Survivors SPEAK OUT! Gail Waitkun
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)
Portland, Maine, U.S.A.
3. On what date did you have your brain injury?
February 25, 2015
At what age?
4. How did your brain injury occur?
It was the tipping point of twelve head injuries incurred over my life. The first eleven were sports-related; the last was a seemingly innocuous jolt of my head (whiplash).
5. When did you (or someone) first realize you had a problem?
I realized I had a problem soon after my accident, although I drove home. The desk manager at the car repair place suggested I be seen by a doctor. I did not think I was acting any differently … but, apparently, she did. I then decided I should probably go to the hospital. I lived alone, and there was no one to assist me.
6. What kind of emergency treatment, if any, did you have?
I was seen at Mercy hospital where I was given an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) and diagnosed with a grade 3 concussion. (A severe concussion, lasting longer with greater impact. A grade 3 concussion is generally considered the most severe of this type of traumatic brain injury.) There was no treatment. I was actually allowed to leave and drive myself home!
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 initial evaluations/meetings and perhaps four weeks of testing and rehab. There were an occupational therapist, a physical therapist, and a neuropsychiatrist. I did not meet with any one of them more than three or four times. As my insurance time was dependent upon my schooling participation (I was completing a nursing degree), I had only the time afforded by my contract.
9. What problems or disabilities, if any, resulted from your brain injury (e.g., balance, perception, personality, etc.)?
The following is edited information taken from my book: Heal Your TBI.
- Altered sense of smell
- Altered taste
- Anxiety; feeling “hot-wired” comes and goes
- Balance problems
- Body temperature fluctuation (too hot, too cold)
- Difficulty with conversations (hard to follow, respond in the moment, or connect thoughts and ideas)
- Difficulty focusing on a single task
- Eye problems, blurred vision, floaters, changes in vision, light sensitivity, night vision challenges
- Highly emotional
- Inactivity, lethargy, no energy
- Isolation (self-imposed)
- Lost career and relationships
- Loss of smell (I did not realize to what extent this was for me until I was tested.)
- Loss of taste (I did not realize to what extent this was for me until I was tested.)
- Hypersensitive to hyper-stimulation
- Impulsive; saying whatever comes into my mind
- Inability to drive
- Loss in confidence
- Memory problems
- Overstimulated; can’t fall asleep
- Pain (unexplained)
- Personality changes; cranky, sad, depressed, angry, craving solitude (not normal)
- Problems in judgement
- Peripheral vision problems
- Sleep issues; sleeping constantly on and off, difficulty staying asleep, restlessness, baddreams
- Sleepy – off and on throughout the day
- Stuttering and slurred speech
- Trouble holding onto new information
- Trouble making or holding eye contact whenspeaking
- Trouble remembering important daily information (e.g., if I paid a bill)
- Weight gain, change in the brain and gut connection
- Errors in writing things, spelling issues, mathissues/executive functioning skills compromised
10. How has your life changed? Is it better? Is it worse?
My life is better. It has been enhanced by my brain injury and the necessary steps I had to take to move forward. My life has changed, as now I feel a sense of purpose and I have been given a gift of service. There is much to be done in this area.
11. What do you miss the most from your pre-brain-injury life?
I miss my ability to process information quickly – thinking and responding in the moment. However, this improves with every opportunity I have to interact.
12. What do you enjoy most in your post-brain-injury life?
I enjoy my newly acquired purpose, commitment, and confidence; an ability to persevere without caring about what other people think; my newfound knowledge; and an ability to help others.
13. What do you like least about your brain injury?
I dislike my injury, but my subsequent challenges were a gift.
14. Has anything helped you to accept your brain injury?
Yes. Important were my attitude and my mindset about what my brain injury has presented in the form of an opportunity to help initiate important changes.
15. Has your injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
My brain injury has absolutely affected relationships! It has enhanced many relationships and has helped “separate the wheat from the chaff.” As with all significant life-events, my injury has a way of helping me see things more clearly. This will happen for you if you are open to accepting the changes and using your creativity and appreciation for the opportunities these events offer.
16. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
My social life was indeed changed as I lost my ability to remain on my planned path. Those individuals in my profession carried on … as they should have. As they were involved in a career that was particularly constraining in allowing them to have a social life outside of their colleagues and career, I fell out of touch with them. Now, I have developed new interests and goals. This new career path has placed me in the company of others who are on a similar path – one that assists those who are in need. So my circle of friends has expanded in a wonderful and fulfilling way. The “old” friends are still there … but they are not actively present in my life.
17. Who is your main caregiver? Do you understand what it takes to be a caregiver?
I am my main caregiver. I do understand what caregiving requires. I have written two books to help others so that they don’t need to take six years to experience improvements.
18. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
My plans are to continue writing, to develop tools that will assist the brain injured, and to speak publically to those directly involved with diagnosing brain injuries and to those who care for the brain injured and/or are in contact with them. I plan on reaching them through my writings, speaking engagements, and coaching. I intend on having facilities with an established universal protocol for helping those in need. They will be specifically for the recovery of brain injured athletes.
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.
Yes! Get a qEEG read with the LORETA method. (Electroencephalography <EEG> is the measurement of electrical patterns at the surface of the scalp which reflect cortical activity, and are commonly referred to as “brainwaves.” Quantitative EEG <qEEG> is the analysis of the digitized EEG, and in lay terms this sometimes is also called “Brain Mapping.” The LORETA method <LOw-Resolution Electromagnetic Tomography Analysis> is a relatively new method for localizing the electric activity in the brain based on scalp potentials from multiple channel EEG recordings.) Do neurofeedback as designed by the results of that test administered by a qualified individual. Get a complete body scan (MRI) after an accident to insure the compromised areas that you may not be aware of because of your brain’s inability to serve you. Hire a coach who specializes in brain injury … especially someone who has gone through the process firsthand … as he or she will really know what is happening and what needs to be done in order to help.
20. What advice would you offer to other brain-injury survivors? Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
I would like those of you who are challenged by a brain injury to know that the body is geared to total wellness … and, when provided the opportunity, can recover completely. Mindset is key, as is a team of people who can support you in your recovery. Isolation is deadly and will not help. It is best to allow yourself to be open to those who are willing to help and to know that, although those individuals may not totally understand all the time, their willingness to help and, most especially, their love can be the most powerful of all therapies and medicines.
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