Traumatic Brain Injury: The Consequences

I am going to discuss things that may go wrong and that may change a person forever after they sustain a traumatic brain injury (TBI), but first I have something very important to tell you about the TBI that I suffered years ago.

An x-ray showing a human brain and the beginning of the spinal cord

An x-ray showing a human brain and the beginning of the spinal cord Source: http://www2.fmrib.ox.ac.uk/education/fmri/images/sagittal_scan.jpg

I refuse to refer to myself as someone who has a traumatic brain injury

Or who has damage to her brain. This is not because I think brain damage can be cured or is reversible. I just feel it cannot be referred to in the present tense, because the TBI that I suffered was back in 2009 and therefore it is not a present state of discomfort. So, I suffered a traumatic brain injury and subsequent damage to my brain followed. Past tense.

Let me elaborate on my opinion

I believe that the side effects resulting from a TBI are lasting (and sometimes devastating), but the consequent damage I suffered to my brain is not this smoldering entity inside my head. It is not a constant state of deterioration. I think it is similar to when you damage your car. You might dent the bumper and the engine starts to spill a lot of oil after an accident. You take it to the panel beater and they fix it up as best as they can. The car may now backfire constantly or the paint job on the bonnet may differ from the rest of the car. Your car may look or sound a little bit different than before, but it is not damaged anymore. It works as best as it can to transport you to wherever you need to be. I am of opinion that the brain can be compared to a car. The doctors tried their best to fix me up. I move and sound differently than before the accident, but at least I can walk and talk.

Here follows the rest of my reasoning

I am not a damaged individual. My brain was horribly injured by the TBI I sustained and as a result thereof it bled a lot. It took some time for my brain to heal as best as it possibly can and it does not bleed anymore. That is why I say I do not have a TBI anymore, because those three words indicate (to me at least) a current state of painfulness that is distressing. I rather feel that “scabs” and then scars formed where my brain was bleeding, just like with any other wound that bleeds and heals. This obviously had an effect on how my body works nowadays and therefore I am coping now with the resulting effects from the TBI I suffered years ago. Do you understand? My brain injury healed but the side effects left me disabled. So my TBI did change me – irrevocably – but I adapted and I reckon my brain is stronger than ever. Emotionally I am tougher and cognitively I feel sharper than before my TBI. Hence, I am not damaged anymore, I am just disabled.

1. A TBI may affect a person cognitively.

In other words, it can take a huge bite out of your IQ and it can swallow your logic. In doing so, it greatly lessens your rationality and this can make your behavior unpredictable and explosive. This is unfortunately the most common effect that a TBI  has.

I was lucky enough to not be affected in this manner.

There are three other lesser known ways in which a TBI can also affect a person.

2. A TBI may affect a person emotionally.

A traumatic brain injury often alters a person’s temperament and this causes personality changes which may lead to impulsive and erratic behavior. Most people suffer with impulse control after a TBI. This entails that they can have uncontrollable anger outbursts or they can display inappropriate sexual behavior.

I am fortunate in this regard that I am neither overly sexual, nor boldly say inappropriate things. I am just prone to make very rash decisions and I easily lose my temper sometimes. I have learned to deal my impulsivity by taking a time out before making a decision to properly think about it and ask my parents’ advice. To control my temper is much more difficult because it is like a black panther purring inside my chess and then it just leaps out and even takes me by surprise. But it only last for a couple of minutes and then I no longer harbor any aggression or resentment. I do not swear excessively and neither do I become violent or hysterical during my temper tantrums. Again, I am very fortunate.

3. A TBI may affect a person in a sensorial way.

This means the damage a TBI causes to the brain, can take away any of one’s senses: smell; taste; sight; hearing and the skin’s ability to feel different textures and temperatures. Those are the five well-known ones. After suffering a TBI, some people cannot smell or taste anymore. I experience no difficulty with those two, but I struggle to distinguish between hot and cold temperatures on the right-side of my body. I have considerable difficulty to differentiate between different textures, because I experience significant hypersensitivity on the whole right side of my body due to damage to my nerves. My skin tends to overreact to external stimuli.

My hearing is impaired due to tinnitus I experience in both of my ears. Tinnitus is a constant ringing in the ear(s) and basically sounds like white noise to me. I also have limited saliva which is called xerostomia and this makes it difficult to eat meat and bread. My eyes fail to produce tears (xerophthalmia) and they are not properly aligned with each other (strabismus) and this causes me to have permanent double vision.

According to Doctor Norman Doidge, the author of “The Brain that Changes Itself”, balance is easily overlooked as one of your most important senses. It is actually quite obvious when you think about it. Your sense of smell. Your sense of hearing. Your sense of taste. Your sense of balance.

We actually have more than twenty senses, excluding the possible ability to see into the paranormal realm! The rest of our senses are not as tangible as the distinguished five senses school tends to focus on (smell; sight; hearing; touch; taste). The other senses are much more centered on your emotions, logic and integrity, for example, your sense of justice; your sense of pride; your sense of respect etc.

Without your sense of balance, you would not be able to walk or even sit upright. I lost my ability to balance to some degree, because of the amount of damage to my cerebellum. The cerebellum is the area of the hindbrain that controls coordination, balance, muscle tone and equilibrium.

 

The image indicates were your cerebellum is located

The image indicates were your cerebellum is located
SOURCE: http://biology.about.com/od/anatomy/p/cerebellum.htm

Hence I struggle to walk with swift, flowing movements and my coordination is awry.

4. A TBI can affect a person physically.

The most prominent way in which I was physically changed, is the hemiplegia I experience. Along with my lack of balance, the hemiplegia influences the way in which I walk. As I mentioned, I walk with slow and uncoordinated movements, and so I mostly use a wheelchair to move around swiftly and with ease.

There are quite a number of other ways in which I was altered. I will briefly mention on them in “Irene’s brain injury dictionary”.

“I have not been handicapped by my condition. I am physically challenged and differently able.” Janet Barnes

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