SPEAK OUT! – Michael J. Kline
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
Michael J. Kline
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Franklin, Pennsylvania, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
November 18, 2011 09:35 am Age 41
4. How did your TBI occur?
While on duty as a firefighter, I fell from a standing position to a concrete floor.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I knew immediately that there was a problem because of the sound when I hit the floor. The fall was not witnessed.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have (e.g., surgery,
I was intubated. I had induced paralysis and an induced coma due to combativeness and the need to fly me to a trauma center in Pittsburgh.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
My coma lasted 5 days.
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., In-patient or Out-patient and Occupational, Physical, Speech, Other)? How long were you in rehab?
I had occupational therapy. I don’t recall the length. I think it was about 3 months.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have 100% loss of taste and smell, and a 40% hearing deficit in my left ear. I have positional vertigo. I am unable to control my verbal filter at times. I have personality changes – I am a rogue or “lone wolf.” I do not drop my guard, and I protect myself ferociously with my words.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life has changed in many ways. I enjoy the Earth much more because I do not take anything for granted like I used to. It is worse because I am very misunderstood. I look the same, but people don’t understand that the pre-injury Mike is not here anymore. I am judged by the words that I say and the way I protect myself from harm. I have a very hard time letting people close to me. I feel like everyone is out to see if I am truly different or making it up.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
I miss having fear. The only thing that I am afraid of is people seeing me as disabled or a worse person because of my injury. People just cannot grasp the change that has happened and continues to happen and bothers me every morning when I wake up.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I love my new-found love for the outdoors. Everything on this Earth has a purpose, and I am able to see that now. I enjoy speaking to other survivors and caregivers. I enjoy educating others and making them aware of this relentless hidden injury.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I don’t like the burden that I have placed on my family and friends. I am no longer the father with an “S” on his chest, even though I try so hard. My focus and concentration are nowhere near what they used to be. I feel like I have aged 20 years because of this injury.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
I do not accept this injury at all. I have spent my entire life helping people. It may sound selfish, but I did not deserve this. I have lived a very fulfilling life in my effort to help others. I have lost some of that ability, and it pisses me off.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
I am no longer the “King of the Castle” who can solve anything quickly. I can see it in my family’s eyes. They love me unconditionally, but I can see how they view me a little differently. I want to be the bulletproof man in the house like I used to be.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
My social life has changed tremendously. I have lost many friends because they do not understand me like they used to. I have gained other friends in some of the support groups, and they are AWESOME people. I feel like I do not fit in the way I used to because I have been beaten up by this injury. I am a very positive thinker, but sometimes I have to put up a facade to prove it.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My wife and daughters take care of me and keep me in check when needed. I wish I knew what it is like to be in their shoes. I know I can be a bear at times, and I know that everything they do is best for me. I don’t always agree with it, but they do not give up, and I am thankful for that.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
My plans are to retire from my job and become a speaker. I want to speak about my experiences to survivors, caregivers, and medical professionals. I will not give up, and I will reach that goal. Every cloud has a silver lining. Sometimes it is just very hard to see it.
19. Are you able to provide a helpful hint that may have taken you a long time to learn, but which you wished you had known earlier? If so, please state what it is to potentially help other TBI survivors with your specific kind of TBI.
I tried to rush my recovery way too much. At times, I refused to listen to anyone. That has held me back. If I would have just been patient and allowed myself time to recover without overloading my brain all of the time, I may be better off and less angry about my TBI.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Keep trying to improve yourself. It may be the smallest forward step ever, but it is a step. Then follow through and achieve that goal. Wake up every morning and tell yourself how you are going to be awesome that day. Do not be hard on yourself when you hit a roadblock – we all have them and always will.
Thank you, Michael, for taking part in this interview. I hope that your experience will offer some hope, comfort, and inspiration to my readers.
(Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.)
(Photo compliments of Michael.)
You can learn more about Michael on his blog, “My Fall to Life.”
If you would like to be a part of this project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.