Traumatic Brain Injury: Reflections of a Caregiver

Nostalgic America Magazine:

The New Year is a time known for its resolutions, fresh starts, and setting goals for the future. While we throw away our 2011 calendars and turn the page to a fresh chapter, we can also benefit from looking back on the year that has passed. In the course of 365 days, every day presented new challenges, opportunities, and room for growth. Moments of joy and tragedy-filled our personal lives and the public arenas. Many of us learned that the course of our lives could change in the matter of an instant. People whose lives have been affected by Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) have seen first hand how quickly the course of one’s life can change.

Gabrielle Giffords, the Congresswoman from Arizona who was shot in the head at point-blank range on January 8, 2011, miraculously survived the attempted assassination. The rehabilitation process for her TBI has not been an easy road for her or her family. Gabby’s injury is an example of how far-reaching the results of a traumatic brain injury can be, as the American public also watched and prayed for a miracle.

The doctors said that a miracle is exactly what Gabby received. In recent interviews with Gabby and her husband, Mark Kelly, the couple opened up about how their relationship has changed because of the TBI. Mark Kelly has been Gabby’s primary caregiver since the shooting. He decided to tape Gabby’s recovery because he believed from the very beginning that Gabby would defy the odds. During her first few months of recovery, Mark recalls taking a deep breath every time before he entered Gabby’s room. He knew each day would be difficult, but each day also offered promise for improvement. Patience is so important for a TBI patient’s care manager because betterments in communication and other skills that we tend to take advantage of are slow to recover. Focus on the improvements, the baby steps that offer hope for the future.

Traumatic Brain Injuries have a profound impact on relationships. Mark recalls how Gabby used to carry on the bulk of their conversations, but since her injury, their roles have reversed. As with any brain injury, there is a risk of major or even permanent damage to the centers of the brain that control speech and language. The bullet that went through Gabby’s brain has affected her speech a great deal.

The couple had been together for four years before the accident. Gifford and Kelly were going through in vitro fertilization treatments, but the tragic shooting disrupted the treatments. Kelly realizes that the life he once imagined with his bride will never be the same. Mark and Gabby cannot relate on the same level they once did, but they are optimistic about rebuilding their relationship.

Kelly says in a recent interview with Diane Sawyer,” Optimism is a form of healing. Hope is a form of love!’ That has been his mantra throughout the rehabilitation process. The couple’s optimism exemplifies the type of mindful (heartfelt) connections we must strive to make with the people in our own lives. Gabby’s stepdaughter urged the public to hold the people you love close: “Don’t risk regret. Life can change in an instant!’

Pam Feinberg-Rivkin, RN, BSN, CCM, CRRN
Feinberg Consulting, Inc. – Founder/CEO

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