Every year 800,000 people suffer a stroke in the U.S. and another 1.7 million suffer traumatic brain injury
Because our brains are so complex, depending on how the injury occurred, each individual’s experience living with brain injury is different.
When you have suffered a traumatic incident to the brain, basic brain functions can be affected, making things that used to be second nature, like speech, memory, focus, reading, writing and attention, extremely difficult.
Brain injury explained
Picture your GPS. You program in a destination and, generally, your GPS gives you a straightforward route to follow. But then there’s an accident on your main highway and you want to go around that. Your GPS has to recalculate the route, making new connections. Sometimes, this new route is fairly obvious and easy to manage but other times there is just no straight way to get from here to there.
When you suffer a brain injury, this is what is happening in the brain. Some people have a lot of alternate routes but others, either by way of the injury sustained or by the nature of their individual brain makeup, have to build new connections; this can take time and be immensely frustrating.
Until those new routes are open you are basically stuck in traffic. And, just as with traffic, there is no telling when the roads will open up and all will be clear sailing.
“You haven’t lost your mind and you aren’t crazy.”
We came across this passage in a biography of Francis C. Wood, MD, a Cardiologist and Chairman of the Department of Medicine at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania from 1947-1965. Here he is talking about an incident when he was going on rounds in a hospital with Dr. Howard Rusk, a brilliant mind and thought leader in the field of rehabilitation, and they had visited a patient who had had a stroke and became aphasic (unable to speak):
“Has anyone talked to her about her problem?” [asked Dr. Rusk]. I [Dr. Wood] said, “What do you mean? What can you say?”
He walked right back into the room, sat down next to her bed, took her hand in his and said, “I want to talk to you about what has happened to you. It is terribly annoying, isn’t it, to know what you want to say and not be able to say it?” The patient nodded her head vigorously.
“I want to tell you that you haven’t lost your mind and you aren’t crazy. One small nerve connection between your speech center in your brain and your tongue is temporarily out of kilter, and this will tend to clear up.”
You should have seen the relief on her face.”
There is hope for improvement
If you are a survivor of a brain injury, or love someone recovering from a brain injury, know that no matter the frustration, no matter the time, no matter the severity – there is hope for improvement. With the right therapy, time, determination, and support, improvement will happen as the mind re-routes around those traffic incidents.
There are many good resources that can help you and your friends and family understand what is going on; the following are just a few:
- The Brain Injury Research Center of Mount Sinai
- Brain Injury Association
- What is stroke? | Stroke.org
- MedLinePlus, Stroke & Rehabilitation
 Lawrence C. Wood, MD; The Life and Legacy of Francis C. Wood, MD; Self-published