Brain Injury

When I was applying for colleges and planning my future, my dad would always joke that I should be a brain surgeon because eventually he was going to need one. He said that he’d like to be able to get a discount. Fifteen years later, I’m thinking that he had a good point.

Between my dad & my sister, my family has a bit of brain injury. I’m not sure what the “normal” amount of brain injury is. In a person’s life, it’s reasonable to expect that there might be a little. Figure 4 people in a family…all living nice long lives…all being fairly physical and getting the occasional bump on the head….there’s bound to be a blip here or there. Head injuries are cumulative, you know. Still, I think that my family may be a bit above average.

My dad sustained a Traumatic Brain Injury is a motorcycle wreck in 2002. He went through months of extensive therapy (physical, occupational & speech) and years more of hard work trying to get back to “normal”. Six years later, I would estimate he’s at 85-90% (taking into consideration that he’s also aged in that time). He only occasionally gets mistaken for drunk. My sister started having seizures when she was in college. After some testing by doctors (and some worry by family), it was discovered that she had a small abnormality in her brain. Was it an injury? Probably. Where did it come from? Who knows….possibly a skiing accident she had in high school. She fell, got up, skied down the rest of the mountain & when she got back into the lodge she had no idea where she was. At the time, everyone figured it was just a concussion. And maybe it was. Like I mentioned before, head injuries are cumulative. That’s why some hockey and football players are “encouraged” by their doctors and coaches to retire at the end of a rough career.

So, brain injuries are scary. I’d imagine they’re scary for the injured, and they’re definitely scary for the people around that person. A brain injury can rob a person of their memories, their emotions, their ability to function. It could heal itself and “go away”…..or it could lie dormant, hitting the victim just when they think that they’re okay. There’s no way to understand or predict what will happen in this sophisticated little computer. Will the connections grow back? Is something bleeding? Will it even matter?

So, yes, this post was inspired by the passing of Natasha Richardson. What an unspeakable tragedy. What a nightmare for her family. I’ve been mulling it over for days now, I’m so glad that I wasn’t at work when the news crossed the wires that she’d died. I needed a few minutes alone to process it all. Honestly, how am I supposed to feel about the fact that my dad walked away with seemingly more severe injuries a little worse for the wear when this woman DIED? How am I supposed to feel about the fact that Richardson’s accident was very similar to a situation that my sister has been in? Hell, MANY people I know have had the same experience. I don’t care that it may have been avoided if she’d been wearing a helmet. I don’t care that she might have been saved if she’d had medical attention earlier. Thousands of people fall every day on ski slopes not wearing helmets….and they ski on and don’t think about it again. Frankly, I’m surprised that the ski patrol checked her as much as they did. (For the record, I think that helmets ARE a good idea for skiing. God knows I’m an advocate for motorcycle helmet laws. But there IS a difference between skiing on a bunny slope and riding a motorcycle.)

Selfishly, after the news of the accident broke, but before the news of her death, I thought about how beneficial it would be to have Natasha Richardson as the “face” of Traumatic Brain Injury. She would show the world how easy it was to be injured, but how possible it was, with proper funding, to learn how to treat it. (We have thousands of young men & women coming back from war with TBIs and very little is known or understood. Some of these people won’t know for years that something is wrong. This is a soapbox for another time…) But, alas, it was not meant to be. My thoughts are with her family. What a loss the world has suffered.

The ultimate irony of this entire horrible situation is that March is Brain Injury Awareness Month.

Protect your head and hug the ones you love.

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