My brain injury was difficult to detect on regular MRI scanners. It wasn’t until a year after my accident I was sent to Harley Street to have the latest version which is a T3. It gives a much higher resolution and therefore more detail. They were then able to diagnose a diffuse axonal brain injury. Essentially that is where and number of pathways in the brain have been disrupted. The signals are either lost or they must find a longer alternative route. These can be seen in road traffic accident causalities, such as my case, due to the rotational forces in a shunt or spin. I did have a large cut on my head which required 9 or 10 stitches. But as much as that hurt, it probably wasn’t connected directly with my brain injury. If you know someone or you yourself have recently been in a road traffic accident please don’t read this thinking they/you must have a diffuse axonal brain injury. It by no means happens to everyone. Whilst everyday unfortunately accidents do happen on the road, thankfully many of them to not have the conditions which result in this type of injury.
If you have heard of this injury before it may be from when Top Gear presenter Richard Hammond. He crashed a jet powered vehicle while filming for the show in September 2006. He was in a coma for 2 weeks but he did manage to return to work. Although no two patients have the same injuries or symptoms, he did go on to mention some difficulties which reflected my experiences.
“It was a lot to deal with. I had a pretty tricky few years. The knock-on effects of the injury meant I was susceptible to depression, obsession, compulsion and paranoia, although I wasn’t aware of that at the time. It gave me an unnatural platform from which to observe my own mental state, which was exhausting. For a time I lost the ability to connect emotionally. I began picking away at my own personality and that was dizzying.” Richard Hammond
I found shopping in supermarkets a massive challenge. My anxiousness about “was I in the way of someone else” verged on paranoia. When I side stepped for them, they would continue to inch towards me whilst engrossed in what they were looking for. Feeling chased and harassed I would start taking fast shallow breaths and looking for an escape. Of course this is unreasonable as it is natural for fellow shoppers to browse the shelves. There will be times that you happen to be stood right by an area they want to investigate.
The more I thought about anything I found a way to blame myself for it. I managed to berate myself so much decisions were almost impossible. If my partner asked where I would like to go for dinner I was too frightened to even try to suggest anything. I was worried that once there his meal wasn’t as good as he wanted. I would see that I’d made a bad choice which had impacted him and I couldn’t cope with that. This was unfair and unfounded as James is easy going and rarely complains, it was tiresome for him. I was unwittingly making him responsible for my entertainment and almost my whole life.
Richard Hammond went on to talk about how he needed to know if the accident was his fault and I was the same. As the last thing I remember was from the night before I was worried I’d done something wrong. I clearly remember leaving a restaurant near my work as the Managing Directors had bought the team dinner. It was a pleasant evening. I walked with the MD’s back to the company Smart car and set off home. I don’t remember the journey and even getting home that night. The following morning on my way to work was when the accident happened.
In most cases when a vehicle is rear ended by a following vehicle it is usually seen as the driver in the following vehicle being at fault.
The Highway Code (para. 126), in relation to Stopping Distances, recommends that “you should drive at a speed that will allow you to stop well within the distance you can see to be clear. You should leave enough space between you and the vehicle in front so that you can pull up safely if it suddenly slows down or stops.”
However that didn’t stop me from trying to find a way to blame myself. Even when a police officer visited me at home to return my handbag and give me the results of their investigation. He explained that there was no evidence that I had done anything wrong. They wouldn’t be prosecuting the other driver as they had found the dead Buzzard at the scene. Therefore they felt it really was just an unfortunate cause of wrong place, wrong time for both of us. But I found myself questioning had I just overtaken the truck and pulled in front of him, slowing suddenly when I realised the traffic ahead was stopped. There were no witnesses who saw the moments before the accident. The truck driver had not indicated that I had in any way caused the accident so this was nonsense. It was just me tearing myself apart.
The hardest part about trying to recover from a brain injury is when you start to notice what’s wrong. To begin with I knew my memory and language skills were affected as was my walking. Part of my spine compressed and damaged some nerves affecting the strength and balance on my left.
But it wasn’t until I got back some self awareness that I was able to reflect on some situations and see how my behaviour wasn’t normal.
Often those with brain injuries can have so many different things they are trying to cope with. They can over look some symptoms which you would think should be glaringly obvious. Months after the accident I started to complain of either double vision or what I named “one and a bit”. I can only describe this as the two images from the eyes not lining up properly and having an overlap. I might have had this immediately after the accident. But its possible that as there were so many things my brain and body were trying to deal with I just didn’t bother to take any notice. Brains that have been injured are having to work so much harder than before. To do the simplest task they will prioritise what to worry about next. And the order of priority doesn’t always make sense.
Even now I have days when I will reflect on something I did the day before and regret it because it wasn’t normal for me. This can be something as simple as my response to a recruitment agent sending me an email. One agent had copied and pasted to everyone they could find on LinkedIn about how they can send “my company” some CV’s. I angrily fired off a reply. Not even bothering to address them, pointing out that my profile clearly shows my last employment has ended. Therefore I’m not connected to a company needing staff. This was both unnecessary and unprofessional. As a former recruitment agent myself this person was clearly demonstrating why recruitment agents have a bad name. But all it achieved was to make me look like a nasty moody cow. I usually would have just ignored it. Believing that they only want replies from those who are interested in their services, and won’t even remember contacting half the people as it would have been so many.
But I see this blog as a part of me accepting what happened and what I’ve got now. I hope that as I continue to learn I can try to help others and their loved ones as they go through their own journey. Actually I want to let you all witness in real time what the next chapter holds for me. I don’t want to just talk about the injury and be all woe is me, I want to push forward. I’m going to share with you things I’m interested in. I hope that as I achieve things, no matter how small, I might inspire someone else.
Although I have no memory of the day that changed my future, it doesn’t have to be the only thing that defines me.
What was your life changing moment?