Many people would ask me why I was working with brain injury survivors and their families and I would tell them of my serendipitous path. During my Master Degree studies my cousin, who was a nurse, was struggling with caring for her mother. Her mother had been in a car accident a couple of years earlier and at the time everyone thought that the worst part of her injuries was a broken pelvis. However, after returning to work after physical therapy, it was obvious that she was not able to function on the job as she had prior to the accident. In short, she couldn’t work at any level within the business. Even in their home, it soon became obvious that my Aunt was having great difficulties in several areas. Upon exam and exrays (that’s all they practically did back them, no MRI’s, no CT scans, no Pet, no SPECT)….but the results clearly showed massive brain damage. She ended up unable to walk, talk or do for herself in a very short space of time. My cousin of course tried to keep her at home but it became increasingly more difficult and she was worried about her mother’s nutrition. I volunteered to do research in the University of Chicago Library (my sister worked there) and as I read I noticed that there wasn’t a lot of information on post traumatic rehabilitation. Pretty much the field was just starting to appreciate the benefits of new ER techniques and medical advances and more and more people were kept alive, sometimes in an extended coma. So the journals were more or less taken up with coma stimulation….and it would be awhile before the focus shifted to post traumatic rehabilitation. Which was unfortunate for my Aunt and many other survivors of that period as well.
When approached by a psychologist to start a brain injury rehabilitation outpatient facility upon getting my degree in Family Relations, I said yes….hoping to learn more about this growing area of rehabilitation. Just to give you an idea about how long ago all this was, when I again took myself to the library to research “cognitive rehabilitation” the librarian thought I made it up! There was nothing in the literature about it at that time. Typically the clients received Speech Therapy, Physical Therapy, Occupational Therapy and counseling.
Sometime during that first year with that program my father had a gran mal seizure. He went to the hospital because he couldn’t get out of bed by himself afterwards. When they did his films they found that he had brain damage about the size of a fifty cent piece in the front of his brain!! When the doctor asked if he had ever been knocked unconscious my parents said he’d been in the war but was never injured except for shrapnel in his back. But when we asked my grandmother, she said, oh yes, he had been knocked unconscious by a horseshoe when he was around thirteen. So, as it turned out, I had been living with a head injured survivor for years without knowing it.
Unfortunately, things come in threes they say. My younger brother was run off the highway on his motorcycle and was thrown onto his head at 60 miles an hour. He was lucky however, and sustained more physical injuries than cognitive and he returned to work. However, he died of pancreatic cancer before he was fifty and I firmly believe that the trauma set off a chain reaction in his health. Of course you’ll find reference to this in the literature, the later onset of health issues is becoming more visible in the research literature and has also been linked to earlier demise than the birth cohort prediction.
So, it seems there was some karma at work in my family. And yet ironically my studies, clinical experience, research did not benefit them directly. But I can help others and here I am. How can I help you?