Brain Injury Blog by Alyson Vega
March 7, 2013
My Job after Brain Injury
I have a Great Job!
I have flexible hours, a great boss, and the satisfaction that I am making a difference in someone’s life. It sounds like the perfect job description, doesn’t it? It’s been a couple of years now, but when I started I hated it. It felt pointless. With little supervision, I tended to slack off. I complained to anyone who would listen that I was overqualified and that I had been so good at my old job. The truth is I only started to enjoy my work recently. It might be because I didn’t come into this position willingly. Let me explain.
In 2007, while teaching sixth grade math, I suddenly had a terrible headache. I joked with my students, as I had in the past. In my best Arnold Schwarzenegger imitation, I said, “I have a headache. It’s not a tumor! It’s not a tumor!” It turned out that it was. Fortunately, it was benign and by the time my insurance company authorized an MRI, the bleeding had stopped. For a week, I walked around with a terrible headache, numbness spreading down my left side, tripping and bumping into things.
After the MRI, my neurologist diagnosed me with a cavernous angioma, a benign blood vessel tumor, and told me I had two choices. I could have a craniotomy to remove it or I could wait and hope any subsequent bleeds would not have catastrophic results. The angioma was partially embedded in my brain stem, near the pons and cerebellum. There was evidence that it had bled before and was likely to bleed again. I chose brain surgery.
A Brain Injury?
I listened to all the risks, death, paralysis, blindness, etc. but all I heard was death so I signed the consent form. When I woke up, I was glad to be alive. I worked hard to regain my strength and regain some basic abilities like staying awake, walking, and swallowing food without choking. I lost most of the hearing in my left ear and I got used to hearing the sounds of my own chewing, breathing, or voice unbearably amplified inside my own head. I still get bad headaches and have weak peripheral vision. The worst side effect by far was the cognitive change I experienced. I didn’t notice at first and often I could only tell something was wrong because of the reactions I got from other people. When I struggled, I felt angry because I couldn’t explain why I was unable to pack a suitcase.
My Old Job
I went back to teaching six months after my surgery and it was apparent that I was not the same. My responsibilities were reduced and many supports were put in place but eventually it became clear that I could not continue. In February 2011, I stopped working. It was the most depressing time in my life. I was a teacher for 22 years. It was my whole world. I didn’t want to live.
At home on disability, I resisted doing what I needed to do. It seemed beneath me to think I needed an alarm to tell me to take a shower. I hated the fact that I got lost any time I had to go somewhere new. I refused to write stuff down that I was “sure” I would remember. Who needs a note to remember to eat something besides yogurt? Well, it turns out that I do.
My Life Today
So here I am at age 50 and my full time job is taking care of me. It is a lot of work making sure my basic needs are met. It is my job to take my medicine, eat healthy food, exercise, and get enough rest. It is my job to go to cognitive therapy and to arrive on time. It is my job to work on my social skills and to avoid conflict with strangers. Do I miss my old job? Sure. Why do I feel good about my new job? I love my job because I am getting better at it every day. Today, I showered and got to cognitive therapy on time. Today, I ate a healthy lunch. Today, I took a nap when I felt tired and did not over-react and scream at my pharmacist. A few years ago these tasks just did not get done and I didn’t care. Today, I am successful at being alive.
To read more by Alyson, check out: http://countdown2brainsurgery.blogspot.com/