He was a genius, one of those people that can understand the intricacies of Physics, the mathematical/science tango of Chemistry and yet grasp the beauty of a sonnet. Four years ago, he was almost killed by an IED in Afghanistan. He flew 45 feet from the Humvee he was gunning from, and landed on his back with all of his gear, his Kevlar, and the roof of the Humvee on his chest and femur.
If anyone understands what the brain is like in the skull, its like an egg. There is the Dura, which covers the brain and in between the skull and the gray matter it exists to act like a shock absorber. The flight and impact of all that weight on my husband’s brain caused bleeding in between the Dura and the gray matter. We are lucky, there was nothing damaging the skull itself, the brain did not get lacerated, and the bleed has dissipated.
Picture the classic CPS coroner’s report for Shaken Baby Syndrome- basically a baby is shaken so hard either the brain injures itself against the other side of the skull or the brain stem is snapped during the abuse. Either way, its fatal usually for a baby.
Our service members are coming home with a very similar type of injury, My husband did.
When people see my husband, they can tell he has been through the mill. He walks with a severe limp from having his right leg salvaged from the blast. He has a bad back now from the blast and for the way his body lurches against his joints when he walks. It is not the walk of someone with a bad brain injury and that I am thankful for.
When I saw him in the hospital and he was able to speak and recall things from the past, I remember thinking whew.. thank God. He was on a serious amount of pain medications as his femur required many many surgeries for him to keep it.
Sure, we knew from the initial inpatient exams he had from the Traumatic Brain Injury team that he did have some delays in his working memory and processing (your short term memory that recalls phone numbers, quick instructions, etc.) We had many doctors say,”Welcome to my world. You now have to use sticky notes and make reminders for yourself.”
Is it really the same world when you lose IQ points due to the damage? No, not at all. You can be well spoken and still suffer a serious brain injury. There are many ways TBIs can impact the way you think, remember, feel, react to external stress, and your energy level. My husband thankfully was a highly intelligent man before the blast. He did lose 25 IQ points. He still is analytically intelligent, and can grasp the science and math he did before. It takes him longer to figure it out, but his smarts are there.
For the average person, losing 25 IQ points would make you almost on the Down’s Syndrome scale or low retardation level of intelligence. It would be very substantial for you. The Army and the VA do not really acknowledge this. We had one Speech Therapist, Cora Madetzke, at the Temple, Texas VA acknowledge the loss to Todd. Her empathy and sympathy meant the world to us. She put some things together to help Todd work on his processing skills, his attention, and focus as his brain damage also caused some hearing loss.
I strongly recommend that you give your injured veteran or family member a good year and a good year off of a good portion of pain medicines as then you will really see what sort of residual damage and issues they will have. Some research claims that if you don’t work with the brain within the first year of the injury, it won’t help. I don’t believe that at all as it has been four years, and I do see gradual improvements in my husband.
What are the impacts of his Moderate Traumatic Brain Injury? Well, for starters the energy level has decreased a lot. He can not multitask at all. Some of the symptoms of PTSD and TBI overlap and magnify. If you want to get him mad, start talking to him while he is listening to his program on his laptop or trying to read a book. He can not read a line of a page and remember it two minutes later. He used to have a near-photographic memory and it really frustrates him to be in the middle of a story and he starts cursing because he forgot a name of a buddy, or a name of a scientific process, etc.
One of the worst things he suffers from the brain injury besides the inability to remember the things he wants to at will, are the headaches he suffers from. He gets them out of nowhere and they hit him square behind the eye. They hit him almost like a migraine in terms of the dehibilitation, but they don’t last for more than 45 minutes at the most. However, once he gets one he gets around 15-20 more that day.
Thank goodness for his neurologist we took him to at the Headache Clinic at Scott and White as they recommended an Alphastim for him. If you aren’t familiar with that and you suffer from headaches, TBI, and PTSD, you need to get one. Check out the link at alpha-stim.org. It is really incredible when you read the trials. It has helped Todd significantly. He used to get headaches at least 6 times a week. On a good week, it is down to 4 times a week. When he gets the headaches, he can’t open his eyes or control his voluntary muscle function. If he was drinking water before it hits, he chokes on it. Smells make him nauseated easily, even when not having the headaches. Perfumes he used to like really bother him now.
When we drive to the VA in Temple from Taylor, most of the time he is so tired because he doesn’t sleep well still and the brain injury can cause fatigue. As soon as the car motor turns on, he is asleep in his chair. I see his feet moving, his right hand moving as if he is driving or being a TC in his sleep.
I have found some good brain resources along the way. If you are a veteran with a combat-related TBI, go to avbi.org as they will provide you with one free year of Lumosity, which is a great website for helping your brain. Non-TBI people can benefit from it as well. AVBI also does provide you with neat cards and dogtags which you can write down your medical information so if you are in an accident you can list your TBI condition as well as the meds you take.
When you see someone you know has a brain injury, do NOT complete their sentences for them. Unless they ask you to help them search for a word. It is rude to do that without being asked by the patient. Do not act like you have the same problem, because you do NOT.
People in the community do not see my husband’s brain injury right away. He hides it pretty well. However, I had to impart some etiquette as I have seen people say some pretty damn insensitive things to him.
March was Brain Injury month, so please educate yourself on what you can do to help your family member adjust to their new life with changes to their brain. It is not easy, but time, acceptance of how their mind and processes have changed will make it so they can accept new ways of doing things to trigger their memories. Just remember to breathe and not get mad when you are asked the same thing over again or watch the same movie again.