Caregivers SPEAK OUT! – Jeannette Davidson-Mayer
Donna O’Donnell Figurski
2. Where do you live? (city and/or state and/or country) Email? (optional)
New Plymouth, Idaho, USA email@example.com
3. What is the brain-injury survivor’s relationship to you? How old was the survivor when he/she had the brain injury? What caused your survivor’s brain injury?
My husband, DeWayne, has a traumatic brain injury (TBI). He was 38 when it happened. While serving in Iraq, DeWayne survived one Humvee rollover, two close-range IEDs (improvised explosive devices), one helicopter explosion (They were guarding a downed helicopter when the remains were blown-up for disposal), and lastly an IED that went off right under the command seat, where DeWayne was sitting. All this happened in 2005 between May 23rd and October 3rd.
4. On what date did you begin care for your brain-injury survivor?
At the end of October 2004, DeWayne was flown to Madigan Air Force Base in Washington State on the advance plane from Iraq. I made a few trips there to see him. He was allowed occasional trips home. By February 2006, DeWayne was home for good. We didn’t know DeWayne had a TBI until mid-2007. We just knew something wasn’t connecting right in his daily mental functions.
Were you the main caregiver?
Are you now?
How old were you when you began care?
5. Were you caring for anyone else at that time (e.g., children, parents, etc.)?
6. Were you employed at the time of your survivor’s brain injury? If so, were you able to continue working?
Yes, I was employed. My employer helped above the call of duty. In mid-October 2014, I did have to quit working because DeWayne’s medical needs had increased. Also, I had gone to one of our smaller companies, which is a 10-minute drive vs. a 5-minute walk. DeWayne couldn’t comprehend this change, which created hardships for our daughter and for DeWayne and me as a couple.
7. Did you have any help? If so, what kind and for how long?
I couldn’t make it without the love and support of our family, friends, and church family. Help is from driving DeWayne to assisting with happenings at home. Most of all, help is providing an ear to listen.
8. When did your support of the survivor begin (e.g., immediately – in the hospital; when the survivor returned home; etc.)?
My quality of care has grown over the years. It took a while because I didn’t know how to ask for help. I was embarrassed to ask, and I didn’t understand how to ask either. I felt that if I couldn’t do it myself, I was failing my family.
9. Was your survivor in a coma? If so, what did you do during that time?
No, but DeWayne was knocked out several times.
10. Did your survivor have rehab?
If so, what kind of rehab (i.e., inpatient and/or outpatient and occupational, physical, speech, and/or other)?
DeWayne had occupational, physical, speech, and recreational therapies as an outpatient. He also had behavioral health therapy.
How long was the rehab?
Rehab started out three days a week, eight hours a day, for three months at Idaho Elks Rehab. DeWayne was then moved to the Boise VA (Veterans Administration) facility, where he went several days a week. DeWayne still has recreational therapy, physical therapy, and occasionally occupational therapy. And, monthly behavioral health therapy.
Where were you when your survivor was getting therapy?
Idaho Elk’s Rehab, Boise VA Medical Center, Tri-Cities Physical Therapy, St. Luke’s Spinal Care
11. What problems or disabilities of your brain-injury survivor required your care, if any?
DeWayne has many difficulties. He has fixations. He’s easily lost, confused, and disoriented. He tires easily. His short-term memory is a problem. DeWayne doesn’t always understand what is happening around him or what is being said to him. Also we don’t always understand what he is trying to say to us. He suffers from migraines/headaches. He has silent seizures, bi-lateral hearing loss, tremors, and sensitivity to light.
12. How has your life changed since you became a caregiver? Is it better? Is it worse?
I can’t really say if life is better or worse because of the TBI. We are both different from the deployment alone. I am the lucky wife because he came home alive, which is a celebration in itself.
13. What do you miss the most from pre-brain-injury life?
There is a lot I miss (for example, long hiking trips and long conversations). But, the trade-off is worth it.
We have learned to depend on each other completely – as spouses and as a family. We tend to stand up for what we believe in. We hold on tighter. We often show each other how important we are. We travel off-season, which is nice because the crowds are less. Nicer indeed!
15. What do you like least about brain injury?
We never know what to expect from day to day, yet it is also a positive, for we never have a dull moment.
16. Has anything helped you to accept your survivor’s brain injury?
Through many trials and errors, we have finally discovered our saving grace. Our kitchen has become our “Central Command Post.” Our lives center around our kitchen. We were able to set up an atmosphere that can adapt to DeWayne’s ever-changing daily new normal. Post-it Notes and whiteboard markers saved our family.
17. Has your survivor’s injury affected your home life and relationships and, if so, how?
Of course, DeWayne’s TBI has affected home life, relationships, and so on. We have lost.
18. Has your social life been altered or changed and, if so, how?
Our social life has been cut. We don’t go out as much. We avoid crowds, noisy situations, and places that make DeWayne uncomfortable. I also have become uneasy about the same things that make DeWayne uneasy.
19. What are your plans? What do you expect/hope to be doing ten years from now?
Our plans for the future are to continue to live in joy and love together, to share our lives with our children as they continue to grow, to travel the world in an RV, and to reach out to others to show them that they have the inner strength needed to move forward. (How they move forward is unique to each family.)
20. What advice would you offer other caregivers of brain-injury survivors?
Never give up. Give in from time to time. Let it out – cry or scream. Then look back on what is happening to find ways to make adjustments or to find solutions to the challenges. Know that you are not alone. You yourself, along with your family, have so much to offer.
Do you have any other comments that you would like to add?
Military families are not alone in living with TBIs and/or PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) and in being caregivers. We didn’t sign up for this life, but we have it. Now let’s figure out how to keep moving forward, so we can reach higher, dream bigger, and hold on tighter.
If you would like to be a part of this project, please go to TBI Caregiver Interview Questionnaire for a copy of the questions and the release form.
(Photo compliments of Jeannette.)
Disclaimer: The views or opinions in this post are solely that of the interviewee.
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