A light goes on

By admin
19 November 2013

At last our blogger Michelle Fourie meets someone who can explain what is happening to her husband Jackie and what awaits the family as they deal with his brain injuries after a car accident.

The family visiting Jackie at the rehab facility.

I take a break after a few upsetting visiting hours at the rehab. I feel I will not be able to go on if this continues. I have to face facts; I must try to understand.

Information is scarce and I have to search for it.

So begins my research into traumatic brain injuries. It’s complicated and the medical terms confuse me. I realise that such injuries are so complex that even the experts have difficulty defining them.

Then I hear of Susan Larney’s book, Nuwe Lewe Na ’n Breinbesering (an English version will soon be available). It’s packed with information for the family and friends of a person with a brain injury. At last I have found an explanation I can understand.

She writes about her experiences after her daughter sustained brain injuries in a car accident.

I snatch at this straw and call the number on the website. I have to get the book. Susan answers the phone and, wonder of wonders, she lives nearby in Pretoria. For the first time since Jackie’s accident I feel I’m speaking to someone who understands. When I explain what we’re experiencing with Jackie she becomes excited. “He’s in phase four,” she says.

My son, Jacques, and I jump in the car and race to her home. We need answers.

Susan tells us her daughter, Lindie, was badly injured in a vehicle accident in 1999. She was a second-year student at Pretoria University and 19 years old.

Lindie two weeks before her accident (left) and six months after (right) Lindie two weeks before her accident (left) and six months after (right)

She began to do research on her daughter’s condition because answers from doctors were few and far between.

A light went on for us.

Recovery from a brain injury occurs on multiple levels. Progress from one level to the next is often slow, and people with brain damage often simultaneously display characteristics of more than one level.

* Level 1 No response: It looks as if he’s sleeping deeply.

Jackie in deep sleep in the ICU

* Level 2 Generalised response: His responses are purposeful but not logical. For example, he pulls a face when being given a sponge bath.

* Level 3 “Localised” response: He doesn’t yet see, even though his eyes may be open. It makes sense now to me why he had a blank “doll’s eyes” stare and why he was irritated by the catheter.

Jackie with blank "doll's eyes"

* Level 4 Confusion, restlessness, aggression. He changes suddenly from underactive to overactive. He may shout, scream or be aggressive. He can focus attention on one thing for a short while. The more “wakeful” he becomes in time, the more he becomes aware of stimuli in this environment, but his brain still doesn’t work well enough to make sense of everything and this can confuse him. Yes, we are at level four now.

* Level 5 Confused-inappropriate: He’s not restless or aggressive and responds logically to simple, single orders.

* Level 6 Confused-appropriate: He can carry out routine tasks such as eating, dressing and bathing. His memory of recent events is still poor.

* Level 7 Automatic-appropriate: On the surface he appears normal. He can carry out routine tasks automatically without becoming too confused. However, he doesn’t remember much of what he did. His judgment is poor, his problem-solving skills are limited and he can’t plan realistically because his insight is still limited.

* Level 8 Purposeful-appropriate: His memory of the past is good but it’s vague about recent events. After a brain injury, a patient often has a reduced ability to reason, handle stress and practise good judgment. Social, emotional and intellectual abilities are often not restored to the level they were before the injury.

Lindie is recovering. In the bottom left she and her mother, Sandy, are guests on a kykNET programme. Photo: Medihelp

I realise this road will be difficult, but at least I now know what to expect. I also know it’s a road that appears somewhere on the map of our lives.

For more information, go to Susan Larney’s website.

– Michelle

* Michelle Fourie lives in Pretoria, where she has a thatch-roofing business. She blogs weekly for YOU about how her and her family’s live changed when her husband sustained irreversible brain damage.

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