ABI week 2016. Heather, a caregivers story

Life is a journey, not a destination – Ralph Waldo Emerson

Today I bring you a brain injury story from a caregivers perspective. Heather cares for her husband who had a motorcycle accident in 2007. Heather talks about how family and relationships can change and fracture but that there is a way to find your new normal as a family unit. I’d like to thank Heather for sharing this on the blog, it’s much appreciated.

In 2006, the morning of 7th June I received a telephone call from the Police to tell me my husband had been taken to the hospital after having a motorbike accident. The female officer appeared sympathetic but fairly positive that my husband had received only ‘minor’ injuries including a broken collarbone. He had been assessed by primary care in accident and emergency and could come home. I arranged child care for my 33 month old daughter and went to the hospital to collect him. The doctors said he was ‘lucky’.

If someone had stopped me at the door and told me that for the next year I would experience the worst year to that point in my life I wouldn’t have believed them – after all it was only a broken collarbone. It wasn’t, of course, I am writing for a Traumatic Brain Injury blog so it can’t be!

I’ll cut a very long and often traumatic story short to tell you where we are today in our journey. My husband experienced a traumatic brain injury, broke his collarbone, broke every single one of his ribs (some multiple), fractured his hip bone, chipped his pelvic bone, fractured two vertebrae, lacerated his side and damaged a kidney (which is now dying). Only the collarbone and laceration were picked up in A&E despite his motorbike helmet being cracked in two. The trauma clinic were thankfully more efficient. My husband’s TBI was diagnosed after his Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) had eased; unveiling some behaviour that could not be readily contributed to regular PTSD. It was though, some nine months after his accident. He had received TBI through acceleration-deceleration associated trauma; the force of hitting the van that pulled across his path and caused him to be thrown into the air and career up the tarmac caused his brain to be shaken around forcefully in his head.

Despite all of this we are lucky he survived; he jumped a fraction of a second from his motorbike before impact, we are lucky he was an experienced rider. It is funny how we measure luck; it is usually against the experience of (what has to be conversely) bad luck. What would have been lucky that day was to have left the house 5 minutes later.

It is nearly 10 years since the accident. What a journey! We have a very good neurological unit in Edinburgh and he was under their care for some time – even still if he needs it. The neuro-rehab unit also considers not only the individual but their families too, although it’s limited. This is important because from a carer and mother (of our child) point of view it is not all about how the accident impacted upon my husband. It took a long time for me to appreciate my needs; if you can imagine it was my daughter, my husband, sometimes the cat then me! We all needed to adjust, get to know the husband, friend, lover, partner and father again. We have some lovely friends who have endured us ebbing in and out of their lives, my husband avoids social gatherings at all costs now. Most of those that matter to us understand and some exceptional family members such as my nephew and my dear late Mother. We did employ the services of a childminder for longer than most but it helped with constancy of care; my daughter is amazing at 12 she is empathic, usually understanding (pre-teen style) and has a wicked sense of humour that commands sarcasm to its full (which sometimes escapes her father’s grasp). We as a family have come to understand that we sometimes cannot be that family on the telly or next to us on holiday; especially on short breaks – it’s just me and my daughter as going away for a few days upsets my husband’s routine too much. But that’s okay as we all get a bit of a break to recharge our batteries and we can plan longer breaks together.

Well…. I can plan the longer breaks; it’s one area that my husband finds the most frustrating thing about having a TBI is the impaired organisation and planning, others are rigidity in thinking and implications of decisions – the higher functioning of the brain. Although, there has been an improvement in ten years it is still pretty affected.

This is how we measure luck though – my husband, who has been my ‘other half’ since we were teenagers is still here, he has developed a grounded approach to life and often keeps me grounded too with his alternative viewpoint when I am being all task-focused. He got the opportunity to develop a beautiful relationship with my mother several months before she died – understanding her in ways I didn’t. He has developed a creativity envied by so many in his wood-turning where that attention to detail of his really pays off and he creates the most beautiful wooden work at Tooth Fairy Pots (link blow). My husband also has the challenge of living with three demanding women (I’m including the cat again) and copes better than some men I have known – including those without a TBI.

I have learned to live with the house being untidy, needing tradesmen to do things my hubby once did and listening to myself when I need some ‘me’ time and when we all need ‘we’ time. I haven’t lost sight of everyone’s needs, including my own and this year although I work pretty full-time I also managed to become self-employed to do a bit more of what I enjoy doing. Life is full on but if your foundations are strong then you can build. It has taken ten years, but I guess, we as a family, are just lucky like that.

You can find the amazing woodwork that Heathers husband does by going to Tooth Fairy Pots

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