Welcome to the Survivor’s Perspective:
Where our family members & fellow survivors share their stories of survival, strength, and success.
If you are a survivor of brain injury and would be interested in sharing your story, please contact Daniel.Ignacio2@stjoe.org
Date of Injury: Summer 2015
Cause of Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury
Headline: “I knew that I needed to fulfill my goals to inspire my daughter.”
In the summer of 2015, a large wooden pole flew directly at me. I was told that there was a lot of bleeding in my brain (hemorrhage). After the blood was removed, my intracranial pressure inside my skull was increasing and began reaching dangerous levels, so a young surgeon performed a decompressive craniectomy. When I woke I was a little cognizant and a little drowsy, but I was ready to leave the hospital and return to the life I had abruptly left. Somehow my brain informed me that I got hurt through a dream while I was in a coma. But I didn’t grasp the reality of my injury until weeks later.
Although I was enthused upon waking from a coma, the pain and not getting what I wanted was difficult. I was transferred to a rehabilitation hospital to be thoroughly checked. I only used a walker for a few days, but I did need extra dark sunglasses since I had bleeding that made my right eye extremely sensitive to light. They also assessed my capabilities, and to their surprise, I was still able to make a scrambled egg! However, my sense of smell and taste were affected, and to this day, I cannot smell and taste anything “accurately.”
There was a delay in my discharge from the hospital, and although I was eager to return home to continue my life, I was beginning to feel darkness. I had a breakdown, and my best friend was with there to support me, but that was just the beginning of my emotional downfall. When I finally got home, I was still depressed. There were no nurses to help with the difficulties I continued to experience at home; I felt alone. It was difficult to fall and stay asleep, so I frequently woke up unrested – the only thing that told me that I slept was the hours that passed. I was experiencing many difficulties and although asking for help was not my forte, I learned.
The most unexpected struggle I experienced was my emotion. The attention I received from everybody made me feel whole, and when I looked like I had recovered, I lost the spotlight. I started craving and needing company. I automatically felt sad when my friends were not with me. Then I started having this internal conflict: I started thinking that I have nothing to gain from trying to live because I will only be brought down again. I believed that life was futile, so why try.
HOWEVER, another part of me knew that I needed to get back on my path to finish what I had started. I hated living, but I knew that I needed to fulfill my goals to inspire my daughter. I felt so tired since I was going back and forth in my head with my internal struggle and neediness. I did not know what was going on with me. I was crazed with mixed emotion: depression, sadness, loneliness, stress, and misery for no apparent reason.
The best decision I made was to ask for medication to subdue my feelings, and to continue talking to my real friends. My buddy reminded me that being alone is not the same as being lonely. It was an a-ha moment! I needed to be comfortable being with myself again. With the help of a pill, I could focus on this new way of thinking. I’ve calmed down, which allowed me to think. Without all the noise of emotions attached to any event, I have made it back onto the path of looking forward and striving in life.
I’m still learning about myself while managing my emotions. When I ask why this happened to me, one answer I form is because, maybe, what I knew about life and myself was wrong. So, I’m learning and questioning who I was and what I had become. I am not regretting my previous life, but I ask myself “looking at the old me, how should I change to become a better person?” What I take from my injury is that, although my brain is damaged, I still have a mind that functions to strengthen my will to achieve.
Date of Injury: 01/07/2008
Cause of Injury: Traumatic Brain Injury (fall)
Headline: “We are blessed with hardships to humble us…”
In 2008, I was pushed off a three-story balcony. Left lying in the soil, unconscious and seemingly lifeless, I was eventually picked up by emergency services and transported to a nearby medical center. While I stayed unconscious for the next three weeks, my family and friends waited anxiously day in and day out, even when a doctor informed them of my permanent vegetative state (or so she thought). I was 18 years old.
Awaking from a coma, I had no control over my body; I could only blink my eyes. I could not lift my arms, move my head, or speak. I did not know what had happened, where I was, who were the people pushing my stretcher, or why my body would not work. I was trapped in a broken shell with many exploding emotions and no way to express them.
I spent all day forcing myself to go to sleep, desperately hoping that I would finally wake up from this nightmare. As I sat in my wheelchair, I developed a deep appreciation for the daily abilities that I used to take for granted and an even deeper frustration that I could no longer perform them. Over the next few months, I relearned how to walk, how to talk, how to eat, and how to use the bathroom (among many other things). I thought I had overcome the worst, but it was only the beginning.
After returning home, I slowly started managing my physical ailments, but it was the devastating mental symptoms of traumatic brain injury that completely thrashed my identity, self-esteem, plans, and hopes I once had for my future. I could not maintain focus; my attention span was that of a child; I could only remember events for minutes at a time, and I developed an eating disorder. I was constantly depressed, frustrated and angry. So angry. I did not know it at the time, but I was mostly upset with myself for wanting to give up. I wanted to die … but I would have always questioned what would have happened if I had tried.
I refused to live a life of regret. One day, I cut my unkempt hair and started running. I began a diet and an exercise regimen while reading for my school courses. I kept pushing myself until I cried, exercising until my feet would bleed, studying until I fell asleep on my desk, and praying until I had nothing left to say. An adage came to me in prayer that put my disability into perspective: “We are blessed with hardships to humble us, as the meek shall inherit the Earth.”
Having a brain injury has taught me invaluable things about how to live. It is those who are broken who truly know the value of being fixed. It is during the times that we have less, that the little bits are cherished. When I took my first step away from my wheelchair unassisted, I felt magic: left foot — magic, right foot — magic. When I first started remembering the names of my family and dearest friends — magic. When I could remember the last time a friend and I were together and could even remember the last joke that we shared, I cried.
Every day since then has been magic to me, and, ultimately, I realized what that adage meant. I inherited a beautiful brain-injured perspective. I inherited a lens that allowed me to experience a profound sense of appreciation: to not concern myself so much with the pursuit of happiness, but with the happiness in my pursuits.
I wish you the absolute best of luck as you approach the hardships in your life; how you respond to them could be a reflection of who you might become.