Recovering From a Traumatic Brain Injury

Written by RitaC on July 9th, 2012

The road back from a head injury is long, slow, meandering, circuituous, frustrating, deceptive, arduous and necessary. It is a journey to recover words, the building blocks of language, words that have taken root and grown within you. Recuperating means starting over–wherever that is.
After a slip on the ice in 2009 and a visit to the local ER, I was deemed fit. I was not. The first night I listened to classical music to soothe myself. I awoke at 2 a.m., “hearing” music in my sinuses, “seeing” the entire orchestra in motion. I felt terrified. Later, listening to an entire symphony was not possible: as the crescendo built and the musicians played with greater passion, I couldn’t bear it. I had to turn off the radio.
ER instructions to my husband were: to continuously check my pupils; to watch for excessive sleeping; to ask me my name and address; to ask the name of the current president. I joked, trying to laugh off the severity of the injury. I said I was my sister; I gave my childhood address; I chose various presidents. All fiction, to lessen my fear.
My head hurt for ten days. The headache, configured like a football-helmet, crept up the back of my skull to my crown and spilled over my forehead. I gobbled ibuprofen, squinted, and slept, often asking if it was time to go to bed, only half-joking.
I should not have been driving. But, three weeks after the injury, I became a grandmother. Helping my daughter was a priority. I was sure I would be okay.
I began writing haikus. Anything longer was impossible. Seventeen syllables? Manageable. The words were my choice. The image was mine.
In daily life, I developed a process for finding the right word for whatever “thing” I was trying to name. I began with a similar word and inched my way closer to my target. Usually, four or five words moved me from the periphery to the center.
Reading was devastating. What did that word mean? What was this? Reading aloud was slow and tenuous. I, a writer, an encyclopedia reader, a self-professed word-geek, a former professor, a long-ago actor, I was no longer a fast reader or articulate.
For months, my conversations with my husband ended with: “I can’t comprehend what you’re saying” or “I can’t talk anymore.”
What were embarrassing situations became family jokes. There was the time I diapered the baby leaving the old diaper to dangle down her leg inside her onesie. I left a pot cooking on the stove and took a nap. Luckily, by then my daughter, son-in-law, and infant granddaughter were living with us while they looked for a house. The kitchen was saved.
I researched TBI online and found more severe cases than mine, individuals who slogged through a mire deeper and muddier than mine. Some never recovered their pre-injury selves. I was fortunate. My head injury was considered mild to moderate. That was the name for the “thing” I had incurred. The meaning was far more difficult to comprehend. And the recovery, laborious.
Today, almost 3 1/2 years later, my word recall is mostly intact. When I’m tired and can’t find the right word or can’t complete a thought, I let it go. If possible, I nap. I still write haikus, two hundred and forty in that time. I have written longer poems. I have studied and become an active yoga teacher. I am grandmother to an infant grandson who knows nothing of being double-diapered.
I am well.


Leave a Comment