The Average Person is Not Average

Teacher with Brain Injury

Amanda Nachman

Brain Injury Blog by Amanda Nachman

March 25, 2013

The Average Person is Not Average – living wiht MTBI

On more than one occasion along my journey with my MTBI, I was told that the average person is at this point, and so therefore I should be at that point as well.  I was told the average person who has a MTBI, might have certain symptoms, but does not have symptoms such as speech changes so therefore I was told I was “unusual”.  I began to reflect on what average means, and how many of us actually fit in to the average category.

We Are Not Mathematical Equations

The average is not the number that occurs most often like the mode, or the number exactly in the middle like the median, it is the result of adding the numbers up and dividing them by the number in the group.   Therefore, the individual numbers become lumped into one number. This mathematical approach works out well when reporting on concrete subjects, but what about the individual human element?  Can you really lump all people with mild traumatic brain injuries in to one category and say that the averages point to these concrete outcomes?  What seems to be the glitch in this approach is that although we are basically built the same, our brains do not all function, respond to injury, or heal the same.  In this case there are too many factors that play in to the outcome of the injury.  Unfortunately, what I have found along the way is that many doctors are not only unwilling to think outside the box, but unwilling to think outside their medical school textbooks.

With the brain and mind being as mysterious as the deep oceans, how can the medical field put down a definition of “average” when it comes to mild traumatic brain injuries?  In my book, Who Am I Again?, I address some of the challenges I came across by not fitting in to what doctors saw as the “average person”.  Rather than providing a healing environment, it created a damaging environment.  I began to dread going to the doctor. Even though we are individuals, we are given the message that if we don’t fit into their idea of what average looks like, there must be something wrong with us.  The question is, how many of us actually could be put in to this box?  My dream is that some day doctors working with patients who have had brain injuries, will look at us as individuals and acknowledge that there are no averages when it comes to symptoms and healing from a  mild traumatic brain injury.

7 responses to “The Average Person is Not Average”

  1. Alison, Thank you so much for sharing your story. I know this response is many months later, so I am hoping that you are getting the care and support you need. I send blessings to all of you who are living with this life long challenge.

  2. alison says:

    Hi, I can totally relate to this. I am told I suffered a TBI….I when I went for the stand neuropsych testing, I remember doing the IQ test. I went to an Ivy league school, and know that my IQ must have been pretty high. I also have a good sense of my weaknesses on this test…..multitasking questions, speed processing, and memory problems that seemed to show up in the tests, but not like they do in real life. So there are really limitations to these tests. I am a clinical psychologist, I feel 20 feet onto concrete suffering both a TBI and was almost paralyzed and had fusions done on my spinal cord in November 2013. It is about a year and a half ago. At first I had to deal with the spinal issues. I was in the hospital 2 months and in a body brace for six months and then PT 2x a week the reknowned Rusk Institute in NYC. I suffer chronic pain. However, I can walk, climb stairs, gradually rebuilt my practice, read social cues well, and read intellectual books and retain them. Yet, I have trouble with recall, walk into a closet and forget why I went in there, get fearful of travel and being in the city, and enjoy one-on-one intimacy with others. I wet the bed sometimes, which no one can explain and I have no answers why. I need large amounts of sleep or I literally cannot function. I lost a lot hearing in my left ear and my vision went down drastically that for the first time in my life I had to wear permanent glasses. I was a world traveller and athletic. I have a phobia of bikes, heights and driving now. I get confused and overwhelmed when I travel, and break down and cry. I am age 53. How does one explain my fairly high level of functioning, yet these symptoms and more. There are days when I awake with my brain half out of it. So your blog hit me drastically that sometimes these tests designed for the “normal” brain and based on means are not capturing what goes on in a brain injury. My neuropsychologist told me that it is not just where your brain hits and then bounces back, but that because your brain is shaken up so much, you tear axons in all parts of the brain. Thus, it is never easy to quantify a brain injury. It is impossible neurons once destroyed do not grow back, and all you can do is find out the weaknesses you have through these limited tests and do exercises that hopefully build new neuronal corrections. This is great, but there is a lot of things that can’t be test or explained. Sorry for the long winded response. But your entry started to stir something in me that made a lot of sense. And I wanted to share my story so that other people can understand and hear my journey. It has been a scary journey, with much grieving and new things I learn every day as I venture out into the world, that a new problem comes up that I did not know existed. Any way pray for me to heal, to live a long life and a fulfilling one and I will do the same for you. Blessed be.

  3. Deborah Blue says:

    I know exactly how you, and, at my guess, many others feel. I think the answer, is those who actually, “study” TBI. I have an appointment tomorrow with a TBI Specialist.

    TBI, is a whole other ballgame. My neurologist, who sees me for my seizures and migraine told me, there are TBI specialists they are the ONLY doctors who know how to treat for those symptoms.

    I had a neuropsych test performed, the results, I am “below average”, but not performed by a TBI specialist. If, I were truly “below” average, I would not be able to work as a Certified Coder, take care of 2 children with ADHD, and research, to be able to get the best care possible to overcome my TBI obstacles, or learn to compensate/accommodate for them.

    It is very difficult to get into see these specialists, because they are so very overwhelmed.

    I have to believe there is hope for us, I refuse to give up hope!

  4. Margaret Turner says:

    wow. very touching bog and comments posted. I can identify with these feelings and realities for sure. Thank you.

  5. Amanda Nachman says:

    HI Julia,

    I’m so sorry to hear that you have had these experiences that have been so challenging. It is difficult to get their words to go away, even though we know who we are. I just keep asking, “Isn’t it the job of doctors to help us not hurt us?” I hope someday, sooner than later, doctors dealing with patients who have had TBI’s will gain a better understanding of the impact of their words on us. Please take care.

  6. Susan says:

    Thank you-once again.

  7. Julia Pratt says:

    You have aptly described the path I have had to tread. All my doctors tell me that they’ve never encountered another TBI patient similar to my symptoms. And, they imply that I must be fabricating or malingering, even when my symptoms are present “in the moment” during the moment they are present with me in the exam room.

    I come away feeling unvalidated, diminished, and depressed that I “somehow” am not really a TBI victim in their eyes. They offer no hope, no treatment and I have been begging for a functional MRI (fMRI) for years & they continue to refuse, suggesting that nothing would be gained by this test, it is unavailable in my area (Indpls. IN) and it is too expensive.

    Not being average, I thought was an opportunity and a challenge to figure it out. I am just subjected to a perverse, reverse kind of discrimination and no one wants to figure it out. I remain challenged with my debilitating symptoms with no hope of help or understanding.

    I try to ignore it & pretend I’m normal just to get through each day, but it’s always there, in the back of my mind, no matter what I’m doing – that I’m somehow damaged & have no hope of recovery for my life.

    I don’t know when it will be different for me……

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