Traumatic Brain Injury: The Day My World Changed My entire world changed on Dec. 18, 2002. It was an ordinary business day that began with my commute from my central Kentucky home to my job as an executive in Cincinnati. Near the top of the second flight of stairs to my office, I suddenly saw a blinding glare—the ... From My Perspective
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From My Perspective  |   November 01, 2010
Traumatic Brain Injury: The Day My World Changed
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Attention, Memory & Executive Functions / Traumatic Brain Injury / From My Perspective
From My Perspective   |   November 01, 2010
Traumatic Brain Injury: The Day My World Changed
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 38. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.15132010.38
The ASHA Leader, November 2010, Vol. 15, 38. doi:10.1044/leader.FMP.15132010.38
My entire world changed on Dec. 18, 2002. It was an ordinary business day that began with my commute from my central Kentucky home to my job as an executive in Cincinnati. Near the top of the second flight of stairs to my office, I suddenly saw a blinding glare—the brightest lights I’ve ever seen.
What a headache! I heard a moan. Why was everything a blur? I was in the emergency room at a large Cincinnati hospital, on my way to the head trauma center. The next thing I remember, people with white coats, funny little hats, and stethoscopes scurried all around me. What was going on? Where was I? What was I doing here?
My family was notified that I had been found unconscious in a pool of blood, and that after regaining consciousness, I had no clear memory of the present or past. There was a possibility that I might lapse into a coma or that my brain would be so damaged that I would end up in a vegetative state.
Complicating the struggle to recover physically was an unexpected legal battle that my attorney and I had to wage against my former company, which fought me every step of the way for my family’s financial survival. My world spiraled downward into a deep, dark hole. I withdrew from society.
The following are journal notes I’d like to share with speech-language pathologists. These notes may provide insights into the thoughts of a traumatic brain injury survivor along this devastating journey:
I want to think with free will, without having to ponder what I’m going to think about before I think. I want to be free, no constraints, without having to go through a conscious thought process every time I make a decision. I want the ball and chain to go away. I want out of prison. I’m exhausted from fighting the whole unfortunate, unwanted situation that I’m being forced to live every day. As much as anything, I just want to be myself, to be referred to simply as Gayle Kelley, not labeled as “brain-damaged.”
A brain injury is truly a family injury; everyone is affected in one way or another. For example, only time will reveal how my wife will recover from her burnout and what her attitude toward our relationship will be. Perhaps it will depend on whether she regards me as a long-term patient or a loving husband, whether she embraces me as I am with whatever gains I make or whether she will continue to reach into the past for the old me, a past that might be gone. I have been unaware all along that it’s been a one-way street. I’ve been receiving all the care and am incapable of giving anything in return.
When I began my sessions with my SLP, I did not want to be there. With professionalism and patience, the SLP who treated me gradually changed my attitude. Eventually, she convinced me there were other reasons than a job to live the best life possible after a brain injury. She taught me how to communicate verbally again. With all my deficits, she never condescended. She became one of the few people with whom I had serious adult conversations.
I am also very fortunate to have a sister, Malinda Rassiga, who is a highly knowledgeable and competent SLP. Due to her own serious illness, she was unable to work with me. However, she has worked tirelessly and unselfishly on the editing of my writing about the injury. Her compassion and understanding have been invaluable in my life as a traumatic brain injury survivor.
Recent tests show the injured part of my brain has degenerated even more since my 2002 injury. I still deal with serious medical issues and deficits. This journey has been like no other I have taken before, but I have stayed the course.
Each day is a gift, and as long as my eyes open, I’ll focus on the new day and put together as many pieces of happy memories as I can, to help me during times like this in my life.
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November 2010
Volume 15, Issue 13