SPEAK OUT! – Melissa Cronin
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
1. What is your name? (last name optional)
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
South Burlington, Vermont, USA
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
4. How did your TBI occur?
In 2003, when visiting the Santa Monica Farmers’ Market, an elderly driver confused the gas pedal for the brake and sped through the market. I was thrown forward, and my head hit the pavement. The force of the impact resulted in a ruptured spleen and multiple fractures, including my pelvis.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
Fourteen months after the accident, when I returned to part-time work as a public health nurse, I experienced increased fatigue, difficulty concentrating, and multitasking. My boss threatened to fire me, so I resigned and attempted part-time work in a pediatrician’s office (bad idea for someone with a TBI), but I struggled to keep up in a fast-paced environment. In May 2006, I finally saw a neuropsychiatrist for testing, and the results proved to be consistent with a TBI.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I did not have emergency treatment for a TBI. The CT (computerized tomography, also known as “CAT”) scans showed no bleeding (typical for a “mild” TBI). I did have emergency surgery, though, to remove my ruptured spleen.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
8. Did you do rehab? What kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient or outpatient and occupational and/or physical and/or speech and/or other)? How long were you in rehab?
I had physical and occupational therapy at Cedars Sinai Hospital in Los Angeles to help regain muscle mass and strength after being hospitalized for nearly one month. I would be in a wheelchair for four months while my fractures healed, so rehab taught me ways to navigate through my day.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
Fatigue, difficulty multitasking and concentrating, occasional irritability, depression; and difficulty processing verbal, auditory, and visual information
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is both better and worse. It’s better because my TBI, and other injuries, opened up a path for me to writing. And my husband, whom I met only three weeks prior to the accident, has been my strongest support. It’s worse because I eventually had to give up my 20-year nursing career.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
Running and skiing, and the babies I cared for in the neonatal intensive care unit where I worked before my injury
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
Writing, playing the Irish fiddle, going for walks, and, of course, my husband’s unwavering support
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I’m much slower at getting things done. I often sleep in until 9:30 or 10:00 am, and I feel as if I’ve wasted much of the day. Also, I often fail to understand concepts others seem to grasp so easily.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
I’ve been helped by the neuropsychiatrist who diagnosed me with a TBI and by the cognitive therapist who treated me. Also, my therapist – he continually reminds me that my brain has been rewired.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Definitely my home life has been affected. I rely on my husband to do much of the “heavy” lifting, like cooking, grocery shopping, and driving, because I am easily distracted.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Absolutely. I do not socialize as much as I did before my injury because it doesn’t take much for me to become fatigued.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my own main caregiver, though my husband does much of the cooking. I do not know what it takes to be a caregiver, though my father is living with Alzheimer’s, and I help out as much as I can.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
Writing and traveling
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 wish I understood much earlier the truth about TBIs before I re-entered the workplace and had to face the threat of being fired. For example, I wish someone had warned me that I might have actually suffered a TBI, and that the initial presentation of milder injuries does not mean the consequences are mild.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Persevere. Try not to compare yourself to non-brain injured individuals – you’ll only get frustrated. Pay attention to what your body and brain are telling you, and give yourself permission to take naps. Exercise your brain, in moderation, by doing crossword puzzles or learning a new skill. Whatever you accomplish, even if it’s getting out of bed by 7:00 am, is an accomplishment.
Melissa is the author of “Invisible Bruise,” published in Chicken Soup for the Soul: Recovering from Traumatic Brain Injuries.
To learn more about Melissa, please visit her website/blog at Melissa Cronin.
Thank you, Melissa, 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.)
(Photos compliments of Melissa.)
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI Survivor Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.