On July 31,2015, a car going 40 mph collided with the bicycle I was riding. My head shattered the windshield, and I sustained a severe TBI. I was in a coma for almost a month and then began the slow process of recovery. Four years later, I’m able to do many things, including work a little bit, volunteer to help other people with brain injury, and write about my life. I’m always improving. But here are some things I still struggle with.
I don't feel discomfort or pain evidenced by facts:
- I severely burned my leg from a garden fire pit while cooking burgers. I didn't realise until I saw the burnt and scarred gash (six inches long, a quarter inch wide, and an eighth inch deep) down my calf a week or so later.
- I observed an irregularity in my groin despite feeling no discomfort. I saw a GP and he said without any hesitation that I had a hernia.
- I can be wearing shorts and walking Ronnie (our dog) through fields full of nettles. I may be distracted by throwing Ronnie a stick, and after five minutes my legs are a hive of nettle stings.
- I have received mosquito stings on holiday and wasp stings in Britain, and I only realise when the swelling/spot shows up on my skin.
If I directly inflict pain, I do feel it. I have tried pulling my fingers with pliers. It hurts! When pain happens through "unawareness," I don't get any signals.
Before the accident, I used to experience headaches on a perhaps thrice daily basis; I no longer get headaches. In actual fact, I haven't had one since the road traffic accident (RTC). There's some expectation this may be linked to my sensory deprivation.
I have severe short-term memory deficiency. I take photos of where I've parked the car at supermarkets! It affects me in almost everything I do, though I deal with it really well. Short-term memory anxiety results in me feeling compelled to do everything almost straight away, even when not practically sensible.
My taste sensation is gone. I ate hot chilies and seeds during a meal with a friend where I was solely concentrating on the conversation and I didn't notice I was eating chilies. I can usually recognise what I am eating from its texture, but the taste is meaningless.
The simple act of eating brings strong discomfort to my lips and to the roof of my mouth. Swallowing food is generally uncomfortable and I need to often use learned strategies such as lowering my chin to my chest to overcome the swallowing difficulties.
Some people ask, "So does nothing taste of anything?" My response is, "Everything tastes of nothing." It's a subtle semantic wordplay that is hard for most people to understand, but it very accurately describes the feeling I have when eating. I could take the negative approach of thinking nothing tastes nice, but I'd rather stick with the outcome that nothing tastes bad!
In 2018 I ate a deep fried Mars bar in Glasgow. I'm glad to say I didn't like it. The truth is that it was the texture/difficulty in swallowing which I struggled with, not the taste.
I always wake up with a seemingly bad taste in my mouth, which I previously combatted with mouthwash. That now relieves none of the bad taste symptoms which leads me to believe it is not purely taste related.
I feel 'full up' very quickly. I can go a whole day without eating, then just one bite of a sandwich is enough to make me feel full. Finishing a sandwich or meal becomes a chore, rather than an enjoyable experience.
My smell sensation is almost zero. I do not recognise toilet smells, perspiration smells, or any perfume fragrance.
My touch sensation is impaired. I cannot distinguish between wet and dry towels on the washing line. I have reduced left-hand dexterity. Manipulating coins in a purse is almost impossible with my left hand. Cutting fingernails on either hand with clippers is very clumsy. I have significantly impaired ability to write legibly with my right hand (I am indeed right-handed) meaning I cannot sign my name the same way twice.
I get much general anxiety, resulting in predicaments such as paranoia over wallet/phone whereabouts. I check, then re-check, followed by a further check. I try to convince myself that "it's fine," but this doesn't bring me the satisfaction that I get from checking it.
When I review draft emails before sending, I find significant mistakes. Not much in spelling or grammar, which I think is expected. Instead, I'll find things like saying future when I meant past or singular when I meant multiple. Instinct may suggest it's a mistake anyone could make, but I find it time and again on maybe 25% of emails.
I would take photos on my phone of my key in the front door lock to reassure myself that I had locked the door when I went out. Otherwise, I'd have to march back to check it (I did this many times).
Ruth and I had wanted to visit our family in Portugal but were uncertain about how I would cope with flying. The solution was to take a quick and cheap flight from Manchester to Dublin. We didn't even leave Dublin airport, but we had established that I wasn't likely to suffer an anxiety problem when travelling to Portugal.
I cannot remember people's names/roles no matter how many times I am told them. This has become more than an inconvenience. I cannot recall new faces very well anymore.
I used to be fantastic at directions. It took me over a week to remember that the toilets in the new office building I was working at are a simple left when exiting the office door.
I first became aware of my spatial awareness issues on a weekend break in York when I went out several times in the day and evening and didn't walk too far, but I had no idea how to return to the hotel. It isn't just a case of not knowing if it's "the second or third left." I couldn't even point in the general direction of my target destination.
Exercise, such as running, gives me a mental discomfort. This effectively means I cannot exercise, which I expect will result in a longer term health impact.
Overall, I would say I'm about 80% of where I was before my brain injury and never expect to reach 85%, let alone 90%. To put express matters a little differently... I expect I will never fully recover, but I have about 80% of my old faculties, and some newer, perhaps better ones.
Learn more about David's recovery on his website www.ineededtobeneeded.com