Accidents and TBI
I used to joke about the “I’ve fallen and I can’t get up” commercials advertising devices that allowed people to seek help in a medical emergency.
I am not old. I am healthy and fit, confident that most of my body parts work better than those of most women my age. You’d never guess my age if I didn’t tell you.
You’d never guess that I haven’t read a print book from cover to cover in over two years, that I frequently can “see” the words I want to say in my head, but I cannot spit them out of my mouth. You’d never know that I refuse to cross a street by myself because processing all the visual cues necessary to do it safely seems to cause my brain circuitry to overload.
You’d never know that I have created my own “codes” for translating how the distorted images my brain “sees” now correspond with memories of how things used to look. You might even call me disorganized if you saw my breadcrumb trails of objects and notes designed to help me get through my day. They wouldn’t make any sense to you, but they are my lifelines.
How did I get here?
I was in Germany nearing the end of a vacation. It was the night before my husband and I were scheduled to fly home. I decided to shower the evening before our flight so I could sleep later that morning.
Turning on the shower, I tested the water with my hand as I’d done thousands of times before. Then I began to step in. Left foot first, like I always did. It happened in an instant. My left foot slid on the tub’s bottom and I flew forward, thunking forehead first into a ceramic tile wall. My right leg crashed into the edge of the tub an instant later. My arms instinctively thrust forward to stop my fall, but not fast enough. Flashes of light flickered briefly before my eyes as my brain, like pudding in a bowl, smashed first against one side of the my skull and then against the opposite side.
I later learned my injury is called a coup contrecoup brain injury. I never lost consciousness, though I lingered for a minute or two in the limbo between consciousness and unconsciousness, unable to speak, to see, to move. My thoughts were not entirely lucid, but there were snippets of clarity. I could hear perfectly.
After my husband pulled me out of the tub, I swallowed a few ibuprofen pills because I was worried about my swelling right knee. I needed to return to my stressful job in corporate communications at a financial services company and had no time to deal with a knee injury.
Most brain injuries are the result of falls
Upon my return to the U.S., my symptoms worsened. I began to slur my words, to walk unsteadily, and a few days after the fall, to vomit. A trip to a hospital emergency room and a CAT scan showed nothing of concern. I was diagnosed with a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) and instructed to go home and rest.
According to the Brain Injury Association of America, falls account for 35 percent of all brain injuries. Seventy-five percent of all brain injuries are classified as “mild.”
After three months of brain rest and little improvement, I began to wonder if I was going crazy. Because I looked and acted “normal,” it was difficult for anyone looking in from the outside to understand what I was experiencing. My wonderful primary care physician, like many doctors, knew little about how to treat my lingering visual, balance, short-term memory, and speech challenges.
I began to doubt my own intelligence; my self-esteem plummeted. I took matters into my own hands and launched a blog (http://www.IWantMyBrainBack.com) to document my frustration and to provide resources for others who were experiencing debilitating effects from “mild” brain injuries.
With the help of a physiatrist, speech pathologist, and physical therapist, I began to improve slowly. I finally felt validated. I never returned to my corporate job. Now I work as a freelance writer, doing the same work I had done, but on my terms – more slowly and with frequent naps.
I continue to creatively compensate for my “new” brain. And sometimes I am irritable and frustrated with symptoms that continue to challenge me. I’ve discovered hidden gifts and talents. I’m grateful for that…and for the supportive team I have. I am a better, albeit a much different person, than I was.
What did a bathtub teach me? Patience. Simplicity. The power of living in the present. Most importantly, compassion. Many of our personal challenges are visible only to ourselves…and invisible to the world.
Ann Zuccardy is a Vermont-based published author, speaker, and brain injury advocate. She co-facilitates a mild traumatic brain injury support group in Burlington, Vermont. She presented a TEDx talk, “How a Brain Injury Made Me Smarter,” in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania, in October 2013.
This article is posted with permission from