5 Things to Watch for In Head Injury Survivors
Have you ever done something that was so inappropriate you thought, “What the hell was I thinking?” after the fact? I know I have, and I suspect you have, too, at one time or another. This post is to provide families of head injury survivors—and the survivors themselves—with affirmations that they aren’t the only ones who are going through something when their child, brother, sister, husband, mother, or friend engages in behavior that is so uncharacteristic for them that it’s almost scary.
I’ve been living with a head injury (epidural hematoma) for more than 20 years, and sometimes I still do things viewed by others as “uncouth.”
I’ve made a list of things traumatic brain injury (TBI) survivors sometimes do, and I’ve tried to explain some of the possible reasons for their actions.
1. Get excessively angry for no apparent reason. Sometimes TBI survivors lose their tempers and threaten bodily harm to others. I first ran across this in 1994 when I was at the in-patient neurological rehabilitation institute in Benton, Ark. called Timber Ridge Ranch.
Another client had the tendency to “get his panties in wad,” as someone their said. Without realizing what I had done to illicit his tirade directed at me, I immediately tried to take “the higher road,” but it did hurt my feelings and caused me to go outside and pout. When a staff member came outside to check on me, I told him what happened.
“Well, Bill (not his real name) gets his butt chapped when the wind changes direction,” the staffer said, giving me a very disturbing mental image. Sometimes, we may be angry about what we had for lunch, and we take it out on those around us.
Don’t take it personally, but I would advise you to keep your distance from the abusive person.
2. Be verbally abusive to the point of inappropriate language. Now, I’m not saying that it’s acceptable for survivors—either TBI, stroke, or heart attack—to produce a barrage of verbal diarrhea when they get annoyed, but that it may be something you need to deal with. A good friend of mine from high school said that after his massive stroke, her father has been almost like he has Tourette’s Syndrome.
3. Be insensitive to others’ feelings. This is common to many survivors of both closed and open head injuries. Since I was in a coma for a month, the world revolved around me—at least in my mind. As I emerged from the coma, everything was all about me. When I was hungry, I ate, and my family acquiesced to my wishes. When I was thirsty, I was given something to drink.
During the first year after my motor vehicle accident, I was much like a toddler. Those who have children understand what I mean. Like “Bill” in Arkansas, many TBI survivors are in their own little worlds, not realizing when they hurt someone else. But they’ll be the first to let you know if you hurt their feelings.
4. Be egocentric. Egocentric, self-centered is a common trap that brain injury survivors fall into. For so long, we don’t have to concentrate on anything but getting better that we often find ourselves unable to delay gratification until someone else gets what they need first.
5. Do inappropriate sexual behavior/diminished sexual drive. I have seen on 20/20 or some other news show like it, where a teenage girl who had sustained a head trauma kept trying to become sexually involved with her brother. The brain’s frontal lobes are like the front brakes on a car or a bicycle. When they are damaged, it lowers the survivor’s inhibitions.
I have also known men who totally lose their sex drive and wind up being divorced by their wives.
These are the five pitfalls which people who have suffered some head trauma—either the result of a car wreck, a fall, a stroke or a gang-style beating—experience. I’m not asking you to ignore these issues if you experience them, but rather I’m letting you know what can be expected so that you won’t feel so alone if they happen to you.
I hope this helps, and I’d appreciate your comments.