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The impatient patient: brain injury, part 2

As a former colleague zipped up my boots the other day so that I wouldn’t risk another brain injury by bending down, I slyly remarked: “Hmm, wonder how long I can milk this?”

As a former colleague zipped up my boots the other day so that I wouldn’t risk another brain injury by bending down, I slyly remarked: “Hmm, wonder how long I can milk this?”

Perhaps six months or longer, according to my neurologist.

For those of you tuning in for the first time, I suffered a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI) after being clubbed on the head during a robbery. You can read about that Nov. 2 attack here.

Though most patients with mild TBI recover 100 percent, it takes “months vs. weeks” — something I definitely did not want to hear from my doctor during my first checkup. I expected the all-clear to go back to my normal life. Instead, I face months of speech and other kinds of therapy and a gradual return to work.

I got a list of do’s and don’ts, which a friend of mine wrote down for me because, among other problems, those of us with TBI experience short-term memory loss.

These days, I find myself apologizing to people for any repetition on my part before we get too far into conversations — that is, if I remember to tell them in the first place. (That’s a joke. You have my permission to laugh.)

The list of no-no’s from the doc includes one that brings much laughter from those who know me well: “no snowmobiling.” Never been on one, don’t plan on boarding one any time soon.

I don’t mean to make light of my TBI or anyone else’s. TBI is no cakewalk. But I need to laugh at times at my new state of mind because other days I wake up deeply distressed. These are the infrequent days (thank goodness) I wake up and the room is spinning. These are the days I can’t get my balance for several hours. It makes me want to weep, and sometimes I do.

Last week when it happened, it meant I couldn’t go into the MinnPost office as planned. I started back to work last week for 16 hours spread over four days, and I plan the same schedule this week.

The first day back to work went smashingly well; the second day I woke up dizzy. I am told this is likely because the injury caused some bones in my inner ear to come loose, bones that control one’s balance. I have an appointment with an audiologist this week and am hopeful that someone will make this dizziness go away. Soon. I hate being dizzy — even when it’s a brief spell caused by turning my head while seated or walking on an incline or a decline, or bending over to load the dishwasher. It means I can’t drive yet.

Among the other outcomes of a mild traumatic brain injury: a diminished ability to taste and smell. Chocolate no longer holds the same allure, which is horrifying to my fellow chocoholics. Not so much to me because I need to lose weight. Even in my brain-injured state, it makes sense to not even bother with it.

So, what else does a TBI feel like? I’m often asked about this. The headaches aren’t what I think of as a headache. I feel pressure that starts in my temples and radiates back a bit. It isn’t as incapacitating as I thought it would be. I’ve yet to take the Vicodin prescribed for me because it seems like overkill.

Still, the pressure requires me to take a break from whatever brain-stretching I’m engaged in — this post, for example. Once I take a break, my head clears and I can resume my work. But I’ve been warned not to do too much too soon or my recovery will take longer. This is easier said than done for someone who mostly lives in her head. I don’t understand yet just how my brain allows me to write this post but makes me forget what someone said to me two minutes ago. 

By this point in my post, you might be wondering if the police have caught the bad guys who did this to me. That’s a subject for another day, but I can report that they’re actively investigating — and that makes me feel a lot better.

My brain is feeling some pressure at the moment, so I’m going to wrap up this post. If there is any silver lining (pearly gray, perhaps?) to a mild traumatic brain injury, it’s that I now have a convenient and truthful excuse for stopping difficult conversations or a barrage of questions, or getting off the phone in the evening when I’m tired. “Sorry, but my head is starting to hurt.” Most people back off. Amazing. Likewise, if I have a dumb idea that no one likes, I have an excuse. “Well, I’m brain-injured.”

Again, I’m wondering how long I can milk this …