50 First Dates: Life after a Brain Injury

Me & my boy Harvey, just a few weeks before my injury.

If you read my previous post entitled The Accident, you will remember that I was a crazy horse lady but a Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) put a damper on things. My brain surgeon warned me that I should never ride horses again or I could end up with severe brain damage, rendering me unable to care for myself. Ouch.

You see, you never fully ‘heal’ from a brain injury. My doctors kept reminding me that with head injuries ‘1+1 does not equal 2’ because the damage is not linear. The effect of each brain injury is cumulative so you never really get to start over with a clean slate.

My neurosurgeon asked if I had ever had a TBI or concussion before & I said no. Then he asked if I had fallen off of a horse before or been knocked out & I said of course, I’m an equestrian! He then informed me that I have had TBI’s before. I was stunned. He said that every time you’re knocked out, that is a TBI. He also said that any fall where your head falls from 4 or more feet is considered a TBI. My horse’s back is over 5 feet high & my head sits about 3 feet above his back so that’s 8 feet total; a pretty long ways from the ground & more than twice the 4 foot ‘safety’ range.

Me & my horse, Bert, on a trail ride.

I had never heard any of those things before. How could that be? You would think the entire horse community would be experts on TBI’s. If you know equestrians, then you know they’re experts on everything! Nutrition? Check. Proper saddle fit? Check. Blanketing? Check.

On a serious note, there is a great organization trying to get TBI information out to the horse world. They are called Riders 4 Helmets. I highly recommend checking out their website & reading about others who have dealt with horse-related TBI’s. There are some incredible, inspiring stories & lots of good info about concussions.

I need a bubble wrap sponsor.

Turns out that most people that have had a TBI never even knew they had one. How many times have stamped your frequent flyer card by coming off of a horse? Then what did you do afterwards? You probably didn’t rush to the doctor. Most horse people just jump right back up & school their horse, untack & groom their horse, muck a few stalls, fill some water buckets, mix feed for the next day, sweep the barn – ya know, they take care of their horse & completely neglect themselves. Ibuprofen & a beer or maybe even an epsom salt bath if you’re feeling fancy. Certainly not heading to the doctor for a concussion screening.

Me & my other horse, Moonpie, competing in an obstacle course challenge.

I was instructed by my doctors to rest & give my brain & body a chance to heal. I’m not too good at taking it easy (or listening, for that matter) & I struggled with my new stagnant lifestyle. Luckily I have a very supportive family who took care of my animals during my recovery period. I wasn’t allowed to drive, exercise, go for walks by myself or even read. My friends joked that I was prescribed a typical American lifestyle! I asked the doctor what I could do & she said after a few weeks I would be able to watch tv. No documentaries or anything that would strain my brain, only mindless tv. I’m 100% serious that my neurologist told me to start watching the Kardashian’s show because it would not challenge my brain in any way. I laughed, she didn’t. She was serious. I watched it. I felt my IQ decline so I turned it off.

My memory, along with my ability to solve problems & make decisions, was left in the dirt of an arena floor in another town.

The TBI caused me to be exhausted & I had to take at least a 2 hour nap every single day. My nap schedule went on for months. For some reason I craved sugar after my injury. I’ve never been a big fan of sweets but I craved candy (specifically Mike & Ikes) for months afterwards. Light & noise were my enemies. My eyes didn’t feel like they lined up right which distorted my vision. I went to physical therapy a few times a week to get help with my balance issues. I was put on antidepressants to help speed up my thoughts & wake up my brain. I had no idea that they were used for anything besides depression, but it helped since I was struggling with that too. I lost my job of 8 years due to my injury.

So I was trapped in a never ending blonde moment. Unemployed. A recluse. Now what? I decided to view my injury as a blessing instead of a curse.