TBI – Survivors, Caregivers, Family, and Friends

Posts tagged ‘David Figurski Ph.D’

TBI Tales . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . They Meant Well, But I Knew Better

They Meant Well, But I Knew Better

by

David Figurski

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

 

David Figurski, PhD Brain Injury Survivor

 

 

Close friends of Donna and me, with whom we have a deep mutual affection, thought I needed some advice on my ongoing recovery from my traumatic brain injury (TBI). I know our friends care about me, so their words were well-meaning – but I have to admit their comments stung quite a bit. I’m sure they didn’t want to upset me. They think they know me, but, in ignoring my nearly compulsive commitment to getting better, they got me totally wrong. They also had no idea that what they thought to be helpful advice was completely unwarranted because it was based on my own deliberately artificial impression. Let me explain.

Our friends’ advice did not come from an ignorance of brain injury, as their daughter had a nearly lethal brain-bleed eight years ago. The daughter and I are both fortunate to have fully retained our cognitive functions, but we both exhibit physical disabilities. Some of her problems are similar to mine. The advice actually began with the daughter describing some positive experiences that led to a lessening of her disabilities – but then the discussion turned into advice for me.

One piece of advice that disturbed me was that our friends and their daughter think I don’t challenge myself enough. I don’t regard myself as a slacker, nor has anyone ever referred to me as one. Here’s where they got me wrong: I always try to do better at whatever I’m doing. In fact, it was my challenging myself that caused my brain hemorrhage in the first place. Every morning, I did tai chi and chin-ups. I had worked up to twelve chin-ups. The next day, my attempt to do thirteen caused my cerebellum to bleed and put me into a coma.

After surviving my TBI fifteen years ago, I continued to push myself as hard as I did before my TBI to improve in the shortest possible time. I currently do exercises to improve my balance, build strength, and help my eye muscles (I see double) six days a week. Three of those days, I also ride my recumbent trike (15 miles each time I ride – about two hours). On two of the non-riding days, I use the treadmill for 45 minutes. (I was riding 25 miles a day and using the treadmill for 60 minutes, but Donna worried I was pushing too hard and talked me down.) By the time I get ready, do my workout, and then shower and get dressed, six or seven hours have elapsed. My normal day begins after 2:00, sometimes after 3:00.

IMG_2935

David exercising on his Catrike recumbent trike (and showing off my book, Prisoners without Bars: A Caregiver’s Tale)

I keep my weight down, and I work constantly to improve my posture because I know that both weight and posture affect balance. Also, to improve my brain’s ability to control my balance, I try not to brace myself with my hands. Even when I appear to be sitting calmly, I’m likely to be working. The brain hemorrhage affected the tendons in my neck, and my head tilts. To keep it straight, I have to work against my tendons. Hopefully, this will get easier, but it will take more years.

Our friends don’t really know any of this about me.

 

David Alinker IMG_4470

David exercising on his Alinker

 

 

When the father assists me outside, he deliberately increases the challenge to me. I do it, and would never say I can’t (My self-esteem has already taken a big hit), but I know I couldn’t maintain that effort indefinitely. (On the other hand, Donna is an incredible help to me. She knows when to assist me to make my life possible and when to challenge me.)

I think the father assumes that I can improve my balance like his daughter did. What he doesn’t realize is that my hemorrhage began in my cerebellum, which controls my balance. So, my brain’s mechanism for controlling balance has been disrupted. His daughter doesn’t have my severe balance problem, so her brain’s mechanism for controlling balance appears to be functioning. Her problem may have been a signaling issue.

It was surprising to hear that kind of advice from the daughter. We are fond of each other, and we have mutual empathy. It’s clear that the differences in our disabilities indicate an obvious fact: that different parts of our brains are affected. Thankfully, she doesn’t have all the problems I have. (For example, her vision is fine, and she is able to drive.) Her balance was affected, but fortunately, she can walk outside, including on grass, dirt, sand, or gravel. In contrast, my balance issue makes it impossible for me to walk unassisted anywhere outside, even on sidewalks because of their slight irregularities.

I am immensely thankful that that the daughter has none of the other problems that I have – double vision (which I mentioned), less feeling in my right leg, a swallow problem, a less coordinated tongue that makes chewing hazardous, a urinary frequency problem, extreme difficulty standing after sitting a while, an ataxic right arm, left hand and fingers that aren’t as good as they used to be, and paralysis on the right side of my face. I used to race cars, but now I can’t drive at all.

The daughter said her balance was improved rapidly by allowing herself to fall and learning the point at which that would happen. I do that when I’m near the bed, where I know I can fall safely. I’m reminded of race drivers who learned the limit of a turn by driving so fast that they would go off the course. That is one strategy for learning, but I chose another: to drive to the point I was scared I wouldn’t keep the car on the track. I learned that, even though it was scary, I was able to drive through the turn faster than I used to. (Incidentally, I was rarely passed by a driver from the other group.) Falling worked for the daughter, but it’s not the only way to improve. I use another, equally effective, method.

My second point illustrates another reason why our friends’ advice was incorrect: What I allow our friends to see does not reflect my life at all. Their error was to assume that it does.

Donna constantly offers to help me, and she doesn’t like to see me struggle. We discussed how I need to do things myself. My efforts take much longer than they did before my TBI, but doing them myself is good for my recovery and my self-esteem. Donna has since achieved a nice balance. She reluctantly lets me struggle and only assists when I ask for help.

At home, I do whatever I can physically, including making the bed every morning, doing the laundry, cleaning up after dinner every night, and loading and unloading the dishwasher. In fact, every movement I make is excellent therapy.

When we visit friends or when we go to parties, people see a very different version of me. I use a cane and take small steps to ensure I walk in a straight line and don’t bump the walls. Our friends would freak out if I they saw me pushing the envelope like I do at home! I let Donna help me or do things for me, not because I want her to wait on me, but because my instability would upset people and make them feel uncomfortable. Our friends are concerned because they constantly see me accepting Donna’s help.

They feel I’m not where I should be. They have erroneously assumed that I don’t work hard enough to improve myself. Their advice, while well-intentioned, is totally wrong. Given that I spend several hours each day working out, given that I believe everything I do is therapy and helps my recovery, and given that I accept Donna’s help to protect our friends from seeing my instability whenever I’m in their presence, “insufficient challenge” is an entirely misguided and utterly inappropriate concept to apply to me.

I would argue that, with all my disabilities, I’m actually doing much better than expected.

David Figurski, Ph.D.           Brain Injury Survivor of 15 years

David & Donna Dec 2019 Lupitas

Donna O’Donnell Figurski and David Figurski – 15 years post-Brain Injury for David

(Photos compliments of contributor.)

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So, Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . . . Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?

So, Whaddya Think?

Do Motorcycle Helmets Protect the Brain?

by

David H. Figurski, Ph.D

presented by

Donna O’Donnell Figurski

David H. Figurski, Ph.D. survivor of brain injury

Whether or not motorcycle helmets reduce head injuries is a topic that is highly controversial. Witness the fact that some states have motorcycle helmet laws while others don’t.

Clearly, helmets do not prevent all brain injuries. Former National Football League lineman George Visger (San Francisco 49ers), who’s a survivor of a football-induced brain injury, worries about the false sense of security that helmets can engender.  (Listen to minutes 12:00-14:00 of Donna’s August 16, 2015, interview of him.)

On the positive side, many people believe motorcycle helmets can reduce minor head injuries and thereby mitigate or even prevent some brain injuries. I am staunchly pro-helmet in my viewpoint, but I am also realistic about how protective a helmet actually is. Recently, I encountered someone who is an adamant proponent of the anti-helmet viewpoint. Here’s what happened.

Donna and I recently attended a lecture by Carrie Collins-Fadell, Executive Director of the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ), on the basics of brain injury and the work of the organization. At one point, I asked Carrie if BIAAZ had an official position on motorcycle helmet laws. (Arizona currently has no such law.) Given the current debate, her unsurprising answer was that it does not.

I’m a firm believer in helmets because one saved my face and possibly prevented a serious brain injury. I loved my bike, and, like most riders feel about their riding ability, I considered myself to be competent, alert, and safety-conscious. But, my bike was totaled in an accident that was not my fault.Vehicules-Moto-476361

As I rounded a bend in the Catskill Mountains of southern New York one Sunday morning, I encountered a massive oil spill that was left on the road by an emergency car repair. My tires lost their grip, my bike and I went down, and my bike ended up underneath on oncoming car. Fortunately, I was thrown from my bike and ended up down the road. (The hysterical driver thought I was still with my bike underneath her car.)

The point of this story is that I was wearing the best full-face helmet I could buy. I hit face-first. I know that because the chin-bar on my helmet was ground down from the road. Because of that helmet, I was able to walk away – although with some road-rash. I hate to think what would have happened to me if I had not been wearing that helmet.

CoolClips_vc040139I told Carrie that I was in favor of helmet laws. But, another member of the audience took issue with me and presented the opposing view. “The only reason I would wear a helmet is if a law required me to.” We had a short discussion about our opposing beliefs. There are valid arguments for both opinions, and I know much more could have been said. But, I was mindful of the time, and I suspected Carrie was eager to get back to her talk. (I know Donna was happy I ended quickly!)

Both of us made valid points. I’d like to address comments that were stated and what could have been said.

The audience-member argued that a helmet adds possibly dangerous weight to a rider’s head. This is a valid point.

Helmets can add up to 5 pounds to the head, and that extra weight can endanger the neck, with consequences for the brain and/or spine. (Professional race-drivers are well aware of this danger. I raced cars at the amateur level, and, again, I considered myself to be safety-conscious, although Donna thought that racing cars at all was a strange way to show it! Nevertheless, I was the first driver in the group to use a HANS device – a carbon-fiber collar that’s held tight by the safety harness. The point is that the weight of the head and helmet is somewhat counteracted by tethering the helmet to the device. There is evidence showing that the reduction in the number and/or force of head impacts by a HANS device is protective.)dk163

The audience-member also argued that a full-face helmet cuts down on peripheral vision.  I completely agree that good peripheral vision is really important for safe riding. I adamantly disagreed with the statement, however, that a full-face helmet interferes with peripheral vision, but I didn’t take the time to give my reasons for believing that way.

It’s true that old full-face helmets have small eye-ports and restrict peripheral vision. But, many modern full-face helmets have wide eye-ports so peripheral vision is not restricted. That was a consideration when I purchased my helmets for motorcycling and car racing.

Another point the audience-member made was that a helmet does nothing to protect the brain in a serious accident and, as was noted above, may make neck injury more likely. I agree that helmets are not protective in a major accident. I know of a rider who was killed while wearing a good helmet.

A helmet will not protect the brain in a catastrophic accident, but a helmet might reduce the severity of a brain injury in a minor accident. A slight impact of the head in a highly-cushioned helmet may lead to no brain injury at all or to a less severe brain injury. But, a slight impact of a helmetless head could lead to a serious brain injury or even be fatal.incident-clipart-accident

The audience-member also mentioned that he’s been riding 40 years without a helmet. I congratulate him for the accomplishment of never having had a serious accident. I too thought I would ride my bike for many years. But, unexpected things happen. One such incident happened to me. It’s why some of us wear safety gear.

The audience-member and I ended by agreeing on a point. We both understand that, during a serious impact, no helmet can protect the jelly-like brain, which exists inside a hard skull.

I understand there is considerable joy in riding totally free and unencumbered. Motorcycles are about freedom, and the principle of individual freedom is paramo61463unt for some people. Those of us who wear safety gear are concerned with the significant risk of riding with the lack of precautions. We still experience the feeling of the impressive freedom that comes from riding a motorcycle – just a bit less.

 

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So Whaddya Think? . . . . . . . Children’s Brains at Risk

So . . . what do you think? Is there something you are passionate about in this TBI world? Do you want to be heard? Your opinion matters! You can SPEAK OUT! on “So Whaddya Think?”

Simply send me your opinion, and I will format it for publication. Posts may be short, but please send no more than 1,000 words. Send to donnaodonnellfigurski@gmail.com

I hope to HEAR from you soon.

So Whaddya Think Brain th-4Children’s Brains at Risk

 by
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
and
David Figurski

Parents, coaches, and other adults are inadvertently exposing many children to grave harm. There are two major reasons: (1) a lack of awareness of the fragility of the brain and (2) ignorance of the life-altering changes that come from a brain injury. As parents and children learn about the risks, some children have elected not to play certain sports (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: To Play or NOT to Play, May 23, 2014).

There are many very good reasons for young people to play sports, including raising self-esteem, being part of a team, learning responsibility, and understanding competitiveness. But, studies are showing that some sports have a real possibility of danger associated with them.

One of us (Donna) taught first and third grades and coached a soccer team of 6- to 8-year-olds. We know how trusting young people are of adults. No adult would willingly put a young child or teenager in danger, but most are ignorant of the potential consequences of a brain injury. Only now are we beginning to understand how easy it is to injure the brain and just how dire the result can be. There is a desperate need to speak out to educate other adults of what we know.

A great deal of research is going on, but our knowledge of the brain is just beginning. Our hope is that there will not only be better treatments and therapy, but also that steps can be taken to greatly lessen the possibility of brain injury in the first place.

The danger is very real. A 1999 study published by the Journal of the American Medical Association examined mild TBIs in 10 high-school sports over 3 years. Over 1200 concussions were documented. Football, by far, was responsible for the highest percentage of concussions. The percentage of concussions caused by playing football was almost double the percentage of concussions from the remaining sports combined. A recent study showed that playing football, even without a concussion, may affect behavior and brain structure (SPEAK OUT! NewsBit: Football – Is It Dangerous to Your Brain? May 23, 2014). Keep in mind that players often do not report symptoms for fear of not being allowed to continue to play (video). In addition, having another concussion without recovering from the first can be deadly.

Heading in soccer is the primary cause of concussions in that sport. The percentage of soccer-caused concussions ranks #3 in boys’ sports and #1 in girls’ sports. Changes are beginning to happen with the new knowledge. A Connecticut youth soccer league has made heading illegal.

Just how ignorant of brain injury is the medical profession has already become apparent in the interviews. It’s common for a brain-injured patient to be treated for all other wounds, but little thought is given to the brain. Only later is the brain injury recognized as the basis for some of the symptoms. We were taken by Tabbie’s statement (Survivors SPEAK OUT! Tabbie, May 25, 2014) that a doctor assured her that it was not possible to get a concussion from a volleyball. Meanwhile, 0.5% of concussions were found to occur from volleyball in the 1999 JAMA study. Although volleyball ranked 10th, it did register. Ask Tabbie if it’s possible to have a brain injury from volleyball.

For motivation, we recommend watching the documentary Head Games, which is available online. Here is the trailer and the description. No one wants to put children at risk. There is no doubt the consequences of brain injury can be severe (Video Part 1 and Video Part 2), but there needs to be more awareness of the danger and consequences.

What can be done? In the short term, (1) we can speak out to make more people aware of brain injury. (2) We can promote the re-examination of rules and, where safety is concerned, lobby for their change. A Connecticut soccer league is already doing this by banning heading in soccer. As another example, if a football player uses his helmet to “spear” another player, maybe he should be ejected from the game. (3) No one should tolerate a violent act to win. Who promoted the idea that it was acceptable for a player of the opposing team to take Tabbie out of the game? There is no place for winning-at-all-costs. In the long term, there needs to be better equipment for the safety of players. This will take research. Legislation of rule changes will cause everyone to be protected. Nebraska’s legislature has already made laws for youth sports.

Our youth look to us. Let’s not fail them.

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