brain injury recovery

I'm Dan Gardner and I talk about traumatic brain injury recovery.

Dan:
Today, I’m pleased to be speaking with brain injury survivor Angela.  Welcome Angela.  Angela, when was your injury and tell me a bit about the nature of the injury?

Angela:
It was a May 24th, Friday before Memorial Day weekend, and I was hit head-on by a reckless driver in a Dodge Ram pickup truck going over 55 miles an hour in a 35 mile per hour zone. It was about five minutes from home, and they cut me out of the car, and they flew me to the hospital.

Dan:
What sort of damage was done?

Angela:
Well, it’s almost like what sort of damage wasn’t done. I had severe trauma to my brain, a traumatic brain injury. The list goes on and on, but my skull was stitched and stapled. I had over a thousand stitches to my face, in my body, a lacerated liver, punctured lung, renal contusion, mesentery contusion and four broken ribs. I scraped the cornea on my eye, and I had to talk with my mother to find out all the injuries because I didn’t really remember all of them and that’s some of the trauma from the brain injury.

Dan:
Well, this was massive injuries. How long ago did that happen?

Angela:
That will be 17 years this Friday May 24th.

Dan:
So, we’re talking about in a few days, about three days. So, I’m going to ask you a little later about your thoughts and feelings as the anniversary of your injury approaches. Tell me a little about your recovery and what happened during the recovery?

Angela:
Well, I was in the hospital for six days and partially in surgical ICU and after that sixth day, I had the chance to either go to rehabilitation center or my parents taking me home and taking care of me. I slept on the couch for about the first six or seven weeks.  I wasn’t even able to get upstairs. They were giving me medicine every four hours for the trauma to my brain and the trauma to my body. A physical therapist would come to the house.

I wasn’t able to really move much. I did have a walker, so I was scooting around on my little walker. The physical therapist lifted up my legs and moved my arms for me. After six weeks is when I decided to, well I didn’t decide, the doctors decided, and my parents brought me to physical therapy. In addition to speech therapy, I was playing the game of memory.  The last time I played the game of memory was when I was a little girl. Trying to think some other things. I went to a neuro-ophthalmologist as well and all sorts of other specialty doctors. I had some forgetfulness and dizziness. I didn’t remember the setbacks that I had at that point. I have them now and I’ve known for the past 17 years. I will probably talk a little bit about that, but the recovery was long. I didn’t get back in the car until probably four months later. I just had the courage to put myself in that situation, to keep pressing forward rather than feel like the victim.

Dan:
So, at the time of the injury, where you knocked unconscious?

Angela:
Yes, I don’t remember anything. They cut me out the car. They flew me to the hospital. I don’t really remember anything until probably going to Connecticut. That was four months later to go see my college volleyball team play volleyball. Before that, I don’t really remember much. I know that a lot of friends came to visit me. Family would come to visit me from out of town, but there’s very few memories that I can recall unless somebody really helps jog my memory.

Dan:
So, you’re saying that before you had a clear and continuous memory, it was months after the accident?

Angela:
I would say that, yes. Before the accident, I was like a 23-year-old, living in northern New Jersey commuting to the city. My first job out of college and life was great. I was playing beach volleyball and was in great shape physically. That helped prepare me for the accident.

I’m so grateful for that. I had about 20 pounds of muscle on me from playing college volleyball, which actually protected me from losing my arm.  I had over 400 stitches to my arm. And just that physical strength to survive so, I’m grateful that I was in a more prepared position to get through the trauma.

Dan:
Tell me a little more about your situation before the injury.

Angela:
That’s a great question. I was just out of college. It was about a year after 9/11. I was working in Manhattan for the Columbia House Company, that company that sold ten CDs for $1! I was working for them doing some admin work. I felt life was cool. Life was fun: commuting to Manhattan and going to the beach, Jersey Shore, playing sand volleyball and spending time with friends and family.

I was just looking forward to that Friday before Memorial Day weekend when the accident happened. I had plans to go to a barbecue and was just really living a fun life in my early twenty’s.

Dan:
Well, and then this happened out of the blue. Tell me about some of the bigger challenges during the recovery period.

Angela:
Probably just not being able to be physical and walk around and exercise. I had a walker and I used to sit outside and put my feet in the pool. People came over in my parent’s backyard and I always had a hat on and had to have my face covered. I had double vision, so I had a patch over one eye.

When I would go out, people would stare at me.  My legs were completely black and blue, so I was self-conscious about that. Some of the other things I’d say were just forgetfulness, even maybe a little bit right now; I’d like to ask, “what was the question again?”

Dan:
What were some of the biggest challenges during your recovery period?

Angela:
Also going to the neurologist and going in to get the MRI scans and stuff. It was traumatic going back into the hospital.  I would have triggers and used to call them setbacks.  I would have these setbacks and I was actually diagnosed with epilepsy and complex partial seizure. I didn’t even really know what a seizure was. I don’t even like to say the word seizure, because it sounds so traumatic, but when that happened to me, I didn’t really know what was happening. I would just smell these familiar smells and I always looked at my hands and sometimes go off into this space. I would look out somewhere else for like 2-3 minutes and just nothing, just blank out for a little bit and then come back to center. I didn’t really know what I was experiencing, but that was the epilepsy, the seizures that I was suffering from at that time.

I call them setbacks and my mom kept a good diary of how often they would happen. We would go to the neurologist and he suggested a type of medicine.  I just decided not to go on the medicine. I thought that I could handle it with sleep and eating well and a good sleep hygiene.  It was difficult though. They happened a lot.

Dan:
So, you’ve during that time you must have fell out of control?

Angela:
Yes, most of the time. I really couldn’t have any control over anything that was happening. I was completely dependent on my family and my friends for that support. Specifically, the doctors gave me the hope and the direction of how my recovery was going to be – just something to look forward to.

Dan:
What did you imagine the future was going to be like when you were going through recovery?

Angela:
I guess I didn’t really imagine a future. I knew that one day I wanted to be a motivational speaker and think that all this hard stuff that happened to me, there must be a bigger purpose or reason behind it.

I was going to do something about it. I studied marketing in college and I was doing marketing after college, so I thought, alright well, I’m going to make sure the world knows that I can be a hope angel for them and that’s this vision that I had, but I didn’t it wasn’t anything very specific about what the future looked like.

It you would like to watch the full “Hope Angel: Angela’s Brain Injury Recovery Story”, please see the posted video below.

Keywords: Brain injury, brain injury recovery, brain injury survivor, brain injury story, brain injury medical care

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