What Tucker Taught Me After Brain Injury

Brain Injury Blog by Marie G. Cooney

July 7, 2011

Tucker Taught Me… Make New Friends!

On June 29, 2005, I sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) while working as a stagehand and setting up for a Santana concert. My whole life changed in one quick second as my feet left the stage, my head hit the cement floor below, and my whole body went into seizures. Then everything stopped. Many of my friends and co-workers thought I was dead. But I survived! I am still surviving.

I was transported to the Regions Hospital Trauma Center in St. Paul, MN. One of my only memories is seeing my friend Sherri and wondering what she was doing in a hospital. Sherri wanted my keys, so she could take care of my dog Tucker. “I’ll take care of Tucker after running a spotlight for Peter Pan,” I said. “No, honey, you aren’t going anywhere,” Sherri explained. “Do you want me to call your mother?” she asked. My head began to spin in confusion.

I clearly saw a rotary telephone in my childhood home and repeated that number to myself. I was too frightened to explain to Sherri or anyone else that I couldn’t remember where my mother had moved, where my older sister had moved, or where my younger sister lived now. Michelle was somewhere near Boston is all I remembered.

It was too hard to think. If only I had remembered, I might have said, “Call the stagehands’ union in Boston and explain you have to talk with my sister, Michelle.” I didn’t even remember we were well past the age of pagers and that my cell phone had all the information needed. Instead, I fell back to into a deep sleep stating, “I’ll call her later.”

After a TBI, it can take days, weeks, months or even years to notice the changes. That is why follow up with medical providers is so important. Sherri and Melissa were the only friends who actually saw me in the Trauma Center. Most people do not realize that once you are conscious, can supposedly manage the pain on your own, and get yourself to and from the bathroom, the TBI patient is typically released from the Trauma Center. I have a feeling I might have told the staff I lived with Tucker, but failed to tell them he was my dog, not a boyfriend.

Sherri was the best friend one could imagine. She took care of Tucker each day. Then she and Melissa brought me home. As soon as I closed my apartment door, I remember a feeling of panic! “What if I wake up in the middle of the night in pain and the nice nurse in my room at the Trauma Center isn’t there to help me? That’s okay! I have Tucker.” So I left the door unlocked in case I needed to yell for assistance.

Sherri came out to see how I was doing, take me to the store, do errands for me, or eat together, whenever she could. We even tried sailing, which I learned was physically and cognitively challenging or even impossible, even though I used to race with the Wayzata Yacht Club.

As Labor Day approached, depression came with the reality that I would not be returning to work anytime soon, if ever. We don’t realize how much of our social lives are surrounded by our friends and co-workers until we lose that daily contact. I knew that there would be concerts at the State Fairgrounds, the Opera Season, Holiday Shows, and more very soon. My friends would be busy and I wouldn’t be there. The “out of sight/out of mind” feeling soon followed. I didn’t blame anyone. It’s like a funeral. Once the crisis is past, everyone else’s lives seem to go on as if nothing has happened. But everything is different!

I was an extreme extrovert who was suddenly thrust into the world of an introvert out of necessity and self-protection. The Rehabilitation nurse had warned me that I shouldn’t drive anywhere, that even a fender bender accident or hitting a speed bump could kill me. My brain needed time, lots of time to heal. Then I lost my license for six month because of the diagnoses of a Seizure Disorder.

It is a good thing I had Tucker. Dogs are pack animals. They understand “the more the merrier”. Because of Tucker, I had to get up every morning. Because of Tucker, I had to take walks. Because of Tucker, I started to meet new people as I walked everywhere with my head wrapped in a bandage. Because of Tucker, I meet lots of children, who wanted to play with my handsome and very smart border collie. Because of Tucker, I knew I was loved, with or without a brain injury. Because of Tucker, I lived the life of whatever came my way each day. Because of Tucker, I knew it was okay to cry even though I had survived. Tucker would crawl into my lap and kiss my tear away. Because of Tucker, I had a reason to live when it seemed that my life as I knew it was over. Because of Tucker, I got better and better.

6 responses to “What Tucker Taught Me After Brain Injury”

  1. Marie G. Cooney says:

    Rosemary,

    Thanks for your support, good wishes and feedback. Yes, in many ways our animal friends are so much ahead of us and others.

    Marie

  2. Marie G. Cooney says:

    Dear Janet,
    Thanks for your support. Hope you and Nicky are enjoying the summer. I never would have survived as well without Tucker. By having a dog, many people would come up to me and talk about dogs and then other things. It really helped with loneliness and depression post-TBI. Our dogs are such a blessing! Thanks.

    Marie G. Cooney,

  3. Janet Cromer says:

    Hi Marie,
    You and Tucker are such a terrific pair of troopers! I’ve made new friends on walks with my shih-tzu Nicky, and romping at the dog park. I’ve noticed that we ask questions about the dog’s name, breed, and age during the first few meet-ups. Eventually we get around to exchanging the owner’s names! Must be dog walker’s etiquette, and does lead to new buddies.

  4. Marie G. Cooney says:

    Marilyn, thanks for the book recommendation. I am very proud of Senator Al Franken of MN, who introduced the idea to train and provide dogs for returning vet who suffer TBI and PTSD. Hope to read it after my move.

    Rosemary, thanks so much for your comments and good wishes. Yes, dogs are way ahead of many people with unconditional love and trust.

  5. There is a wonderful book I have just read titled Until Tuesday: A Wounded Warrior and the Golden Retriever who Saved Him by Luis Carlos Montalvan and Bret Witter. It is the story of how assistive dogs are trained and how they are now being matched to help veterans returning home with PTSD and traumatic brain injuries. This book gives new insights into the very special relationship between dogs and people.

  6. Rosemary Rawlins says:

    Your story is very moving and shows us all that there is an awful lot we can learn from dogs. Sometimes I think dogs are way ahead of us. Their unconditional love certainly makes our lives more complete. And dogs never judge, they just trust. I wish you all the best in your continued recovery and in finding joy each and every day.

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