Personal Stories

My Journey : By Glenda Rodger

I remember the date so well, 8th June 2008. It is the date that for some reason my life was about to take a different journey, from an incident that was over just by the click of the fingers. The actual event itself I still to this day don’t know exactly what happened and why I didn’t respond or feel the knock.

It was a Sunday, and through my work with Basketball New Zealand, I had clustered a small group of Association in the Waikato together to develop players, referees and coaches. This was their first tournament and I felt compelled to go and support them.

I arrived in Te Awamutu to find that the tournament had started, but only one court was playing. Between myself and the secretary – Sharyn Tissingh we got the other court up and going by refereeing the first game then doing score bench for the second. Both of us got approached from the Morrinsville women’s team, (who we had both played for Nationals previous years) to play for them as they were a couple members down. Being the ardent sports freak that I am, I had my boots in the car, so of course the answer from both of us was a resounding yes. Little did I know that the “yes” would change my life, so resoundingly and put my on a journey that I had never dreamed about, and truth be known would never have wished to be on.

It was within the final 10 minutes of the Basketball game that I went up in the air for a rebound then next thing I knew I was picking myself up off the floor, shaking my head and abusing the referee. (I don’t normally do that, as being from BBNZ it isn’t a good look) I felt alright, so continued playing the game. By the end of the game I had a great shiner on my left check and it was already turning a little black under the eye. I actually don’t remember much after the game , let a lone my drive home.

With the good old kiwi attitude she’ll be right mate, I continued working the next 7 days. The only thing I had from the fall was my shiner, but I wore it with pride. I played two games of netball on the Friday night in Matamata and the Saturday in Hamilton. On the Sunday a week after my incident, I drove to Taupo to a meeting with the local association. While driving to Taupo I remember coming across an accident the Hamilton side of Tokoroa and thinking how lucky I was. At the meeting I seemed unable to sit still, finding all sorts of excuses to get up and down. I don’t remember much of the meeting or to be honest much of my drive back that day, but I do remember arriving home safely and thinking of those poor people in the accident I had seen earlier.

Monday I awake, feeling like I had been hit by a bus. Every bone and muscle in my body ached, especially down my left side. I took myself off to the physio and my treatment began.

On the Thursday 10 days after the fall, my physio while treating my body, thought that I might be suffering from post concussion. So on Friday morning I went to the Dr’s. He got me to do some tests; one that I can remember is the finger to nose. Well I knew where my finger was and knew where my nose was but do you think I could get the two to meet. He diagnosed me with post concussion. It was exactly what my brain needed to hear as it basically shut down there and then. I was given 7 days off and so my journey begins.

I had planned to go over to Tauranga to a Basketball tournament that weekend, so my mum volunteered to drive me. I arrived at Tauranga and felt like I was going to be sick, I felt light headed and all my senses were overloaded. My friend Jude put me into one of their units at their motel and I slept for 5 days, just waking up when either Jude or Grant come in with some food.

I was given another 10 days off work and then I went back to work for 3 hours a day. I was then to increase my hours to 20 hours a week, then to increase it by 5 hrs per week until back to 40hrs.

I found that I couldn’t drive, so my mum became my driver. She took me up to Auckland and it was while I was staying up there trying to work, that I jogged to get out of the rain and an hour later, my head felt terrible and I felt nauseous and couldn’t concentrate on anything. I went to a Doctor up there who sent me to the hospital to have a CT Scan. It came back fine and I was then sent to the Concussion Clinic in Auckland. I went through some tests and then got confirmed again that I had post concussion. My mother then took me back home. I couldn’t stand her going over about 90km and I kept my eyes closed all the way home. (I live by myself and about 10 km out of town). I had been given another 10 days off work from Auckland.

I remember waking up a couple of days later and feeling like my head was filled with fog. Food had no taste and I became light and sound sensitive. My speech was also slow and slurred. Looking in the mirror all I could see was dead eyes that looked tired and puffy. I didn’t know who this person was. Everything was an effort and my concentration was zilch. Over the next few months, through share guts and determination, I managed to do a bit of work. I have little recollection of what I did, but knew that it had involved a bit of travelling, as mum drove me.

I could drive myself into town. I would start off at 50 – 60km and after doing my shopping chores, (which are another story) I was so fatigued and overloaded that I could only drive 20km home if I was lucky. The dirt track the other side of the road to the main Victoria Rd in Cambridge was my friend as hardly any other cars used it. It also meant that I didn’t have to have the panicky feeling when cars come up behind you.

Just going into the supermarket was a challenge. Talk about overloading the circuit board. I found that I had to wear ear plugs and sunglasses and that I could just walk around slowly with my head down as the movement of people passing me would make me fell nauseous. Going past the Frozen foods made me so cold, that for the first few months, I never went there after that first time. I tried going at times I knew that there wouldn’t be a lot of people but there was still the bright lights, shiny floor, music and people talking. Sometimes I would have to go to the toilet, just to give myself a break.

Walking down the main street of town was a challenge – the noise of the traffic, the music bellowing from the stores, the movement of people, all those colours, the road works. Do I need to say more?

I had been provided with the services of an Occupational Therapist from end of August for 12 weeks. She did a return to work programme for me, which for me didn’t work, as my role in BBNZ, (Basketball New Zealand) involved a lot of driving, meetings, and working with volunteers. I had never turned my mobile off since starting my job as the volunteers starting working after 5pm. Also how could I not answer a call, when they might need information I could give them. I couldn’t get out of this psyche. Yes the big one, I had not accepted that I had a head injury, and I knew best.

I hit the wall again in November and was then put on 3 ½ hrs 4 days a week and to work only mornings. You get to the stage that you have so many breaks as your concentration span is zilch, that in reality I was lucky to have worked productively for ½ an hour.

I was under the illusion that if I just keep pushing myself as per any sports injury I had had then I would get better. My slogan – “No pain no Gain” Well I had pain but I certainly had very little gain. It was tough going. All the skills I needed to do my job were impaired. The listening, tracking, concentration, sequencing and problem solving were mentally exhausting. As was working on the computer and the overstimulation and nauseous feelings you would get from scrolling down a page.

Through this time I felt very alone and if it hadn’t been for a good friend of mine in Auckland, who was recovering from a head injury herself, I wouldn’t like to think what I would have done. I was so frustrated, I had a body from my neck down that wanted to function like it had before the 8th June and a head that wouldn’t let me do hardly anything. Fatigue was number one; just the simplest task of having a shower or doing dishes became a big deal.

While I was trying to work the rest of my life seemed to be on hold. I didn’t cook, as every time I tried, I ended up with burnt offerings. Thoughts of housework, made me feel tired. Using the vacuum cleaner was too noisy, making my bed let a loan changing the sheets, was an all day job. Then there was the outside, lawns – mower too noisy, gardens, hedges on and on the list went. I was very lucky to have a friend come and mow the lawns, as I had bought a hand mower but by the time I mowed one little section of the lawn, the rest had grown so much that the hand mower wouldn’t cut it. (I had to sell this place and move into a smaller place in town. This has greatly assisted with reducing the stress and the driving)

Also gone was my social life; Parties, large meetings or gatherings, the movies, music, book reading, dogs barking (even my two get yelled out), and trying to concentrate on a TV Programme.

At the beginning of 2009 I hit the wall again. I had been determined to see the New Year in and just after midnight, the DJ started playing some head banging music for a group of young ones (that had put up with all the oldie music through the night) and within 30 seconds of it playing I had a panic attack. It took me a while to settle down and the next few days, although no alcohol had been consumed I felt like I had a permanent hang over.

So the cycle began, more Dr’s more tests, OT, Clinical Psychologist, Speech therapist. I went to see a Neurologist and because I couldn’t remember what happened to me between going up for the rebound and picking my self up off the floor, and my age, he started going on about Strokes, epileptic fits. So he made me go through some tests one being sleep deprivation. The Neurologist was so rude, that I actually took a tape machine along to my next appointment with him, but it was like meeting a new person, as all his threats, were unfounded and he treated me like I did have a problem and wasn’t about to rip of ACC. I also had a MRI scan. The guy doing the scan said to me if I needed to stop at any time push the button. I don’t know if he had ever been inside one of those machines but for me the noise was so loud. I tried to put up with it, but I must have been moving around a bit, as he asked me to be still. A few minutes later I hit the red button, only to be told that it would be just a few more minutes. My god it felt like a life time, I came out with eyes, that wouldn’t stop crying and a head that felt it had taken a beating.

In June I was sent to a psychologist. Because I still hadn’t accepted I had a brain injury I talked to him about my work and how I was frustrated because I couldn’t do many hours. He put me on Ritalin and for the next six months I felt like the energizer bunny. It helped me work a bit more, but the nights were a killer, it was like having a permanent hangover and migraine and a constant burn out of the circuit board.

It did allow me in a six week period to attend a tournament for 3hrs for 3 days, be driven up to Auckland for a couple of days, then fly to Invercargill for 4 days, then go back up to Auckland for 3 days and then down to Christchurch for a couple of days. The rollercoaster ride was incredible. On my first trip to Christchurch on the way to Invercargill while walking to the terminal, a guy asked me if I was alright, as apparently I was walking like I was drunk and looked like a ghost.

It was sheer determination that got me through that time. I can remember very little of it, except that most of the time, my head felt that is was going to explode. It was like having an electrical storm happening inside my head. It felt like someone was trying to pull my hair out one strand at a time. Too even gently touch my head hurt or to move my head at all was a big effort and when I did I would feel nauseous again. The lights were much brighter and the noise was much louder, I felt like I was in someone else’s body. I had never experienced anything like it before. My thought was - BUT I DID IT!!

Then I hit the biggest wall I think I could hit. It was like having the power cut off. One minute the lights were on the next they were shut down unexpectantly and without little warning. Nothing was flowing through, the circuit was overloaded. There was no more room at the inn (brain) right now. All I wanted to do was hide away from everything. Everything seemed so overwhelming. I couldn’t understand why things weren’t working. I had pushed myself all my life and had managed to drive myself through injury after injury. Why, how come my body won’t work for me, why do I feel so defenceless, so vulnerable, and such a failure. What have I done wrong?? I thought that I was making some progress.

There were three things that bought me to reality. 1) My girlfriend in Auckland (with Head Injury) had invited two other ladies around to her place, when I visited her that had obtained their head injuries around the same time as me. Neither of them had worked in the past 18 months. I looked at them and they looked fine. The biggest thing that I noticed was their eyes looked alive, while mine still looked dead. 2) I finally went to a meeting of the Waikato Head Injury Society and met Joan Limmer and Mike Rolton. Mike talked about his experience and it made me understand a lot more about what was happening to me. 3) Joan Limmer has been like a second life line. She has attended several Specialist/ Acc meetings with me and has advocated on my behalf. Joan and Mike have been my rock.

It still took me till the end of the year, until I realised that my way wasn’t working. I needed to change a few things. I needed to make a couple of new friend – one called “ENFORCED REST”, and the other was to find out more about this new person that I saw when I looked in the mirror and try and make peace with her.

Between work and me we came to an agreement to allow me one years leave without pay to see if I could recover sufficiently to get back to work full time.

I think that it has taken me over half of this year to get my strength back to fight this injury. It has given me a chance to work on other areas of my life. Because your whole life is affected, and your whole lifestyle changes and your psyche are also traumatized, it has been a very slow journey. Social situations are very difficult and can be embarrassing (ear plugs or ear muffs aren’t a great look but I have become comfortable with them. They are like a handbag or necklace that you bring along or wear to every social occasion). I am trying to get over inhibitions that I never had before. Emotions run high and they often surface at times you’d rather they just stay away. Thoughts that were once unspoken, now just come out. You wonder who this person is. Its like having a relationship with someone new and it takes time to get to know this new person and even longer to accept.

The WHIS also got me a free gym membership for 3 months. It had been something I had been avoiding, as I had been a gym bunny and had certain expectations. I had already been let down on my cycle simulator, as I couldn’t achieve or do what I had used to do so how was I going to cope. I found it one of the biggest challenges I have had. (Up until then I had been going swimming at Te Awamutu. I had two ladies that took me – Pat Carvil and Joy Bell. I started off just doing side stroke. I couldn’t put my head under the water, but to lie on my side or on my back in the water felt like a big weight was taken off my body and the water felt like it was massaging my head. It took a good six months before I could swim. All the time I wore ear plugs and goggles. I started with once a week then went to twice a week. It was invigorating and it was the only time that I felt like the Glenda I knew).

To go to the gym was another step up as it was out at Te Rapa. I had to drive to my brother’s place, stay the night, and go to the gym at around 9am when it was quite. I had to get them to turn the music down and even with ear plugs in I found it annoying, then I’d either rest at my brother’s place or stay another night before driving back home. In the third month, my mother seemed to have a lot of appointments or meetings over in Hamilton, so she would drive to where she was going, then I would drive to the gym and back to pick mum up, then she would drive home. I have continued going to the gym but in Cambridge. I have been going to Swiss Ball classes, which I have found easier, as there is only one person talking and the music is in the background. Also I can place myself where I don’t have to look at others, which assists with my over stimulation with movement. I have also found that it has helped my balance, although that is pretty much my day over for me. I just come home and vegetate. I am now trying Gym Stick. The Tuesday session is very challenging, as it involves a lot of movement, like an aerobic class and the music is louder. I find it very hard to concentrate and to understand what the teacher is saying. At the end of the class I feel very light headed and my senses feel overloaded and my head is full of noise, But the rest of my body feels satisfied. This week I will take both my ear plugs and muffs to see if that helps. I have had to give up the Tuesday session and in fact the gym as summer is here and once the blood starts flowing and because you heat up quicker, I get light headed and a bit nauseous. Looks like swimming is going to become my best friend again.

Its reality time now as my year without pay is almost up. I have to be honest with myself; my driving any distances or for over 30 mins hasn’t improved; I struggle to follow conversation, discussion with two or more people speaking at a time; I can blurt out inappropriate comments; I’m oversensitive to most things; Lists and my diary have become my daily life-savers; I become confused in traffic when fatigued; forget where I have put things or in the morning go to make a coffee and find the kettle in the fridge and that the milk is where the kettle should have been. My eyes become unfocused in the late afternoon evenings; driving through the shadows & light during the days does my senses in; Can’t add a short stack of numbers but getting better; can’t remember names or sometimes struggle to find a word or pronounce it.; My concentration/attention span has improved, as with my fatigue, but it still isn’t enough to get me through a day let alone half a day. My senses are still easily over stimulated, although now I can walk down the street without earplugs.

I challenged myself the other week (you have to do this every now and again), by flying down to Wellington to attend a basketball tournament and the AGM for Wheelchair Basketball NZ (I am there Treasurer). I flow done on the Friday, I felt not too bad after the flight (an improvement). Saturday one of the teams took me out to Porirua to the tournament and AGM was to be held. I stayed most of the time either in a room that the referees used or in the café. I was there 5 hrs and by the time the AGM started my brain had basically shut down. I can’t remember what was discussed and the ride back to the motel. I went straight to bed when I got back to the hotel. Next morning I had to go back and write some cheques out and collect invoices. I was there for no more than an hour and the walls just clasped. I had to get out of there. I had to wait a few minutes for a Taxi but I was still feeling emotional, head ready to explode, nauseous – The Taxi driver must have wondered who the hell he was picking up. I got to the airport. And I had three hours to calm down. I got on my plane home and within 5 minutes I started having a panic attack. Thank god the doors where still open. I explained to the Air Hostess my problem and so after 10 mins I felt a little better. They suggest that perhaps I take another flight. I said no I will be right. They did change my seat so everyone was in front of me. So I grabbed a pillow and stretched out and closed my eyes until we landed back in Hamilton. It has taken me almost 3 weeks to get over this.

Being that high achieving sportswoman, who has set goals in her head, no longer works for me. I am struggling with and need to learn how to break things done into little bits and to pace myself and be satisfied with my achievements. Any person with a life- altering injury or disease knows that sometimes you have to rely on sheer will and resolve to overcome the obstacles. Every day is a new challenge. I still have a long journey to go but I am not going to let this injury beat me.

Who am I? Arrived is this person that enjoys anything sweet, in fact I think since 8th June 2008 I have eaten more sweet things than in my entire life.(not great for the waist line and yes that is expanding too). Each day there is something new to learn about this person. I also know this person is still angry and frustrated, as I still remember who I used to be and how I performed. I notice the loss and live with it everyday.

I know that I am struggling to accept this new person, and I am understanding now, that if I want to do something special like – go out to dinner with a few friends or family gathering, then there are consequences to be had. Most times the consequences are worth it as for that time at least you have participated in a normal activity. I have wonderful friends that have stuck by this new person and who treat her no different to the Glenda that I was. I think some of my family feel a little uncomfortable around me, but mostly they are there for me and are supportive.

I would like to thank those friends and especially my mother and youngest brother Craig for all your on going support. The one thing that I definitely know is; that this is not all about me going through menopause and that once I am through it, I will be the Glenda I knew, as someone suggest to me.

I wish it was that simple.

Glenda Rodger prior to 8th of June 2008
Work: I had been a Policewomen for 8 years, Hearing Tutor for 2 years, Worked in a Regional Sports Trust for 12 years starting role was Women’s / Disability coordinator to my final role being General Manager and for the last 6 years have worked for Basketball New Zealand travelling all over New Zealand working as the Community Basketball Manager.

SPORTING ACHIEVEMENTS:
Rowing:
  • Represented New Zealand for four years
  • Made Rowing history by being the first Brother and sister to represent NZ in the same year
  • 6th in Women’s Four and 7th in Women’s eight at World Championships
  • Won six National titles
  • Won ten North Island Championship titles
  • Won seven titles at New Zealand Masters over 4 years
  • Coached a crew to a national title
  • 3rd at the World Masters Games in Melbourne in the women’s Double in age group
  • Coached a women’s novice eight to 2nd place and a Novice four to 1st place at Nationals.
Netball:
  • Represented Cambridge District for five years
  • Represented Waikato Sub Association for three years
  • Nominated for North Shore Tournament team
  • Represented Whakatane District for two years
Basketball:
  • Represented Cambridge District for two years
  • Represented Eastern Waikato for one year
  • Represented North Shore for two years - picked for Tournament team
  • Represented New Zealand Police for four years
  • Represented New Zealand Services for two years
  • Represented Whakatane District for two years
  • Represented Morrinsville at Divisionals – picked for Tournament team
  • Masters Wanganui – Gold in age group
  • Masters Wanganui – Silver in age group
  • Masters Wanganui – Gold in age group
Indoor Netball:
  • Represented AIS New Zealand over 30’s team
  • Represented North Harbour for seven years
Cycling:
  • Represented Waikato/Bay of Plenty at the National Criteria Championships
  • Best time for Around Lake Taupo Race – 3hrs 20mins
Waka Ama (Hawaiian Outrigging)
  • Won three National titles

And the journey continues…………………………

John’s story

I had a TBI in 1976 as a result of a severe Motor Vehicle Accident, but let me begin my story a few years earlier.

I was born in Kenya and as a result have got their long distance running gene in me. We lived in South Africa when this all happened. At school I excelled in running and cross country. I had already started mixing with my future drinking and smoking buddies. I left school in 1973 and made a choice to pursue my drinking and smoking habit and become a pisshead. I could always run later as the gene was in me.

Fast forward to 31st May 1976. All 3 pissheads were out drinking, playing darts and drinking more. It was time to go home and all 3 sat in front of a Ute. This was before compulsory seatbelts. I was on the left by the door, my drinking buddy in the centre and my other drinking buddy was driving. On the way home the driver fell asleep and hit a one way concrete bridge. On impact we all got flung out. I went through the left door after opening it with my hip and head, the person in the centre went through the front window and the driver went through the door that I opened.

We were all knocked out for a time. The centre passenger was knocked out for a few hours. The driver was knocked out for 3 days and I was knocked out for 30 days. Upon awakening, most of my functions were there but my whole right side had a perpetual tremor. I had to lie on my right arm to stop it from jumping. I had to be led to where I had to go as I could not walk. I mentioned that my hip was sore on doing physio but nothing was done. A few months later my local GP noticed it was shattered and as a result the one leg is 32mm shorter.

I was in hospital for 2 months and then was discharged. I still could not walk as my balance was non-existent. It was a further 6 months before I could walk. I also had to learn how to write and spent hours copying out of a book. I had always been left handed but my initial writing was so terrible that it really would have made no difference.

Fast forward to April 2012. It is now 36 years later and a lot of both positive and negative things have happened. I started running again and achieved marathons in under 5min/km with a built up running shoe. I also ran 56km Two Oceans Marathon in under 5min/km but the 90km Comrades Marathon was a bit far. I finished in the first half of the field which was the goal I set myself. My later running career was over the years 1979 till 1982. I now ride bicycle but will never shine. The perpetual tremor has diminished and is now what I call an intention tremor in my right arm. As soon as I intend to use the arm for a task like picking up a cup of water, it goes haywire and jumps all over the place. I have over the years learnt to control it but I still get senseless comments that do hurt.

I am a draughtsman by profession and did master the art of drawing with one shaky arm. As long as one edge was held I could manage the drawing instruments. The problem really started when the industry moved more towards computer software. Now I continually am told to hurry up. Some employers are understanding, while others aren’t. It is getting more and more difficult to stay in continual employment.

I managed to get contract work most of the time but the rate of pay has varied dramatically.

Another problem I face is being told I am intoxicated when I have not had a drop to drink. I still have a slur in by voice and my balance sometimes is a bit shaky. It all depends on the type of day I have had. In November of last year I was booted of a GoBus as the driver gathered that I was intoxicated. It took 4 months to get a written apology from the driver and an apology from management. Some good seems to be coming from my own misfortune. GoBus is starting a programme to make their drivers more aware of brain injuries etc.

I am very fortunate to have most of my functions intact and am blessed with a caring wife and family.

John Fiddes

Ken's Story

Just over six years ago, I was out training for the Tour of Taranaki road cycling race, and was hit from behind by a car in an 80km/h area. The driver didn’t stop, and the first thing I remember is being in hospital, having my head glued back together. I got sent home that night, and as I walked through the door, I fell over again unconscious. From what I’ve been told, Mum and Dad kept an eye on me that night, and I guess I must have made it. The whole next week is kind of blurry, but the scary thing is, I can’t remember an hour before it happened. I had no idea where I got hit.

At the time I was working as a roofer, and as we were busy, I couldn’t really take any time off. So I went back to work but something weird was going on, my balance was all off, and I was getting what I now know as vertigo. (which is not cool when up on a roof all day) also, my mood had changed, I would get really angry quickly, but only for a short time, and anxious. Really bad panic attacks and headaches. But the thing that messed me up most was that I ended up with an arrhythmic heart rate. So when I rode hard, my heartrate would jump to 250 beats per minute or higher. Anything above 200 and your heart stops beating and just flutters, therefore, it doesn’t pump blood, so you get no oxygen, and fall over.

Bike racing has always been more important to me than anything else, so trying to deal with this, work full time and race, is tough. And before I knew what was going on, it got really out of hand. There was a couple of years where I was so anxious, and hated being around people so much, that I would ride eight hours a day on an indoor trainer, and at least this would wear me out so much that I would get to sleep without the bad dreams. I would drive six hours or more to races and be too scared to get out of my car, and turn around and drive back home. When I did finally line up for a race, my heartrate would blow out after five minutes and I would run out of oxygen and pass out.

For my heart problem, I ended up taking beta blockers to slow it down, and it works, but it takes a lot of my power away. I ended up going to see a psychologist because I really thought I was going crazy! His words of wisdom were ‘everyone gets anxious, otherwise we would take unnecessary risks’ (I’m riding 200km a day inside, because I’m too scared to leave the house). I ended up seeing a different psychologist and she was really good, and much more help. Then one morning I was doing laps aimlessly around the house, and I walked past the lounge, and Mum was watching T.V. It was the Attitude program, with Elizabeth Charlston talking about her head injury. I was just standing there, crying a little bit, thinking, that’s what I’ve got, that’s me right there. And that was the first moment I felt like I wasn’t watching the world fly by at a hundred miles an hour. So I joined up with the THINK! Page that she had set up on facebook, and ended up keeping in touch with her, and she has helped me more than any medical professional ever could. I have ended up becoming the cycling ambassador for THINK!, and I will continue to do anything I can to help them out, for how much they helped me.

Through all this I have continued to ride every day, and the last couple of years, I have (most of the time) got things under control. I am not any better, but with the help of a couple of people, I have got to the stage where I could go and race in Scotland last year. I had a bad crash earlier this year and it was like all this happened over again, I am starting to come right now and am going to America later in the year to race, and hopefully qualify for the World Cyclocross champs. Some days are pretty good, and some days are only just bearable, but if I can do it, it may give some hope to others in the same situation.

Stephen's Story

Having a head injury can be a ticket to hell. Fortunately, it may be a return ticket. My name is Stephen and here is my story.

In September 2007 I had a horrific accident. 5 strokes and a cerebral haemorrhage later, and after 23 months agonisingly slow recovery, I am at last getting ready to return to work. The great thing about the human brain is that so much of it is unused. When a piece is damaged, after an accident, your brain rewires what it can't repair. Just like the rest of the human body,-you can get better. But it will take time.

But there are things you should know. Scary things. They told me in hospital that I would find out who my friends were and I sure did. I lost my job after a botched medical retirement, when my employer decided I would never recover. On the other hand, those who were my true friends before are still hanging in there with me through all that has happened. My old work buddies were not buddies at all. Rather, they behaved like I had a contagious disease. They catastrophised about my situation as people sometime do. To have a head injury is not like catching leprosy, and you can get better-remember that, -but it will take time. The wisdom in all of this? Value your friends.

You may be experiencing mental torments like anxiety or depression. These are normal and you will probably receive something like cognitive behaviour therapy to overcome your torments. Avoid stressful situations, develop strategies to cope and remember that you are not alone. You may have to take medication for a while. If so, that’s OK-take the medication so you can get better. Better still is to learn coping strategies so you don't need pills. Your coping strategies will stay with you as you move into the new life coming for you-and remember, your new life coming may even be better than your old. Just because you have had a head injury does not automatically mean that your life is ruined.

You can buy some non-prescription medication that may help. I take 5HTP, Vitamin E and Omega Oil. Sleep is really therapeutic. Learn to have "nana naps" every day, and remember you will tire easily. Make sure you have good sleeps at night. Get physically fit-it really helps. Strong religious convictions will genuinely help you. I've learned that my former tolerance to alcohol is much reduced, so be very, very careful.

It’s hard on your family, I won't deny that. Your mood will change. You'll notice the little things and miss the big things. You may become much more 'rigid' in your thinking. You may not be much fun to live with and it will be tough on your partner and kids. You may even be crankier than you were before. This is a good opportunity for you to invest time and energy into your marriage and your family. These are the most precious relationships you have and don't take them for granted. Learn to focus on your partners needs and think about your children. Your head injury is not the centre of your families world, they are. You are the one with the injury, and you have to adjust, not them. Learn that maybe respite care is a good idea for those living with you.

Another good idea is to come along to the support group meetings. Join us here in Hamilton if you are living here in the Waikato. The point is to reach out for help,...remember, you are not alone.
Stephen

Mike's Story

My life as I knew it changed suddenly and quickly at 8:20 am on 18th October 2006. I suffered a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) when two heavy metal gates came crushing down on to my forehead, severely damaging my Frontal Lobe. The Frontal Lobe part of the brain control or is responsible for:

  • Memory and problem solving
  • Judgment and impulse control
  • Personality and emotions
  • Social communication
  • Planning and organising
  • Sexual behaviour

So it is a really important part of the brain. After the accident the damage caused me:

  • Severe personality and behavioural changes
  • Mood swings
  • Quick aggression
  • Severe memory and concentration problems
  • Difficulty carrying out simple instructions, easily confused
  • Does not know how to start
  • Repetitive and impulsive
  • Loss of simple movement
  • Sexual Disinhibition

I was taken to Hospital where an MRI scan has shown no brain damage as such, but my Frontal Lobe was a mess. Strangely I was sent home from the Hospital with the instructions to my family “wake him every 2 hours for the next 48 hours so he doesn’t fall into a coma”. For the next 3.5 months I could not stay awake – I had to sleep 20 hours plus a day, my family woke me for meals & hygiene – they kept me alive.

I had a whole raft of problems as a result of this accident:-

  • My memory was so bad I was not sure who the people looking after me were – they looked familiar, but I wasn’t sure, they told me who they were – after a minute or two I have forgotten.
  • Not all of my memory was like that, my long term memory was good and I could recall childhood and teenage years, however, my short term and medium term memory had gone. This memory problem went on for several months.

It was towards the end of the first year that my short term memory started to improve. I had put a lot of work into making this happen – both physical and mental effort. My medium term memory was hit and miss and still is today. Concentration was another problem – I could not focus on anything for more than 1 – 2 minutes. My family would ask me to do a simple task, I would turn to complete the task and immediately it was forgotten, this went on for months.

Personality changes – my wife of 30 years commented that my personality changed completely and that there were major behavioural issues. I had mood swings, would explode with aggression over little things, missing the big picture completely.

I fatigued quickly and still needed 10 hours sleep at night and 4 to 5 hours during the day. I was easily confused and doing simple tasks (like putting dishes away) was difficult. I just couldn’t follow basic instructions. I am sure this combination of problems was hard on my family and there were many tense moments.

Physically I was in trouble as well, my whole right side was affected and I had:

  • Balance problems
  • Co-ordination problems
  • No feeling in my right legs, from my hip to toe.

Sleeping for so long had taken away my fitness, muscle tone and my strength. This combined with my other problems and man I felt like a sad sack. I could not lift a 500g pack of butter above my head. I couldn’t lift the bags of groceries from the car to the house. I could not hit a nail into a piece of wood, etc. etc. I knew I did not want to stay like this, so I started to train at a rehabilitation gym. To begin with it hurt, I was in pain for months, but I kept going.

After about 12 - 14 months the physical results started to show. I regained my strength, muscle tone and fitness. My balance had massive improvements, my co-ordination was back and 2 years and 10 days after my accident the feeling in my right leg returned. With my physical side attended to, I had read that after this type of accident it was possible to re-train your brain. That is why I did a course at WILSS, studying coaching.

Starting University was another testing time for me and a real challenge for my self esteem, all sorts of questions swamped my mind. Could I handle school again, could I cope in class, would I be able to complete assignments, would I retain any information, could I actually study? Being pig headed, helped me say yes to all of the above so I started the course which ran for 18 months. At the start it was difficult just sitting in the class, let alone retain anything, I had to write sheets of notes so I could remember what was said. At times I was so exhausted after class I went home to sleep, but just like the gym over time I just got better and new pathways open up in my brain and knowledge poured both in an out. I mean I was saying things I did not know I knew and learning new things that made me want more.

Before the class was over I took on another course which was 6 months of intense study and really enjoy it- next an MBA. After 3.5 years I re-entered the work-force, having pushed all the limits of recovery, enjoying life of a working person. If there is one thing I have learnt - it is NEVER GIVE UP ON YOURSELF.

Mike