The Agony and the…..Agony of TBI
brain scan

A traumatic brain injury is a game changer in life. We are now seeing a lot more attention devoted to brain injuries in the news and in health care due to the high profile athletes who are suffering from traumatic brain injuries, and for sake of readability referred to as TBI’s. Now we see a lot more discussion about the hard hits football players get in the game, and their plights are often publicized. As a result we now are getting more information out to the general public. But TBI’s do not just happen to football players and star athletes! They occur all the time in a wide variety of occupations and of course in accidents.

I would often think about how life would have turned out for me if Traumatic Brain Injuries were not in the mix of my experiences. It is hard to imagine at this point, because I am nearing 60 years of age and life has been eaten up with living with what I was dealt.

One thing I can say is that I gained a lot of understanding through my experiences of the issues facing people who have survived head injuries. Because the experiences I had were so life changing and often could not be described in words, I would understand patients who couldn’t quite voice their feelings either.

My father told me that success for a citizen of this world was to have a large bank account and a very good position with a lot of clout and a huge retirement fund. But I have found that success is better measured in how effective I am in helping someone recover from the impact of an accident or health problem that brought on a TBI and how my ministrations were effective in getting someone back up on their feet. But I was woefully ignorant of all of the issues that result from a TBI and I had survived two at a relatively young age. I assumed that the results were the same for everyone who survived one. That was a terrible assumption! It hampered my ability to help a few people effectively in the first five or six years of being a voluntary caregiver. Fortunately for me, I learned fast and adjusted course and I became more aware of individual differences, reactions and responses to what a patient might be experiencing.

I reacted much differently than my father expected. He had high hopes of my taking over the family farm and also running his outdoors sporting goods business and carrying on his legacy. But he removed that plan in from my future at the time he lost his temper (a frequent experience during my childhood) when I was just thirteen and swung a push broom at arms length to connect with the side of my head sending me into the air and flying sideways and ending a split second later with my landing half in the kitchen sink. He had often complained that I was as hard headed and stubborn as my G–D— mother, and I half believed I was hard headed as the blow to my head should have killed me. If that had not been enough he had beaten all desire out of me a few years later with his fists when I sold a job in our gun-shop a little too low for his tastes and I ended the day with my ears ringing, eyes swollen nearly shut and some very terrifying thoughts that I would not survive to adulthood.

Thanks to a very goodhearted couple I escaped and started a new life in a different town working for a sporting goods store in the hearts of the prime fishing lakes area of Minnesota. That life of new happiness was cut short when I was riding with a friend at age nineteen and a priest who had enjoyed a little too much sacramental wine ran a red light in front of us and we collided with him rolling at better than 35 miles an hour. Our compact car crumbled like a cheap tin can when we hit the big Plymouth Fury III the priest was driving and I went through the windshield. So at age nineteen I was dealing with the effects of not one TBI but three, and each had crippled me a little more.

The cumulative damage was too much to handle all at once and I found myself trying to adjust course and just stay on top of life. It seemed at the time that I would go through a time of convalescence and recover and go to work full time and still realize my share of the American dream. Well! I was naive! TBI’s can haunt a person for the rest of their life.

My experiences with TBI did not end with those three incidents while I was a teenager. I went on to have several construction accidents and I had a pesky heart and blood pressure problem that seemed to crop up from time to time. It was during the times that I dealt with strokes that I learned that a stroke in the brain is also a TBI because it does cause a traumatic brain injury. I was blessed to have moved to New Mexico to work and live and I was very committed to ministry as a pastor and an evangelist. In the tasks of being a pastor and assisting members of the churches I was often called on by parishioners who had experienced accidents or strokes or were caring for a family member who had experienced a TBI. I gained a lot of knowledge through hands on caregiving and experience with dealing with the needs of those people who came to me in need of assistance.

Written by David Waterman
I am a spousal caregiver. I have had a lot of serious accidents in dangerous construction jobs. My recovery has not always been smooth but I did learn how my wife feels when she is bed bound for long periods. With similar experiences in our past I have a better understanding of what she needs to be comfortable. I also spent years involved in Christian ministry and the principles of Christianity apply so well to this life I lead now and give much needed stability when all other things are so often in the air.

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  1. My brother is suffering from several TBI’s, it is quite the challenge for him, life is. Impulse control, decision making and the reasoning required for a good result. Memory loss and I may be seeing early onset dementia or alzheimers. He is only 55 and has always struggled. I pray for the strength and knowledge to be the kind of caregiver that is best for him.


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