A Day in The Life of A Brain Injury


One day during the Summer of 2002, the sun was shining and my husband and I were walking hand in hand, sipping lemonade at an outdoor Art Fair. We were enjoying the warm air and each other’s company as we walked hand in hand. Afterwards, we’d decided to go into town for dinner because our two teenage daughters were busy with friends for the day.

We were driving on our way to dinner when suddenly, I heard my husband shout out “OH NO!” I looked and saw a car coming straight at us. Instinctively, I pulled my legs up to my chin into the fetal position and screamed. What happened afterwards is a blur, but I do remember hearing a very loud noise upon impact and then the smell of smoke. Next, there was only a dead silence. I remember wondering if we were dead for about a nano second. Suddenly everything went dark and silent. That’s all I remember about that day, except short little pictures in my mind of the ambulance ride, hospital & ER..

Once I was admitted to the hospital, I do recall being very upset because I could not walk. No one would come to help me when I tried to call for the nurses. It was hard to use the “nurse call” button because my rotator cuffs were torn in both shoulders. Both of my knees had torn Meniscus’ and I had a ruptured Biceps tendon. There were just too many injuries and then the multiple surgeries that followed for many years. I have Degenerative Disc Disease and suffered multiple herniated and bulging discs at C4/5/6 and L4-5/S-1 with Radiculopathy. I had an MRI which showed that I was most likely born with Arnold Chiari Malformation I. It must have been “sleeping” all of those years, the Dr.’s told me. They explained that between the severe whiplash from that MVA & a whiplash that I suffered from a previous car accident; my Chiari had been awakened. I could not hold my head up at all. The pain was horrible and intense. My husband says that when they were doing my X-rays back in the ER; I was screaming because it was so painful. He said that I was crying out so loudly, that people standing in the hallway left; because they could not handle listening to the painful screams. I mostly remember my back and neck hurting so badly that I could think of nothing else.

My husband also told me that he kept trying to tell the Dr.’s that “something was not right” about me. He thought that I was acting very different from my “normal” personality. He said that when he told them I was acting “not myself”, they sent up a Psych consult. Then they told him that “I couldn’t handle the pain because of the abuse I suffered growing up and in my past marriage”. He didn’t know what to say although he knew that could not be true because I hadn’t been “different” just before the accident? After only 5 days in the hospital, and after their lack of being proactive to help me with my pain and injuries; my husband signed me out against medical advice. He took me to the Neurologist who had known me for 3 years at that point.

The Neurologist really got the “ball rolling” and had me tested for anything and everything that could have been wrong. At that point I was in a wheelchair, could not hold my head up and needed a yardstick behind my head/neck with a pillow on it. My husband rigged up a way to help me have something to rest my head upon. I could not dress myself, go to the bathroom alone or even cut my own food.

We finally found out what was truly wrong. Our questions were answered when I was diagnosed with a TBI or “Traumatic Brain Injury”. I went through 6 months of intense PT, OT and speech therapy. After that, I was in Physical therapy for 8 more years and brain injury rehabilitation for 3 full years. The brain injury rehabilitation was done after I’d done poorly on the Neuro-psych testing. Over the next 3 years, I was in a brain injury rehabilitation program. I was there Mondays through Fridays from 9:00 am until 3:00 pm. I had to have a driving company take me to and from the rehab center daily because I was unable to drive due to pain and nerve injuries.

I could not comprehend what I was reading and had a hard time finding the right words to use while speaking. I was more than forgetful and couldn’t remember my phone number, social security number or my own address. The tests showed that my short term memory was terribly low. I went to speech therapy, Physical and occupational therapy and had to re-learn how to drive via Drivers Rehab training. I did pass in the end, but can only drive a few miles for personal errands. They told me they were afraid that I might get someplace and not be able to find my car in the parking lot. Also, the nerve injuries in my legs, knees, lower back and neck; make driving terribly difficult and fatiguing.

It was and is very frustrating to go from graduating with honors and having a “photographic memory” to not be able to read a full book any longer. I had read the first 4 “Harry Potter” books and was in the middle of the 5th book, when the accident happened. I still cannot and have not been able to finish the rest of the books in that series. Whenever I’ve tried to read any books since that time; I end up reading, reading again and then re-reading. Every time I put the book down and then try to return to pick up where I had left off; I cannot remember most of what happened before that point. I’ve tried audio books and it is just the same. I try to listen and whenever I stop and try to go back to it; I’ve forgotten the whole beginning again. This brain injury has changed my life because I have issues with: double vision, severe dry eye, incomplete blinks, prisms in my glasses and continued worsening lowered vision. I have a moderate hearing loss and have 2 hearing aids now; when ironically, I was an Interpreter for the Deaf before that car accident. I worked at a major University hospital, Interpreting for Deaf patients and also at a school for the Deaf with Deaf children. My life was and is changed forever because someone was distracted and then ran through a red light. My husband’s life and the lives of my daughters were also changed forever in the blink of an eye. I had been a very involved mother who cooked, cleaned, did laundry and drove a mini van full of teenagers. I still made sure that I went in my wheelchair to every swim meet and dance competition. I didn’t want them to think my love or support for them had changed in any way.

I wanted to mention that I still have bad migraines, usually they are “Chiari” migraines. I have balance issues and my personality changed in that I get very emotional now, when I wasn’t like that before the TBI. I also have a hard time making decisions; along with having the same issues that I’ve had since the MVA. If you have had a closed head injury, a TBI or an MTBI, please contact Brain Injury Association for information.

A Re-Post of “The Dr. with Chronic Illness”


Hello Luvs,

This is a full article that I’ve re/posted here because it’s written by a Dr with chronic illness and pain!  She wrote this article in full and it’s here in its entirety.  I did not write any of this post, but all of the info regarding the author is here. This article was in “The Mighty” and all info is here for you.  I felt the need for more people to see this kind of good information and spread it: I personally thank Dr Amy for this great article which speak volumes to what she, I and so many others live with and go through daily ! Here you go, a re: posted article:

Chronic Illness

  • COMMUNITY STORIES

 Doctor with stethoscope

I’m a Doctor With Chronic Illness. Here Are 12 Things I Wish People Knew.

By Amy Stenehjem, M.D.

I write about Chronic Illness

02/06/17

I’ve written this article to help educate those who want to learn about chronic illness. It is written from my perspective, that of a doctor who treated patients with chronic illness for many years, and who spent five years of my life homebound due to chronic illness.

I want to spread awareness so that friends, family, employers, coworkers, and health care professionals can better understand chronic illness. My hope is that an increase in awareness will help strengthen relationships, reduce misunderstandings, and improve support systems for those with chronic illness. 

About Chronic Illness

Chronic illness is a disease, condition, or injury that can last years or a lifetime and is typically not curable, though in some cases it may go into remission. It can vary in its severity, with some people able to work and live active or seemingly “normal” lives; while others are very sick and may even be homebound.

Many people with chronic illness have an invisible chronic illness. The severity of their symptoms is not clearly noticeable, which may lead to a lack of understanding and support from doctors, family, friends, and coworkers.

1. Nobody wants to feel sick.

In all my years as a doctor treating patients with chronic illness, I never saw a patient who enjoyed feeling ill. I saw the opposite, patients who were once very active, desperately trying to find answers and treatment for their overwhelming symptoms.

2. Many doctors don’t understand chronic illness.

For years, doctors were under the misperception that some chronic illnesses were caused by depression or anxiety and the only treatment available for these patients was psychiatric care.

Despite medical evidence disproving this perception, some doctors are “set in their ways” and do not truly understand chronic illness or how to appropriately address it. Therefore, patients often have to spend precious time searching for a doctor who understands their illness and provides appropriate treatment options while their symptoms potentially worsen.

Pay No Interest Until 2018 With This Card

Sponsored by Next Advisor

3. Being unable to work is not a vacation.

Those who are not able to work due to chronic illness are not “on vacation.” They are instead, struggling every day to do simple tasks: getting out of bed, getting dressed, making a meal, bathing, etc. They are often homebound, too sick to leave their homes except for doctor appointments.

Have you ever been stuck indoors for a couple of days due to bad weather or a temporary health issue? Remember feeling annoyed with the inability to leave your home and be active? Now imagine not being able to leave your home for weeks or months at a time. Frustrating, right?

4. Chronic illness can trigger many emotions.

Chronic illness itself can change the biochemical makeup of the mood control center in the brain. In addition, frustrations such as the following can affect a person’s mood and lead to depression and/or anxiety:

the wait/search for a diagnosis

inability to work and feel productive

change in family dynamics

loss of social interactions and isolation

financial stress

the struggle to deal with symptoms and perform simple daily tasks

Those with chronic illness often feel a great loss. It is not unusual to experience some or all of the stages of grief (i.e. denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance). They grieve for the life they once lived. They grieve for the life they must endure now. They grieve for the life they dreamed of having.

Many people with chronic illness also feel very isolated. Even though they crave social interactions, their symptoms may make it very difficult and at times impossible to talk on the phone or type an email or Facebook post.

5. The symptoms of chronic illness are very complex.

The symptoms experienced by those with chronic illness vary depending on the illness; however, many people experience some or all of the following symptoms: extreme fatigue, pain, headaches, brain fog, nausea, and/or dizziness.

It is not unusual for the symptoms of chronic illness to wax and wane over time (sometimes even from hour to hour), so planning activities ahead of time can be very difficult. A “good day” for those with chronic illness would likely be considered a sick day for most others.

6. Chronic illness fatigue is much more than being tired.

Fatigue is a common symptom in chronic illness and in many cases it is severe, often debilitating. It can be easily triggered by simple daily activities or by more elaborate events such as holidays. Those with chronic illness will often have to “pay the price” for engaging in an activity and then require days, weeks, or even months of recovery.

Those with chronic illness may need to rest often and may have to cancel events last minute. This does not mean they are lazy or trying to avoid activities. Once fatigue kicks in, there is no other option other than to rest. It’s as if the body “hits a wall” and can’t go further, no matter what. To better understand the fatigue and limited energy of a person with chronic illness, read this helpful article about the spoon theory.

Have you ever been stuck in bed for a few days from a really bad infection, surgery, or hospitalization? Think back to how that felt. You could barely get out of bed and simple tasks were exhausting. Now consider feeling that way every day, all day, for months or years?

7. Pain is a common symptom in those with chronic illness.

Those with chronic illness often experience severe pain, including headaches, joint pain, muscle pain, nerve pain, back pain, and/or neck pain. 

8. Brain fog is extremely frustrating.

Brain fog is frustrating because it is a difficult symptom to describe so that others understand its impact. Brain fog is a cognitive dysfunction common in chronic illness, which can include issues with word finding, concentration, and recall. Those with brain fog often know what they want to say, but can’t find the thoughts or words to communicate effectively. 

9. There is a greater risk of dangerous infections. 

The immune system in those with chronic illness may be overactive and instead of attacking infections the chronic illness immune system wastes time and energy fighting the body’s own organs, joints, nerves, and/or muscles. Many people with chronic illness are on medicines to suppress their overactive immune systems and consequently, need to avoid being around sick people. A minor cold in a healthy person could progress to a dangerous infection in someone with chronic illness.

10. Certain foods can aggravate symptoms.

Certain foods may aggravate the symptoms of those with chronic illness. Common culprits are gluten, dairy, sugar, soy, yeast, alcohol, and processed foods. These trigger foods increase inflammation which can cause a significant increase in symptoms which may last for hours or days (sometimes weeks).

Because so many of these trigger foods are in our diet, it is often difficult to pinpoint which foods aggravate symptoms and staying away from favorite foods can be a challenge.

11. Sensitivity to smells is common.

Certain smells including perfumes, colognes, cleaning agents, and smoke can trigger headaches, brain fog, nausea, and other symptoms in those with chronic illness. Also, some of the medicines used to treat chronic illnesses are low-dose versions of chemotherapy drugs. The sensitivity is similar to that seen in those who are pregnant or on chemotherapy and have a sensitivity to smells.

12. It takes a lot of effort to manage chronic illness.

Those with chronic illness have to be very regimented to make sure they get adequate rest, avoid trigger foods, take medications at the correct times, and avoid flares. It is understandable that sometimes they just want to feel “normal” and eat some pizza or stay up late, even if they know they will “pay for it later.”

Despite struggling with grief, isolation, and often debilitating symptoms, those with chronic illness (and their caregivers) warrior on. They fight daily to be able to understand their bodies and to do things others take for granted. They are often surrounded by a society that does not understand their challenges, and therefore, is unable to provide adequate support.

You can make a big difference in the lives of those with chronic illness by learning more about their symptoms and approaching them with compassion and support. Gaining an understanding of chronic illness will help make these conditions less “invisible.” This is why it is so important you are taking the time to read this article. Thank you!

This story was originally published on Mastering Health & Happiness.

A Body in Chaos With Dysautonomia 


58347_110849589070724_225383033_n

Hello Luvs,

Have you ever felt so hot; sweating so profusely and you thought you might spontaneously blow up from the inside out? That is how I feel so much of the time. If the temperature drops and I get just a little bit cold, then I am freezing cold, my lips turn blue and I am shivering. It truly does take my body quite a long time to regulate when there’s a temperature change. Sometimes when I’m at home, I’ll be just sitting and watching T.V., when suddenly,  I start to sweat and feel so very hot from the inside out! I feel honestly as though I’m going to burn up, blow up or both! It’s a crazy feeling and it makes me feel so terrible. But it’s not crazy because I have my husband come over and feel the back of my neck and he can see that I’m shiny and “clammy” looking.  He has said that he feels the heat coming from my body! Others don’t seem to understand this. No one else seems to understand the  fatigue, heart racing, inability to adjust my body temperature, the GI upset,motility issues, the inability to sleep or the pain either. But all together it is called “Dysautonomia”.  It happens to someone when their Autonomic Nervous System has gone berzerk! (**The Autonomic Nervous System or ANS is every system in the body that is involuntary. This means the G.I. tract or digestion, Respiratory -breathing, Heart Rate, Pulse, Blood Pressure, Body temperature and other involuntary brain functions as well).

In 2002, I was in a MVA and this is how most everything that is wrong with me began to happen. I started to faint quite frequently. Not only did that happen, but I had problems with all of the bodily functions mentioned above. They also found on an MRI that I have  have “Chiari Malformation I”.  This is a malformation of the brain.  It consists of a downward placement of the cerebellar tonsils through something called the foramen magnum. In plain English it means that the brain stem swells and doesn’t fit very well into the spinal column. It causes great headaches called “Chiari Migraines” in the back of the head. It feels as if I cannot hold my own head up because it is too painful. For me it causes the migraines, fatigue, muscle weakness,slow heart rhythm, Scoliosis and Central sleep apnea.  This is another issue or diagnosis that falls under Dysautonomia “Umbrella”. My Chiari was found and seen on the MRI s/p MVA. I suffered a TBI as well, following that car accident. I was in Brain Injury rehabilitation for 3 years. I saw a brain injury specialist, who is a PMR physician. He did so much and helped me quite a lot.  This Traumatic brain injury makes it impossible for me to recall from my short term memory. I had trouble finding words and still today cannot read a very long book. Articles are best for me.  When writing, as in my blog here, it is very frustrating because I have to read, re-read and read it again. I don’t remember anything unless I am told about 4 times, which is also what showed up in the multiple Neuro-psych testing that I had to do because of it.

I was in a full PT/OT and speech therapy /brain injury program.  Many days I was vomiting from the medicines they were trying to force me to take. I wanted to be a “good patient” and I tried some of them, but all of them made me sick in some way or ways.  One day I kept telling the Physical Therapist that I was not feeling well and I felt as though I might faint. Nobody would listen to me, because although I was in chronic intractable pain; which is horrible and terrible pain since the  MVA, I “looked fine”. So therefore, nobody listened and I was strapped to an exercise bike as they went on talking about their weekends. I felt worse and I called out to them, but no one came. Finally, I fainted!  Onto the floor I went, with my pained legs still attached to the bicycle. I awoke to someone taking my blood pressure. They told me to lay still for an ambulance because my BP was only 70/40 and my Heart rate was only 24.

I was taken by ambulance to a nearby hospital to get stabilized. They were very kind to me. They said that they did not have the facilities to do any kind of heart surgery or things that I may be needing, such as a Pacemaker; so I waited for a transfer to a bigger hospital. After some time went by, the ambulance with the heart monitors came for me. They took me to the big Hospital and I was admitted, observed overnight and then the Cardiologist came to talk with me in the morning. It was the morning of my birthday, my 41st birthday! They came in and told me that I had something called “Sick Sinus Syndrome”. It is a Cardiac Arrhythmia; it is called a “Brady/Tachy Arrhythmia”.  My heart rate could not decide if it wanted to go up to 190 bpm or go down to 24 bpm. It kept going like a roller coaster all night long…Up…down…Up…down. I was told that my heart even stopped several times but restarted on its own. They told me that my Heart was not working or beating properly and that I needed a pacemaker. I also had something called “Prinzmetal Angina”, which they explained was actually “Coronary spasms”. I take nitroglycerin sublingual tablets for the Prinzmetal Angina. I’ve been told that after waiting 5 minutes, and after trying the nitroglycerin tablets 3 times; if it doesn’t help the pain, then I am to go to the Emergency room. From that day on, my fainting spells went away about 80%. I still feel as though I might faint at times, and I have passed out a handful of times, but I don’t actually faint very often any longer. It is a rare occurrence now, very rare.

Within several months, the Brain Injury Rehab center, and my PMR Dr. who specializes in TBI’s or Brain injuries; got me an appointment with the very best Dr. for Dysautonomia in the USA. In fact, this Physician who is the Dept. Head of Cardiology/Vascular, Pediatric Cardiology, EPS (electrophysiology or Heart rhythm disorders) and also the Head of the University of Toledo’s Autonomic Failure Clinic,is Dr. Blair Grubb, M.D.! I was so lucky to be placed in his care. It was one of the very best things that did happen to me s/p that MVA in 2002. My first pacemaker was placed in February 2003. My next Pacemaker was placed in February 2013, exactly 10 years apart. Dr. Grubb hadn’t placed the first one because it was done quickly, here in Michigan. But when he got in there to replace it, he said that the person who’d placed it first; had done so, very deeply, right inside of the Pectoral muscle itself. He told my husband that “it looked like mincemeat” when he went in there. They hadn’t placed it in a mesh bag or anything as they usually do. Dr. Grubb already knew that I had been diagnosed with CRPS in 2007 and that it had spread from my right foot, s/p surgery, to both feet and up to the knees. Lucky for me, he’d researched RSD/CRPS and he found that sometimes if an “internal surgical wash” using  Bivupicaine, is done during surgeries that it should “head off” the spread of the RSD/CRPS from the rest of the body. Unfortunately for me it did not work out the way we’d hoped. My RSD/CRPS spread throughout my body. It went Systemic or Full Body and Disseminated. Dr. Grubb came out and told my husband that when he removed my pacemaker, my heart stopped and that I’m dependent totally on my pacemaker now.  He explained also that my Pectoral muscle had had to be rebuilt. It turned out to be a long, traumatic  surgery instead of a 45 minute Pacemaker replacement.

The turn of events that lead to the car accident, several surgeries and all of the chronic intractable pain; at least led me in the right direction and into the hands of the best Dr. ever, for the illnesses that I have been diagnosed with.  I’m so lucky to have him for all of my heart and pacemaker issues. I’m also very happy that he is the best and most well known Physician in the Country and outside of our Country for Dysautonomia and Autonomic Failure or ANS failure.  As time has gone on, all of my symptoms of Dysautonomia and also POTS (Postural Orthostatic tachycardia syndrome) have gotten worse as time has gone on. I now have been diagnosed with Chronic Kidney Disease stage II, Arnold Chiari Malformation I, Gastroparesis and more.  But these are some of the worse symptoms of the disease of Dysautonomia.  POTS, is where the Heart rate and blood pressure do opposite of what they should be doing, when you stand up after sitting down.  Sometimes you may feel faint as well with this and some people do actually faint from it.

Here let me explain it to you a little better. You see,as I did above, I can tell you how I feel. You won’t be able to grasp it if it has not happened to you. It is not a “hot flash”, like those during Menopause. It is a feeling of literally being so very close to a fire that you can really feel the deep heat from it. Sometimes this feeling will  last’s hours and even after I’ve taken a shower it happens and then I need another. Some of this “heat” and feeling of “being on fire from within” is also the Systemic or Full Body CRPS (Complex Regional Pain Syndrome) along side of the Dysautonomia/POTS etc. Let me explain a little bit better from several of the Dysautonomia websites full of  information. I will post the locations of the websites at the end of my post, so you will have them too. But before the next paragraph, before I get to the more technical stuff; just let me tell you in my own words, what I feel and what I do know. I think it helps me sometimes to relate to someone or something, when they are being “real” and telling their story.  I told you some of my  “story” in the first paragraph or two. But there is so much more information for you to learn and understand about this “invisible illness”.  Dysautonomia is like at “Umbrella” as it has many different symptoms and illnesses that it “covers”.  For example, many persons with this illness, also have CRPS or Complex Regional Pain Syndrome. I am one of those people; and I live with Systemic, Full body CRPS following my 7th surgery s/p the MVA. That foot surgery was in April of 2007 and I was Diagnosed with CRPS at my post-op check up. I couldn’t believe it and didn’t want to and so I got a 2nd opinion from an Orthopedic foot/ankle specialist. The first thing that he said when he saw my foot was “definitely CRPS here is a consultation to a pain clinic”.  I also have Gastroparesis now, which is the almost like a “paralysis” of the digestive system to varying degrees. I feel full very quickly, nauseous, bloated and I feel a burning in my lower abdomen. Another issue that goes along with this is “POTS” or Postural Orthostatic Tachycardia Syndrome. You guessed it, I have this one also. They all go together like a puzzle and they fit like together because they are all under this “umbrella” of Dysautonomia.

POTS causes feelings of being light headed, fainting, fast heart beat or tachycardia, chest pains, shortness of breath, GI problems/issues, inability to exercise, and sensitivity to heat and cold as I mentioned above as in Dysautonomia. While POTS usually shows up in women who look fine and healthy on the outside, *researchers  say that POTS and the issues that come with it are comparable to the disabling complications of COPD and CHF!!*(from Dysautonomia International)

*Over 70 million people worldwide are living with various forms of “Dysautonomia”, which can cause a malfunction of the Autonomic Nervous System. The Autonomic Nervous System controls the “involuntary or automatic” functions of the body that we do not think about or do consciously.  This is things like our: heart rate, blood pressure, digestion,  and temperature control. People living with various forms of Dysautonomia have trouble regulating their body temperature, body systems etc., which can make them feel lightheaded.  Sometimes things occur such as fainting, too high or too low blood pressure, abnormal heart rates (such as bradycardia, tachycardia or both, like I had), malnutrition, and in very severe cases even death can happen.

Please try and remember this or these things when you see someone who appears to look fine or “normal” on the outside.  If they take a Handicapped parking spot, they need it and their Dr’s told them so! People don’t have the HC placards for fun. Please don’t be mean or rude. Don’t say something sarcastic or unkind.  Id rather that you just ask me if you have a question about my disability status. I’m not required to answer you, but I will because I want people to know. You just never know what is going on inside of someone’s body. I hope this bit of information has helped you to understand POTS and Dysautonomia a little bit better than before. In honor of this 2016 “Invisible Illness week”, I hope that this post taught someone out there something about how this/these illnesses can affect someone’s life. If you have a friend or family member with these illnesses, please give them the benefit of the doubt, when they are not feeling well. If they’re exhausted for what you think is “no good reason”, if they’re tired because they were up several nights in a row, due to their pain, or illnesses; please don’t judge. The worst thing that you can say is “well you were up til wee hours of the morning, so it’s no wonder that you’re tired”.  We cannot sleep like you “non ill” persons can sleep.  Just please be kind if we are not always at our best and/or if we have to cancel an outing with you.

Some of this information was taken from the “*Dysautonomia International” website and more was from “*Healthline”. But most of this was my own words, feelings and from my own personal experiences that have happened and that are still happening to me every day. (The information from these sources has * near it).  Thank you for visiting today. Please come back next time, which will be soon. The next post is going to be something positive and something about CRPS Awareness month, “November”. It’s also called “Nervember” by IPain and “Knowvember” by U.S. Pain Foundation.

2013-06-08 02.31.4120130726-191827.jpg