Healing for veteran with TBI and PTSD
When the Jeep flipped near Long Binh, South Vietnam, on February 25, 1968, Spec. 4th Class Bill Roper was thrown out and his head smashed against the hard ground. Inside his skull, his brain collided with bone and began to swell uncontrollably. Within minutes the swelling jeopardized the young soldier’s life; without quick action, parts of his brain would be damaged beyond repair and he would die. Fortunately, the accident happened near the 24th Evac Hospital, where neurosurgeon Floyd Robinson rapidly assessed the situation and performed a right subtemporal decompression—he drilled holes into the right side of Roper’s skull to relieve the intracranial pressure caused by the swelling.
At first, Roper, who had been a clerk in the motor pool at Long Binh, clung to life in a deep coma. His condition was so bleak that the Army sent his family a telegram stating that he was not expected to recover. Later, he vacillated between a dim semi-awareness and the blankness of unconsciousness. Slowly, though, he became more aware, his memory and other cognitive processes began functioning again, and the slur in his speech lessened (and eventually disappeared). He was fortunate enough to have entered the frustrating, tedious process of healing and recovering from a severe brain injury.
The damage to the right side of his brain had paralyzed his left arm and leg. After being transferred to a military hospital in the States for rehabilitation, Roper received the news from his doctors that he likely would remain a hemiplegic (paralyzed on one side of his body) for the rest of his life and should just resign himself to that fact.
Forty-five years later, Roper can look back on that dismal time in his life and know with certainty that one can outfox doctors’ predictions. Having decided that their prognosis for his non-recovery was simply not acceptable, he walked out of the hospital about three months later. True, he had a definite limp and could not move with any kind of grace, but he walked. He then worked hard to rebuild his body through heavy-duty body building and later gave that up to run marathons. He went on to run a successful computer business for many years and is now a motivational-inspirational speaker and author.
While his recovery was satisfying and empowering, it didn’t really surprise him, although his physicians considered it “a miracle,” he says.
“My recovery was all about the power within myself and being able to tap into it,” Roper says. “Everybody has this power. The power of all creation is within everyone. So, it’s not hopeless. You can be what you want to be and overcome your injury, but you must be willing to think you can. You must be willing to tap into that power.”
Get up every time you fall down
Roper tells his story in his first book, The Compassionate Warrior, detailing his use of the power of his mind overcome his brain injury and its manifestations. His doctors warned him that his left side would always be paralyzed. But he refused to believe that. He knew in his deepest heart that he would recover. He believed that his injured brain still remembered how to move his left arm and leg, so all he had to do was keep reminding it.
“I knew I had dominion over my body, and all I had to do was stick to the belief that deep down inside, all was well,” he says.
While still in the hospital, he kept getting out of bed to try and stand, against doctor’s orders, and every time, he fell to the ground. But with each attempt, his determination only grew stronger, and he continued his battle against gravity. Finally, he could “shuffle around.” His doctors were amazed at his progress, but he wasn’t. “I knew everything was possible,” he says, and so he left the hospital upright and under his own power. His walk then wasn’t graceful in the least, but he knew he would continue improving because he refused to give up on himself.
Roper’s unshakable belief in himself came from several sources. His mother was the first. Whenever he asked for help with something as a child, she encouraged him—strongly—to do it himself. As a high school athlete, his strength and conditioning coach was Bill Curry, who had been a national weightlifting champ three years running, and Curry taught his athletes to give “150 percent” to everything they did, recalls Roper. So these positive influences, along with what he calls his “inner knowing” that had been part of him since childhood, inspired him to keep improving and work toward healing.
Belief is the key
Today, Roper believes that his “catastrophic experience had allowed me to discover this awesome power within me.” He stresses that this same power is available to everyone. “It’s really the power of all creation.”
“If you believe you’re going to be disabled, you will be,” he says. “Begin with baby steps, and trust that you have the power. You do have everything you need within yourself. So believe this. It’s the starting point for manifesting whatever you need.”
He further developed his inner power through meditation. Back in 1975, he heard it was a good way to reduce stress. And he was under great stress, including suffering from PTSD. So he learned Transcendental Meditation, and has practiced it twice daily ever since. It helped him to know that “I had the ability to overcome anything. And my stress melted away,” he recalls. “TM allowed my brain to let go of the traumatic events of war. They’re still there, but in the background.”
When Roper meditates, he is able to “connect with the vision that is available to me when I commune with the great power of the universe,” he wrote on his blog http://tbivet.com/ptsd-meditation-here-now. “I make myself open and available to the wonders of the universe that are available.”
Roper stresses that he is not special in this regard; every human possesses this great power of the mind and spirit (and there are many other effective methods of meditation and mindfulness practice). “It’s your mindset,” he says. “If you think negatively about yourself or what you can or can’t do, that’s your reality. Your reality is a reflection of what you think, and that depends on your past experiences.” He does not claim that everyone with a brain injury can overcome every aspect of it. Yet, he says, “while you might not become your old self, you can come back better than you thought you could.”
He also says that “gratitude is one of the most important functions in life. Maintain your sense of gratitude. I’m grateful that I’m here right now and for what I have, good and bad, and that there’s this great power that I have—that we all have.”
While he once believed that the brain injury was the worst thing that could have happened to him, he now believes otherwise. That day in Vietnam, he “was in the right place at the right time,” and his experience opened him to an entirely new way of living his life. Most importantly, he learned that “there is meaning to everything that happens, and a purpose for my life.”
See Roper’s website at tbivet.com.
About the Author
Barbara Stahura, certified journal facilitator, is co-author, along with Susan B. Schuster, MA, CCC-SLP, of After Brain Injury: Telling Your Story, the first journaling book for people with brain injury. Editor of Brain Injury Journey, she presents journaling workshops around the country to people with brain injury, family caregivers, and others, and is a member of the faculty of the Therapeutic Writing Institute and the Lash & Associates speakers bureau. She lives in Indiana with her husband, Ken Willingham, a survivor of TBI. http://www.barbarastahura.com
This article is posted with permission from Brain Injury Journey – Hope, Help, Healing, Vol 1, 2014.