A traumatic brain injury made me grateful to be gutsy.
When I woke up in a rehabilitation hospital in January 2003, I was annoyed that the nurses were talking to me like I was a 2-year-old. Once I could sit up and speak, I asked a nurse why they did that. She seemed shocked and excited that I was talking to her – my first clue that I was in a “situation.”
Soon the neurosurgeon who saved my life arrived to explain where I was and why the nurses were treating me like a toddler. I had survived a near-fatal accident, he said. Driving alone on a layer of frozen rain concealed by a light dusting of snow, I’d lost control of my car and crashed into a telephone pole. The wreck badly damaged my brain, and I had been in a coma for eight weeks. That’s when I noticed the many bandages on my head. Now it all made sense. I forgave the nurses for their tone.
The rehab center was called Sunnyview. With a name like that, it sounds like a nursing home. But it is an excellent facility. There, I was on a physical therapy (PT) and occupational therapy (OT) program. I also received counseling. Looking back it was nice, except for the food.
At Sunnyview, I had to stay in bed most of the time and would flip through cable television. The Food Network was a favorite of mine. At the time of my accident, I was a restaurant manager in the Berkshires, a mountain resort area in Western Massachusetts that catered to many New Yorkers. A former New Yorker myself, I had once run a restaurant in the city’s Theater District and handled celebrities and CEOs. The restaurant often did functions with the Food Network, so I would see people I had worked with on events. My identity came flooding back to me as I watched TV. Traumatic brain injuries can really mess with your memory, short and long term. How lucky was I that I could look at my past on cable TV?
I had also once managed housekeeping for a hotel in Manhattan. Soon I was critiquing the quality of the sheets and towels in my hospital room. Thoughts like “They can get better thread-count that this for 200 rooms!” would blaze through my mind. These memories empowered me and motivated me to get better.
Once my muscles had built back up enough from the coma, I would walk around the hospital. My brain was getting stronger, too. One day, I decided that I wanted to call a friend. What did I do? I went behind the nurse’s station and picked up the phone. I’ll never forget the reaction that got from the nurses. They had a gutsy broad on their hands.
No longer did the hospital staff speak to me like I was a toddler. They spoke to me like the gusty broad that I am. As such, I managed a very long and difficult recovery with little help from the system. In fact the system only makes it harder to successfully recover from an invisible injury like TBI. But it can be done, when gutsy.
Lynda McGuirk is the author of Survive and Thrive: My Traumatic Brain Injury Survival Guide (Createspace 2015)