HOW DOES A BRAIN INJURY FEEL?

by Terry Bryant

Our injured clients have unique experiences, as they are individuals with a specific set of physical characteristics, who were injured in a particular way. Two car crashes may look similar, but the effects of similar trauma on occupants of vehicles varies. There are collisions where some people are severely injured, and others walk away with few or no injuries. So it is with brain injuries. Some accident victims suffer “traumatic brain injury” or “TBI” and others do not. While the symptoms of TBI can vary, there are many symptoms that are common.

TBI can occur from the head striking a hard object, such as a car windshield or the ground. TBI can also be caused by the impact of the brain against the interior wall of the skull, caused by a sudden deceleration of the head. This can occur when a vehicle crashes into another vehicle or fixed object. In those cases, there may be no impact between the head and any hard object.

Many accident victims have no idea they have suffered a brain injury. Many Emergency Room (ER) doctors and nurses only ask, “Did you lose consciousness?” We have had a case where our client was witnessed being unconscious at the scene, but had no memory of that in the ER. So, when the client was asked, “Did you lose consciousness?” by the ER doctor, he said, “No.” He was wrong! He was out cold for at least two minutes, as a witness shouted at him to wake up!

Many brain injury victims have no understanding of the symptoms of a brain injury. While every brain injury is different, many cases of TBI have common features. One of our clients wrote us recently describing some of the difficulties she was experiencing as a result of her TBI. Read her comments, and then ask yourself if you have experienced any of these symptoms after being injured:

“I feel like I have not been the same since my head injury.”

Some of the reasons are:

1. PTSD, fatigue and headaches: The adrenaline-saturated, heart-in-throat, white-knuckled-grip-on-the-wheel, body-braced-for-impact, hysterical, sob-inducing stress of driving two hours a day in Houston rush hour with driving-related post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) would be enough to make anyone feel debilitated. But, coupled with the strain of looking at a computer screen and the arduous work of recovering from a brain injury in general, it ushered in a previously unmatched level of fatigue. I could only make it through the work day if I took a full rest in a completely dark space during my lunch break and had several additional breaks in between. This was not who I had been prior to my head injury. Before, I had worked tirelessly and passionately to deliver detailed, high quality work. I had a reputation for being energetic, highly knowledgeable, diligent and quick on my feet. But after the head injury, I didn’t have the stamina to meet the previous standards I had set for myself. I was overwhelmed with a sense of guilt for having to take so much rest during the workday, and concerned my coworkers would notice I lacked the endurance I previously had. I was worried every day that I would lose my job. Desperately, I reminded myself that I had overcome many obstacles in my life, and I owed it to myself to try everything I could think of to make this no exception. So I devised a plan to overcome the pain and fatigue by focusing on resting, reducing stress, committing to physical therapy, and reducing inflammation in my body. Getting rest when not working was easy, as I was so exhausted when I got home from work I went straight to bed. If I ever tried to do anything else, I paid for it dearly. I slept most of the weekend and cleared my social calendar as much as possible. To reduce stress, I kept the lights turned down in my office and at home, I used an essential oil diffuser constantly, I went to see a counselor for the PTSD, I did yoga, I walked, I did breathing exercises, and I deprived myself of TV and reading outside of work. I was diligent with my physical therapy exercises and I wore a back brace to try to relieve the intense pain in my neck and shoulders, which was exacerbated by driving and sitting up at my desk. In an effort to reduce inflammation in my body that I reasoned might be adding fuel to the fire, I eliminated sugar and processed food from my diet and started taking vitamins and supplements. But the fatigue was unrelenting, and I was filled with disappointment in myself for not being able to overcome. I succumbed to the exhaustion and the pain and began to believe this would just be the way my life would be from now on.

2. Memory loss and reduction in mental acuity: I’m just not as sharp as I was before the accident. Even now, a year and a half after the accident, I’m still not where I used to be. It takes longer (and hurts!) to process my thoughts, and words I could easily retrieve pre-injury continue to elude me. I’m constantly saying, ‘Hang on, let me think, there’s a word I’m looking for but just can’t find, it means…’ Writing is a bit better because I can take my time to really think and use Google to help me hone down the word that provides the exact connotation I’m looking for. To provide some perspective, I had graduated at the top of my class in a competitive journalism and public communications program prior to the accident, and had become a very successful businesswoman. My vocabulary was immense, and I had a keen ability to articulate well and quickly in both written and spoken word. I was certainly not someone who had struggled to string a sentence together! Unfortunately, my memory loss is not limited to coming up with the right word to say. I’ve also forgotten key moments and people. For example, I had worked with a very important business leader quite extensively prior to the accident. However, after the accident, I had completely forgotten that I ever met him! It was deeply humiliating when I went to ‘meet’ him for the first time, and he responded in confusion, as we already knew each other so well. I’m still committed to helping myself in any way I can to get back to the mental acuity and stamina I had pre-accident, but I’ve learned the hard way that when it comes to the brain healing, patience and practice are my only tools–and neither offers a guarantee.

3. Apathy/loss of desire/depression: Before the accident, I was such a fighter and an optimist. I had been through many situations that would have broken others, but I always proceeded with gusto. But after my head injury, I felt like I changed as a person. My ‘fight’ was gone and I couldn’t get it back, no matter what I did. Looking back, I believe I was deeply depressed. Sustaining a brain injury alters the way the brain handles situations and leaves the person feeling deeply isolated. While everyone’s TBI is different, mine left me very intolerant to light and noise stimulation. I never realized how much mental stimulation something as simple as going to a restaurant was, but I found it was far more than I could bear! So I spent two months, with the exception of trips to the doctor, in my dark room. Alone. Unable to distract myself from the pain, because I couldn’t read or look at screens and it hurt to even think. I remember being so determined to be better by the time my wedding shower was to be held. I was so desperate to go! I hadn’t been able to see my friends in such a long time and the hostess was my beloved mentor who had gone to great lengths to put on a truly special and thoughtful event. Plus, my relationship with my partner had been on the rocks in the wake of the accident as we both struggled to know how to respond to this unfair hand we had been dealt, and I truly believed doing something ‘normal’ like a wedding shower would help us both get back on track. The day of the shower I knew I still couldn’t handle the stimulation so I stayed in bed until the minute I had to leave for the shower, and took extra muscle relaxers and pain killers. My family who had come in from out of town did not understand what the big deal was because I ‘looked’ OK. That’s one of the most frustrating things about a TBI: its outwardly deceptive nature. It’s not like being in a body cast or having a big gash on your face. In those cases, people can clearly see something is wrong. But a TBI is a brain injury, and no one can see your brain without medical equipment (unless you’ve split your head open.) So they figure, ‘You look like yourself, what’s the big deal?’ If I did my makeup really well and smiled really big and tried to ‘fake it until I make it’ with a bubbly attitude, and was on prescription drugs, and had rested for hours before, and did a lot of stretching and physical therapy, I could ‘make it’ for a very short time. Which is exactly what happened at the shower. I made it through pictures and a few gifts and then just slumped over on the hostess’ couch in sheer pain and exhaustion. I was so embarrassed for my friends and family to see me like that! As I laid there fighting back tears, I wondered if I would even be able to make it to my own wedding. Once I was cleared to return to work, things didn’t get better. It was all I could do to push through the day with the best outward attitude I could muster, but I had no intrinsic motivation to do anything, work related or otherwise. I had lost my zest for life! At this point, I feel as though I’ve done everything I can think of to get it back, now all I can do now is hope and pray it comes back.”

We are grateful to this client for her heartfelt and brave recounting of her experience. We hope that reading about her experience will help those who have never suffered a TBI understand what TBI victims experience. And if you know someone who has been injured, regardless of whether or not they have been diagnosed with a Traumatic Brain Injury or a concussion, ask them to read this story. See if they find anything from this story that is similar to their experience.

We invite others who have suffered TBI to share their stories with us at help@terrybryant.com. We also are here to help all victims of injuries caused by the negligence of others, by defective products, or in the workplace.
Terry Bryant Accident & Injury Law