Survivors SPEAK OUT! Alan Gregory
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)
Charlevoix, Michigan, USA firstname.lastname@example.org
3. On what date did you have your brain injury? At what age?
January 5, 2016 I was 52 at the time.
4. How did your brain injury occur?
I slipped on ice in our driveway while going to move my wife’s car. I had just gotten home from work on a Friday evening, and I went to get into her car. I stepped on a patch of ice and flew up into the air, landed on my back, and then hit the back of my head on the concrete. I still remember that awful “Crunch” sound.
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I had suffered a concussion when I was hit in the head by a softball while coaching, so I knew the symptoms and the feeling. My wife is a Registered Nurse, so she knew I had to rest, and she kept checking on me all the time. After a trip to the Emergency Room, I expected the symptoms to go away in a few days or so. The ER doctor said I would be OK in a week at most. I returned to work on Wednesday (four days after the fall happened) because I had so much work to do in my job.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I went to the Emergency Room at the time of my fall. I was released with orders to just rest for a few days and stay in dark, quiet areas. That was my treatment … nothing else.
7. Were you in a coma? If so, how long?
No. I was only knocked out for a second or two.
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 outpatient rehab at New Approaches Center. I had physical therapy, occupational therapy, speech therapy, and cognitive therapy. I was at New Approaches as a patient for almost a year, with visits three times/week.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
I have a balance problem, which is even worse when I “crash.” In the beginning, my crashes would happen randomly, and I would get severe dizziness, nausea, and confusion. Over time, these episodes started to spread apart, and now they hit when I am fatigued or overstimulated – usually 3-4 times/week at least. When I crash, my wife helps me into bed, and I usually nap two to three hours. Sometime, I wake up and feel good to go; sometimes, I am still very listless, and my brain feels like it is operating at about 20% at best.
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
Ha! Does anyone every answer “No”? Yes – life has changed dramatically! There are lots of adjustments and lots of compromises, but we do what we can do. First of all, I lost my job after 30 years with the same company. What really ticks me off about that is that I worked at home (company laptop) for five months after my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I tried to return to work, but the lights and general office-noise just hit me hard, and twice they found me on the floor throwing up. After that, I was told not to come back until I had a “clean bill of health from a doctor.” Yeah, right! I would work as long as I could on the laptop (30-40 mins at first) and then go lie down in dark and quiet. I would then come back later and try some more work. I was able to keep things going and get my reports out on time. I even helped do the monthly closing for each month, and I got things done in a timely manner. Sometimes I would work until I threw up, rest for a while, and then come back for more. I did everything I could and was assured by Human Resources that my job was safe. I asked about coming back part-time (as my doctor recommended) or even about working with no bright lights or noise, but I was told the company did not do that! So, I hit the 6-month mark from the date of my last work day IN the office (not counting my work at home – since I was told that “no one asked me to do that”), and they put me on disability. I was told I had 6 months from that date and I would be released. I was improving, but at a relatively slow pace. I could come back and try full-time – something every doctor and therapist said was a bad idea. But, if I did that, I lost all disability claims for the future. So, they let me go and dropped my insurance, and that was it.
My life may have changed for the better. I think I am a much more patient and caring person NOW. I stop and think about how people might be feeling and how I can help in some way. I am not stressed-out like I was because of my job … but my family has struggled financially from my losing my job. Life is different. I struggle to move on totally, as I still have a lot of deep-seated issues with people who did not help me at my former employer and with “friends” (at least I thought they were) who have nothing to do with me after my TBI. That is probably the next biggest thing – how people treat me or avoid me. Why? What did I do? You think I like being this way? I wish I could go back to work.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss my pre-TBI energy level … I felt like I could work hard for 9-10 hours in my job and then come home and help around the house. Now, I have to watch what I do and know that I may crash later.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I like having more time with my family. My get-so-caught-up-in making a living and doing my job meant that life just got away from us sometimes. It has been nice to get to spend more time with my wife and my boys – even though one is now in the Army. I feel like we have a better relationship.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I used to consider myself smart and very good at my job. I was an accountant, and I worked for years to get to where I was. I went to night-school for over ten years to finish up my Bachelor’s Degree, and I was three classes into my Master’s schedule. I had a 3.98 GPA when I fell.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Reading books from people like Amy Zellmer and so many other wonderful people helped me to know that I was not alone. But, joining Facebook groups like Amy’s “TBI Tribe” really helped so much. I get to talk to people, and I always get their suggestions and ideas on things to do. Dr. Glenn Johnson and all the therapists at New Approaches helped me so much.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Of course. My TBI has changed the way my wife and I do things – simple things, like mowing the grass or shoveling snow. I have to watch what I do and be honest with myself on how I feel. I do think the TBI has made me open and easy to talk with.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Yes. We go out with a very small group of friends, and we had to prepare them in case I crash. They have all witnessed it now, and some are very helpful. Some also just kind of back-off. I am 6’2”, and my wife is only 5’2”, so she sometimes needs some help with me.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
My wife is my main caregiver. She is amazing, and I would be lost without her love and support. She is my rock. I know the things to do as a caregiver, but I also know how hard it can be.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
I take things more as one day, or maybe a few days, at a time now. I am much more flexible, and I do what I can each day. I hope I am still improving and helping others in ten years.
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.
BE PATIENT, so give yourself time. Learning to live with a TBI takes a while … not days or weeks … but longer. Love each other.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
My advice is to not take personally the actions of others, but it’s easier said than done. I still feel bad that people whom I called close friends treated me like I had the plague after my fall. But, they just don’t get it. WE do! So, look to people who really understand and get it.
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