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September 14, 2009 / Mark Kerrigan

Don’t Write Off People With Acquired Brain Damage!

Many of the people who have acquired brain injury or traumatic brain injury find that their friends and even strangers treat them differently than they did prior to the injury. Whether we suffer an TBI from a motor vehicle accident, a stroke, or a fall at work, people who sustain brain injury should not be written off.

When I was returning to school in 1989, I remember sitting at the lunch table when someone asked me, “So did you have any other brain damage as a result of you being in a coma?” I paused, wondering how far to go into the details before he said, “I mean, are you stupid?”

I did sustain major brain damage: I had to relearn how to walk, talk, pay attention, hold my pee, swallow, chew, and even keep my mouth closed so I didn’t drool. As “Alicia” says in the video below, it was like I was a baby at age 16.

I think back to that conversation, with someone whose name I can’t recall, in a building that doesn’t exist anymore, and realize how devastating that question really was.

My brother-in-law once asked me as we sat on the front porch smoking at Christmas, “So, Mark, I know my sister (my wife), and she doesn’t like to be around people who are not smart.” For that reason, he said, he knew I must not be stupid, but he couldn’t figure out why I talked as slowly as I do.

With as much composure as I could muster, I answered him by saying that having been in a coma for a month, I had to relearn how to walk and talk, so my brain had to make detours in the synapses in order for me to talk. I still have to prove to people that because I speak slowly it doesn’t mean that I’m dumb. It’s just me. That’s how I talk, and if you didn’t know I was a head injury survivor, you probably wouldn’t even realize it.

I hope that maybe I’ve made you think just a bit about making snap judgments and writing people with head injuries off as a lost cause.



Leave a Comment
  1. Bob Larson / Oct 6 2009 3:33 am

    What do you do when you have no friends and family anymore and you live all by yourself, and are very depressed?

    • onthemarkwriting / Oct 6 2009 1:23 pm

      Bob – As you may know, I’m not a psychologist or psychiatrist, but I’ve seen my fair share of them!

      If you truly have no family and no friends (You may be surprised that you have more than you know!), you should do whatever you can to get out of your current environment. Reach out to a local church, become active in a charity like Habitat for Humanity or a soup kitchen.

      Or take up a hobby. Flyfishing is a great challenge at all levels! I actually started flyfishing AFTER I began tying my own flies–which adds another aspect to the whole experience.

      And, of course, there are other options such as anti-depressants, which have worked well for me for years. However, you do have to spend time with a licensed psychiatrist to get the prescription.

      Is your isolation the result of a head-trauma?

      As flyfishers say, Tight Lines!


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