Traumatic Brain Injury: The Ugly, the Bad & the Good
~by Laura Gray~
It’s been almost a year since I sustained a traumatic brain injury after falling off of a horse. I landed directly onto my head, which resulted in a disproportionately bad injury and permanent brain damage. With this kind of injury comes a variety of symptoms and complications that must be dealt with on a daily basis as one’s brain heals. Considering that a traumatic brain injury can involve several areas of the brain, every system in a person’s body can be messed up temporarily. Symptoms will slowly subside as my brain heals.
As far as my brain injury goes, I have to deal with headaches, orthostatic blood pressure, memory loss, insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
Headaches are common in concussions. And I was no exception. Falling onto my head inevitably resulted in killer headaches, though initially I had no headache. It took two days for me to become symptomatic, and a week for it to become apparent that there was a serious problem. The headaches grew significantly worse; ibuprofen was not strong enough to subdue my pain. The pain was constant and lasted for months. It was not until I was in the hospital that I was put on stronger medication (for migraines) for my headaches. Once I was on the migraine meds, I took ibuprofen to nip my headaches in the bud. Still, for a couple of months after being released from the hospital, my headaches were a daily occurrence. During this time I was taking 600 to 800 milligrams of ibuprofen every few hours, almost around the clock – unless I was asleep.
Orthostatic Blood Pressure
Another common symptom of more severe head injuries is orthostatic blood pressure. In my case, my blood pressure dropped drastically whenever I stood up first thing in the morning, causing me to almost pass out. To prevent this, I had to stand up slowly and carefully, sitting up first and remain sitting for a few seconds before attempting to stand up. At first, I was allowed to walk about the unit freely. It escalated to the point where the nurses had to keep me in bed because I would inherently become a fall risk, passing out and risk hitting my head again. After consuming some fluids, I was usually well enough to stand up and move around the unit.
With traumatic brain injuries, memory loss is also common, and I did experience short-term memory loss. It was the simplest things that I’d forget. One time I was standing in the kitchen and had a thought to get grapes from the fridge. By the time I walked across the kitchen to the fridge, I forgot what I wanted to get out of the fridge. However, as my brain began to heal, my memory gradually improved. Eventually I was able to go into a grocery store, and with verbal directions from my mother, successfully purchase a few items. I also lost chunks of memory from my ninth and tenth grade subjects, namely Algebra and Geometry. I will need to go back and relearn the material for these classes prior to returning to school.
My brain injury triggered insomnia. While I was in the hospital the first time around just before Christmas, I had a sleep EEG, from which they concluded that I was sleeping some, when in reality I wasn’t sleeping at all. I asked one of the nurses one morning if I had slept, and her response was “oh, you slept some.” From the time I fell off the horse until about mid-march, I hardly slept at all. I’d toss and turn throughout the night, look at the clock, then toss and turn some more. It was not until I was in the hospital again for five weeks and prescribed four more medications that we finally got my sleep under control. I am currently on eleven different medications, including prescriptions and supplements. Some of these make me drowsy, which helps me sleep.
Anxiety and Depression
Anxiety and depression also became part of my life. Or at least, it made any pre-existing anxiety and depression about twenty times worse, and to the point where I couldn’t manage without medication. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury. Taking this into consideration, as my brain heals, I should be able to leave behind the depression and anxiety diagnoses. At the least, within a couple years, it hopefully will no longer be debilitating. In the mean time, I take medication to help manage my depression and anxiety, which seems to be improving. And I feel a lot calmer.
As you may imagine, these symptoms can be difficult and annoying to deal with. Hopefully, as my brain heals, most of these symptoms will diminish. However, my memory issues may be permanent; I still need to write everything down. I like to joke that though I am only 18 years old, I know what it is like to be 55 in terms of my memory. These are only a few of the symptoms someone with a brain injury may deal with, and they are the most major symptoms I deal with on a daily basis.
But there are some positive outcomes:
- I am now more determined in everything I do.
- I have a stronger appreciation for what I do have – both materialistic or otherwise.
- I have more appreciation for, and confidence in, my abilities.
- I have had experiences and career opportunities that I otherwise would not have had or considered. For example, I have been immersing myself in Taekwondo and taking a Reiki Master Series training. These are now a major focus in my life.
I know I’ve painted a fairly grim picture. With any tragic event, there are always difficult times, challenges, physical pain, emotional pain and/or stress. I’ve certainly had my share, as I’ve just described. But as humans, we always have an opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences, good or bad. I believe that keeping a positive outlook about all this, as much as I can, plays a big part in my healing abilities. All in all, I am growing into a much wiser young woman and slowly regaining my independence.
Meet the Author: Laura Gray
Laura Gray, while still a High School junior, started her own business selling her paintings and drawings. She also earned the highest achievement in Girl Scouting: The Girl Scout Gold Award. In her spare time, she enjoys art, archery and horseback riding.
You can check out Laura’s artwork here