My Brain Injury

Two accidents and a brain surgery.

In 1977, I had a drastic hit-and-run bike accident, I was airborne for more than 40 feet, landed on my head without a helmet, and lost my left leg where I was hit. I was told I am lucky to be alive. The collision point was my left calf, and they tried to repair the damages ahead of gangrene. Ultimately, gangrene won the battle, and there were multiple amputations. The final amputation was at 3 inches below the knee. The brain injury was minor then, as compared to the leg. Nonetheless, I had many stitches in the back of my head, double vision for months, and obviously a big concussion. It is important to point out that the severity of a concussion is often measured by how long you were passed out. In my case, I only remember waking up once in the ambulance and the next time in intensive care. Anyway, after days in intensive care, I was told of the amputation. I spent most of the summer in the hospital as a resident, in rehab, and to get my first artificial leg prosthesis. I am truly lucky to be alive, and it took a year to feel near recovery.

In 1981, I had a bad pool accident. We had just signed up for a new membership in an athletic club with indoor and outdoor pools. After completing all the paperwork on this hot day, we decided to try the outdoor pool. It was almost sunset, and the sun was reflecting off the water like a mirror. My ex-wife and my daughter Sarah, who was almost 3, went into the outdoor pool. In this 3 ft. deep side of the pool, my ex-wife was holding Sarah while standing on her knee, and arching so only their heads showed. I took a couple of pictures, then took a dive. When I get in a pool, I have a habit of deep diving to the bottom and then swimming across the bottom for the full length of the pool. I did a deep dive, based on my ex-wife’s neck height, and collided nose and forehead with the bottom of the pool. I remember this like it was yesterday. A stupid mistake that almost broke my neck. I broke my nose and required stitches across my nose and forehead, and a few months later needed surgery to fix my broken nose.

In 1991, I had brain surgery. I was experiencing episodes of electric-like shocks in the left side of my face. After many visits with doctors and neurologists, I was diagnosed with a condition known as Trigeminal Neuralgia. This condition results from blood vessel and nerve deformation, where the blood vessel is wrapped around a nerve at the base of the skull. In short, the repeated pulsation of the blood vessel caused the nerve to short circuit. This short circuit causes intermitting, and extremely painful, electric shocks in my face. My options were to burn the nerve and have no feeling in the left half of my face and tongue, or have brain surgery to separate the two and place artificial cushions in between. I was told that given my age, brain surgery was the better option, and the recovery should not be terrible, again given my age.

A brain surgery is not necessarily a brain injury. However, during the long recovery time, I had the common symptoms of brain injury. Basically, after one month, I was released to go back to work, and for over a year, I was not feeling my normal self. But in hindsight, and after recovery, I can describe it to be like brain injury symptoms. This experience feels almost like that of people who almost died and describe what it was like to experience death. In my case, what it was like to have another brain injury following recovery.

In recent years, now that I am over 60, I have had recurring symptoms of a brain injury. Feel free to guess which of those events described above is likely to be the cause. Is it the first accident, the second accident, the brain surgery, or over time, have all made various contributions? Your guess will be as good as mine.

It is most fascinating to me that while my head has been repeatedly banged and poked, I seem to have done better than my daughter Sarah. Why? No one knows, I wish it was the opposite, but clearly every brain injury is unique.