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January 1, 2010 / Mark Kerrigan

Brain Injury Survivors Need Caution in 2010


We successfully navigated from 2009 to 2010 without incident. And I’m reminded of how fortunate I am to have lived with a traumatic brain injury (TBI) for more than 20 years. Over the past two decades, I’ve had my share—more than my share—of problems.

As early as I can remember after my car wreck, people—therapists, doctors and my parents—have told me how dangerous it was for my brain to be exposed to alcohol. Now, let me make this sufficiently clear: My head injury was not a result of any alcohol or drug. At the time, I was just stupid. I thought I was “unbreakable,” as many other 16 year-old kids often do.

But only months out of the coma, I still thought I knew better than all those professionals who spent so much of their lives learning and studying about the effects of alcohol and drugs on the survivor’s brain.

In the months and years remaining of high school, I remember having two or three cans of beer—alone—and feeling spectacular. I had no oneMost often, I’d watch TV and then either pass out or go to bed.

It was not until I was in college that I realized the ease at which alcohol could be obtained, and then I went nuts—and made a complete ass of myself.

The problem was that I could have one drink—be it beer, a shot or a glass of wine—and I would be as affected as a non-head injured person who had two drinks. I could still walk—most of the time. I could still talk coherently, and even play pool better than if I were sober!

All of my brain functioned, it just took a little longer for it to do so. So I didn’t realize that my speech was even slower.

Since I had had to relearn how to walk, talk and control my gross (and fine) motor skills, my brain took just a fraction of a second longer to do so than it had taken before my wreck.

My brain had to form new synapses or connections for the electrical impulses to get from their place of origin to their final destination. I retained much of my intellectual abilities, but it took longer for my brain to find the new paths it used to communicate and control my actions.

My wife has box with all of her recipes neatly filed away on 3 X 5 index cards—each labeled with the ingredients and instructions—and divided into sections: Hors d’œuvres, Cookies, Poultry & Stuffings, Fish and Seafood, etc…

Now imagine that you want to make some yeast rolls for a dinner party you are hosting. Before you go to the store, you need to find the recipe to make sure you have all the ingredients.

The non-injured brain is sort of like the recipe box—everything is well-labeled and organized. However, with an injured brain, like my own, imagine all of the dividers are taken out. Suddenly, you have 200+ index cards all together. Add alcohol to the injured brain, and it’s like taking that recipe box, removing the dividers, and dumping it on the floor.

Certainly you could find the yeast roll recipe you’re looking for, but it’s going to take longer. Add more than one drink, beer, glass of wine, and in addition to removing all the divider you suddenly find that the cards don’t tell what the recipe is for—ultimately you have to look at the ingredients and directions to learn what the recipe makes.

Add even more alcohol or drugs, and you then find yourself with the cards dumped on the floor, no labels, and the cards with spilled juices from previous times when you were making yeast rolls on the card. I think you get the picture.

For the injured brain, alcohol or drugs don’t always prove to be incapacitating, but they make it more difficult for your brain to for the connections from Point A to Point B.

And although you may think you are talking or playing or singing better than you ever have, often your perception is impeded. You probably are not the best judge of your actions.

People generally try to avoid conflict, and therefore may not tell you when you behaving inappropriately, but they will stay away from you. That’s one reason so many TBI survivors either find themselves or feel excluded and left out.

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One Comment

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  1. Latasha Cabada / Jan 18 2010 6:38 pm

    I really like what you wrote here – it’s well-written. Thanks for posting this. As someone who has dealt with an addiction myself, I really appreciate what you write here. Visit my site if you’d like to read more. Have a good week!

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