March is brain injury awareness month. But for those of us touched by brain injury, so is every other month. Not a single moment of a single day goes by that we are not aware of the deep and far reaching effects of brain injury.
Brain injury is not like in the movies. There is no quick and easy fix. There is no miracle return to the same person they were pre-injury. Their life has been forever changed. THEY have been forever changed. And those who love them have been forever changed. Some do make a significant recovery, and the changes in them are small, maybe even unnoticeable to people who don’t spend a lot of time with them. Some make very little recovery, spending the rest of their lives in a coma or minimally conscious state (what is sometimes called “vegetative.” That’s offensive to us brain injury families, BTW). And some, like Trent, are somewhere in between. From the outside, you can’t tell there’s a thing wrong. Well, unless his shirt is off—then you can see the scar from his tracheostomy. After he had been removed from the ventilator and been put back on several times in a two week span, he developed stridor and was unable to breathe, necessitating that surgery. You can also see the scar from his g-tube, where he was fed through a tube and received all medications. Oh, and because of his thin build, you can also see his AICD (automated implantable cardioverter defibrillator). Because they were unable to replicate his sudden cardiac arrest through testing, and because they were unable to find any underlying heart problem, Trent couldn’t go to rehab without a device being put into his body that will automatically shock his heart into a normal sinus rhythm if it goes into ventricular tachycardia again.
Sometimes when he’s tired, his posture and his gait are a little off. But otherwise, physically, you can’t tell. Cognitively is where his issues lie. He understands every single thing that is said to him. When given instructions, it may take a few seconds for him to process, but he gets what you’re saying. He can read. He can speak. He remembers most things and people from his past. It’s his short term memory that has been damaged. It’s the area of the brain where focus, initiation, executive function, etc., are controlled that hasn’t really rebounded. Typical conversation: “What’d you do today?” The response is always “Nothing.” Doesn’t matter if we actually did nothing, or if we had been abducted by aliens and gone to the moon.
And when I say it changes all of our lives, I mean it. I went from working in the legal field and considering masters programs to full-time caregiver. My days are filled shuttling him to therapies and appointments, and using resources we have found to work on at home. Raleigh took a humanitarian orders billet that could cost him his shot at O-5. He works a full day with the Navy and comes home to help work Trent’s brain in ways I can’t—working in the garage, on the cars, etc..Our plans for life after military retirement have been drastically altered. Raleigh Owen and Samantha....while they are far away, and just starting their lives together, they know and understand we won’t be here forever. I’m sure the knowledge that they will be responsible for making decisions someday weighs on them. And the fact that they will have to do so weighs heavily on me. This roller coaster has taken a toll on my physical and emotional health for sure. Trent’s injury has also affected our parents, our siblings, and our friends. And we are among the lucky ones....too many in our situation have no support from family or friends. I can’t imagine trying to do this alone. It is mentally and physically exhausting.
But we wouldn’t have it any other way. Because the other option would be to not have Trent. And when I say it changed all of us, not all of the changes are bad. I am much more patient. I am much more empathetic. I have learned so much about so many different things that I never imagined. We have met incredible, inspiring people who do amazing things. And we have met survivors who have fought so hard for every little ounce of improvement that it is impossible to not stand in awe of their strength of mind, body, and character.
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