Memories with Brain Injury

I don’t remember the accident. What I know of the vehicle crash has been stitched together with stories from others: people that were there, those that saw the aftermath, family and friends who’d heard stories. The actual memory isn’t mine; it has been created because memory is often affected after brain injury.

Memory is a complex thing as it involves gathering information, storing it, and retrieving it.  If there is an injury to any part of the brain responsible for these functions the result can negatively impact memory.

Here’s an excerpt from my forthcoming book The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain that touches on memory after brain injury.

“I had trouble speaking. I would know what I wanted to say but couldn’t remember the words to express those thoughts. So, I would say things out of the ordinary. I don’t remember this, but once while I was in the U of A hospital my uncle Leonard and Aunt Barbara visited. In my room they were greeted by clinical blue light and walls devoid of expression. Machines hummed and snickered at the hulking mass of bedridden fat and quickly atrophying muscle. My dirty blond hair, which had grown to shoulder length during the 6 months as a ski bum and bar fly, lay spread out on my pillow.

I don’t remember the visit. I can’t remember, for the most part, the people who visited me. I know of this story because it became popular in my family.

When the aunt and uncle left my mother asked me: Who was just here?

I said, “well … you know.”

“No,” she said. “Tell me who was just here.”

I said … “You know.”

“Who was just here?”  She was testing me.  Perhaps the nurses suggested this. I think feeling pressured into giving an answer was a good thing. If I were hurt worse, I likely wouldn’t have been stressed to answer. But I felt the pressure. And I replied, saying “Big Dog and Chicken Finger. Big Dog and Chicken Finger were here.”

Funny, yes. Especially now, looking back. Still there was something else going on that no one could understand, including myself at that moment. I’ll get to that in a moment. First, let’s consider some of the theories my family had about this comment.

When I was a boy aunt Barbara and uncle Leonard had a large German Shepherd. The dog´s name was King, and he was that. A grand beast, big for a shepherd, with a head the size of a small horse. The dog made an impression on everyone, and that – they thought – must have been what I was talking about when I said Big Dog. And they were farmers. They had chickens. That explains the chicken thing. Who knows what the finger comment was about, but that one can float away on the breath from which it floated.

What this did was provide family a rational explanation of why I said what I said. Perhaps the speculation made them feel better about me and my recovery. See, at that time, I was just out of a coma and slept most of the time. No one knew if I’d recover and if I did to what level. While in the U of A hospital, the prognosis wasn’t great. Likely, they thought, preparing for the worst, that I’d spend the rest of my days in an institution. Yet there was hope. Hope that I’d become a functional member of society. Get a job, hopefully. Maybe I could get my license and drive. Or at least I could get around the city in a bus. So maybe putting meaning to the absurd comment gave them hope. Perhaps it allowed them to cling to the hope that my brain was making connections. But it didn’t explain anything.

I likely knew who was there. My mother said I called my aunt and uncle by name when they arrived. The truth of it is more likely this: though it was true that my short-term memory was affected and I forgot things as I became more aware I discovered that the things I forgot weren’t really forgotten, rather they were trapped in my mind. It was as though the words were imprisoned. What seemed like me forgetting, was actually the inability for me to speak what I knew. It was likely that way with my aunt and uncle. I knew who they were, but I couldn’t say it. I could only say big dog and chicken finger.”

— Excerpt from The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain by Allan Boss.

So what can one do to recover their memory after a brain injury? One of my favourite guides is called Memory problems after brain injury by Professor Barbara A. Wilson, OBE. It’s a practical booklet that was put together by Headway: the brain injury association for the care givers of people who have had a brain injury and are experiencing memory problems. Have a read. Maybe it will help.

*****

In the spring of 1990 Allan Boss was in a motor vehicle accident. He suffered a severe traumatic brain injury. The attending neurosurgeon informed his family that he would never walk again or talk again. He went on to achieve three university degrees, has written/edited four published books, has run four marathons, and is currently writing a non-fiction book about his recovery.

Want to learn more? Email info@allanboss.ca  with the subject Send Me the Free Outline to his book, The Seven Steps to Healing your Brain.

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