Three seconds that changed my life
Brooke was hit by a speeding car in 2007. After 14 years of rehab, he is using his voice and story to increase awareness and understanding of Traumatic Brain Injury.
On 15th May 2007, I was the victim of a hit and run in Manchester City centre when I was hit by a car travelling at 50mph, my head smashed the windscreen, causing me to spend 16 days in a coma.
I was reflecting the other day on how much traumatic brain injury has transformed my life, the change was instant and much of my recovery has been adjusting to that change.
I don’t remember much about the 6 months I spent in hospital. I do remember having lots of visitors and being Mr. Popular often wondering what all the fuss was about. I remember feeling quite confident of my life returning to how it was and being fairly confident that I could walk out and get on a bus into town to prove how well I was. The fact I had a bandage covering a tracheostomy scar on my neck, I weighed under 8 stone, my speech was very quiet and stammered, I would get exhausted walking 10 metres down the hospital corridor and forgot anything I was told a few seconds later are all good reasons why I was wrong. Oh yes, I also had no money and was wearing my pyjamas and slippers, they were good reasons as well! The reason I thought this way was that I didn't realise or understand, I don’t think I even attempted to understand I was just totally unaware! I had what's called poor insight into my condition, and had no clue about the seriousness of what had happened to me.
This is the classic behaviour of someone who has recently survived a serious traumatic brain injury. Our brains are the mechanism by which we make sense of the world and that mechanism only a few weeks earlier had been hit by a Ford Fiesta hard enough to rattle around inside my skull and knock me unconscious for 16 days. No wonder things didn’t make sense!
Hospital is not a real environment, if I needed my bed, needed to eat, or go for physio, then it was no further than 20 metres away and if for any reason you’re going any further then you are pushed there in a wheelchair. I was protected from just about all elements of real life, I thought I’d be fine back in the real world but I didn’t have a clue.
Hospital is only the initial part of your recovery to ensure you’re stabilised and stay alive! In fact, you could say that your recovery and adjustment doesn’t really start until you’re discharged.
When I was discharged from hospital on 27th October 2007 I was full of confidence. I had done really well in hospital and thought that nothing had changed, so in a few weeks life would be returned to normal. However, I was soon to learn how hospital was a false and safe environment where everything is planned and organised, where your needs are totally taken care of without you even realising. I remember feeling very confident that I could walk out of the front door and do pretty much anything I could do before, it's not until that was put to the test that I got a shock.
The first time I remember experiencing such a shock was in fact whilst I was still in Trafford General Hospital. As I was getting nearer to being discharged the hospital staff allowed me out for a few hours at a time providing I was with my family (they didn’t just let me out to roam the streets in my pjs!). As a family, we all went to the Trafford Centre, a massive shopping centre just a couple of miles away for a treat and a break from NHS food! Many would say that this is not a treat but when you had been in the same room for what felt like forever believe me it was a pretty awesome prospect!
Even though I was driven there as smoothly as possible it felt like being on the waltzers at a fairground blindfolded (because I’ve done that loads of times, honest!). I was so relieved to arrive at the destination. For the last 5 months I had been laid down on a bed and the fastest and furthest I had moved was being pushed in a wheelchair to the canteen. My organs hadn’t really moved for months then all of a sudden I was travelling at 30mph and going around corners for 5 miles, no wonder I felt ill!
Unfortunately, that wasn’t the end of my sickness because the noise, the people, the colours, the wide-open spaces hit me like a sledgehammer. I was faced with a lot of sights, sounds, and smells I had been sheltered from for months all at once. The Trafford Centre is massive and the sheer size made me feel nauseous, I had spent months in a building of small rooms with a maximum of 15 people in them. Suddenly without any warning, I was in a huge hall filled with shops and eateries and hundreds of people of all shapes. This all hit me at once and I wasn’t eased into it at all, it was like a stimulation overload.
I never realised that my fatigue was an issue because if I felt tired I would simply get into bed which was never more than 20 metres away. I had a routine and upon discharge, I came out to nothing, and as great as they were, my parents were thrown into the new dark confusing world of brain injury rehab.
Brain Injury is one of the most specialised and least understood areas in medical science and we were to face it armed with nothing except a few leaflets and an outpatient follow-up appointment in a couple of weeks. As much as I looked like the person I was before, I had taken on a different personality which was to slowly reveal itself as a shock to everyone including myself.
Back in the real world fatigue wasn’t the only difference I noticed, my voice, my vision, my ability to think had all been affected. There have been so many differences to how I feel, most of them have been subtle, and difficult to describe. It was just like I'd traded a new car with a big petrol tank in for a 20-year-old rusty car with 100,000 miles on the clock that did 5 miles per gallon. In many cases, I didn’t realise what was wrong for a long time because of something that is difficult to explain to someone who has never had a brain injury. I was not able to think logically because the thing I use to think logically i.e. my Brain had been damaged. For example, I have double vision, to read I would (and still do) close one eye (I’m doing it now!), it didn’t occur to me that there was anything wrong with my eyesight I just closed one eye and that became the norm so I didn’t really give it any thought.
My body somehow felt less responsive, like any physical actions had a slight delay. Walking by Bridgewater Hall in Manchester, there is this stone like a giant pebble that I always used to run over the top of. It's something I had done hundreds of times but as I ran up to it I stopped, I suddenly felt really unsteady and had lost all confidence. The same thing happened when I went to leapfrog a gate in Scarborough, these are obviously not essential skills for adult life nor are they very mature but they were things I used to do often and with ease, but could no longer.
It was becoming more clear that something was seriously wrong with me, I was always eager to show I hadn’t been affected and I started reading up on my condition (with one eye closed!). Whenever I read it was so energy-consuming I could manage about a page, I would get headaches and would have to go to bed. I would go to bed for half an hour and fall asleep then I wouldn’t sleep at night. I had really bad insomnia and I never knew what day it was as one day just blended into the next. Things had most definitely changed, once a fan of loud music I now hated the noise! I remember describing being in a very loud room like having a biscuit tin put over my head and having someone hit it with a wooden spoon! My head used to feel so weak, I was so scared of being hit in the head.
The regular visits I got in hospital, being the centre of attention all brought me happiness but this was very short-lived, I was out in the real world now and that had all stopped. The more I read up on my condition, (in between sleep through one eye like a crazy pirate with a short attention span) the more I realised how serious it was and the implications it would have on the rest of my life, the worse I felt. I was so tired all the time but I couldn’t sleep, this caused me to stop looking after myself as much. In the mornings I only brushed my teeth - I was too tired to do anything else.
I became obsessed with the book ‘Head Injury: A Practical Guide by Trevor Powell’. It's brilliant and very much recommended. I was learning not the sugar-coated truth but the truth about my condition and I couldn’t handle it! I became very down indeed and in fact was diagnosed by a professor of neurology as clinically depressed, now whether I was clinically depressed or not I don’t know but my life certainly wasn’t what I would describe as a ‘right laugh!’.
It is very normal though to feel depressed after a traumatic brain injury. The more I learned about it however the worse I felt, you can get through most things as long as you know it will be alright in the end! Learning this wasn’t necessarily the case and it hit me pretty hard. I looked for reassurance, I just wanted someone to say it would all be over after a particular time, I would seek the assurance of medical professionals “it will be alright soon right… right!?”. It was like Jeremy Paxman trying to get an answer from a politician! Just like so often happens in politics I never actually got a straight answer. All I seemed to get was what seemed like ‘if you work really really hard for a long time then you might learn to manage your problems and learn techniques and strategies… that sounded crap! I wanted a pill, an instant fix! Over time I have come to terms with this, I’ve learned to love strategies and see that they were totally right, but at the time it was not what I wanted to hear!
Bizarrely this period of depression should be met with rejoicing! Before you can make any progress you must first go through this dip in mood. I’d started to use my brain again, like starting up an old car again that had been left in a garage for a few years, it will never be returned to past glory and all the features might never work. Maybe the heaters are broken or the boot lid doesn’t shut properly but hey at least it drives!
This stage is a difficult stage but it does mean you’re starting to get better, if you want to know when or how much better you will get, then I’m afraid you will always get a politician’s answer. The truth is that it's too complicated and they can’t tell you what they don’t know. I’m not going to lie, it's really hard, really trying, and its a long road that I’ve been on now for 14 years. I haven’t recovered completely but neither have I stopped healing. I was in Manchester the other day and just for a laugh I ran over that big pebble on Lower Mosley Street, maybe not with the same confidence as in 2006 but I can still do it. Things change after a brain injury, people have said to me that I can do anything! That's not true but you’ll be surprised what you can still do, you just have to do things a little differently! The best thing to do is keep your spirits up, its a marathon not a sprint but the worst thing you can do is give up!