If there’s one thing that I’ve learned, it’s that everyone has a story. It’s important for us to share our stories because no matter how insignificant we may think they are, someone, somewhere can benefit from our life journey. Janine Kirby is a very blessed woman. Janine and I have been friends since 2006. She was part of a restaurant crew that I used to hang with in the Old City section of Philadelphia. We lost contact over the years like some friends do, but we always knew that we were just a phone call away. I’m sure many of you have friends that you haven’t spoken with in some time. The responsibilities of life seem to distract you from simply reaching out to get “caught up” and before you realize it, years have passed by. Earlier this year Janine sent me a message on Instagram which I didn’t see for 2 months.
When I finally read the message I was shocked to discover that in 2012 Janine had suffered a traumatic brain injury from an accident on her job that almost killed her. In an instant, her life’s path was drastically altered. Janine is a normal human being just like you, just like me. Something like this could happen to any one of us. Life is so fragile. When I read Janine’s story I had to ask myself am I truly living my life’s purpose or am I caught up in just making a living? Am I wasting time on things that don’t really matter in the big picture? Friends, take a minute to slow down from the rat race and enjoy the little things in life. Let go of drama with friends and family. Tell your loved ones how much you love them today, not tomorrow. Your life could change in an instant. Although her capacity for processing information may have changed, Janine is still an intelligent, beautiful, warm & caring member of society. She still refers to herself as a “wealth of useless knowledge” as she told me that there are 108 stitches on a baseball. Something that I did not know. Here is Janine in her own words as she lives her new normal as a traumatic brain injury survivor:
I grew up in a pretty tough neighborhood, the only girl in a house of five children. And if you ask any of my family they’ll tell you I am the toughest one! I would go back into soccer games with a broken toe, cut off my own casts, take out my own stitches and frequently beat up my older brothers!! I was also a boxer. In Philly, this is a pretty big thing – not something taken lightly – Philly is a famous boxing town. So needless to say, I was used to fighting my way through things. You can’t do that with this type of injury though. It actually makes you worse and only frustrated me more. I had to have a LOT of acceptance and patience with where I was at. I really had to trust my doctors and therapists. And hold onto hope. I had to realize your brain is not a muscle – you can’t work it over and over to make it stronger. You have to listen to it and re-train it. You have to kind of work WITH it…
So, in a nutshell, in December of 2012 (12/12/12 to be exact) I had a accident at work where I hit my head; was hit on the head; by a steel beam… It was my second major head injury in two years. (my first in 2010 was falling and hitting my head on some concrete at work that left me with a traumatic brain injury as well). I immediately knew I was in some trouble… I’ll let you read about it in the hyperlink article below (I have to save my eyes – I have a 2 hour computer time budget per day). I started a lot of therapy, which was tough, but I was determined and had a good team and a good support system.
Being on this journey is tough… you don’t know how long until you recognize some part of your old self and no one can really tell you. I started to feel ok though, and started catching on. But, about 18 months into it, I started having seizures. One to two a week, and before they could confirm a diagnosis it was 2-5 a day. I couldn’t go to therapy any more, I was getting worse. And medication wasn’t working…There was scar tissue building up in my right temporal lobe from where I got hit. Good thing was I was a candidate for surgery! So, before I knew it I was undergoing a craniotomy to remove part (pretty much all of) my right temporal lobe to stop my seizures and get me back to therapy to try to get some of my independence back. Or some of my “normal”.
Today, I am 8 months post-op. I started back at therapy a little over a month ago, I am proud to say!! I just saw the films of my MRI post-op. I was really, really surprised at how much they actually removed. Ya see, I’m Irish – we exaggerate EVERYTHING!!! I thought saying they removed my whole temporal lobe was a little much, but people would know that – until I actually saw the films. I am one blessed woman. Truly. To be walking, and talking this soon after surgery. I have a lot of different complications now than I did before, mind you – your temporal lobe is responsible for some pretty major stuff. I have a lot of visual processing problems. But I’ll just bear down and do what I did before. Be patient, use persistence, and not give up hope…