Brain Injury and Traveling Alone by Amanda Nachman

“Brain Injury and Traveling Alone” by Amanda Nachman

Traveling Alone for the First Time Since my MTBI


I’m not in control!

Flying with ease is something I have taken for granted my entire adult life, up until my accident in January, 2011 when I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury.  Traveling alone was a challenge I hadn’t thought of until I tried it this past week for the first time.  I flew from Minneapolis, Minnesota to Oakland, California with a layover in Denver, Colorado.  I thought it would be a piece of cake, but I was wrong.

We arrived at the smaller airport in Minneapolis about an hour-and-a-half before my flight was to leave.  My husband helped me check in and escorted me upstairs to security.  We discovered that there was only one security checkpoint available, and the line was backed up to the parking garage.  Since my accident, crowds have been very overwhelming for me.  Not only do I have symptoms related to my brain injury, I also have a back and hip injury from my accident.  I walk with a cane, and standing for long periods of time, even short periods of time, is quite difficult.  We didn’t request a wheelchair for me at this airport because it was so small, and in the past it had been a quick walk through security, and a short walk to the gate. I had checked in early on-line to make sure I could board early.  It didn’t matter.  I was in the security checkpoint line for more than an hour.  Luckily my husband stayed with me the whole time and carried my belongings for me.  By the time I was showing my ID and boarding pass, my flight was twenty minutes away from take-off.  Despite my flight leaving shortly, security took me aside to do an extra screening by wiping my fingers.  I had to gather my belongings, try to sit and get my boots back on, and hobble as quickly as I could to my gate.  I just made my flight by minutes.  As I boarded the plane, the only place available was between two gentlemen.

My First Flight

On our flight from Minneapolis to Denver, a man on our flight had a medical emergency.  Since my accident, I wear my emotions on my sleeve, even more than I did before.  I just get sad when someone is hurt, sad, or sick.  I became quite concerned for this man, but could only say silent prayers to myself to show my support.  When we landed, we were told to remain seated until the paramedics came.  I couldn’t get up, so again my early boarding opportunity was gone, and once again I was late for my flight.  By the time I got off the plane, I had to hobble as quickly as possible so that I wouldn’t miss my flight.  I got there within minutes of the door closing.  I was stuck in between two men again.

Between Men Again

With their elbows out, I was squished in the middle.  I had now been in route for almost five hours, with a thermos of coffee and tomato juice in me. I needed to use the restroom.  I didn’t understand the signs in the airplane.  There was a male/female sign at the front of the plane with a red ex.  I figured that meant that I couldn’t use the restrooms right now.  When the red ex went away, I thought I was clear to get up and use them.  No explanation had been given for these symbols while the attendants had gone through their safety demonstration.  Either that, in recognizing I have attention issues, I might have missed this part of their presentation.  As I approached the restroom, I was scolded by a flight attendant for getting out of my seat.  I tried to explain to her why I thought it was okay, but I only got a “Sit in your seat ma’am.”  As I tried to shuffle past the man in my row to sit back down, other passengers started getting up and using the restroom, and nothing was said to them.  I was so confused by this, so I asked another flight attendant why they got to get up, but I couldn’t.  I felt like a kid asking a parent “Why does she get to do that?”  But I just couldn’t figure out what was going on, or what I had done wrong to not be allowed up like them.  I was told those people aren’t following the rules, but that I could get up at my own risk if it was an emergency.  I practically ran.

When I arrived in Oakland, there was someone waiting for me with a wheelchair.  He gave me a ride to my luggage, we picked it up, and he brought me out to the curb to meet my brother-in-law.  He was the first kind employee I had come across that day, and I so appreciated it.  I had many challenges along my trip, but I had made it.  Now, figuring out how to manage the next five days without my husband guiding me and supporting me was my next big challenge.

I stayed with my sister and her husband with their two adorable, but very active boys.  They are one and five.  I kept telling myself I could do this.  My sister helped me as much as she could, but her life is busy with work and two young boys.  I didn’t know how to make myself coffee, I wasn’t sure what to do about making things to eat, but she and her husband helped me, and I did what I could.  Sleeping away from what is familiar, without my husband there was challenging.  My nights were restless, and sleep was limited.  Although being with my sister and her boys is such a wonderful gift, participating in all of the daily activity took everything out of me.  By my last day, I could feel myself deteriorating.  My processing and comprehension were slipping, my memory and speech were slowing, and I missed home and the calmness that they bring.

Coming Home

My flight home was a different experience with wheelchairs and priority boarding at each gate.  Other than not buckling my seat belt correctly, the flights went much smoother.  I had buckled one part of the middle seat to one part of my aisle seat.  When the flight attendant noticed, she helped me to get buckled correctly.  She was much friendlier than the last attendant I had dealt with.

This trip had really been a lesson learned in self-awareness and swallowing my pride. Prior to my accident I was so active and independent.  This trip really confirmed for me that a mild traumatic brain injury really is an “invisible disability”, and therefore it is up to me to ask for the assistance I need and to advocate for myself.  I know that I have changed since my accident, but this trip helped me realize that no matter how much you think you have accepted your new self, there is always more acknowledgment and peace to be made with these changes.

7 responses to “Brain Injury and Traveling Alone by Amanda Nachman”

  1. Barbara Longo says:

    This was a very illuminating article. Thank you so much for sharing your experiences as it is difficult for those without TBI to get the entire concept of what is involved in many actions that have been performed daily without any thought or effort to suddenly be extremely challenging for so many different reasons. I am just recently learning about TBI as my adult daughter is going through all of this since her car accident 6 months ago. Even the comments associated with this blog are so helpful. The statements I’ve read here describe so many things I can relate to my daughter and things she’s shared with me. Traveling alone can be a challenge even without TBI. It was inspiring to read about those who are courageous enough to go out and live life as best they can within the parameters of this disability.

  2. Kitt McComb says:

    Yes, everyone thinks you’re fine until you stop talking, mid-sentence, get a confused look, and then boom. You hit the floor. You might wake up in a moment, or it will be a while. I’ve dealt with this for eleven years now. I was in a horseback riding accident. We were traveling at a fair amount of speed and the horses’s feet simply went out from under her. Turns out she was in the early stages of a neurological disorder. Anyway, I have a “mild” TBI. Things have been very difficult at times. But I have a supportive husband.

    For the past three years I have wanted to revisit Asia. For the past three years I have canceled all of my plans. I once again am trying to go to Thailand, but I think it’s not going to happen. My husband is supportive. How can he tell me no? He’s hoping maybe I’ll get over some of the negative aspects, such as depression, if I do go. I know he’s worried, but again, how can he tell me no? I think he is afraid if he suggests I not go, I might give up.

    So, anyway, I am very thankful for your article and the advice of one and all. We must advocate for ourselves. And we must not hold fear too closely. Life is too short. Will I make it to Thailand? I have no idea. The last time I was actually putting on my makeup, getting ready to go to the airport when the anxiety and fear took over. But, I’ll try.

  3. Tina says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story it has helped me to understand Happy at least your trip home was better

  4. Maggie says:

    Reading this has been like reading about myself !I had a serious TBI Sept 16 and i’ve been told it’s too early to fly and should wait another year,possibly 2(i have confusion,memory issues,balance,emotion problems and now depression,to name a few ?)having read the issues you encountered i don’t think i could cope,these things happen to me daily when i am in or around home,so i will rule out flying for a while.
    Thankyou so much for you very frank account and i hope you are doing well,like me i’m sure people tell you how ‘well’ you look ??
    If only they knew eh ???
    Very best wishes from someone who knows xx

  5. jones says:

    thank’s interesting reading.

  6. Joel Rosenbloom says:

    Dear Manda,

    Although this blog advances your main theme — by showing the continuing need to acknowledge and make peace with your new self — the main impression I take away is your amazing courage in undertaking the trip in the first place. Bravo !


    Unce Joel

  7. Danna says:

    Oh how I remember my first flights. The first was with my husband. I had wondered off from him and everyone had boarded. He told me they had been calling my name on the intercom. I walked inside a group of angry people inside the plane. All mad at me. Then the next flights alone I asked for help. The crowds and loud speakers are so distracting and nerve wrenching. I’ve learned to ask for help. I tell the first employee I see that I’ve had a brain injury and I need to make sure I go to the right place. I am then ‘coded’ when they speak to the next employee and I am so much more calm. It’s almost four years and I just traveled back from the south and thought I had everything under control. Until I realized tht my flight was not on the sign where I had been siting for an hour. I ran to a desk and asked where my flight was. They pointed to the large line who was boarding. I asked a man earlier to write down on my ticket the gate. He wrote gate 6, but I watched him write and my brain registered 9. I wanted to cry but took a breath and with thanks I got on the correct flight at gate 6.

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