“You Disappear” by Christian Jungersen
(Insight Into the World of Brain Damage)
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
As anyone who has had a brain injury and his or her caregiver know, life is forever altered. It will never be the same. Christian Jungersen takes his readers on the twisted journey of Frederick, a headmaster at a prestigious school; Mia, his wife and a reputable schoolteacher; and their teenage son, Niklas. Unlike many brain injuries that occur by an impact, an accident, or a hemorrhage, Frederick’s brain “injury” evolved over time, changing his personality bit by bit. Mia slowly noticed inexplicable changes in her husband. Talking too loud and eating too much were just two of the little signs that were manifested as Frederick’s brain changed. While on a vacation in Majorca, Frederick drove unusually erratically and dangerously. His driving caused their rental car to scrape a stone cliff. When Frederick, in a crazed state, jumped from the car, fell down a hillside, and woke in the local hospital, he was forced to seek help, and the mystery of his strange behavior is unveiled.
Once Frederick is diagnosed with a slow-growing brain tumor, his aberrant behavior becomes more understandable, but not excusable. As is the case for many brain-injured persons, Frederick’s behavior hampered his decision–making process. Frederick illegally took large sums of money from his school, causing the school to become bankrupt and Frederick to lose the respect and friendship of many people, including his chairman and close friend, Laust. Eventually Frederick, while seeking help, loses his job and faces a possible prison sentence.
Mia fondly remembers the years before the change in Frederick. She remembers the love they shared. She does what she can to help him, but his deviant and erratic behavior makes living with him difficult. Finally, Mia seeks help and companionship with a local brain-injury support group, where she meets Bernard, who not only becomes Frederick’s attorney, but also a “special” friend to Mia.
As Christian Jungersen so aptly states, “As any family member of someone with brain damage knows, the hard part isn’t the initial shock. The hard part comes when the adrenalin recedes and you have to set out down the endless gray corridor of disheartening days, days that look like they’ll last the rest of your life.”
As the caregiver for my husband, who has a traumatic brain injury, I understand Jungersen’s words completely. The adrenalin gets you through the early surgeries and the beginning days in the hospital. It may even carry you through the weeks in the rehabilitation facility. But the adrenalin-rush ends, and “real life” sets in when the caregiver brings the survivor home. That’s when the realization occurs that life will never be the same as it was. The survivor will never be the same as before, and neither will the caregiver. Brain damage has a way of changing the normal. That’s when the survivor and caregiver realize that the journey through the brain-damage maze has just started. They eventually realize that it has no end. Once brain damage comes to stay, it can tear families apart. But, it can also make families stronger, as they pull together to overcome the trials of brain injury.
In “You Disappear,” Jungersen portrays how one family finds their world breaking up. Will they find enough glue to repair it?
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(Clip Art compliments of Bing.)