The BIST Community Fair and Expressive Art Show was in a new venue. Off of Yonge near Brain Injury Society of Toronto’s offices. People found it easier than last year so the place was buzzing as they checked out all the resources like Sunnybrook Family Navigation, 211, Cota, Free Geeks, and of course BIST. Quite a few of us BIST members had our artwork displayed, and I had a table where I sold and autographed copies of my Concussion Is Brain Injury books. It was a blast!
But I was sadly reminded how much the medical system fails people with brain injury.
I could tell when the person approaching me had had a brain injury. Look into their eyes and you’ll see it.
I sometimes feel — or more accurately, have been made to feel by some physician ABI experts and kith and kin — that it’s just me who struggles. Others do fine. My neurodoc insists how well his other patients do socially after following his advice. I find it difficult to believe, assuming they had social skills before their brain injury, because treating those parts of the neural networks involved in social interaction actually makes it easier cognitively and emotionally. You can have learnt all the skills in the world but you can’t use them well or at all when the involved networks are off and unhealed. It’s rather frustrating to know what to do but unable to do it.
Meeting fellow persons with brain injury reminded me: I am not alone. I hope I conveyed to them that they’re not crazy, either.
One said her doctors opined that they didn’t have a brain injury, only brain surgeries. Well, when you see them clutching every flyer in an effort to find answers, and they talk about short-term memory loss, then they have a brain injury. Just because a scalpel created the injury doesn’t make it a non-injury.
Another told me that they had concussion only in some situations. Huh? Apparently, their health care people didn’t believe they had a brain injury — for some reason the docs couldn’t see it — yet they are filled with fear — the kind of fear we get when the world comes at you like a barrelling train, friends aren’t willing to slow down and accommodate, and you keep missing chunks of conversation or what’s happening around you. Their health care professionals must be stupid. Or willfully blind. Lazy definitely. If you don’t acknowledge such obvious difficulties and blame the person — like saying I have low EQ as one did me while not acknowledging people refusing to accommodate my fatigue and slow processing etc created a situation that lead to everyone being upset. Refusing to see the obvious cognitive struggle in a person’s eyes means the health care professional doesn’t have to up their game, learn about the brain and brain injury, and treat it properly.
Another visitor to my table was stuck inside their head, unable to cope with the sensory informational overload. They had family around them, a mother, a sister, willing to take them around to every table and every artist, willing to learn about what’s available to make their life and brain better. This is rare. A family being there in person, helping on a practical level and supporting emotionally by ensuring their injured loved one wasn’t hunting for answers alone. The others all were alone, even when it was obvious they shouldn’t be, that they wouldn’t remember anything from the fair or be able to learn from all the flyers. The flyers, the brochures, my bookmarks would become a cacophony of paper lying unfound where they would be dumped in the relief of being back home, too fatigued to put the papers in a visible place.
The other amazing thing about this small family: they wanted two copies of my book — one for the injured member, one for the sister to read. Respect! Unfortunately, I had only one left by then. All people with brain injury should have family like that.