Well, it was four weeks ago today that my mom fell and cracked her skull and sustained a traumatic brain injury (TBI). It’s been a long journey and it is far from over. Through all of this, I’ve come to learn how truly amazing our brains are and how much they control.
Did you know 47% of brain injuries are caused by falls? That’s according to statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. So, all of you out there, please make wise choices when it comes to what you try to do. Know your limits. Recognize when certain activities have become more dangerous. Even something you’ve always done before with no trouble. All it takes is one bad decision to change your life.
Her injury was the result of bleeding in the frontal lobes of her brain, even though the impact was to the back of her head. The bleeding stopped on its own but left behind lots of bruising. All along, looking at her, you had no idea she had a head injury.
The functions of the frontal lobe include:
- How we know what we’re doing in our environment
- How we initiate activity in response to the environment
- Judgments we make about what occurs in our daily activities
- Controls our emotional response
- Controls our expressive language
- Assigns meaning to the words we choose
- Involves word associations
- Memory for habits and motor activities
- Flexibility of thought, planning and organizing
- Understanding abstract concepts
- Reasoning and problem solving
Her recovery process so far
Initially, she slept a lot. She requires assistance for walking and other daily living activities. She was in the hospital for 4 days and then moved to the rehab part of the hospital. She was there for 13 days and has now been in a skilled therapy facility for 10 days.
She moved to the skilled therapy facility because the hospital rehab was too intense for her. It wore her out. We wondered if they’d moved her there too soon, but everyone assured us she was ready. By the end of the 13 days, we were seeing some progress but it wasn’t enough for her to stay there. We were excited when she could actually stay awake during her therapy sessions or walk around their little track a couple of times.
She also has two broken ribs and likely other aches and pains from the fall. In her current state, it’s not always easy to know if and where she has pain. But you can imagine how it must hurt when people help her stand up with a belt around her middle. Because her injuries are not readily apparent, it’s easy to forget they’re there.
She’s having physical therapy, occupational therapy (focused on the daily living activities), and speech therapy (focused on cognitive abilities). It appears her cognitive abilities will take the longest to come back.
She knows all of us and the visitors she has. There are times when you feel that you’re having a normal conversation with her, and then she veers off into topics that don’t make sense. She also gets very fixated on something and won’t let it go. One evening, she seemed paranoid to me, thinking we were all keeping secrets from her.
This is all part of the healing process, I know. And of course we’d like to see her making more and quicker progress. It’s definitely unsettling. But we have to be patient.
Everyone always asks how long her recovery will take. The answer – everyone is different. While we all want more concrete answers, we have to accept that the brain is an amazing thing and it will do what it can on its own schedule. I’ve read where it can take 6-12 months just for the physical difficulties to resolve.
It’s also normal to see inconsistent behavior and ups and downs are common in this stage of recovery. We get excited about anything positive and then a little discouraged when she appears to be regressing. Her age could also be a factor in how much she can recover her cognitive abilities.
Dealing with it
I won’t lie, it’s been a tough four weeks. February has become the lost month. We’ve spent a lot of time with her, especially as she’s made the different moves. Other aspects of our lives, however, need to be addressed, which means we can’t be there 16 hours a day. I’ve had days when I can’t take it anymore and must take a day off. And I’ve found that one day helps more than I could imagine.
We’ve taken responsibility for both of my parents now. My dad is staying with my sister. I am helping with their taxes and bills, as well as other financial aspects. We are signing all the papers for my mom’s care. We’re handing the insurance issues and making all arrangements. Adding all this is tough enough by itself, but then to have to try to fit in our own responsibilities can be overwhelming.
Not surprising, my dad now has bronchitis. It just proves we need to make sure we’re taking care of ourselves too. Now he can’t spend any time with her, which I know bothers him a lot.
When I’m with my mom, I feel guilty because I’m not taking care of things at home, including helping Tim recover from his bicep tendon surgery. He wasn’t allowed to drive for four weeks, most of which was during this month. It’s a relief that he was given the go-ahead this week to drive again. At least now I’m not stranding him at home.
When I’m home, I feel guilty that I’m not with her. But some days with her are exhausting, either because I’m sitting in an uncomfortable chair for hours at a time or because I’m trying to converse with someone who can’t hear very well and doesn’t think or respond normally. I even feel like I shouldn’t take the time to write this post but I know many of you are interested in her progress.
My 2020 goals are taking a hit, although I am getting a lot of reading done, either when my mom is sleeping or when I can’t sleep at night. And I have finished one knitting project. Those are great when you’re just sitting around, so I need to find another one that’s easy to carry around.
I’ve experienced all types of emotions – sad, angry, guilty, frustrated, worried. My anger comes into play when I think how easily this could have been avoided, only if my parents had realized their limitations and moved somewhere safer for them before this could happen. Or made better choices when doing something that tests their physical limitations.
We took two days this past week and visited five assisted living facilities in town. We know my parents cannot return to their home, at least for the long term. My dad can do most things without assistance but his balance is not good and we feel he’d be safer in such a place. An assessment will determine if my mom is a candidate for assisted living or if she will need more care. We’re doing our best to keep them together.
Lots of decisions yet to come, none of which will be easy. I never realized how much my WOTY would come into play this year. I expected it to apply to Tim’s retirement in the fall and never dreamed it would be necessary for something like this. There has been and will be a lot of adapting. So, I think I chose the right word.
Thanks everyone for your kind thoughts and prayers. We have a strong support system and will definitely get through this. I do know, however, our lives will never be the same again. Funny how your life can change in the blink of an eye.