Survivors SPEAK OUT! Jo Dalton
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)
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
4. How did your brain injury occur?
Traffic accident – head-on collision at 50 mph
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
My car was smashed up, and it was obvious that I was injured. My husband was driving his car behind me and was terrified that I was dead.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was helicoptered to the Emergency Room. I became very agitated, and it took three men to get me into the helicopter.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
Yes. Around 45 minutes
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 was released from the hospital after five weeks: three weeks in one hospital and two weeks in another. I remember very little of it. My physical therapy was five weeks with a couple of “islands of memory.” I had some neuropsychology, although I don’t remember it. At the second hospital, I believe I had some physiotherapy. At two months post TBI (traumatic brain injury), I saw the treating-neurologist from the first hospital. That doctor said that I “could go back to work and forget all about it”! The treating-doctor from the second hospital saw me as an outpatient, and she was not happy. She organized six neuropsychology appointments for me. That was the only rehab I had.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
Initially, I had phobias about closed doors and the dark. My balance was a little out. I was told by one psychiatrist that my personality caused depression and insomnia; by another, that if I was tired, I would sleep. I found it incredibly hard to teach – I had forgotten everything I learned in college and in five years of teaching. I felt I had lost my identity. I was assessed by a neuropsychologist recently. I was told that I am slow to respond, that I have aphasia, that I get tired very quickly, and that I don’t deal well with stress.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
I was an ambitious, full-time, Primary School teacher. I loved my job, and I was studying for a Master’s Degree in Education to achieve promotion. Because of my brain injury, it was impossible to continue either. I was confident and outgoing. I was enjoying living in a new country (I’m English, and I wanted some experience abroad). My life has changed entirely, but not all for the bad. I appreciate the small things in life (for example, fresh air, my dogs, reading (though it’s harder now to concentrate), clean bedding, and the beauty of nature (quite easy to appreciate here in Switzerland!). I also appreciate my friends and see the importance of supporting other people.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss quite a lot really! I miss the ambition and energy that I had, the love of my job, and my independence.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy getting outside with my dogs, exercising, and being involved in forums to help TBI survivors.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike the fact that I am slow; that I have insomnia and depression, for which I’ve been taking benzodiazepines and antidepressants on and off for the last sixteen years; and the inability to have children unaided – my periods stopped and have only restarted since I stopped work. I’ve miscarried five times – presumably due to stress. I wanted to have two children, but I am lucky to have the one daughter whom I do have.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Time! To me, it’s the biggest healer. Time passing has put things into perspective and allowed me to accept that I cannot have my life back as it was. But, there are other things I can do. I am currently in the process of making a claim for help from the state, and if I receive an allowance, I would like to work with just one dyslexic student.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Thankfully, I am extremely lucky to have a supportive husband and family. I found out who my true friends are, and I am lucky that they have been so much help. The ones who weren’t were clearly not really friends.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
For the first five or six years after the accident, I didn’t really have a social life – talking to more than one person was impossible. I became tired very quickly and had to leave, straight away. I was not keen to have too much noise around me. I spent quite a lot of time watching films in my apartment, as I was not keen on going out during the day. I live in a French-speaking area and lost a lot of confidence with language. In the last two years, I’ve rediscovered the need for a social life. I go out a couple of times a month, easier since I stopped work after a seizure in September 2015.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My husband is my main caregiver. We are both currently coming to terms with what this has meant for both of us at different stages in my recovery. He is now seeing a psychologist to give him some direction and help.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I would like to be doing dyslexia tutoring on a small scale, raising awareness of TBI by talking in schools, and perhaps doing some voluntary work.
18. 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.
As a survivor, you need to educate yourself, accept that recovery is a long, long haul, and find online support. We are talking years of recovery. And, hard as it is to hear, it is very unlikely that you will get back to how you were. On the other hand, the strength you gain from dealing with life after a brain injury is enormous and empowering. I would also say that you shouldn’t accept what every doctor tells you. Very few “get” brain injury, and you must not allow anyone to make you feel that it’s your fault in some way.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
See my answer above. Also, know that [time] + [acceptance] = [ease in life]. Oh, and don’t push yourself too far, too fast. It doesn’t produce good results, as I’ve discovered!
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.
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(Photos compliments of contributor.)
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