Saturday, December 21, 2013

Dealing with a TBI

TBI = Traumatic Brain Injury. They are painful. They are frustrating. They are common with our soldiers.

My husband has one. An accident during his first deployment caused a head injury and some injury to his back as well. I love my husband. I will always support him. Even if he came back with a worse injury. The reality is though, even despite the fact that a TBI isn't something you can see physically and it may seem like it's nothing, a TBI can be devastating. To both the one who has the injury and their family members.

I was watching an episode of Army Wives. It triggered some tears as I watched a soldier dealing with some of the symptoms of a TBI. I have not been the one dealing with the fear of memory lose or the  excruciating headaches, but I have witnessed them in someone I love. And it is heartbreaking. I have spent a lot of tears over feeling helpless as I watch my husband struggle to remember simple things, like the name of a person he has known for years or how to spell a word he uses all the time. I have watched his frustration when he stops in the middle of a sentence because he can't remember what the word is he was going to say. I've seen him sit in defeat, wondering if he will ever be able to do school again because he isn't sure he can take a test where he isn't allowed to have notes. I've seen him nearly fall due to dizzy spells. One moment in time changed my husband's whole life. He went from being a man who could sit in his college classes and not need to take notes to being someone who has to carry a notebook with him everywhere so he can write down every task he needs to complete so he won't forget. He used to carefree and cheerful all the time. Now he has headaches that make him moody and short tempered. His dreams are having a forced change put on them because we don't know how the future will play out. He wanted to be a surgeon. A heart surgeon none the less. But now he has the complications of his TBI to consider.

All of these things are common symptoms of a TBI. There are lots of others though. Every case is different because every brain is different.  I got this list of symptoms off of Military OneSource.

  • "Headaches - Mild to severe headaches are common with TBI patients. Usually, they become less severe with time.
  • Dizziness - Problems with balance may make it difficult for TBI patients to walk or even sit up for an extended period of time.
  • Excessive tiredness and problems sleeping - A TBI patient's sleep pattern may be disrupted by the injury, making it difficult to get a good night of sleep. Also, patients often feel tired from all the effort they are putting into their rehabilitation.
  • Problems concentrating or paying attention - Many patients have to learn to focus on just one thing at a time. For former multitaskers, this can be frustrating.
  • Memory problems - Short-term and long-term memory can be affected by a brain injury. Many patients can't remember the incident or immediately afterwards.
  • Vision problems - Some patients have problems with double vision or blurred vision. This should be evaluated by a clinician.
  • Weakness in the extremities - TBI patients who experience weakness may have trouble with day-to-day tasks, like taking a shower or shaving.
  • Seizures - Many TBI patients run a risk for seizures, but the risk decreases steadily as they recuperate.
  • Personality changes - A brain injury can affect the portions of the brain that influence emotion and behavior. It can lessen emotional control, changing the patient's behavior. TBI patients can sometimes become:
    • Overemotional - Many patients may have trouble controlling their emotions. Tears of joy or anger are common.
    • Angry - Many patients get angry easily. They may have a difficulty controlling their emotions or they may be frustrated with the difficulties they face with everyday tasks.
    • Insensitive - Their injuries may have reduced their ability to filter out private thoughts, so they respond with inappropriate statements. Many patients have trouble identifying facial expressions or other non-verbal signs, making it hard for them to gauge someone else's emotions. "

  • It has been a major adjustment for us both. The worst part is the helplessness. Medications don't fix everything. There is nothing either of us can do to make him heal faster or heal at all. I can't do anything to relieve the pain he is in emotionally or physically. I can only stand by, with arms open, offering comfort and support. And I will admit that sometimes that is even hard.

    I am not perfect. I fail horribly as a supportive spouse sometimes. This change has effected me too. Sometimes I feel like I am completely unimportant because he never seems to remember anything that I tell him. The reality is, I'm the most important person to him but he also has more pressing things he needs to remember and there is only so much he can store currently. I go on the back burner. He means me no harm but sometimes I lose my cool about it. It's also hard to realize the life that we had planned out might not work. It has been long enough that there is a good chance that he won't improve anymore than he has. There is also the frustration of dealing with the military when it comes to injuries like these. I often feel like he isn't getting the help that he needs and that concerns me. I get angry over that and sometimes, as stupid as it is, I take it out on my husband because I feel like he doesn't see a problem at all.

    There are different levels of TBIs. Some are very mild while other cases cause men and women to have to relearn everything in their lives. Military OneSource give a brief description of the different severities.

  • "Mild TBI - The mildest form of TBI includes concussions. Recovery is usually a matter of just a few weeks or, in some cases, a few months. Although the injury is not life threatening, the long-term effects of mild TBI can be troublesome. Each injury is different, so be sure to get an evaluation if you think you may have suffered an injury.
  • Moderate to severe TBI - Moderate and severe brain injuries are often marked by a period of unconsciousness. Patients with severe TBI may remain unconscious for an extended period of time. In many cases, the patients don't remember the incident and may have long-term amnesia. Severe brain injuries can be debilitating, and the road to recovery can be long. Rehabilitation is often necessary.
  • Related injuries - Service members with brain injuries may suffer with other, more life-threatening, injuries. Diagnosing and assessing the brain injury may have to wait until the other injuries are treated. In many cases, TBI symptoms overlap symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, making treatment more complicated."

  • My husband in on the mild side of things, thank goodness. He didn't lose any long term memories. He didn't have to relearn how to tie his shoes or read. These are legit things that happen. This is why military hospitals have TBI units. There are some very severe cases. However, I feel like sometimes because my husband's injury is mild, people assume he is just making it up. I can assure everyone he is not. I've seen him get physically sick due to horrible headaches. I know him, I see the difference.

    Which takes me into the next bit. The shame of having a TBI. My husband has been teased about his "brain problem." I'm sure that some of it are just playful comments made by soldiers who don't mean anything by it. But the truth is, it's a sensitive subject for Brandon. He laughs stuff off but sharp comments can stab deep. The worst is when people act like it's all a joke, that he is just pretending to get out of work. People...just don't. If someone says they have a TBI, back off. Give them the support they need. They are going through hell. Rather than make fun of the things they have forgotten, encourage them to keep trying to remember. I realize it might be amusing to you to watch a grown man trying to learn to tie his shoes, but step back and think about how you would feel in their position. Talk about humbling.  This is no different than any other injury. It is just their brain that has a bruise. You wouldn't make a person run on their broken ankle, don't insist that someone with a TBI should be able to do everything normal. They need your help, not your cutting remarks.

    The best thing you can do for people with TBIs is to get informed and be supportive. Learn everything you can about what they are going through and then be there to help them through their recovery. Don't be an ignorant bystander that laughs at their failures. This is what Military OneSource had to say about what loved ones of people with TBIs can do.

    "As the family member of a patient with a TBI, you may feel shocked, confused, and even angry. These feelings are all normal. Family members should try to learn as much as they can about their loved one's injury so they can help make important decisions on care and treatment. Here are more steps you can take to help with your loved one's recovery:
    • Help your loved one keep to a schedule. Following a daily routine will help your loved one master daily skills and avoid confusing situations.
    • Avoid situations with lots of people. You may have friends and family who want to visit your loved one. Try to avoid situations where several people will be talking at once.
    • Do one thing at a time. Help your loved one stay on track and focused by presenting only one task at a time and allowing him or her the time he or she needs to complete it.
    • Ask for help. Whether you need help making a difficult decision, filling out paperwork or whether you just need someone to talk to, don't be afraid to ask for help. Family members and friends can be a great source of comfort during this difficult time. "
    If you are worried that someone you know is suffering from a TBI, help them get the help they need. And love people, don't shame them

    Keep L i/o ving!

    My sources. Lots more good info.