What Happens to Life When TBI Moves In

What Happens to Life When TBI Moves In

All those years ago, and I can still feel my heart race when I remember the early days of my husband’s severe traumatic brain injury. I vividly recall forgetting what my life used to be like: waking up and having coffee, seeing the kids off to school, cleaning the house, working at my computer, visiting with friends, having dinner with Hugh and the kids, and thinking it would always be that way. In the past ten years, I found myself laughing when I thought of Hugh’s pre-injury days—those glorious days when I thought I was so busy and hectic.

Once the dreaded accident phone call came and I rushed to the emergency room, I discovered what busy was all about. Busy was a cyclone of information, a deluge of activity, even when it felt inactive as we sat around the hospital waiting for any new sign that all would be well. Handholding was active as surges of my hypervigilant energy passed to my husband’s lifeless hand. Watching turned into a spine-tingling, nerve-burning occupation.

At some point one day, I wondered, is there a life outside these sterile walls? Did I used to have one?

My children brought me back to life with reminders. “Mom, we have homework. What should we do about school?” Oh yeah, school.

“Mom, we’re hungry. When are we going to eat dinner?” Oh yeah, dinner.

Urgency and inaction collided in almost comical ways. “I can’t leave the hospital—something might happen.”

“But you have to take care of yourself.” This was the phrase I hated most of all.

Gradually, Hugh woke up, he spoke, he walked, he made progress and had setbacks, and life crept back in. I spent a morning at home to do laundry and eat a real breakfast. I spent an hour with a friend. I sat and looked at flowers outside on a spring day.

Our brains are capable of immense feats. We hear what we allow ourselves to hear, and deal with the things we manage, we block out what might plunge us into despair with denial, and we give ourselves over to grief when the flood of bad news is too powerful to overcome—and yet, we overcome in time.

I’m still amazed that my husband woke up!

I’m still amazed at what my children overcame in their young teens, the loss of childhood innocence, the close kiss of death and disability they witnessed, and how they returned to life, and just like other kids, they strapped on their backpacks and got on the school bus and passed their tests.

How did we all do it? How does anyone do it?

We do it in stages.

We drop our lives when we must, for love and family, and then we pick it back up, piece by piece. I’ve seen family after family do this. Heroic feat after heroic feat accomplished, until one morning, that family wakes up, one person walks to the kitchen and starts the coffee, and another answers the phone without a panic attack, and each one looks out the window giving thanks for another beautiful day without grief or pain. I once joked that any day without a trip to the ER was a good one.

There are a million sayings for what happens in between the crisis and the end of the crisis: It will be what it will be; everything works out in the end, or trust the universe. This advice is impossible to take immediately after a loved one endures a TBI, but impossible as it seems, it’s true.

One way or another, life goes on. If you are a family in the first few weeks or months of this heartbreaking injury, start noticing how small changes make a big difference—the day you remember someone’s birthday, the day you return the library book that’s six months overdue—and you’ll see, your life is coming back to you. It never really left; it’s you who went away for a while. Your life is out there waiting for you to return when you are ready.

Comments (11)

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Its interesting how when the subject of a TBI is discussed the term PTSD is not spoken unless you are military. PTSD is a illness suffered by many who were never in the service.
I suffered my TBI nearly 10 yrs ago and I still can't remember things, forget what I was/am talking about, studder, and severe balance issues. In rehab they said "get use to the New Normal" well the New Normal...........Sucks.

To the person who commented on March 27th, Yes there is a way to connect with people in similar circumstances: on Facebook. There are many online TBI and TBI caregiver support forums on Facebook. If you join Facebook, use the FB search tool to find them "TBI Caregiver Support" is one.

I hate the fact that no one understands someone with a tbi on a social basis

Is there a way to connect with people in similar situations? I find support groups for my husband but none for myself.

I'm not sure your life is waiting for you and you've just stepped away. A life is waiting for you but as the wife of someone who suffered a severe TBI, the life that you walk back into is often unrecognizable.

Yes Rosemary, everything will work out in the end. Persistence and never giving in, remaining stalwart in one's believe is a higher power that lies dormant in a mass of people. Yes Rosemary, we have each experienced the elements available to "all" people...few are called and fewer respond when called...we responded and we claimed our heritage...that be "we are all Gods."

Chosen for this, chosen for that, or is it more a ramshackle of events that draws one to the edge of life and tests one's perseverance for continued earthly form?

One know's innately or doesn't...!!!

And so it be.


Similarly, I wrote of my experience in "Fixing Boo Boo - a story of traumatic brain injury." It's about what we didn't know that we didn't know. It is many people's story.

So true. Small things my husband remembers brings a smile to my face. We are 19 months into our new life of tbi it has been so hard at times but with Gods love and our faith we are doing great. I was told at the beginning of our tbi life that this would be harder for me than my husband because I would remember our life before and more than likely he wouldn't oh how true. That can make me sad but as time goes by he remembers a little more. Maybe someday I can look back and laugh, just not now.

Thank you for a positive article. It scares when I read all negativity.  ðŸ’š

Thank you for sharing....that stuck place does finally open up.....I am ready.

You are so right. Life is frozen in time, it only exists outside of the hospital for weeks or months. And then one day . . .  the patient goes back home or to rehab, and the family sees life outside. There are people, actual real people crossing the street and I wondered if my son would be forever in a wheelchair and how would he cross the street? I went to a fast food restaurant seeing people working and I wonder, how will my son or when will my son ever work again? I see people experiencing life and i wonder, will he ever be able to do that again? But weeks and months of PT and OT go by and gradually he was  holding things then walking. It is most definitely a different way of life, and it certainly takes time to get used to all the extreme changes. But it happens. One minute at a time, one day at a time. Slowly. But it happens.