Survivors SPEAK OUT! . . . . . Michelle
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
Goldsboro, North Carolina, USA
3. When did you have your TBI? At what age?
A stroke occurred on March 31, 2011. I was 39 years old.
4. How did your TBI occur?
I had a stroke from a ruptured brain aneurysm on the right internal carotid artery.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I had been battling a persistent migraine for days. I knew that something wasn’t right that morning. I woke up with a stiff neck that I attributed to tension. I later learned that this is actually a symptom of a ruptured aneurysm. At any rate, I was taken to the hospital when I felt something “pop” in my head. This was just prior to lunchtime that day.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
After a CAT scan (CT scan, computerized tomography), I was transferred by ambulance to the larger hospital at the University of North Carolina. In total, while I was hospitalized, I had two arteriograms; the aneurysm was treated by endovascular coiling; a drainage tube was placed in my head; and I was given various IVs.
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 three weeks of inpatient rehab, consisting of physical, occupational, speech, and recreational therapies. I also had three weeks of occupational, physical, and speech therapies as an outpatient.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your TBI (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have several issues – balance, personality changes, extreme short-term memory loss, weakness in my right arm, weakness in both legs, mood swings, insomnia, anxiety (especially socially), chronic fatigue, and an increased frequency of headaches and migraines. I have also lost my verbal filter. I say whatever comes to my mind – good, bad, or indifferent.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I hesitate to call my life better or worse. It’s different. My judgment depends on my mood. I would say worse, but there’s a part of me that feels and believes genuine goodness will come from this struggle. My station in life is worse. I’ve lost my job, my home, and a number of my friends, and I ended up selling everything I own to live with family in another city. At the same time, I have developed such a genuine appreciation for the things in life that really matter. I have a level of compassion that was totally absent before. This is better than old me.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-TBI life?
I miss being able to socialize or to join in with a crowd and have no problems. In my pre-TBI life, I was in a position of authority and respect in my company. I worked directly with the VP and department heads. I was respected and well-liked. I felt a great sense of pride in the work I did and in supporting the mission of my company. I miss that feeling of importance and respect.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-TBI life?
I enjoy sharing my story with others. Many people tell me that I inspire them, which I always find surprising, as all I did was manage to live. But knowing that others are inspired because of something I said or did – that is my joy now.
13. What do you like least about your TBI?
I hate how dumb I feel sometimes – like when I just had something in my hand, set it down, and then can’t find it. I hate the short-term memory problems and the fatigue. The fatigue interrupts my ability to live a rewarding life on a large scale.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your TBI?
Going back to the early days of my recovery, I remember that thousands of people were praying for me even though I, myself, had lost my faith years earlier. Knowing in my heart that it was the intercessory prayers of all those believers that pulled me through – that is what has helped me accept the TBI.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
The romantic relationship I was in at the time of the incident ended shortly after by his choice. I have dated since then, but I find it challenging – probably mostly because I’m self-conscious. Also, if the person didn’t know me before, then I appear to be pretty air-headed. I sometimes found myself becoming irritated with the person in general and needing a lot more alone-time. I am not living with family for the first time in over twenty years. My relationship with my oldest daughter is strained, due to conflicts we had early on in which I told her, “I should have just died,” and she screamed, “Fuck you!” at me. So I kicked her out of my house at 18 years old. We are still not on regular speaking terms.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
My social life has been altered in a big way. I lost probably half of the friends I socialized with. They kind of just bowed out because I wasn’t too much fun anymore. When I do socialize now, it’s with a few close friends, usually at someone’s home for dinner. I’m almost always the first one to leave because I can only stand so much socializing before I have to shut down.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my own caregiver. In the initial days, my caregiver was a sister. However, she lives in a different state. She stayed with me for six weeks, and then she headed home. It seemed all was fine for a few months with me as my own caregiver. But slowly, over time, I began to realize that I was flailing (for lack of a better term). Today I live with my mom and dad, and we take care of each other. Mom is aging, so she can’t do a lot, but she does try. And it’s helpful just to have someone else writing the checks to pay the bills.
18. What are your future plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
In the future, I would really like to be a patient advocate. I don’t even know how to go about getting into that type of field, but I found that I NEEDED that, and it wasn’t available to me. Nobody should have to navigate the quagmire of doctor appointments, insurance claims, insurance denials, applying for charity to help pay for long hospital stays, etc. without an advocate – especially not someone with brain damage.
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.
Be kind to yourself. Resist the urge to make everything go back to normal. “Normal” is wherever you are at right now. Give time a chance to work its magic, and it will.
See above. And get a smartphone if you can. =)
Thank you, Michelle, 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 Bing.)