• Survivor or Caregiver

TBI One Love Survivor Abigail Bruley

Hello, my name is Abigail.

 On February 5, 2013, my husband and I had arrived in Costa Rica and were driving to what was to be our jungle cabana for the next week when a truck slammed into the passenger side of our rental car, exactly where I was sitting. I've gleaned everything that happened after that from various stories and asides, but I don't remember, and will never remember. I'm told I was strapped to a hospital bed in the Costa Rican hospital in an effort to stop me from pulling my IV's out and escaping. I'm told my right thigh ballooned to the size of a bloody tree stump, as I'd broken my femur, lower back, hip and ribs and I had a gash streaming from the upper-right side of my head.

I was held at that hospital for three days. What happened within those walls, I'll never know, but I do have the giant cross-hatched scar running up my torso from when they cut me open to rule out internal bleeding. After the third day, I was boarded onto an ambulance jet to the states. Here's everything I know about that: 1, The jet had to fly very low due to my brain injury. 2, True to new brain injury protocol, I was spewing inappropriate nonsense and told my three nurses they ought to be having sex together. 3, I was angry and frustrated and pulling at various wires around me on the plane and had to be sedated.

After finally arriving in Philadelphia, I was admitted to the hospital, where I had titanium placed into my femur and lower back. I was there for a month and I don't remember anything about this time.

After the hospital, I was placed in a rehabilitation facility for my brain injury. Here's what I know about my brain injury: I had multiple contusions, shearing and bruising. In other words, you could see my brain injury on an X-ray.

 I remember small snippets of this time in rehab, like the cage-type bed I was placed into so as to not get up and injure my leg any further. I had to relearn who my sisters were, my friends and who I was in my past life, including big life events, my hobbies and interests and even my personality. I was completely unable to tolerate noise, so the patients around me were moved to further away rooms and I had a whole wing to myself. Sounds luxurious, but the emptiness around me convinced my confused brain that I had been kidnapped and was being held for some sort of bizarre medical testing. I even called my mother to tell her that I had been kidnapped and she should cancel all of her credit cards. The nurses later told my parents that this was a good sign, because I had held on to the idea of being kidnapped for a full day, without waiver. I can also remember being very rude to my doctors and nurses, but who that person was being rude, I'll never know. It wasn't me. 

Life after being discharged was filled with therapy. Speech, Physical, Occupational, Cognitive, Eye movement –  I did it all. My eyeballs moved in their sockets when I was hit and I had to re-train them to converge and focus on things up close. 

Three years later and I'm still moving forward. I'm still unable to tolerate excessive noise. I have fantasies of punching people on the street that drag their feet or jingle keys (I don't, I swear, but it does exacerbate my anger muscle). I get exhausted holding eye contact and having conversations. I used to be a writer, though now I'm often explaining the word I'm thinking of rather than just using the word because I can't think of it. Too much stimuli overwhelms me. And, I just THINK differently. Concepts need to travel to many different mental points before they can be fully understood and digested. 

I've taken my newfound slow productivity to carry out small slices of much bigger projects, that I could never have dreamed of accomplishing before my injury. For instance, in tiny pieces, I've written a feature-length screenplay that I've started the baby steps to make into a film. Plunging myself into an unforgiving project with an unforgiving disability doesn't exactly sound like the self-care I should be carrying out, but the hope of completing this major task in the future really keeps me going.

 I've lost friendships and career goals, yes, but I'm not depressed. Brain injury is a jolt into a new life as a new person and I'm learning who this new person is day after day. She's slower, but more mindful; less productive, but satisfied with her accomplishments; and less popular but carries a bigger love of people. I believe, as survivors, we've emerged from this profoundly deep disability as a gift to start over again and live the life we were meant to live.

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