Traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its less severe cousin, concussion (also known as mild traumatic brain injury) have been getting a lot of attention lately, partly because of the concussion crisis in the National Football League. This attention is a good thing. TBI and concussion can be considered a silent epidemic in society; an estimated 1.5 million head injuries appear every year in United States emergency rooms, and at least 5 million Americans currently live with disabilities resulting from TBI. The suffering caused by the loss of mobility, career, hobbies and even family because of TBI is not often reported, partly because of the stigma attached to brain injury.
Unfortunately, from personal experience I can say that I’ve been there. In March of 2015 I had a bad spill on my bicycle that caused a head injury and serious concussion that took me over a year to recover from. I had a helmet on, thank God, or I would now be dead. It was a painful, long and sometimes completely disheartening journey, but I did indeed recover fully. March is Brain Injury Awareness Month, and the library has some fantastic resources about recovering from and living with traumatic brain injury.
“The Ghost in my Brain: How a Concussion Stole My Life and How the New Science of Brain Plasticity Helped Me Get It Back” is a gripping story of how one man, Clark Elliott, spent nearly 10 years trying to recover from a concussion that ripped away much of the functionality in his life. “One of the things concussives share is the feeling of having become an alien being. We still walk and talk and act as though we are part of the human race, but it doesn’t feel that way inside,” writes Elliott. His story ends happily: after years of living with crippling vision, balance and cognitive issues, he found just the right therapy and was finally able to fully recover.
The why behind brain injury is far more mysterious than the how (I hit my head!). For instance, the vast majority of people will recover from a concussion/mild traumatic brain injury within six weeks, whereas others will spend many months, and unlucky souls might spend years, trying to recover from a myriad of symptoms caused by the injury. “Overcoming Mild Traumatic Brain Injury and Post-Concussion Symptoms: A Self-help Guide Using Evidence-based Techniques” is an excellent guide to overcoming some of these lingering issues. Additionally, some scientific evidence points to supplements as helping calm symptoms and get the body back to normal. Please see the book “Treat Concussion, TBI and PTSD with Vitamins and Antioxidants” for more good information on healing.
The concussion crisis in the NFL has been simmering for some time, but the controversy exploded when the book “League of Denial” came out in 2013, in addition to the PBS Frontline documentary by the same name. The dangers of repetitive head injury were hidden from NFL football players for decades — and now there is finally a protocol that addresses these injuries. However, it must be said that the absolutely brutal nature of the game will never guarantee a future without brain damage. As former lineman Gary Plummer stated in the book, “If I didn’t have five of your so-called Grade I concussions a game, that meant I was basically inactive.”
Finally, there is this: although we would not wish brain injury upon a anyone, many patients, after the initial struggle to overcome disabilities, have found new strength and purpose in life. Two titles speak to this hopefulness: “Traumatic Brain Injury Handbook: How a Near-death Fall Led Me to Discover A New Consciousness,” by Joseph Healy and “Struck by Genius: How a Brain Injury Turned Me Into a Mathematical Marvel” by Jason Padgett. Healy writes about returning to life after a coma, but most notably how meditation and good nutrition helped him calm his injured brain, and indeed find new pathways toward peace and enlightenment. Padgett became somewhat of a mathematical savant. Both books point to an optimistic premise: that despite severe injury and even damage to the brain, one can still come out a stronger and even better person. Different maybe, but better.