She was just going out for a short bike ride around her neighborhood. It didn’t seem necessary to carry an ID, or even wear a helmet. Ten minutes later she was found lying in the dirt unconscious near a bike path. The bystander who found her, called 911 and an ambulance arrived soon afterwards. Then a kind Emergency Medical Technician whisked her off to the emergency room with her mind constantly weaving in and out of consciousness. After numerous X-rays and cat scans she ended up in the neuro unit of the hospital for observation.
This is a true story. It happened to me back in 2008 in Fort Collins. My own tumble over the handle bars and into a nasty bike accident, led to fractured ribs, an injured wrist and thigh, and a traumatic brain injury.
This is my warning to you who think riding a bike is still as easy as climbing back on again.
Injuries among older riders have jumped dramatically in recent years. Between 1998 and 2013, bike injuries among all adults over the age of 18 increased 28 percent, while hospital admissions jumped 120 percent. Head traumas went from 10 percent to 16 percent of all injuries in the same period.
Older bicyclists fueled much of that increase in injuries, especially ones that required an emergency room visit. Injuries among those 45+ jumped 81 percent and hospital admissions increased 66 percent, from 39 percent to 65 percent of total injuries. While death rates for cyclists younger than 15 fell by 92 percent between 1975 and 2012, death rates for cyclists between the ages of 35 and 74 showed a large increase, according to CDC data.
While I do not want to discourage you from healthy exercise as you age, be careful out there! I feel the effects of my brain injury everyday, especially when I write or speak with others. My memory is definitely not the same and it also completely depends on what area of the brain you injure. I find I tire quickly in social situations, and the first sign that I am getting overwhelmed is when I cannot think of the proper word for something, a difficult feeling for one who has always been proud of her ability with words.
On the flip side, my brain injuries (yes I suffered a second concussion after we moved in here!) have taught me to slow down, meditate more, and enjoy each moment as it arrives.
Lotje found that most of the practitioners who tried to help her recover her abilities to speak, see properly, write and read, began by defining her by what she could not do after her stroke. She instead chose to focus on a few positive changes within her brain, ones which provided her with new skills and talents.
At the end of this film she offers advice back to those who have treated her brain injury, telling them to help the patient not only return to previous abilities, but also appreciate sometimes subtle changes in consciousness, which can benefit the patient. For example, Lotje experienced an amazing new ability to experience colors and sounds like never before.
I found this new take on brain injuries quite refreshing, much like the story behind Melody Gardot’s transformation following her brain injury. She’s an American woman who only discovered her unique ability to create and sing music after suffering a serious head and spinal injuries.
Initially prompted by her physician who believed music would help her brain injury improve, Gardot began writing music after her accident. Music is thoughtto help the brain form new pathways. At first, Gardot learned to hum and was eventually able to sing into a tape recorder. She made good progress and was eventually able to write her own original songs. She had no idea before her accident that she was a musician, but today she’s playing concert tours all around the world.
Both of these examples show the unique fragility of the mind, but also the limitless resources that can be found as those with brain injuries get used to their new brain, their new existence and their dynamic relationship with their own consciousness.
I have discovered a few major changes to my own brain and levels of consciousness since suffering a serious traumatic brain injury in 2008, and a concussion last September. Yes, these injuries have hurt my ability to remember many words and faces. I do find that quite frustrating at times. The benefits for me are a greatly enhanced ability and need to meditate regularly. My brain gets exhausted quite easily, especially after an hour or so of conversation.
Another change is in the intensity of my dreams. They are so real now, I can’t imagine forgetting them. They pop into my mind all day long, making me feel so strongly like I actually spent time with those I only dreamt about spending time with…
This experience sometimes leaves me wondering, like the Chinese philosopher Chuang-Tzu, am I a butterfly flying around dreaming that I’m a woman, or a woman dreaming that I’m a butterfly? This is what a conk on the head did for me!