Survivors SPEAK OUT! Bonnie Weikel
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)
New Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, USA
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
I was 47. My brain hemorrhage was in 2004.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I had a subarachnoid hemorrhage (blood leaking into the space between two of the membranes that surround the brain; mine was from a ruptured brain aneurysm). I always like saying the correct medical terminology because I can actually remember how to spell it. For the majority of the time, I refer to it as “My head blowing up.” I also had a stroke during my craniotomy.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I was aware of my problems after I woke up from surgery. (The doctor wasn’t able to guarantee what kind of shape I would be in if I survived the surgery.)
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
First, the hospital ruled out a stroke, and, because I complained of “the headache from hell,” they did a CT (computerized tomography) scan and found the bleed on my brain. They packed me up and transported me to Allegheny General Hospital in Pittsburgh, where I had my brain surgery done.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
No, thank God. I recognized everyone when I came out of surgery. I just couldn’t remember who was there to visit from one minute to the next. My daughter took pictures of me with everyone who came to see me.
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 in inpatient therapy for a month and then in outpatient therapy for about five weeks. I had to learn to do everything all over again – starting with feeding and dressing myself.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have short-term memory loss and issues with balance, vision, and hearing. I have worked very hard over the past ten years to get to where I am today, and I did it all by myself.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life has changed dramatically. It is better. I love the “new” me much better than the old version. I also found out who my true friends are.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I did lose one thing I used to love to do. I used to sew for hours. I had my own sewing business. I made anything from window treatments to wedding gowns, and I was good at it. I lost all desire to sew; it is no longer something I love to do. It is more of a chore.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I like that I am back in school. I am taking college courses online. It is the biggest challenge I have taken on since the TBI (traumatic brain injury).
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I have an invisible disability, and some people think I am faking it and living off the system.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Yes. Changing my attitude about people and life in general has helped. One day, I decided I could sit and cry for the rest of my life about all that I have lost, or I could be happy with my new life and live it.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My home life has been affected, but in a positive way.
I take pride in myself and in my accomplishments. Relationship-wise, it’s been a curse.
I haven’t been able to find people who can deal with my issues because they just do not understand. I am thankful they don’t understand how life is for a TBI survivor because, if they did, it would mean they also suffered a TBI. (The only way anyone can truly understand what life is like for a survivor is to live it themselves.)
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Yes. My social life has changed a lot. During the first year, I found out who my real friends are. Now I have a small circle of friends who I know I can trust. I go out dancing once a week with friends. I do this because I still can.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
After living with my daughter for about a year, I am now on my own. I do everything myself – I am even back to driving. I will say this much: I thank God for my GPS! Ha, Ha! Yes, I understand what it is to be a caregiver, and it takes a special kind of patience for a caregiver of someone with a TBI.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I am working on a Communications degree and changing to Community Service and Social Work. My goal is to work with other survivors as a life-coach/advocate. I am getting better grades now than I ever did in high school. I can only handle two classes a semester, so it will take twice as long as normal to get my degree. But, I will see it through to the end.
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.
It didn’t take me as long as it does for some others, but learning to love your new self and accept your new life is, I believe, the secret to moving on. Love and acceptance of yourself is the base you can grow from.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I highly recommend that brain-injury survivors seek out other survivors. It was such an awesome feeling the first time I spoke to someone who “Gets it.” It was like someone turned my light back on. I felt free and almost normal again. I was no longer alone. I have a motto I live by. It was written from one of the first survivors I met – in a Yahoo health and wellness chatroom. I think he went by “Rhino.” Anyway, here it is. “Mourn what you lost. Use what you have. Anyone can quit.” My strongest advice to other survivors is “NEVER GIVE UP!”
If you would like to be a part of the SPEAK OUT! project, please go to TBI SPEAK OUT! Survivors Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
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