How many have been compared to someone who have a visible injury? “Look how much someone can accomplish after they have lost limbs or have some other visible physical injuries.” Is the frustration with brain injury justifiable or is the brain injury minimized that it is not helpful to recovery? Many with brain and spinal cord injury have altered sensations throughout their entire body and nothing works the same. Just because they are attached, doesn’t mean they function well! Most everyone would rather have a well-functioning mind and body, than a good-looking mind and body!
What happens when the master computer of one’s entire body is damaged and continues to go haywire daily and their is no visible physical evidence? Is life predictability easier to deal with than daily unpredictability?
Below one will describe life from one person’s perspective after two accidents that caused a traumatic amputation of an extremity and later a brain injury. Here I will refer to a young woman at the age of 37 traveling to work but stopped to help another motorist stranded on icy roadways in the midst of winter January, 1990.
Her life changed in a fraction of a second, as everyone does when they have physical injury. There is NO secondary gain from physical injury! Who likes pain and suffering?
In 1990, a female nurse stopped to help another disabled vehicle on an interstate highway. While exiting her vehicle she was struck by another vehicle. She had a complete traumatic above-the-knee amputation of her left leg at the scene.
Her body was covered and no one thought to tourniquet the stump of her leg to stop bleeding. Apparently a gruesome scene! The weather was cold, roads were icy, and these factored into her survival story.
In addition, to a traumatic amputation of her lower extremity, she was diagnosed with anoxic encephalopathy. In her case, anoxic encephalopathy is the lack of oxygen to the brain due to significant blood loss. This is also considered a brain injury secondary to the traumatic amputation.
She survived an event that few do. She had a minute or unmeasurable amount of blood left in her body when transported to the trauma center. It was simply amazing that she survived! She reports that knowledge and struggle for survival was just beginning when she regained consciousness months later. In reality, her body was fighting for basic survival while she laid unconscious in the intensive care unit.
She recalls her rehabilitation focusing primarily on amputation and other physical injuries.
Treatment focused on:
- Self-esteem and loss of leg/limb
- Preparing for prosthesis
- Learning to walk again
- Physical therapy
- Occupational therapy
- Speech therapy
- Cognitive therapy
She has no recall about a brain injury. She stated “if she endured a brain injury she was not educated about it.” Her recall is simple: take care of the visible injury and one will be better. All her inpatient treatment focused on the loss of her lower extremity and other physical injuries. There was no mention of brain injury and no patient and family education for brain injury.
After a 5 month hospital stay, two years of healing from extensive physical injuries and fitting for her prosthesis she returned to work as an intensive care registered nurse. She found that most people and places accommodated her special needs.
The most difficult transition was carrying around a leg on a short stump weighing at least 50 pounds. Just this thought is exhausting! People complain about carrying around a 10 pound bag of potatoes with two hands. Imagine how difficult this would be!
Long-term lower extremity amputation
- Prosthesis fitting
- Returned to work as ICU nurse
- Accommodate special needs
- Difficulty with weight of prosthesis
- Skin problems, irritations and infections on stump
- Change in Sense of Self: Self-confidence, Self-esteem, and sometimes Selfishness!
A few years later she was in a minor car accident that she reports more devastating than all her physical injuries combined. We talk of all the injuries Veteran’s endure and wonder how they are treated. All injuries are different and significant! It’s the superficial society that is harsh!
She was able to drive without difficulty since the right leg and right foot is needed for braking and gas. This injury did not compromise her ability to drive. Her mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) was life altering in a way no one expected and especially this nurse. Certainly, not in a way she expected! Nothing could have prepared her for this injury. Education after the injury would have been helpful.
If you could change one thing about treatment, rehabilitation process and an injury what would that be? Why?
- Caregivers of U.S. veterans bear scars of war (cbsnews.com)
- Amputations | eLocal (elocallawyers.com)
- Study Links Single Occurrence of Traumatic Brain Injury to Alzheimer’s (prweb.com)
- An Amputee’s Hope, A Soldier’s Mission (ptsdandcombat.com)
- New Technology Helping To Treat Veteran Brain Injuries (pittsburgh.cbslocal.com)