Brain Injury: Prevention Is the Only Cure
“Ah, Ma-a.” How many times have I heard that phrase? With a downswing of tone on the final “a,” it’s my kids’ exasperated reply to any of the dozens of reminders that I (and millions of other mothers) issue every day. “Where’s your helmet?” “Buckle up, everybody.” “Don’t push your brother.” “Be careful in the shower.” When undiluted by the thousands of other more interesting things said in a day, the list does seem a bit much. The kids accuse me of being a worrywart and overprotective. I think I’m only keeping them safe.
It’s an occupational hazard, this worry about safety. The consequences of not doing those things (wearing a helmet, buckling up, rough-housing safely, being careful, etc.) are vividly before me every day. I work in a mental health clinic. Every day, I’m confronted with what brain injury can do to an individual and a family.
Life Can Change in an Instant
The files of any community mental health clinic are full of cases in which ordinary life has been transformed by a trauma to the brain. In a split second, a fall, an auto accident, a sports injury, or an act of violence can change someone’s life forever. Every 15 seconds, someone in the United States sustains a brain injury. My colleagues and I see cases like the ones described below (with details and names changed to protect privacy) far too often to be complacent about being careful.
Take Greg, for instance. When he was 10, he was hit by a car while riding his bike home from school. He has such complex mental and physical disabilities that his family can’t manage him at home. At 20, he lives in a residential setting with 24-hour staffing.
And then there’s Loni, age 88, who fell while walking to her roadside mailbox, striking her head on the curb. Before the fall, she was active and sharp. Now she has trouble concentrating, can’t keep up with a conversation, and has trouble finding the words she wants. Old age didn’t get her down. A brain injury did.
Earl’s story is far too common. Twenty-five years old and feeling invincible, he refused to wear a seatbelt. He refused once too often. What could have been a minor accident became a tragedy. Hit from behind, he put his head through the windshield. Now his moods and behavior are unpredictable and confusing to himself and those around him. His outbursts of rage made his wife and three-year-old daughter too afraid to live with him. They enjoy time together when they can.
Cici was only six months old when her mother’s boyfriend shook her violently. She’ll never be the bright, successful woman she was meant to be.