I was feeling rather uninspired yesterday. Everything I typed just seemed to lack any substance. Today, I’m not really feeling inspired, but I do have something to say. Please bear with me while I find the words.
What is TBI?
Traumatic brain injury (TBI) is caused when an external force causes brain dysfunction. It is usually a result of a violent blow or jolt to the head or body. It can also be caused by an object penetrating the skull. The effects can be temporary (everything returns to normal after the injury has healed). They can also be long-term and permanent. It is important to understand that each TBI is different and symptoms from person to person vary greatly.
On my seventeenth birthday I was walking down the street with a friend (that friend is now my husband). It was the middle of December in Michigan. The snow was piled up everywhere. No one had shoveled the sidewalks, so we were walking in the street. A drunk driver who was more concerned over whether or not she had seen a cop in her rearview mirror turned down the road we were walking on.
That drunk driver struck me (the pedestrian), and I went airborne. When I came down, I bounced off of the back of my skull, splitting it open. I then came down again and landed on my forehead. It took 27 stitches to close the back of my skull. MRIs and CT scans done at the hospital revealed that there was damage done to the frontal lobes and the parietal lobe with slight injury to the temporal lobes.
I don’t know what the doctors told my parents because they never told me. My diagnostic adventure started about 2 1/2 years after the accident. Before that, I don’t know that I realized there would be any long term effects. No one talked to me, no one prepared me.
I first came to learn that there had been permanent damage to my brain after a heated game of UNO. Some friends and I were playing UNO one night and we were playing with some pretty heavy rules. If someone gave you Draw Two and you had a Draw Two you could play it on top of the previous. I don’t remember how many times it went around the table, all of us laying our Draw Twos on and knowing the number of cards someone would be picking up would be huge.
It finally landed and he might as well have had to pick up the entire draw pile. We were joking and teasing him. He playfully threw an empty Coke can at me. Somehow, it struck just right and cracked my cheekbone. It hurt bad enough that we made a trip to the ER. They performed a CT scan along with the x-rays. A few days later I received a call from the hospital that they were concerned I may have brain cancer and needed to follow up with the neurologist.
After performing some tests and an MRI, the neurologist informed me of the diagnosis. He told me that where the damage had been had caused scar tissue but that the scar tissue had since deteriorated and left air pockets throughout my brain. These air pockets were what had appeared as tumors in the CT scan. I was given the medical diagnosis of “airhead”. (this diagnosis is made funnier by the fact that I’m a blonde with a 4.0) There was no treatment, nothing to be done, just live my life with air in my head.
The Next Neurologist
A few years later, I’m living back in Michigan and dating my husband. I’m starting to have some memory problems and a lot of unexplained anxiety. Knowing that I do have a permanent brain injury, we consulted a neurologist. He ordered another MRI. He compared the old scans and the new. He told us that things are progressively deteriorating at a slow rate. He told us that it would continue to progress and that eventually my symptoms would present like Alzheimer’s. He also informed us that after the 10 year mark had passed they may be able to get a better picture of how quickly the damage was progressing. Again, nothing to do but live with it. No need for a follow up. Go and live your life.
Fast Forward to the Present
Over the years, I’ve been to many neurologists. I’ve had MRIs and CT scans galore. Maybe I was looking for a different diagnosis. Maybe I just wanted to know what the progression was like. To be honest, I had my last MRI done almost two years ago and never went back for the results. I couldn’t face it.
My verbal skills suffer. I lose words. I speak really slow while trying to locate specific words to verbalize my thoughts. I become easily frustrated as I use hand gestures and other words to try to help the person I’m speaking with understand what word I have lost.
I struggle to remember. I can’t just close my eyes and think back on the time when… Some of those memories are there. And it seems like things I couldn’t remember come back to me once they’ve made it to long-term memory. Well, some of them do anyways. I can remember today fairly easily, yesterday is a struggle.
I can’t tell you what anyone looks like. This includes my husband and children. Currently, my husband is sitting beside me, so I could describe him in great detail. Neither of my children are in the room. I cannot tell you more than the color of their hair, eyes, skin. I cannot close my eyes and see my loved ones. I can’t even picture my daughter who only left the room about 5 minutes ago. She is out of my sight.
Sequencing of tasks is extremely important to me. If you interrupt my task at hand, I have to start over at the beginning. Anything being out of the norm can cause me to forget how to perform even the most simple of tasks. Something as simple as forgetting to remove my glasses before I head to the bathroom to brush my teeth can result in me standing there with toothbrush and toothpaste in hand, unsure what to do with them.
My depth perception is off. I am unable to line up the tip of a cigarette with a lighter (I know I know I shouldn’t smoke anyways). I struggle to tell how far ahead of me a car actually is. (don’t worry, I stop way back leaving too much room). My hand/eye coordination is also affected.
Most days, it feels like my frontal lobe is splitting in two. I’m not talking a headache. I mean I literally feel like my brain is pulling apart from the center, right behind my forehead. It feels like the two halves of my brain are just pushing away from each other.
It’s possible that I’m missing some symptoms. It’s likely that there are things happening that I am unaware of. But this is where I’m at 20 years post traumatic brain injury. It’s only going to continue to decline.
Don’t Drive Drunk
I doubt that woman thinks of me at all. Rarely do you hear anything about the survivors of drunk driving accidents. You hear about the deaths. I didn’t die. It is my hope that putting my story out there will keep people from getting behind the wheel. Could you live with yourself if you knew you had caused this much pain and suffering? It was my seventeenth birthday. My life had not yet begun.
It will be 20 years this December. I’ve now spent more than half of my life suffering from the side effects of a drunk driver who never should have been behind the wheel that day. I will never experience a normal life. That was taken from me before I even had a chance to begin one.
When you go out drinking bring a designated driver. If you can’t find a designated driver then call a cab. Walk if you have to. Whatever you do DO NOT DRIVE DRUNK. I won’t even get in the car with someone who has had a single beer with dinner. I know the devestating effects of drunk driving. I’m living them every day.