Early on, in the months after I sustained a traumatic brain injury, I heard a saying that I am now quite familiar with – recovery from a brain injury lasts a lifetime. While so many have found this to be encouraging, I did not. In fact, the very concept appalled me.
Before being struck by a teenaged driver back in 2010, I spent many years in Corporate America and went on to start and run a successful web design and business marketing company. I lived in the reality of hard and fast deadlines. Projects had a start date and a firm completion date. Always one to meet committed project completion dates, it was a safe bet to say that projects began and ended on time. My corporate clients counted on me – and I consistently delivered.
So this concept of something that had no end date; no date to circle on a calendar; something that would go on as long as I had a heartbeat was NOT something that I embraced. Taking it one step further, I made up my mind early on that I was going to be that one-in-a-million person who recovered back to 100%. I was going to get back to where I was before my accident.
Fast forward to today and time has shown this to be a fallacy. My 2016 reality is vastly different than my 2011 reality. Now well into year six as a survivor, I have found that I am a very average “TBI Guy.” The challenges that I face today are in lockstep with the millions of Americans who live daily with the long-term effects of a concussion. Typical of so many, I have ongoing memory challenges, often more significant than most realize. Word-finding challenges and aphasia are my constant companions. Add a splash of vertigo and half a cup of tinnitus and you have the perfect recipe for a pretty average post-concussive life.
And amazingly, today I am okay with that. All I really need do is look around me to see that, although challenging, the after-effects of my accident pale in comparison to those faced by other survivors. I am able to work, albeit at a reduced pace. I can walk on my own and drive a car. My marriage survived – not always a guarantee after trauma strikes. I have a smaller circle of souls who love me unconditionally. When I take a step back to look at my life through the prism of this perspective, I can easily see that I am blessed beyond measure.
In a recent conversation, my wife Sarah and I discussed reaching out again to the medical community. My last experience with the medical community was less than stellar. A well-intentioned doctor let me know in no uncertain terms that after the one-year mark, any meaningful recovery was over, and any gains to be had would be minimal at best. It was a harsh life sentence, it was discouraging, and it was wrong. I hold no ill-will toward this doctor as he was doing the best he could, though he was part of the TBI old school of recovery, one that is quickly being replaced by new science-based treatment.
Over the last few years, there is an emerging body of hard data—factual information—that brain injury does indeed continue for a lifetime. New treatment protocols are evolving for what is called “late stage recovery,” meaning recovery that is tangible even many years after an injury.
This brings me full-circle to our choice to reach deep into the medical community again. It is my hope that I’ll be able to tap into some of the newest information available and use it to continue my own recovery.
Gone is that feeling that a lifetime of recovery is something to be dreaded. A new hope has emerged that I can continue to make more gains, like the gains that have already come to pass over the last five years. I fully understand now that the brain is plastic, and not elastic. It won’t bounce back to where it was. Rather, as remapping continues, and neuroplasticity works its silent wonders, I will continue to grow, to evolve, and to become who I am supposed to be.