the public about brain injuries. Yes, we all need stories of hope and progress. However, it would also be nice to hear about the extensive teams that help such as, but not limited to, surgeons, neurologists, physical medicine and rehabitition specialist, speeech and language pathologist, cognitive therapist, counselors, PTSD: post traumatic stress disorger providers and groups, psychologists, psychiatrists, occupational therapist, case managers and qualitty rehabilitation consultants, nurses, home health care providers, ILS: Independent Living Skill providers, social workers, legal and finanial advisors, and most importantly each other! The list is endless and the road is long, but we get there one step at a time, sometimes alone, but more often with each other. May we keep each other and all those who have helped us in our thoughts and prayers as we also remember all those affected by the tragedy in Arizona, including those who survived, those deceased, and those trying to pick up the pieces of lives forever altered. Amen.

    Marie G. Cooney
    TBI Survivor

  4. Yes, Marilyn! As a TBI survivor of more than 20 years, I think that sometimes I know more about what’s coming than the recent survivors’ families. Progress such as Giffords’ is outstanding, but there is so much more to come than what the doctors, therapists, and even survivors can foresee.

    Hopefully, Congresswoman Giffords can put a face on brain injury for the nation and we can work on increasing awareness and prevention of brain injuries across the country!

  5. Like so many, we’ve been watching the news of Gabby Giffords’ progress after her injury and feeling for her and her family. Those early days after the event are seared in the minds of those who have been on the brain injury journey with a loved one. I,too, wish the media would explore the challenges and unpredictability of the initial phases of rehabilitation as well as the much longer process of rebuilding a life for the survivor and family. Wouldn’t it be awesome if other well known survivors, such as Bob Woodruff would share more details about how progress really occurs over time and the adjustments they made to cope with the “new normal”?

  6. Amber says:

    I too have been watching very closely of her recovery. I work in a Brain Injury Long Term Rehabilition Care Facility and I take this opportunity as a teaching tool for my guys. We discuss how she is doing, how their own recovery was similar or different and what challenges she might face in the future.

  7. Marilyn, thanks for your thoughtful post. I agree wholeheartedly. As much as I want Gabby to have the best recovery possible (and maybe be able to vote for her again), and understand how her family and the docs would put on their best faces for the media, I think much of the coverage has left a false impression about how tough recovery from a TBI can be. In this morning’s Tucson paper, there was a short article about how news concerning her condition will now not be as frequent, since her recovery will be more “of a marathon than a sprint.” May she cross the finish line-however long that takes-and return to the best life possible for her, whether it’s going back to Congress or another “new normal.”


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