Local freelance writer Jesse Ferguson shares his story in a four-part series, originally printed in Brant News in 2016
– This story is in part dedicated to the memory of Josh Demeulenaere, who lived with an acquired brain injury. He passed away in his 30th year from complications of the injury. –
By: Jesse Ferguson
One strange night, I woke up feeling something was wrong… very wrong. I just didn’t feel right.
I decided to roll over. For some reason though, I couldn’t.
Confused, I tried again. Still nothing. More than concerned, I decided to sit up. But I just couldn’t do it.
I actually couldn’t even move.
Shocked, all kinds of thoughts ran through my head. I remember last night… I think?
I concluded that I was going to talk myself through this. For whatever reason, talking aloud feels better. I think of what I want to say, got to let it out… but again, nothing.
I can’t speak.
No movement, no words… just thoughts.
I look around– my eyes still work– begging answers for every question I can think of. The all-encompassing one: What the hell is this?
The best I can think of is that I’m really drunk– drunk like never before, because I’ve been drunk, but never woken up in a bed I don’t recognize.
Or woken up and been paralyzed and unable to speak.
This is one account of an acquired brain injury (ABI), my own.
Toronto ABI defines acquired brain injury as “damage to the brain which occurs after birth that is caused traumatically, for example, from great external force such as a collision.”
Since everything you do is controlled from the brain, any incurring damage to it from a force great enough to penetrate the skull has the potential to severely affect neurological functions. Results vary exponentially, as your brain is extremely versatile.
An ABI can result in a variety of impairments and changes to an individual’s life, including physical abilities, such as walking and talking, therein balance and stamina; and mental abilities, which may include thinking, memory, and psychological or behavioural issues. This list merely scratches the surface. Many other issues can arise that you can only imagine.
Or can’t imagine.
An interesting thing about brain injury is that even when the exact same external force is delivered to the very same spot on different people’s brains, no two people can expect the same outcome. As explained by physiatrist Dr. Flor Muniz of Chedoke Hospital in Hamilton: “The rattle of the brain from the impact can be just as detrimental as the original impact.”
That’s why brain injuries can appear random: the rattle of the brain is just as hurtful. And since our brains are not the same, neither are the results.
It may be surprising to learn that there are more than six million people in North America (in 2012) who have an acquired brain injury.
Brain injury can end a person’s life as they know it– it can eat you up and spit you out as a completely different person. That’s exactly what happened to me. I lost the physical abilities that I apparently took for granted.
People don’t know their life could end before they die.
Now, something has developed in its place that half-resembles the life I had before. It’s like the grave of my life before: people see me, but they don’t really see me. I can’t do anything; I may as well be six feet under. This mainly refers to the early days following my accident, but to some extent, even now.
Life after a brain injury has been compared to driving on a highway without exits… if you’re lucky enough to be moving at all.
Experts say the general public’s concept and knowledge of brain injury is so limited that it approaches ignorance. Personally, I’m shocked that something as vital as the brain can go so neglected.
“The whole realm of ABI is under-reported,” said Kathleen Headley, an educational consultant for ABI clients. “I wish more people knew and understood recovery from brain injury. Victims deserve more.”
One reason brain injury may not receive proper coverage is the media’s perception. The injury may be reported, but the severity nor the extensive work that happens behind the scenes are not close to what is deserved.
In movies and on television shows, brain injuries never happen. What Hollywood displays is the stage between life and death, but it’s always temporary. Maybe characters break a few bones or are unconscious, but they’re never in this “in-between” stage for very long. This, of course, is in stark contrast to reality, where people can spend months and years in this middle stage.
Or, in some cases, this stage can last forever.
“Non-life threatening” does not equate to “non-life altering.” In Hollywood, the injured always emerge as their old selves in a few scenes. Needless to say, life isn’t Hollywood.
On the contrary, I will probably never be the same.
And I’m not the only one…
– Read Part 2 of Jesse Ferguson’s series in next month’s edition