March is Brain Injury Awareness Month

There isn’t a lot I can do to “change the world” these days, but one area that I have too much experience with is serious brain injuries and how they can change your world. So this month I will try to educate everyone a bit about what I have learned on this topic.

A traumatic brain injury (TBI) is one where you lose consciousness for a period of time and often have a bleed in your brain afterwards. It is a sudden injury that causes damage to the brain and may happen when there is a blow, bump, or jolt to the head. This is a closed head injury. A TBI can also happen when an object penetrates the skull. This is a penetrating injury. In my case I fell head first off of my bike while riding downhill. I was unconscious off and on for hours afterwards along with fractured ribs, a thigh injury, a wrist injury, and spent 24 hours in the ER and the hospital neuro-unit under observation. At the time I could not stand up without passing out.

How long does it take to fully recover from a TBI?

Depending on the severity of the injury, recovery time for a TBI may vary from a few weeks to six or more months. Each person reacts differently to injury and illness. Thus, recovery time will vary between individuals. The length of recovery time for TBI depends on how long a patient is unconscious and what parts of the brain are injured.

Are patients ever the same after a TBI?

Moderate to severe TBI can cause permanent physical or mental disability. Because polytrauma is common with moderate to severe TBI, many patients face additional disabilities as a result of other injuries. Even patients who appear to recover fully may have some long-term symptoms that never go away.

My experience:

I would say it took a few years for me to feel “normal” again after my TBI in 2008. My main form of rehabilitation was writing books, reading a lot and maintaining my blogs.

Unfortunately, I have been prone to falls and further head injuries since then. I fell again with serious concussions in 2015, 2019 and 2021. My most recent concussion was most serious and caused permanent balance, memory and vertigo problems. I now use research, writing and game shows like Jeopardy to spur my memory and keep me sharp. I also love old movies, soft music, and nature shows on PBS. They really soothe my brain.

Does TBI affect IQ?

In the end, a brain injury does not make a person less intelligent. It does, however, make certain mental activities, such as learning, require more time and effort. This is because the brain works less efficiently after a brain injury.

My biggest pet peeve around my present condition is that others may look at me and assume I’m not quite all there. I am definitely as smart as I used to be, it just takes me longer to arrive at the answers. I do have trouble getting around because of my oxygen machine, but that doesn’t mean that I am someone to feel sorry for. I do not feel sorry for myself.

I think I have a great life here with Mike and my puppy Rasta, and this fantastic view of those beautiful Sangre de Cristo Peaks.

How I Identify With The Women at the Oscars

For once in a very long time (if ever!) we saw women in their fifties and sixties nominated and winning Oscars last night! Angela Bassett, Jamie Lee Curtis, Michelle Yeoh and Cate Blanchett looked so lovely, drawing attention to the fact that, as Michelle pointed out,

“This is proof! Dream big. Dreams do come true! And don’t let anybody tell you that you are past your prime!”

Historically the men in charge of Hollywood decided women were OLD past age 30 or 40. Why would anyone want to see them on the silver screen? Of course there were character actors like Thelma Ritter, who died at 66, and one of my favorites, Eve Arden. Did you ever wonder why Marilyn Monroe killed herself at age 36? Most of the men who have won best actor awards did so later in life, but female actors were finished by age 40. So nice to be defined by your youth and then counted out by an all male majority before your career can even take off.

Of course there have been a few exceptions, Katharine Hepburn age 74 for “On Golden Pond” and Jessica Tandy age 80 for “Driving Miss Daisy” and Maggie Smith, three of the grand dames of movies and theater, won Oscars for their performances. Somehow they were able to keep working past 40.

Doesn’t that make you wonder what other magnificent performances we have missed out on? What more interesting movies might have been made had women producers, directors, writers and actors been in charge or even had some voice in this business?

Why do we celebrate birthdays like we do?

My birthday is coming up next month and that got me wondering when and why Americans started celebrating birthdays in the ways we do. The first thing that comes to mind for me when I think about my birthday was the disappointment I felt to discover that mine was too early to have a swim party in Kansas… too cold. But I think I did have a roller skating party once…maybe. I can’t really remember!

Research suggests that birthdays were once just another day until the 1880s. It wasn’t until the late 19th century that middle-class Americans began having special celebrations of their children’s birthdays, and not until the early 20th century that these celebrations became a nationwide tradition. In fact, “Happy Birthday to you” a song popular worldwide, is only about one hundred years old.

Historically, birthday celebrations were for rich people or national heroes. Americans celebrated George Washington’s birthday, but for everyone else, a birthday—if they even remembered the date—was just another day. The shift in the mid-19th century started with kids. The increased attention that began to be lavished on individual children as families started having fewer of them, may have led to a desire for special celebrations. Could that be because with industrialization, American children started being viewed less for their economic contributions and more for their emotional ones?

My first birthday cake with my brother and sister cheering me on, encouraging me to BLOW THAT CANDLE OUT!

With America industrialization in the 19th century, the rituals and trappings of birthday parties that we think of as common today, became mainstream. The way we celebrate is a strange combination of ancient traditions. Cake can likely be traced back to ancient Roman birthday rites. The candles appear to come from aristocratic German birthday celebrations dating back several hundred years. But the expectation of gifts and cards is a product of good old Western consumerism. What comes to mind when you think of birthday cards? Hallmark!

Today, the idea of someone celebrating their birthday is considered normal, but in the decades after this tradition became common, some groups resisted it, saying that such celebrations were self-centered, materialistic, and turned kids into brats. Sure, there are plenty of American brats, but I don’t think it was a birthday party that did that to them…

Well, I’m no brat, I just like having a special day even at 68!

A Different Kind of Mind

Somehow I never pictured myself breathless and brain damaged at age 67. ‘Disabled’ did not occur to me ever, until things started happening to me. It took me an amazing length of time to believe that I was having trouble breathing. In fact, I didn’t discovery it myself. A very observant MD in Colorado City turned to me once when we were there for Mike’s health and said, “Are your lips turning blue? Let’s do a walking test.” For those unaware, a walking test is a simple walk around a doctor’s office where they test your O2 level before and after your block-long walk. I flunked, dipping far below 90 and yet I still insisted this could not be happening to me. Recently we went through the same test with my brother John, and yes, he denied it, and now he’s enjoying his supplemental O2.

My point is, unless you are literary hit over the head with a new disability (like a head injury?) it is very hard to accept that you may have a big new problem. I struggled against using oxygen at home for quite a while. I simply could not believe it, plus we Carters are known for extreme stubbornness. Now I can only go a couple minutes without it.

The head injuries started in my fifties and who knows, perhaps they were connected with shortness of breath. I know my most recent concussion were related to being out of breath. I went to look for something, forgot my oxygen, and ended up passed out for the floor. Unfortunately Mike was gone for a few days so when I came to I had to crawl over to my bed and get up there to lay down. I never forgot my oxygen again!

The aspect of disability I find both surprising and annoying is when others find it natural or even necessary to feel sorry for me. Some old friends have even stopped communicating with me. Talk about feeling written off! When I heard there is a new TV show called “Not Dead Yet” I thought, that’s me!

What I would like to share with all of you who think I’m done or doomed (aren’t we all?) is that, yes, my brain has changed, but sometimes it feels like it might be for the better.

I know I may have sometimes sounded pathologically optimistic here, but these days I rather enjoy my present state of mind. When I’m sitting staring out at our incredible views of the Sangre de Cristo mountain range, which I do a lot of, there is a certain non-reality that is a bit like being high without drugs. That I like. I also believe that in some strange way I may have become less judgmental and more intelligent by exchanging certain parts of my brain for a less precise and exacting attitude. Call it more flexible or easygoing, but I find that soothing. Perhaps my brain got tired of holding grudges.

Of course living with Mike has helped me a lot. I am definitely the worrywart in this partnership. We Carters are first-class worriers, expertly trained by a number of previous generations. I will never forget a few years ago when I was sitting in the living room listing my well-established list of worries for Mike. He had heard this list too many times, and I guess he was tired of it, so this time he sat back in his easy chair and said, “Who cares! Is worrying about these things going to change anything?” That made a lot of sense to my bruised and shaken brain…

Some Romantic Advice From a Sexagenarian!

Happy Valentine’s Day To Everyone!

What a crazy celebration this truly is, considering this Hallmark holiday where some get a temporary high from spending lots of money, began as an excuse for pagan partying. Yes, Valentine’s Day began as a raucous annual Roman festival where men stripped naked, grabbed goat or dog skin whips, and spanked young maidens in hopes of increasing their fertility!

As you might guess, in my many decades of romantic experiences I have earned the right to be called a ‘sexagenarian” (better known as a person between 60 and 69 🙂 ) You might have heard that older people spend more time thinking about their past, which only seems natural since we have more past to look back on. It only seems fair that I share a few wise nuggets from my decades as a single and married woman. Here’s the most important romantic advice I can give to you, especially if you are still young:

If you allow someone else to control your emotions, you’ve already lost.

I know, you’re probably thinking, but isn’t love when you don’t control your own emotions? Isn’t that what being “lost in love” is all about? Well, that’s what they’d like you to believe, especially the person who is trying consciously or unconsciously to control you. Which brings me to my second most important piece of human communications advice:

You cannot control how other people receive your energy. Anything you do or say gets filtered through the lens of whatever they are going through at that moment, which is NOT ABOUT YOU.  

Now I know this is probably not what you want to hear about falling in love, but I sure wish someone had shared this kind of advice with me when I was young and falling in love on a regular basis.

Now I finally realize that I regularly mistook “falling in love” with having any kind of deep, meaningful conversation with a male I was even slightly attracted to. Now I have these kind of conversations regularly without mistaking them for romance or love. Yes, hormones are awfully powerful, but don’t let them take full control of your emotions or your brain.

We all will make plenty of stupid mistakes when it comes to love, or what we sometimes mistake for love. Just try not to do any lifelong damage to yourself along the way. Trauma is such a painful teacher, and it can keep you stuck emotionally for years.

Falling in love is the BEST high I have ever experienced, even at age 49 when it last happened to me. After that Mike and I decided to fall in love all over again, as many times as possible until we die. Why? Because falling in love rocks!

Postscript: The absolute best book I have ever read on finding success in love is called, “How to Be an Adult in Relationships” by David Richo. Check it out!