Head’s Up: a Guide to dealing with brain injuries 23 days in

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Its been 23 days since my car accident on Super Bowl Sunday. In an instant, my life took a turn I never saw coming, and it will be changed evermore.

This post is meant to increase awareness of what can and does happen in instances of car accidents like mine and what you can look for in yourself or loved ones who may be affected by their injuries. Seen or unseen, brain trauma can take many forms, and manifest itself in many ways some subtle, some not so subtle. If you are ever in an accident of any type that causes a good whack to your noggin, heed this post and get some help, its there.

First off, let me say I was very lucky, as was the other driver who caused the accident. We both walked away, no broken bones or internal injuries, or those we knew about.

The 17 year old driver who thought she could beat the traffic across Breckinridge lane, didn’t . There was no room to stop my SUV, even though I tried. She was the equivalent of a tin can on my railroad tracks. I did not get out of the car, as I was rendered quite hysterical after the fact. I don’t remember the impact, just opening my eyes to what I thought was a flinch and reached for my cell to call 911. The operator asked if I needed an Ambulance, to which I said yes,  “but for the other driver, I know I hit her really hard in the drivers side”.

Apparently, too hard for my own good. Traffic was light , but steady on that beautiful Sunday, and I was traveling in a line of others right at the speed limit of 35. I suffered the most head trauma, and didn’t know it until later. A “Concussion” is much more than you may think, so I present intel for education on the subject.
The Traumatic Brain Injury Guide published by Dr. Glen Johnson, a Clinical Neuropsychologist in Michigan states:

“If a person is driving a car at 45 mph and is struck head on by another car traveling at the same rate of speed, the person’s brain goes from 45 mph to zero in an instant. The soft tissue of the brain is propelled against the very hard bone of the skull. ”

Closed head injury
Closed head injury

This action thus tears the microscopic, but ever so important axons and neurons, that surround the brain and complete the overall healthy brain functions. The tearing of the brain is equal to a small slice in the top of a bowl of jello. The brain has about 100 billion of those microscopic wires around it, and when the brain is flung first forward and then back against the skull, causing bruising ( sometimes worse) therefore “cutting” the wires that make the brain work.

Damage to the axon in post concussion trauma

“But Cyndy, you are reading this material, and blogging about it, how bad off can you be? ”

Well, lets look at me now vs. then.

a. Yes, I can read, research and write. But to the billionth degree. The writing has come back, as is the speech, but there are good days and bad days when I cannot find my words to speak, or I just don’t have a thought in there to share. I call it shut down mode.

b.As for research and reading, it’s as if I get obsessed and literally lost hours on it. Such has not been the case to an extreme with me.

Immediately after the accident, the EMT’s were more concerned that I was inconsolable ( they thought b/c of my car) and my vitals were off the charts. Turns out, I was knocked out, and the hysteria was due to that and the shock of the accident. Even that early, when asked to go to St. Matthews avenue, I was blank as to where that was. And I grew up in the neighborhood.

So the next few days involved pain and strain, but mostly more scary stuff, like not knowing where things were, who had called or not,  and even being convinced it was another day of the week.

All of the imaging scans, CT & MRI’s have come back clear, but according to the CDC and their report on ” Mild Traumatic Brain Injuries” to Congress in 2003, their findings support my experience:

‘According to existing data, more than 1.5 million people experience a traumatic brain injury (TBI) each year in the United States. Of them, as many as 75 percent sustain a mild traumatic brain injury—or MTBI. These injuries may cause long-term or permanent impairments and disabilities. Many people with MTBI have difficulty returning to rou­ tine, daily activities and may be unable to return to work for many weeks or months. In addition to the human toll of these injuries, MTBI costs the nation nearly $17 billion each year.

These data, however, likely underestimate the problem of MTBI in this country—for several reasons. First, no standard definitions exist for MTBI and MTBI-related impair­ ments and disabilities. The existing Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) definition for TBI surveillance is designed to identify cases of TBI that result in hospital­ization, which tend to be more severe. MTBI is most often treated in emergency depart­ ments or in non-hospital medical settings, or it is not treated at all. Few states conduct emergency department-based surveillance, and current efforts do not capture data about persons with MTBI who receive no medical treatment. Additionally, neither hospital- nor emergency department-based data can provide estimates of the long-term consequences of MTBI.’

So does that explain my changes in activity, progress and pain? Yes, the symptoms of MTBI are such that sans the seizures, I could be the poster child for the CDC.

Symptoms are as follows according to the BIA

Brain Injury Association of America.
The Voice of Brain Injury. www.biausa.org National Brain Injury Information Center 800-444-6443

Early Symptoms

Headache Dizziness or vertigo Lack of awareness of surroundings Nausea with or without memory dysfunction Vomiting

Later Symptoms:

Persistent low grade headache Lightheadedness Poor attention and concentration Excessiveness or easy fatigue Intolerance of bright light or difficulty focusing vision Intolerance of loud noises

Ringing in the ears Anxiety and depressed mood Irrability and low frustration tolerance

What has happened is a day to day dealing with the issues.
I have never been a neat-freak (ask anyone) but now find myself organizing with a manic edge like someone with OCD. I noticed this and believe its my brain’s way of making its life easier. At thje accident scene, when asked for my Insurance card & Drivers ID, I was in a panic to find it and couldn’t, the more I looked , the more frantic I became. And so it continued at home, office etc.,

Now, my brain says, “put everything HERE, you can’t take the chaos” and so I do ( and, I guess I have really tidy closets now!)
I am using the “OCD” or whatever it is to my advantage, I can stay uber focused on a project at a time, so I can really crank out the work.

Bad side, I get tired really easy. If you have ever met me, or know me, you know I can be called the “energizer BUnny”  always on the go, always full of energy, life and happy! Now, I am reserved a bit, cannot really take too much stimulation ( like big noisy spaces) and I can reserve my energy as needed.

The forgetfulness is still around, heck, I could hide my own eater eggs somedays, and some other I am A-OK.  So I am just careful to make lists and keep tabs on myself.

Headaches are like my brain searing on a grill, I can literally hear it sometimes. Folks who have said ‘have a glass of wine and relax’ don’t get that I don’t drink now, especially because some days I wake up and feel like I did have a 5th of Makers Mark.. dying with a headache. Like yesterday. Today, I feel great, but my brain is on its gyroscope, and feels a little ‘floaty’.

In due time, I have read,  hopefully this will all pass. Some patients recover in 3 -12 months, and some have persistent problems.

I have a long road ahead, but have at least reached out to the Brain Injury Association  and the Brain Injury Alliance of Kentucky  for help, along with looking for coping mechanisms.

From my reading, I see that so many are affected by MTBI, and have no idea they are a victims. More on that in an upcoming blog.

As far as recovery, I found this  excerpt from the The Traumatic Brain Injury Guide published by Dr. Glen Johnson:

WILL I EVER BE “100 PERCENT” AGAIN?

“‘ Am I ever going to be “100 percent” following my head injury? In working with patients over a long periods of time, I find that they almost universally say “no”. People will report being at 99% or 98 or 95% of their former abilities; I’ve never really met anybody who’s claimed to have recovered 100 %. I’ve had people who’ve had significant head injuries, yet returned to work, regained a normal family life, and seemed to be doing great. They appeared to be doing well socially, got promotions, and made money. Yet they still say, “I just feel different.” Often family members will argue, saying that the head-injured person is fine (“You just want sympathy“). It is very hard for family members to deal with this type of change.

The unfairness of the head injury is that change happens so suddenly.”