Tuesday, September 25, 2012

What is TBI? Another fall while I type.

Traumatic Brain Injury (TBI) has a host of symptoms and characteristics. TBI looks like different things for different people.  For some it is a closed head injury that may appear at fist as nothing more than a bump to the head or a concussion.  For others, it is a severe open head injury requiring much more immediate medical attention or possible surgery.

TBI, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, is now often labeled another invisible injury that a multitude of our troops are suffering with.  TBI, for each soldier or person affected, can be completely different.

At minimum TBI includes three facets: cognitive, emotional/behavioral, and physical.  Each of these facets categorize various difficulties or dysfunction.  These TBI symptoms would likely includes things such as memory impairment, concentration difficulty, problems organizing or staying on task, inflexibility or lack of spontaneity, poor judgement and prioritizing.  Other physical problems may include pain, visual impairments, hearing difficulties, diminished senses of taste and smell, seizures, problems with coordination or gait, balance problems and dizziness, and speech problems.  Speech problems include things such as aphasia.  The veteran may have trouble coming up with words or accurate words.  His or her speech may even be incoherent at times.  Endocrine and nerve dysfunctions are also potential problems with a diagnosis of TBI.

TBI is classified as a dementia.  Other forms of dementia that people may be more familiar with include amnesia and Alzheimer's disease.  During the last TBI evaluation at a VA medical facility, my husband was actually told that his brain was losing mass or volume.  His brain has literally shrunk.  No wonder he has days where things just don't work like they are supposed to any more.

Some days he doesn't remember if he's eaten or what he ate.  Other days he seems to manage fine.  Still some days are filled with the blank stares and unresponsiveness, classic of an absent seizure.  However, during these times of staring off without response, John's EEG monitoring hasn't shown signs of epileptic seizures.  A step beyond this unresponsive stare is when these seizures or passing out episodes happen while john is walking and he falls unconsciously to the ground or back into the chair or couch.  Sometimes, he has massive nose bleeds to accompany these seizures.  Often his "eyes go crazy" as our five year old says.  His eyes may blink wildly or roll back into his head, leaving only the whites exposed until he regains consciousness. 

A couple years ago, John wanted to go back to school and enrolled at a local technical college in an attempt to use his hard earned GI Bill benefits.  John was still mostly driving himself then and his memory and concentration caused problems that neither of us could have expected.  One day John returned home only about 15 minutes after leaving home and I asked him how class was.  He replied something to the effect of, "What? Crap! I knew I forgot something." He had got thirsty and had went to Sonic to get a drink, forgetting about class.  He would forget to log on to the computer to do course work, forget to go to class, and forget to turn in assignments, even forgetting to go to school to take a final.

John would be eager to start some projects but rarely finish them.  Currently we have crown molding around only about 1/3 of our living room foyer, a project that he began over 6 months ago.  He started painting a faux finish in our bathroom and all but about a five foot section is complete...as of a year and a half ago.  I could go on and on with more examples just like these.

Ringing in the ears, balance trouble, and stumbling when bending over happen frenquently.  Speech problems plague John, as well.  Examples of this might be stuttering, saying things like "bring me a a a a a a a um a drink." Other speech problems include comming up with the wrong words like, "bring me the motorcycle to call my mom" or "bring me a flashlight" with the last statement actually meaning "bring me a drink."

A change in routine can cause problems, as can trying new things.  Irritablity and anger often surface as a result of any of these problems.  The problems themselves cause frustration and mental anguish and may lead to the person with TBI acting out or throwing a tantrum because of their problems or their frustration with how these symptoms negatively affect their ability to function in life.

The long and short of the story is that physical and mental injuries are exhausting and stressful.  Not only is the veteran affected, but anyone within the immediate family, extended family, and circle of friends will undoubtedly see the effects of what happens when the war comes home and a veteran has TBI and/or PTSD.

There may not be an ongoing battle in your backyard on the war with terrorism, but when a veteran returns, part of that war comes home. In many cases of PTSD and Traumatic Brain Injury, like John's, no one can begin to prepare or expect what life will throw in their path.  One can read about mental illnesses and PTSD or other more physical complaints and have little idea of what the daily life will look like. 
Added May 2013 from my January Post on Parkinsons:
Recently, the VA has acknowledged that they are proposing changes to the way they view TBI and are embracing five (5) new diagnoses secondary to TBI for service connected compensation. These newly acknowledged diagnoses include: unprovoked seizures, depression, Parkinsons, hormonal imbalances, and dementia. (See an informative article here from the Federal Register) While I'm glad they are finally acknowledging that there is "sufficient evidence of a causal relationship" and "associations" between these things, I'm interested to see how long it takes to get the actual service connection reviewed and rated. We can only hope the process is speedier than the 5-10 years it has taken them to figure these illnesses are linked.


  1. Thank you for sharing your story. Many parts of it are very familiar! Many blessings to your family, and stay strong. Your blog has made me feel less alone. Thank you.

    1. Thanks, Kate. So often it feels like so few understand what life is like for so many of us. Blessings to you as well.