Life After Traumatic Brain Injury
By Sonnet Gomes
My Journey Begins
I will never forget March 18, 2019. It’s hard to imagine it has been just one year ago. It was evening when I got a phone call from my dad. He told me my 2-year old daughter Anastasia had been rushed to the ER for convulsion and fever.
We have a family history of febrile convulsion, so at first I was not particularly concerned. But, I was wrong; it was not an innocent febrile seizure. Instead, my dearest Anastasia was seriously ill. Once at the hospital I was informed that Anastasia had viral encephalitis. The doctor explained viral encephalitis is an inflammation of the brain caused by a virus. The result of that inflammation turned my beloved daughter into someone we do not even know.
My journey with traumatic brain injury began that day. Since then I have visited almost every pediatric neurologist in the region to give me insight into the damage done by TBI. The insight I’ve gained has revealed there are many difficulties for those unfortunate humans living with TBI. I have seen both the worst effects of TBI and a few small rays of hope. Now, I feel an obligation to share what I’ve learned with others who are dealing with the results of TBI in hopes that I can help them get through it.
What Is TBI?
The term Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) defines itself. It is associated with significant trauma or injury to the brain or damage done by infection of the brain. Injury from an accident or traumatic event are the most common cause of TBI. The second most common cause of TBI is cerebral infection. According to ER records, almost 85% of the TBI cases result from one of these two causes.
The first category includes injuries from falls, motor vehicle accidents, sports, or physical violence. Depending on the severity of the incident, the damage can range from mild to severe TBI. Do not underestimate a fall from your bed. The height may be low, but the impact can be profound. The same goes for falls from ladders, stairways, or bicycles. Please do not wait for symptoms to develop, get immediate help.
Accidents related to vehicles cause most of the TBI seen by physicians. In vehicular accidents concussion is the usual culprit and can result in a severe case of TBI. Another major source of TBI is athletic endeavors. Sports are associated with high speed and collision. Thus, there is a good chance any sports accident or injury can cause severe brain damage. Furthermore, exposure to explosive events like gunshots can cause a severe impact on the brain. The extreme pressure caused by the explosions damages the neurons and their connections.
Any infection in the brain will undoubtedly damage brain cells.Viral encephalitis causes the brain to swell, effectively squeezing the brain causing often irreversible damage. If the expansion caused by the swelling is low, then the damage may be small and considered mild. Otherwise, with dramatic swelling the damage is defined as severe TBI.
Meningitis infects the three outer layers of the brain causing a breakdown in the connection among brain cells. Encephalitis, another common infection, damages the white and grey matter often leading to death or TBI. Viral encephalitis because it involves the temporal and frontal lobes, is often characterized by psychiatric features, in addition to memory deficits, and aphasia.
Encephalopathy is often associated with a patient’s post injury or infection condition. Wikipedia defines encephalopathy as “a broad term for any brain disease that alters brain function or structure”. My daughter fits this definition. It is making her healing after traumatic brain injury tough.
Signs & Symptoms Of Mild Brain Injury
Mild Traumatic Brain Injury. (The injury and resulting damage are temporary)
- Loss of consciousness
- Disturbed sleep pattern (too much, or not at all)
- Gait disturbance, including loss of balance
- Anger management issues
- Blurred Vision
- Memory issues
Signs & Symptoms Of Moderate To Severe TBI
Moderate to severe Traumatic Brain Injury is more devastating and permanent
- Loss of consciousness for a more extended period
- Seizures or Convulsions (long-term)
- Long periods of sleep
- Loss of coordination
- Numbness in the limbs
- Slurred Speech
- Loss of speech
- Mood Swings
- Behavioral changes
- Altered mental status
- Cognitive decline
Is There Any Treatment For TBI?
Adapting to TBI is not easy. I want my beautiful daughter back the way she was, but that is not reality. All the impact-syndrome and post-traumatic amnesia has overwhelmed me. Quite honestly, such emotions have in many ways made things harder when dealing with my daughter. However, there is hope for people with TBI. Medications and rehabilitation can sometimes bring them back to their pre-trauma condition. For people with severe injury such interventions can at least make life more comfortable. Medication is mostly used to control seizures. Other relaxing drugs are used soothe the brain and help it to heal.
Physical and Occupational rehabilitative therapies can improve a patient’s physical and mental activities. Studies show such rehabilitative activities help in reconnecting neurons in the brain, enhancing the signaling between them.
Difficult to admit, but it is not possible to have the same person back after a severe TBI. But, you can bring to life a new person with proper health care, nutrition, and rehabilitation.
Signs Your Loved One Is Improving From TBI
We all want our loved ones to recover from the TBI. No matter how much they have changed, the new person will be loved with the same intensity and care as before their injury.
Signs your loved one is recovering from encephalopathy or Post-Concussion Syndrome may be small but positive visible signs can’t be overlooked.
- Improved emotional responses
- Better coordination
- Becoming more social
- Improved communication verbally and with gestures
- No more constant headaches
- Regular sleep pattern is coming back
- Getting involved in the activities, they used to like
Emotional Impact Of TBI
Any Traumatic Brain Injury affects the patient both emotionally and physically. Nevertheless, the emotional impacts are sometimes more long-lasting than the physical ones. You may find your loved one exhibiting symptoms of severe Depression. The happy, jolly person you used to know can turn into a sad clinically depressed person after a brain injury.
People with TBI often become more anxious. Even a small challenge will make them tense as hell. Yes, it is difficult to see them like this, but it is the reality. Anger and irritability are common as frustration and anxiety combine in destructive outbursts with many TBI survivors. You will be required to deal with poor anger management if your loved one is a survivor.
Insomnia and Mood swings will be the everyday issues. You may also see some mental symptoms with a concussion, including blank stares and seizures.
The Financial Impact Of TBI
I had to re-organize my financial plan after my daughter’s TBI. Now I am saving money to keep up the highest quality treatment for her. It is affecting my professional and personal life; however, family comes first. I have cut down expenses in other areas and increased my contribution to health care. I have not had to take on a second job, at least for now, but honestly, TBI is expensive.
Life With TBI Is Different
Your family will change if you have a member with TBI. Your life will be different from others. Priorities and preferences will change dramatically. It becomes difficult to cope with the challenges of TBI and living a normal life. However, we keep fighting against the odds, fighting to make sure my daughter has every comfort I can give despite her distress. Hopefully the information I have shared will help others confronting TBI.