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Left Sided Brain Injury

My experience with someone who suffered a left sided brain injury.  When I was 8 years old my middle aged grandmother, whom I was close with, who worked, drove and was very active, had a left sided brain injury as a result of a spontaneous aneurysm (a blood vessel bleeds into the brain) which has the overall symptoms of a right sided disability.  She could never speak  again in a meaningful manner with the exception of a few nonsense sounds.  This began an apprenticeship in communicating with a person via alternative means. 

The recent shooting in Arizona and the likelyhood that the left sided brain injury the represtentative from Arizona suffered would be much more serious.  As the bullet actually passed through with loss of brain tissue and even more severe injury. So far there seems to be no reports of her speaking only squeezing hands in response after the injury although alert.  The left side of the brain holds our speech centers one of which is called the Brokaws area.  One can only make the most dreadful conclusions about the permenant loss of most speech ability and right sided paralysis as well as possible vision loss and ability to organize thoughts. 

My grandmother had been in the kitchen and my teenage uncle came home from school and  found her unconscious and she was bourne to the hospital somehow.   The next time I saw her several months had  crept past as they kept you in the hospital a long time back then and rehab was not as common for brain injury.  She could only say "pzzt" and "no".  This would be what she could say for the next 15 years she would live.  Yet live she did a full meaningful life although a totally changed life.  She had ride sided weakness with muscle atrophy.  She held her hand in a pinched position and I still sometimes find myself sitting this way having watched her as a child.  Her right leg becoming thinnner than her left and she had a limp.  Also difficulty bending over leading to my new duties as the bottom bread drawer opener.  Her right side was always painful and wooden.  In the car she would grimace holding her arm.  In fact she often walked around holding her right arm cupped in her left hand like a sling of sorts and even wore a sling sometimes.

Her expressions or affect were also impacted.  More blunted and she could not write easily with her dammaged hand nor could she organize her thoughts to write more than one word at a time with great difficulty. She was terribly embarrased by her tracheotomy scar and always wore scarfs around her throat since.  Also she was self conscious about the scar on her head.  Her once thick dark hair came back thinner and lighter and not growing as well on the scar where they had done a craniotomy to relieve the brain pressure after the aneurysm.  Overall, she could not speak and had obvious right side physical limitations and overall muscle weakness.  Also lack of expression.  Plus now she had seizures and also more emotional liability.  Crying more easily or becoming severely frustrated over small things or sitting expressionless.

My grandfather being a layperson about medical matters in the 1970's and I never had a single discussion about what had happened medically.  I don't think he had the language as most people don't and even with the internet and more user friendly information available by practitioners it is still not easy to understand what has happened when someone has a medical problem.  I only know what happened by observation.  Out of interest about her medical condition while in Art School I took a class called the Pathophysiology of Psychology.  A very difficult class meant for medical students where the subject was brain anatomy.  I was not particularily adroit at studying being an Art student for intense medical courses.  Although I never missed a lecture, I did poorly on the tests and was able to pass due to a paper I wrote on loss of speech and recovery.  I think he gave me is what was called a mercy C.  It was not required for my Fine Art Painting course out of my curiosity and concern over my grandmothers cerebral accident I took the class.  I still remember the acronmy for the brain nerves.  On old olympus towering tops a fin and german viewed some hops.  Optic, Olfractory, etc.  In my late twenties I would become a nurse. Not specifically because of this experience.  More because it was a job that allowed me time to paint.

I remember the fall after my grandmother had been home several months and me sitting quietly with the realization that she would never be the same was like a curtain being drawn over a sunny window for me a darkening of the room actually happpened at that momment. Certainly as a sad realization for my mother, uncle and grandfather and other family. I always described it to myself that our lives than became a masoleum of a momment in time frozen.  She would never move furniture again.  Never make a major purchase.  She could still cook and decorate for the holidays, unable to drive, talk, she continued to dress pleasantly with modifications such as no buttons or shoe laces as she could not bend over to tie them or make both her hands work together.  She still saw friends and relatives and had her hair done and went out to eat.  Just a very small life. It was like a mourning.

Our communication was facinating.  I had spent a lot of time with my grandmother as a child.  She and I had many small jokes together.  She would pick me up from school and we would enjoy eating cookies in the car like we were being bad.  We liked to shop together and I never minded visiting stores.  She worked and I would sometimes go to work with her. She was particularily young to have a brain injury.  She was only 44 or 45 years old I am not sure.  She had my mother at 19 and my mother had me at 18 so I was already 8 when she had her cerebral accident.   I have known people to have died from these types of injury so I was glad that we had her as she gave me and my sisters some really fun summers despite her grave disabilities.  Much to her and my grandfathers credit.

I spent a lot of time with her the three years after her stroke.  In a way I was a sort of nurses aid to her and since we already spent a lot of time together it was only natural that we would continue to do so.  Before she was my caretaker and hencesforth I was almost more her small curate.  Anticipating her needs, and we would fall into a certain kind of reverie together.  A high level of intuitive communication passed between us.  Bordering on the point of telepathy. 

Being already a highly immaginative child who rarely shared my thoughts I became more so about what passed between us. We had many experiences were she called me with her mind when she wanted me.  In fact we made a game of it.  Once she seemed to have  asked me to go pick wild tiger lillies while I was out in a field and when I returned with them she had a photo of them in her hand.  Stunning both of us. I still have a very intuitive quality and have had experienced dreams and visions of the future which later came true.  

I liken our communication to a sort of understanding.  We still had some conflicts and small questions yet overall between my grandmother and grandfather I became a sort of translator of her needs at the beginning.  How we modified the house and made special adjustments for her.  Going to speech therapy and visiting the doctor figuring out her medications.  How to deal with social changes since she couldn't talk.  Fortunatley my grandparents were well established in their community and had large families and lots of friends and four children, my mother and uncle and two who had died.  One had also died of a brain cancer so this was an additional unexpected trajedy.  Another child dying of a likely heart defect as an infant.

My grandmother previously could communicate her thoughts about her children who had died.  Now she could not express her grief as easily.  Now she had to use the people around her and other cues to express her thoughts on this.  For instance when hearing the Elton John song Daniel my Brother she would often make vague hand gestures with her injured hand to indicate she was thinking of her infant son who had died many years ago.  Her left brain was injured which controls the right side and vice versa, the brain continues to try and function as it always did so she still used her paralyzed hand dominantly.  These sorts of injuried happen in a matter of minutes and are irreversible in most cases.  When someone enters an ER the injury is often long established.  

Speech therapy in the 1970's was still in it's infancy.  I have since learned that most of the older techniques I saw are no longer used.  I went with her and had a very poor impression of speech therapy afterward.  At that epoch they pressed the patient to frustration and my grandmother would often cry and after no more than a handful of visits would cry and wail to such extremes that all speech therapy was stopped.  She was a pretty young woman with a light brown page boy haircut.  I wonder if she would ever know the heartache she caused my grandmother.  Now modern speech therapy is very very different.  The techniques are supportive and all based on meeting the patients level of functioning and never pressing the patient.  The speech therapy today is very very different than of forty years ago.

I had the good chance to have a speech therapist as a french tutor after returning from Paris after a year.  She explained to me in detail about speech therapy.  She was an excellent french tutor and also our relationship was helpful in my four year career as an english teacher in France.  Now it is about how to help people find their level and just gently and with much hilarity bridge the learning to make them sucessful.  She did admit that in the past speech therapy used stress to try and force the patients to move forward.  Anyway, I remember one time with my grandmother the speech therapist was showing her pictures and wanting her to say the words and my grandmother becoming so frustrated she could not say them and grabbing the cards and tossing them on the floor and holding her head in her hands and crying.  The therapist methodically continueing with my grandmother wild.

During the first three years after her brain injury were the biggest adjustment for everyone.  After this we had adapted and accepted the situation much better.  I remember together we made a recipe file of photos of food for grocery shopping so she could keep them in her purse if she need to show someone at a store what she needed.  I made phone lists with all important numbers with small drawings indicating the person.  We wrapped a thick cotton around a pen so she could use it in her afflicted hand.  Her collection of scarves to hide her tracheotomy scar although barely perseptable it was important that she give an impression of normalcy.  Her occassional seizures.   She slowed down and continued housework.  Saturdays shopping, Sundays big lunch, Monday, Vacuuming, Tuesdays Linens, Wednesdays Laundry, Thursdays the bathrooms and Fridays the kitchen floors.  When I think before she did this all at once on Saturday.  She had high housekeeping standards.  

What always surprised me was peoples opinions about her who had met her after her cerebral accident.  Before she had gotten disabled she worked and was very active and funny brisk and almost crazy sometimes and now she sat passively cooking and decorating things.  I always wanted to tell them she is not just this quiet housewife she used to run amok.  I remember we often visited all the graves and would do upkeep and one time her knicking a tombstone while backing up the car to pull out and in a powerful momment of superstitious fueled energy pushd the heavy tombstone in place by herself and than we took off like bonnie and clyde escaping justice.   Yet to people who didn't know her after would think she quietly cooked, gardened and decorated for holidays. 

My family moved to the southwest and a nice memory I have of her is when I was 15 and came for a visit.  She had stayed up late waiting for my train.  My grandparents in their haste at my late night call to come pick me up during the middle of the night came in their pajamas to find me not wanting to waste one minute.  Both crying and so happy to see me.  I remember my grandmother running toward me with a coat over her dressing gown in the middle of the night.  My grandfather in his striped pajamas with his overcoat sheepishly smiling.  A lot would happen after her brain injury yet I am always extremely pleased she had some more time and we hadn't lost her that day.





7 Comment count
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A lovely story, Christine ...

... grandparents and other extended family are so important to children. She had a special place in your life.


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hola barb

the woman representative from arizona suffering a gunshot wound to her head made me think of my own experience with someone who suffered a brain injury, cripes what a trajedy.

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I know what you mean ...

... my brother collapsed while taking a walk with a sudden arrythmia back in 2000, and never regained consciousness. He was found and recuscitated, but too late, and he had less than 1% of his brain function. In the end, they had to remove his breathing tube, and he died.

So it brought up stuff for me too. We're often reminded how fragile and ephemeral our lives are, and how important it is to appreciate them.


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she lost her left brain and can't talk ever again

with this personal experience I am trying to say that with a left sided brain injury the woman politician in arizona recently shot by a bad person, will likely have very limited speech and severe problems. I have loved someone who could never talk again. Maybe being an English person you are not aware at the American shootings in Arizona and that is what the article is about overall? Just being kind but not understanding the subtext?  The kindness comes through.  Do you see undermeanings?

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I get it, Christine ...

... and as a Canadian, I hear the news about US problems. I guess I was just relating to the brain injury thing with my somewhat similar experience. Not being able to talk, and still functioning, like your grandmother, is preferable to dying ...


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oh i figured, sorry about the mistaken identity thing

I appreciate your comments because many of have suffered losses due to unforseen events.

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and again the kindness shone through

shine shone shun is it a true verb? toodles poodles