Understanding Traumatic Brain Injuries

Hali McKinley Lester

Photo-Aug-09-12-06-14-PM-e1408323980647

Despite extensive research and great progress, the human brain still remains medicine’s greatest mystery. Traumatic brain injuries occur far more often than most people realize, yet no two brain injuries are the same, which makes understanding them even more difficult. This year, I learned first-hand how complicated traumatic brain injuries can be.

February 11th started out like any other day when I decided I needed to go to the store to buy post-run protein bars. My friend offered to give me a ride on her scooter, and I accepted. My parents had always warned me about riding on motorcycles, but this was just a scooter. Besides, nobody wears helmets here. It was just a short trip to Target. I would be fine. As we were riding down 34th Street, I felt the wind rushing through my hair, and life was good. Suddenly, I saw the car turning into our path, and I thought my life was over. When I woke up on the ground a few seconds later, I was in shock. I was alive, but I would come to find out that my life had changed forever.

I went to the ER fearing the worst, but they released me after telling me everything was fine. A few days later, I went back to classes. It would take a month of pain and confusion before I finally saw a doctor who told me that I had suffered a fractured skull and severe concussion in my accident. Living with my traumatic brain injury has been the hardest challenge I have ever experienced. Seven months after my accident, I am finally realizing it will probably take another year before I feel like my old self, if that will ever be possible. I have learned some scary realities about traumatic brain injuries, which I hope will serve as a cautionary tale.

  1. Headaches take on a whole new meaning. I’ve developed a much stronger pain tolerance since I’ve experienced having a headache 80% of the day, every day. And they aren’t normal stress or sleep-deprived headaches. These are headaches that cause excruciating pain, so much so that I want to cry.
  2. I am much more sensitive to other people’s head injuries. Every time I hear the crack of a football helmet, I cringe. Every time I see someone riding a scooter, I want to scream at them to wear a helmet. Or better yet, I want to scream, “Don’t ride a scooter at all.”
  3. I need to write down everything I have to do or I will forget it. I was always a spontaneous person, but now I have to make schedules for each day.
  4. School becomes infinitely harder. As someone who has always been an avid reader, it now takes me twice as long to read every sentence. When reading for my classes, I often have to read each thought three or four times before I finally digest what the author is saying. Concentrating on anything takes incredible effort and focus, which only makes the headache worse. By the end of the day, it is impossible to get any more work done, for my brain has reached its limit.
  5. The future is terrifying. Every day, I am consumed by the fear that my brain won’t heal completely. I fear that school, something that I’ve always taken for granted, will never get easier. Anxiety and depression also increase, along with inexplicable mood swings. Knowing that these issues are a result of your brain injury only makes it more frustrating, for you can’t control the way your emotions.
  6. People don’t know how much you are hurting. While it is easy to see when someone has a broken bone, a head injury is easily forgotten. Most people never know what I’ve gone through and how much I am struggling.

This is not meant to be a way for me to whine about my problems; rather I find it essential that people become more educated about head injuries. I used to think a concussion merely meant you got headaches and couldn’t watch TV for a few days. People underestimate the fragility of the human brain and rarely understand the realities of  traumatic brain injuries. However, I have learned that a traumatic brain injury can change a person’s life forever.

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