TBI Student Survivor: The Summer After My Brain Injury
by Madeline Uretsky
That last day of school in June felt liberating. I had the whole summer to recover and possibly a chance to go back to school full time in the fall. However, what I did not realize was that the stress was just beginning. Except for being tutored in two subjects a few days a week at school, I had not done any work at all from October-June. I had basically missed my entire sophomore year (I finished English, though) and I had to make it up somehow in one summer. This seemed impossible and this is where my positive attitude was the key to my someday having a successful recovery. I knew I wanted to return to school in the fall, whether it be for just two hours again or for an entire day. I was nervously anticipating going to the doctor to get the clearance in August.
The Summer Schedule
For the first few weeks of summer, I had a tutoring session in Religion every Monday for three weeks. Along with Religion, I had an entire year of Spanish to make up and three quarters of Chemistry. We decided it was best to drop Math and History for the year and make up the credits later on. So, along with the schedule of Spanish tutoring 4-5 days a week for 2 hours and Chemistry tutoring 2-3 days a week for 1.5 hours, I still had my doctors and therapy appointments to attend.
I was seeing a massage therapist once a week, a chiropractic neurologist twice a week, a speech therapist once a week, an herbalist every month, my neurologist every 7 weeks, and my pediatrician every 7 weeks. My summer basically consisted of getting tutored almost 4 hours a day and a doctors appointment almost every day. It was just the way it had to be if I was going to be able to go to school in the fall.
I think that having all of this tutoring over the summer really trained my brain to get ready for school again. I had to listen, comprehend, take notes, read, do homework, memorize, study, and take tests, so it was like attending school by myself, but I was doing it in my house. By doing this in my house, it cut down on travel time and commotion, and having to get up earlier to get ready, so this was very helpful. If were to go to school in the fall without doing all of this work, I would be at a huge disadvantage. I had to learn all of these skills over again and use them, and this was not a pressure filled situation, so I could do it with less stress. It was extremely difficult the first few weeks to memorize things and take tests because I was still struggling with my short-term memory. My tutors really helped me though by repeating the information many, many times when teaching it to me, and on tests, giving me cues like “remember on Thursday when you wrote this down and we were talking about camping?” Little reminders like that helped to jog my memory and that made me feel more confident in my test taking abilities. Another issue with the at-home tutoring was concentrating for two hours at a time. That is difficult for anyone, so just imagine having to do this with the headaches, memory loss, extreme fatigue, and an overall lack of concentration. Thankfully it did improve as the summer went on.
Again, I thought of this past summer of tutoring as training for the fall. I was using my brain every day, where I had not before. It did not really upset me that I could not do whatever I wanted all summer, like having a job, getting my license, or going out with my friends, like most teenagers, because I knew I just had to finish up my sophomore year of school – I looked at that as my job for the summer. This was what was most important to me. I also did not feel well after my tutoring every day because the brain fatigue completely wore me out, so I would not have been able to do much socializing anyway. I did do some, but not nearly as much as I would have otherwise. Once I finished my subjects at the end of August, it was such a great feeling. I had more confidence in my brain’s ability to retain information and felt hopeful that I could be somewhat able to get back to where I had been. I also learned this summer that I have some learning disabilities that I did not have prior to my concussion, and that these would have to be tended to at school in the fall. I was able to maintain my grades, and this made me very happy. Now I just had to wait to go back to the neurologist so that I could be cleared to return to school.
The Visit to the Neurologist
At the end of August, I had my appointment with the neurologist. It went very well, and he said that I could take four classes but still not do any type of physical activity. A normal schedule at school called for six, so this posed a bit of a problem. We decided that it would be best for me to start with the six classes and take away some if that became necessary. This meant that I could go a full day to school, my first full day since October 13th 2011. The neurologist, speech therapist, chiropractic neurologist, and my pediatrician also put accommodations in place that the school would need to follow. These accommodations would make a school day just a little easier, considering it was going to be a big step just to be there a full day, do work, and concentrate. These accommodations included: preferred seating in the classroom, untimed tests, extra time to do homework, the ability to take tests in another room, and the ability to wear sunglasses in the classroom. Having these accommodations in place gave me more confidence in going back to school. I knew that I did not have to be perfect, and that it was ok if I did not feel well every day, however, I am, by nature, a perfectionist, so accepting this for myself has been difficult. But here I was, the last week in August, cleared to return to school, having finished all of my summer tutoring, my summer work for my classes in the fall and I was ready to go to my first day of my junior year!