Survivors SPEAK OUT! Hayley Nichols
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email (optional)
I live in Valparaiso, Indiana, USA. My accident occurred in Lafayette, Indiana.
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I had a traumatic brain injury (TBI) on November 16, 2014. I am 23 years old.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
Some background: I went home to Lafayette, Indiana, for my brother’s birthday dinner with my family on November 16. My brother does motocross as a hobby, and I had never been on a dirt bike before. So, that day I went for my first ride. We made it down the road, and then we wrecked. An eyewitness of our accident said that we were not speeding at all, but the bike started to teeter back and forth. My brother was able to dodge a mailbox. The bike then hit a drainpipe head in a ditch. The eyewitness said that the force propelled my brother and me ten to fifteen feet into the air. We were so high that we were in the tree branches before we landed on the ground.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
As a result of our possible head traumas, my brother and I were rushed to two different hospitals. My mom told me that it was horrible to have us separated but that one hospital wouldn’t be able to handle us if we both needed emergency surgery for head trauma.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I did not have any emergency surgery the day of the accident. I did have surgery to repair my nose. I hit my face so hard that my nose was completely flattened.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
I was not in a coma, but my mom told me I could only respond by moaning whenever a doctor or nurse performed a sternum rub. My mom told me that, after a few days went by, I was able to wiggle my toes and fingers. I was in the Intensive Care Unit for almost a week.
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 did rehab as an inpatient for about four weeks. I had occupational, physical, and speech therapies Monday through Friday. Once released from rehab, I had to continue therapy as an outpatient.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
When we had our accident, I landed on the left side of my body, so my left knee is always painful. I am able to walk on my own, and I am even driving. But, I only drive down the road – I haven’t been on the interstate yet. When I was first released from rehab, I had trouble with depth perception. I still have trouble with balance. One of the biggest problems that have resulted from my TBI would be dealing with personality changes. (I become upset easily. I could be crying my eyes out over something someone said to me, then five minutes later, be completely happy.)
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life has changed tremendously. A good thing that has resulted from the accident is that my family is much closer. The worst thing that has happened to me is that my entire memory of my life has been erased. I am now able to remember things if someone triggers the memory by a song or by giving pieces of the event. It is honestly scary not to recognize people whom I have known my whole life and who have known me. It is frustrating not to recognize people from school. I hate not remembering things that have occurred in my own life. The only way for me to learn about my life is through pictures. Sometimes, I feel like a stranger in my own life.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss being able to run outside. I love to do activities outside – like playing kickball with my family or walking my dog. I also used to be a cheerleader and a ballroom dancer. I don’t see myself being able to do those things anytime soon.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I appreciate life. I do not allow little things to bother me or make me upset. I pay attention to the tone I use when I say things and to the words I choose. I have had people in a joking manner say, “Your accident was months ago. Isn’t that memory-excuse getting old?” They say it in a joking way, and, in the context of the situation, it was not a direct attack. But, it was hurtful. My TBI is a silent disorder, just like PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), Alzheimer’s, depression, and so many others. I never want to offend anyone, so I have learned to be compassionate of anyone with any disorder.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
Memory loss is the worst outcome of my TBI. Some days, I look through pictures and feel like I’m looking at a stranger – and the girl in the picture is me. It’s an odd feeling to have everyone around you know more about you than you do.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Honestly, what works for me is to have a positive attitude and to be able to rise above the negative things people say. I am also helped by reading blogs online to learn how other TBI survivors live everyday life. My family has been my motivation to keep going.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
I live with my boyfriend, Travis, now that my family has allowed me to return to Valparaiso. He is my primary caregiver. He does everything for me. He is my whole world. He drives me to my doctors’ appointments, to therapy, and to school, and he even helps me with my homework. I would not be able to go back to school or even try to get back to a normal life without him. My mother and I are very close, and my accident brought us even closer. She helps me calm down when I get upset and frustrated. She is a great listener, even when I call to tell her the same story for the third time in the same day. My mother is a hospice nurse. Her background and experience working with patients who need her to do everything have helped her to help me. My mother has a positive attitude, even when I say I can’t do something. She says, “Not yet, but you can do….” She will then list all the things that I have learned to do again.
My friends are wonderful. But, I would love for them not to be so protective of me nor to change plans because they think that I can’t do something. I want to try and be normal like them. If I can’t do it, I just think, “I know they mean well. I think they need more time to get used to it all.”
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My main caregiver is my boyfriend. I live with him, so he helps me get to school and to doctors’ appointments. Travis is my everything. He has made possible going back to living my old life. My mom is also my caregiver. She helps me with all of my doctors’ appointments and life-decisions. She and Travis work as a team to help me.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
My future plans began with graduating in May from Purdue North Central with a bachelor’s degree in Biology. Ten years from now, I plan to attend veterinary school.
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 survivors with your specific kind of brain injury.
Don’t become overwhelmed with your current state. Don’t be afraid of the future. No doctor has all the answers, so don’t become discouraged if he or she can’t understand your TBI. No TBI is the same. Have faith.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Talk to those around you. Education about TBI to those who don’t understand will help spread the knowledge. Also, not being afraid to explain your TBI will help those around you understand and help you.
(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.
(Photos compliments of Hayley Nichols.)
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