10 Keys to Recovery: For the Brain Injury Survivor and Their Caregiver

As our family worked through issues, it became apparent that some of us were experiencing denial. By that, I mean, we were still hoping that our old David would miraculously show up, and when that didn’t happen, we began our slow recovery as we worked through our grieve. We have been told that what we were experiencing was a normal response to a life-changing event. By working through problems in a systematic way, we managed a difficult situation.

Key to Recovery No. 1, part 2: Handle denial and then move on.

Part two is understanding what Denial means and what/how you and your survivor are able to handle it. It’s there, just under the surface, but it’s there, nonetheless. Denial is a small word that can trigger a big emotion, an episode, or an all-out war, if it isn’t kept in check. It can become your worst enemy as it can decrease your mental efficiency by way of a tradeoff. That tradeoff is when you or a family member – or even the brain injury survivor – refuses to accept the truth of the situation.

In the article Emotional Stages of Recovery, (written by Dr. Glen Johnson, a Clinical Neuropsychologist, it lists denial as the second phase in recovery after confusion and agitation. People who suffer head injuries say ‘there is nothing wrong with me’ and the medical system unknowingly supports denial when they say ‘go home, relax for two weeks, and everything will be better’.

The brain injured person may say – ‘I can drive’, and this can stir up huge arguments…as it has at our house. Within two weeks of bringing David home, he tried to tell me that he wanted to do something, but I just didn’t get it. So one day, after he made hand gestures while we were both in my car, I asked him to show me the next day.

To my surprise, the next day, he motioned that he wanted to go out into the garage. He wheeled himself around the car and tried to get in, so I just let him. Then it dawned on me that he wanted to drive – so I let him do that because he had a valid driver’s license at the time.

He very carefully backed out of the driveway and drove the car around the cul-de-sac, and back into the garage. He grinned, and we all thought that was the end of it, but years later, and in words we all understood, he wanted not only to drive again, but he wanted to buy a car.

This has been something David has fixated on, and he doesn’t seem to understand that he may not be able to drive again because of his brain injury. He never made it onto the highway all those years ago, and none of us believe he can navigate where we live now. He then gets angry – at himself when he realizes his life has changed.

We took David to see his doctor for an evaluation, and he politely and gently told him that…‘he is not cleared to drive.’ We thought that if he heard it from someone else, it will help him realize that the changes he has experienced has limited his abilities.

Not everyone is cognoscent of what is involved with brain injury, and we often sweep things under the rug when we don’t understand what it means, but when you conquer this, you will be able to move on. We all thought David had moved on, but he has not moved on from wanting to drive and own a car. We all hope that one day he will.