Brain injuries are tricky – they often have no face, no identity, because you cannot see them. What you often see is someone who looks like you, walks like you, and maybe even talk and carry on a conversation like you. What you can’t see is what is on the inside – the worry, the fear of saying something wrong, the struggling to remember, the difficulty keeping track of time and appointments. Brain injuries are sneaky, and can be subtle, but not to the person that has one, or to the family that supports them.
Here is the picture of Frank’s brain injury – think of your memory as three silver buckets, lined up in a row. The first bucket is small, and doesn’t hold much – this is your immediate memory (these things happened just a moment ago). Next is a slightly bigger bucket that we call recent memory (these things happened 10 minutes ago). The last gigantic bucket is long term memory (these are things that happened when you were a kid, or last year on vacation, or in high school). Inside those buckets are small jumping fish – these fish are lots of different colors, blue ones, red one, orange ones, yellow ones. These small colorful fish are memories, ideas and thoughts. The neat thing about these fish is that they can jump, from one bucket to the next. The first bucket, the immediate memory bucket, is full of fish, representing all the things that are happening around you. The color of the flowers that were just delivered, the text you just got from your wife, the hug that your child just gave you. These important little fish jump high into the air, and land into the recent memory bucket. That bucket is bigger, and full of the things that have happened in the last little bit of time. Each few seconds, fish jump from the first bucket into the recent bucket, because your brain wants to remember these things. As time goes by, and we keep those great thoughts, ideas and tidbits in the second bucket, they eventually jump into the gigantic third bucket, where we can revisit those moments in our life that our brain has decided to keep precious for us.
Now Franks brain, well, his brain is working a little differently than most of us. He has an interesting thing going on with his first bucket. That bucket is covered with a bubble – a bubble which sometimes causes those fish to bounce back into the bucket when they try to jump from one to the other. Some fish, the really strong ones, they can jump through the bubble. Memories of pain, sadness, anger and other strong memories seem to get through. That first bucket also gets full, since the fish cannot always jump out. So what happens? Well, the bucket overflows, and fish fall over the side, never making to the second bucket.
Now, his second bucket, and third bucket, they seem to be relatively bubble free, although what I see is that the edges are a little higher, making it a little more difficulty for the fish to jump from one to the other. The water in the gigantic bucket is really cold, and some of the little fish swim a little slower in cold water, but those fish are all there, ready for a visit.
Frank is trying to pop that bubble over the first bucket. He needs to allow his memories to jump from one part of the memory process to another, so that he can essentially input new data into his head. It gets better every day, but he is still classified as having moderate memory deficits. That is a hard fact for me to take, but it is the reality – one that anyone that lives with someone with a brain injury can understand.
Can it get better – YES! Concussions can take 5-6 months to clear, with many of the same symptoms. The goal is to reroute around the damaged areas, and create new pathways of thinking.
I know, I sounds like loads of fun to live with right now. Memory drills, here we come!