a story that mirrors many others

Traci's Story

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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