SPEAK OUT! – Tracy Johnson
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)
Hogansville, Georgia, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
November 18, 1990 Age 20
4. How did your TBI occur?
Motor vehicle accident
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
It was noticed that I had a problem as I was slowly coming out of my coma. From then on, it was noticed daily.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was life-flighted to the trauma center at Georgia Baptist Medical Hospital, which is now Atlanta Medical Center. The life-flight EMTs (emergency medical technicians) performed a tracheostomy. As they arrived, I was hanging outside the driver’s door having seizures, with lots of blood coming out of my mouth due to a busted spleen and a lacerated liver. At the trauma center, I received 37 pints of blood. Mom stopped asking about me after this because the situation looked grim. I even had docs (twelve of them) telling my mom there was nothing else they could do. They even made her sign some documents to this effect. On top of all the blood loss and trauma, I developed a bleeding stomach ulcer and required a PPI drip (proton-pump inhibitor). I had severely bruised my heart. My brain swelled to where my ears were set two inches deep within the swelling. The steering wheel had broken and jammed my front teeth up into my gums. My top teeth bit through my lower gums, so stitches were required. I had emergency surgery to my legs. I had broken my left hip. Three screws were required. (It healed, but at 23, I had to have a left hip replacement due to the dying of the blood vessel to the femur head.) My left femur was repaired (a rod was put in). It had also ripped through the skin. I had a left pelvic fracture. My left knee was broken in three places and required three screws. My left tibia and fibula were broken, but they’re okay now. My right knee was broken in four places. It was thought it may have been crushed, but an Emory specialist was able to save it. However, right knee arthroscopy a year ago yielded no good results, so I’m waiting for right knee replacement.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. I was in a coma for five and a half weeks. I was on a breathing machine for four weeks. My heart stopped at the scene of the accident due to all the trauma my body was already in, but drugs were used to restart it.
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 rehab as an outpatient because my mother refused to let me go and stay at the Shepherd Center in Atlanta. I can’t remember how long I was at Georgia Baptist’s physical therapy. I know my mother was busy working at the time. This rehabilitation was for my multiple lower broken extremities, pelvis, and left hip. Nobody cared about the injury to my brain, except for me. And, I have just found my fellow sister and brother survivors via the Brain Injury Network. Praise God! 😉
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I had a problem with all my memory at first, but the doctors said I would remember as my life took place. I had just given birth to my one and only child not even a month before my accident, and I know he belonged to me because this is what my family told me. Today he is 24, and I am 43. Our relationship has always been as “best friends” since my accident. My family often spoke of my deficits and of my inability to raise a child. My memory has greatly improved over the years. I repeated myself continuously, and I still do to this day. My emotions are all out of whack – I feel too happy, too sad, or too mad. I’ve been told by physicians that I am called a cycling bipolar manic depressive. But, I never knew a day of depression until I started being prescribed drugs. My anger goes to extremes. I guess it has something to do with growing up with a violent, alcoholic father and two brothers older than I. Hence, it was suggested that I was suffering from being left behind and of being deprived of parental love. My dad chased us around with shotguns. He beat my mom and brothers. He would point and shoot guns all the time. Oh yeah, I would be noticed and would be told to run and hide. My dad was always damaging things, causing me to have PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) along with the PTSD I already had from the auto accident. I also have PTSD from a carjacking and kidnapping/rape back in 2005, due to my being too trusting. Now it leads me not to trust anyone and to be very suspicious. I walk with a limp, due to one hip replacement and worn out right knee. I’m beginning to be aphasic in speech and can’t deliver my thoughts into the proper wording.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I feel my life is better because I was very judgmental. Having this injury occur and being out of this world for that length of time made me realize that the world keeps spinning around and people go on with their lives whether you’re here or not. Jeez, I was naïve. I now know that one’s life and recovery is what that person makes of it – NO ONE else. After the accident, I was, by the grace of God, very compassionate, nonjudgmental, and indeed touched by an Angel.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
I miss the ability to think cognitively. I miss my memory. I only remember bits and pieces from my early childhood and preteen years. I don’t have much memory of my high school years – I guess because those memories were made so close to my coma days. (I was in high school from ages 16 to 19.) I guess as I’m thinking this through now, my traumatic dysfunctional childhood explains my issues with anger.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I like having the ability of not staying angry at someone for long, having the ability to forgive easily, and being able to experience things (always) as though they are the first experiences. Some of the learned knowledge of first experiences can lead to better outcomes, like relationships.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I can no longer think cognitively or remember as I did before. Oh, and almost all people have trouble relating. For example, people sometimes say I am making up my injury and symptoms, or I use it as an excuse.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
I have been helped by my belief that Jesus Christ died on the cross for me. That is the gift of Grace from my heavenly Father above.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Yes, oh yes! It has caused distrust, dishonesty, and fighting. It has broken some of my most meaningful, close family relations to where I know they still love me, but they feel they have to love me from a distance.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
I had friends, but they could not cope with such a tragic event happening so close to them, so they are not around anymore. I try to isolate myself now because I am rather paranoid of people and their motives.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My caregiver is my fiancé. I have been engaged for 7 years. Please don’t laugh – I just find it hard to trust anyone after being hurt by people time and time again, including my own mother. I know what is entailed in being the caregiver of someone with Alzheimer’s, as I, just this week, have made arrangements for my dad to go to a nursing home. I cared and assisted him for three years.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I stopped chemical prescription drug therapy, except for 1200 mg of a medicine for mental seizures until I can become part of protein therapy at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, 53 miles from where I live. I would like to help others. I want to devote my time to helping motivate others by decreasing the negativity in their lives, even if it is just one person. I want to find a way to counsel young folks. I want to transform their lives if their parents feel they are too busy with work or if their parents just didn’t have anyone in their lives to show or explain to them.
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.
To control my emotions, I had to learn, study, and meditate on the Word of God. In doing so, I realized there are no set rules for being a child of God or to be loved by God. We all walk different paths with different hurdles, and all sins are different because of such. Therefore, our Father in Heaven does not judge each of us to the same measure or degree. We are CHILDREN of God, and we are learning each and every day. So, unlike the legal system, we shall not be punished for NOT knowing something.
20. What advice would you offer to other TBI survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Be your own unique, strong self – the one who made you a survivor. Do not be too hard on yourself. Take each step in stride knowing Jesus walks right there beside you. Know that family and friends do not intentionally mean to shift blame by calling you names or cutting you down – it’s just their way, however, of dealing with an injury of such scope and magnitude to their loved one. Learn to laugh it off, and if you can’t laugh it off, well then, smile it off. Humor and inner peace are always the best medicine. Sorry, docs. 🙂
Thank you, Tracy, 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.)
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.
(Clip Art compliments of Tracy.)