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My name is Yvonne Rossiter. I am a 28 year old secondary school teacher from County Wexford.

On an average day in March 2015 I was in work and I felt a strange pain on my right hand side. After multiple trips to Wexford General Hospital and multiple diagnoses from possible collapsed lung to chest infections, I was told I had a Pulmonary Embolism, which is a blood clot in your lung. To dissolve this clot & to prevent any future clotting I was placed on an anti-coagulant called Warfarin for a six-month period. I had to have blood tests on a weekly basis in order to ensure that I was on the correct dose.

School broke for the Summer holidays & I was having the time of my life. I had a truly amazing family holiday to Iceland in July, spent the August bank holiday in Mayo with friends and was really excited as my parents were due to have a joint 50th birthday party on August 8th but unbeknownst to me, this was not meant to be.

I met a close friend for lunch on August 5th and I remember getting home that night but that is now the last thing I remember for a few weeks. I went to bed that night (August 5th) and overnight developed a large intracerebral brain hemorrhage, due to the Warfarin. I was rushed to Vincent’s University Hospital the following morning where they gave me vitamin K to counteract the blood thinning effects of the Warfarin. I was then rushed to Beaumont hospital and on Friday August 7th 2015 I had a Craniotomy, and was then placed in a medically induced coma. A piece of my skull was removed during the procedure & this was placed in my abdomen to keep the piece of bone alive & sterile.

When I woke up at the end of August I was convinced I was still in Iceland, which in a way was great as I had an extended trip! Unfortunately, my memories of this new portion of my trip were mine alone and my family had not had quite as good a trip as I had! My body took some time to adjust after waking up and I couldn’t understand why my body couldn’t do simple things like it used to, I couldn’t hold my balance or even sit upright in bed, I couldn’t read the smallest of articles or hold a pen , all things needed for teaching! As someone who is quite driven and organized, this was a very frustrating time but I was determined to get back to myself as soon as humanly possible. The first date I can properly remember was my mothers Birthday (August 19th). I had to get a friend to write on her birthday card for me but through physio & occupational therapy learnt how to read write & walk again, something which I was extremely nervous about as the piece of skull was still in my abdomen!

The staff in Beaumont hospital were outstanding, the team that looked after me from my neurosurgeon to all the nurses and careers on Adams McConnell ward were second to none & I will never be able to repay them for all they did for me.

I was sent back to Vincent’s hospital and stayed there until September 5th when I was sent home. This is when my recovery definitely accelerated as there is something about being finally able to sleep in your own bed which recovers some confidence. I returned to Beaumont on November 2nd to get the bone flap put back in place and I was home two days later. I had an extremely fast recovery from such a bleed and I returned to work before the Christmas holidays in late December 2015. I could have taken more time off work if I had of wanted to but I was so ready for everything to go back to normal & I was so happy I went back when I did. I knew I was ready.


My lucky horseshoe scar when I woke up, the scar on my abdomen where the bone flap was placed, and after the bone flap was replaced.

Recovery is not just a physical process but also psychological. As I write this article is it the one year anniversary of my brain hemorrhage and being completely honest it’s very emotional writing all this down for the first time. As I have been focused on getting life back to normal, it is only now that I am realising what I have overcome in such a short space of time and I am so proud and grateful to have recovered as quickly as I have.


August 3rd 2016, at the Giants causeway

My intent with writing this is to show that whilst recovery times vary, there is always hope that life can return to normal in a relatively short space of time, although it may be hard to envision it when asking friends and family to read and write for you. Last year on August 5th I was in the middle of a fight for my life, whilst this year I was sitting on the Giants Causeway feeling the most comfortable I have ever been within my own body & mind.

I had a fantastic network of friends and my close family around me, which definitely helped with recovery. I am also certain that ensuring I kept a positive mindset and goal in mind kept my recovery going at speed. Very early on in my recovery I had given myself the goal of being back to work before Christmas break, and I could not be happier that I managed to reach that goal.

So, to conclude I suppose one of the main things I have taken from this experience is that whilst life is unpredictable we are still the drivers of our own ship, and even if your ship takes you on a coma tour of Iceland while family and friends worry at your bedside, there is still hope of a return to not only normality, but the ability to live the best life you can. I certainly intend to do so.


Acquired Brain Injury Ireland is calling on the Government to introduce a dedicated programme of investment in services for people with acquired brain injuries, and to urgently action and honour the commitments in their own Neuro-rehabilitation Strategy. The Neuro-rehabilitation strategy 2011-2015 outlines the roadmap needed from acute hospital stage to community rehabilitation and recovery. This strategy has not yet been implemented.
The current Acquired Brain Injury (ABI) pathway is extremely fragmented with extensive limitations due to the lack of neuro-rehabilitation services available. Addressing the gaps in services and the lack of a seamless pathway is essential for any reform within the health service. The lack of a neuro-rehabilitation pathway means that people who despite surviving the major trauma of a brain injury, end up living in inappropriate settings such as nursing homes, community hospitals and at home where families are unable to cope.
Acquired Brain Injury Ireland CEO Barbara O’ Connell said “More and more people are surviving brain injury but due to the lack of suitable services at the different stages these people are very often only left to exist. Those living with ABI and their families are forced to live on margins of our society. Many, despite their young age, are consigned to live in highly inappropriate settings such as nursing homes and community hospitals or at home where families don’t understand what is wrong with them, or what they can do to help. In Ireland neuro-rehabilitation services are patchy and varied across the country; it’s a lottery as to who receives what rehabilitation and whatever the outcome will be. This is having a detrimental impact on the lives of people with ABI and their families. This cannot continue”.
ABI Ireland’s already established community brain injury teams provide rehabilitation in the home for those who cannot get a bed in the NRH, or who have been discharged from the NRH or an acute hospital. An increase in community rehabilitation would allow organisations such as ABI Ireland increase their service capacity, reduce waiting lists and decrease the demand for hospital beds. As a result the success of rehabilitation will surge and lives transformed.
Early interventions play a key role in brain injury rehabilitation, as it increases the chances of success in an individual’s recovery. The lack of timely and appropriate rehabilitation services means valuable recovery time is lost and the outcomes for the individual are not optimal. A dedicated neuro-rehabilitation pathway is needed to provide the most efficient rehabilitation to those who acquire a brain injury.
Don’t Save Me; Then Leave Me. Rehabilitation is a Right, Not a Request is an advocacy campaign developed by ABI Ireland continuously calling for a dedicated programme of investment for people with an ABI. For more information see


Early interventions play a key role in brain injury rehabilitation as it increases the chances of success in an individual’s recovery. A dedicated neuro-rehabilitation pathway is needed to provide the most efficient rehabilitation to those who acquire a brain injury.
ABI Ireland’s community rehabilitation provides rehabilitation in the home for those who cannot get a bed in the NRH, or who have been discharged from hospital. An increase in community rehabilitation would reduce the demand for hospital beds and surge the success of rehabilitation, following early intervention.
The Neuro-rehabilitation strategy 2011-2015 outlines the roadmap needed from acute hospital stage to community rehabilitation and recovery. This strategy has not yet been implemented. ABI Ireland is calling on the government to introduce a dedicated programme of investment for people with acquired brain injuries and urgent implementation of the Neuro-rehabilitation Strategy.


10 Years of Empty Promises as Successive Governments Fail to Invest in Rehabilitation Services

Mansion House, Dublin: Organisations representing people with neurological organisations are calling on the new Government to tackle the critical lack of rehabilitation services in Ireland.
The Neurological Alliance of Ireland (NAI), the national umbrella for neurological not for profit organisations, has teamed up with fifteen of its member groups representing conditions such as stroke, acquired brain injury, multiple sclerosis, Parkinson’s and Huntington’s disease to launch a nationwide campaign entitled “We Need Our Heads Examined”. The campaign is calling on the government to take action and prioritise the urgent need for neuro-rehabilitation services, for the 25,000 people each year who need them.
Speaking at the launch of the campaign was Professor Mark Delargy, Clinical Director at the National Rehabilitation Hospital, he said “Rehabilitation services in Ireland are completely underdeveloped, not everyone who needs to can access vital specialist rehabilitation in a hospital setting, and when they are discharged they often receive little or no additional supports in the community. For many there is no other option than to be inappropriately placed in a nursing home with little chance of gaining any independence”.
Ten years of empty promises have seen no investment in services, despite the publication of a National Neuro-rehabilitation Strategy in 2011. Since then nothing had been done and no progression made.
Reinhard Schaler, a father whose son Padraig suffered an acquired brain injury (ABI) in a road traffic accident, and was forced to travel to Germany for treatment said, “We are condemning people with acquired brain injuries to a future of neglect, disability and lost opportunity. We cannot continue to deny access to vital services and we can no longer be expected to travel overseas to avail of them. The intervention period is crucial for a neurological condition, yet due to the lack of neuro-rehabilitation services in Ireland this ‘intervention period’ is a loss for many”.
Also speaking at the launch was Alexis Donnelly, a person living with MS for over twenty-five years who has known a lifetime of inadequate services. He said “Ten years of inaction has brought about extraordinary despair for so many of us. People living with a neurological condition cannot just be left to deteriorate and told the health system won’t provide for them. We need access to a range of quality services and supports to enhance our quality of life and well-being. This is not just bad healthcare it is bad economics”.
The NAI and its member organisations are calling on the government to overcome a decade of broken promises and honour their commitment to publish an implementation plan for the National Neuro-rehabilitation Strategy; dedicate investment to the development of new services from hospital to home, for those living with a neurological condition.
The campaign ‘We Need Our Heads Examined’ launched in the Mansion house today. For more information or to support this campaign see or tweet #Rehab4Ireland @nai_ireland

Campaign Member groups
Acquired Brain Injury Ireland

Ataxia Ireland

Chronic Pain Ireland

Multiple Sclerosis Society of Ireland


The Rehab Group

Parkinson’s Association of Ireland

The Alzheimer Society of Ireland

Irish Heart Foundation

PSPA Ireland

Huntington’s Disease Association of Ireland

Brain Tumour Ireland

Enable Ireland

Spina Bifida Hydrocephalus Ireland

Muscular Dystrophy Ireland


My name is Colm Griffin; I am from Ballyheigue, Co. Kerry. I am an Electrical Design Engineer and work in an SME. I am 35 years of age. I’ve played GAA since I was 8 and took up cycling in 2009 as an alternative as it was flexible and I could plan my cycling around work commitments.

My grandmother died aged 54 from a brain haemorrhage in 1960s.  My Dad (her son) had a surgical procedure in 1980 for his first brain haemorrhage and in 2008 had a second brain haemorrhage from which he died. In November 2014 my eldest brother had a brain haemorrhage which lead to a surgical procedure in Cork University Hospital. At the time of my brother’s surgical procedure the surgeon enquired had the rest of the siblings been scanned for any aneurysms after he learned the family history. He recommended we all be screened.  On this recommendation I was screened in the early part of last year.

From the scan it was found I had a 3mm aneurysm on the right side of my head. I had a consultation with the same surgeon that operated on my brother and after being given all the information and scenarios I decided to have an elective surgery to fix the aneurysm in my head.


Colm climbing mountains in the snow with his friends

Colm was very active before the surgery

Surgery and post surgery

I arrived on the 18th November 2015 in CUH and had the surgery. Then I had a blood clot during the surgical procedure which led to a stroke. The complete left side of my body was paralysed. I was operated on again immediately and the clot removed. The aftermath recovery was in an ICU ward for one week followed by four weeks with intensive rehabilitation in the neuro surgery ward in Cork University Hospital (CUH).

A family meeting was scheduled with the multi-disciplinary team in the hospital to agree a plan for my rehab but the only person to show up at the meeting was the physiotherapist. That morning while at my physio session I broke down emotionally, I was in tears as I felt like I was irrelevant to the parties that were to show at the meeting. I felt abandoned; no one gave a crap about me and my rehabilitation in the hospital. It was like; your aneurysm is fixed. Sure it’s time now to go home and sort yourself out to walk and use your left arm. I was so angry that day; I was raging inside. I walked in for a procedure to fix an aneurysm I had, in my engineering head a “Preventative Maintenance” procedure; fix it before it breaks so I’m not a burden on my family or society later in life if it breaks. So I arrived in hospital a 100% fit and healthy 35 year old man with full mobility and now the hospital system thinks I’m fixed yet I’m wobbling around with limp leg, foot and arm and hand that presently does not function at all.

How the HSE can’t see how rehab is as important, if not more important than medical procedure, baffles me! If I had to go again with this medical issue I had; I wouldn’t. Not because of the care or the surgical procedure but due to the limited rehab the hospital system allows. As it stands, I can’t cycle, I can’t drive, I can’t play sport I can’t work, I can’t lift my future children up into my arms!! I understand there is risk in the operation and I signed the waver to acknowledge this. I’m no way blaming the medical professionals that have been part of my medical and rehab team. They’re just tied by the overall management and the ‘system’.

The hydrotherapy pool which I attended in CUH brought my rehab along so much yet the therapists have to try and work with two at a time in a pool no bigger than 16ft x 8ft. The rehab gym in CUH did fabulous work also in bringing my recovery along in such a short amount of time, but from my view I can see that only 3 to 4 staff can work in the gym at a time. The existing CUH rehab services require so much more financial funding to let them carry out their fantastic work, have more time with patients, adequate facilities and staff. There must also be a rehab bed allocation to keep patients until they are able to progress to the next stage of their rehab.

Colm in hospitalColm in hospital, in wheelchar in front of Christmas treesColm in hospital, picture of scar on his head

Colm in hospital after the surgery

Leaving CUH

I was discharged on the 23rd of December.  I had no contact from any member of the HSE in relation to services in the community. I understood the basics but after this it’s being pure luck with word of mouth and my own research. In the meantime, the bills are mounting up. I can’t drive for 6 months as I had a seizure after the operation. My mother has to drive me to all my appointments. My mother is applying for carers allowance (she is a pensioner) and we only found about this service through again word of mouth, right place, right time to hear it. She may not get it. Enable Ireland in Tralee have hydrotherapy pool that I can use privately at €50 a session or €20 a group session but paying is challenging when you’re getting €188 per week….you can see the issue….

I’m really just frustrated at the health system or lack of when you’re discharged from hospital.  It’s non-existent, definitely in Munster and without a doubt in Kerry, end of story when it comes to intensive rehab for patients who are able for it to get them back to where they were before their problem occurred.

Getting into the NRH

I got a bed in the NRH on 3rd February 2016. I think I probably got it because I complained and shouted the loudest. I know everyone on my rehab team in the NRH has worked so hard  getting me to where I am now and for that I’m so grateful but at the same time can’t help feeling that I haven’t got the most out of my time there. I put together all my hours on the timetables for 9 weeks of my 10.5 weeks block of rehab in the hospital. (I threw away Week 1 & 2 timetables). I basically took all my contact hours on my timetables for therapy/sessions of any kind which I have done on my rehab block and compared them against total hours available on my timetables Over 9 weeks of rehab I’ve only been engaged with all my therapies 32% of the time and the other 68% of the time is free time, idle time I like to call it. This is calculated on the basis of 8.30am – 5pm day. It doesn’t include the evening hours from 5pm till 10pm in the hospital. For the national centre, the NRH is not properly resourced and there are many limitations to what they can offer there.  I shared my thoughts with the NRH and made a few recommendations to them too based on my experience.

I made real progress with my leg and hand but finishing in the NRH means I have to start all over again in Kerry General Hospital. I do realise the progress I have made; just look at the photos from where it all started. You work as hard as you can and you’ll have good days, bad days, lazy days, angry days, and deflated days with yourself about your progress. You go through every feeling with it.

Final comments

It will be argued, that’s it’s down to yourself to get better and that is correct 100%! If I could look at the recovery being like a mountain stage of the Tour De France; yes the person has to have the will, the drive, the focus, the believe in himself to reach the top but every now and then they fall off their bike and need a hand to get back on and a push to get moving!
I have written this as brutally honest as I can be. I hope this shows the people who do control the money decisions in the HSE that rehab is an essential part of treatment that services need to be developed and funded properly in order to provide the therapists that are needed. They are the cold face of rehabilitation and they are changing people’s lives every day!


The Assisted Decision Making (Capacity) Act (ADM Act) was passed by the Oireachtas at the end of 2015.  This legislation replaces the 1871 Regulation of Lunacy Act which provides the basis for the current Ward of Court system.  There is widespread recognition that the Ward of Court system is outdated and incompatible with modern approaches to disability and human rights.

For some people with an ABI this legislation significantly alters how they will be able to make decisions about their own lives. Once enforced, there will be steps in place to support people with ABI to exercise their legal capacity on an equal basis with others in all aspects of life. Therefore this new legislation will make a positive contribution to their day-to-day lives. It not only provides safeguards against abuse but is empowering people to be active participants, make choices and live a life of their own choosing. These are all elements that will contribute to the person’s successful recovery through rehabilitation.

As of April 2016 the legislation has been enacted but not commenced, meaning that the former system is currently still in force. When the Act is commenced all current Wards of Court will have their situation reviewed by the OPG and have the appropriate arrangement under the 2015 Act put in place. This will take some time and in cases where a review is urgent the OPG should be notified of the circumstances as soon as possible.

Forms and detailed rules for the various decision-making arrangements have not been finalised and Codes of Practice and guidance for practitioners and the public have not yet been produced. You can download the Policy Briefing Paper here.


ABI Ireland has developed a resource for family carers. The Guidebook for Carers  provides families and carers that have been affected by brain injury with information, guidance and support.  It will assist carers to understand and manage the challenges they may face.  Mostly importantly, the Guidebook is a source of help in their home and community.

For a free copy of the ABI Ireland Carer’s Guidebook please contact Nuala Collins at or call 01 2804164 ext. 207


Acquired Brain Injury Ireland are saddened to hear of the death of Joao Carvalho who suffered a bleed on then brain as a result of last weekend’s MMA fight.

Due to the nature of this sport ABI Ireland are not in a position to take a supporting stance on MMA fighting. Seeing the consequences of this fight it has raised many red flags for MMA as a sport. Read more!


We are delighted that An Post’s chosen charity for 2016 is Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. Each year An Post organise a well known cycle – An Post Yeats Tour of Sligo. It is an opportunity for cyclist across the country to challenge themselves while supporting a very worthy cause. Read more!


My name is Stephen Shortall and I hale from Durrow in Co. Laois. I attended secondary school in Kilkenny and then UCC where I studied English and Psychology in a BA, staying on to do an MA in English. I graduated in 2010 during the recession and stayed on working in UCC part time, returning to Laois at the end of my contract. I moved to Dublin in 2011 and studied IT and management in DCU through distance learning while working part time. My injury caused me to have to drop out of the degree part of the course. I am the youngest of ten, with seven brothers and two sisters. My father passed away in 1994.

While a story of much and serious injury, I assure you that what follows is not a tale of woe, nor a tale aimed at urging you to live a different life, nor a better life. It is merely a story that some of your circle of friends or family, more than you might think, will live through as well. It is a story that exemplifies the power of rehabilitation and the worth of the many who help with the path to recovery.

Unfortunately, I was not present for my injury. I have no memory of it or the time leading up to it. I have however heard many stories. I fell at approximately 11am on 31st December 2014, down a flight of stairs outside my apartment in Rathmines, Dublin. I was knocked unconscious by the concrete steps. My friends tell of how they found me in a pool of blood at the bottom and how they tried to wake me. They called the ambulance and waited with me, before accompanying me to James’s Hospital and then to Beaumont Hospital for the emergency brain surgery that followed. If one is to have a traumatic incident like this, new year’s eve on the point of midnight is not a good time. It proved difficult to get hold of a family member, made no easier by my friends not knowing any of them, but eventually my sister was found and arrived promptly. She remembers the coldness of my skin and its whiteness. I will not inundate you with stories of how each member of my large family was informed and the course of events regarding each that ensued, but they all made it to the ICU of Beaumont within a few hours.

I was kept in an induced coma, following my surgery, for six days. I had incredible swelling, so much so that my eye lids could not cover my eyes. They used to keep my eyeballs moisturised. I was intubated in case the brain swelling would cause me to stop breathing and to give the brain more of a chance to heal. My family stayed in shifts over the six days. I do not remember the seven days after the coma, but I was barely conscious.

My family were told that I may never speak, walk or even move again. Therefore, each limb that I managed to move brought celebration. Even when I scratched my nose it was noteworthy. I have been told that ‘howerya ma’ were my first words as I turned over and went back to sleep. I came back to speaking, but often there was little sense. They would have the same conversation with me several times. I could never remember or even understand why I was in hospital, why these people were keeping me here.

I also did a couple of embarrassing things. I am told that I told the nurses to “f” off. In response to someone else in my ward who was shouting, I once pleaded with the nurses loudly that they get him whatever the hell he wanted. I told my brother that the woman that he had with him was lovely, that he should marry her. He had known the woman in question for many years and I had attended their wedding two years before my fall. I asked ridiculous questions such as, ‘what is religion’ and enquired why people marry.

My first memory is on the twelfth when the doctor took out the last of the staples in my head. I remember wanting to leave all the time. I was not allowed out of the ward for a few days more. I had no idea why these people were keeping me against my will. I would be told repeatedly, but I could not remember. At least once I packed a bag and tried to leave. I was told that if I could tell them where I was, then I could leave. Apparently ‘here’ is not a satisfactory answer. Eventually I was allowed to be brought to the café by my family. They were told to ask me questions about what I had done during the day, thereby helping my short term memory return. Once I could clearly walk, clean and feed myself, I was discharged. Beaumont is an acute hospital and my bed was needed. They had done their job. I was sent to James’s for three days and then discharged home. If my mother had not been in a place to look after me at home, the hospital would have had no choice but to keep me.

This is when my rehabilitation began, though I was convinced that it was nearly complete. I planned on being back to work in a month, maybe two. I think the swelling on the side of my head did me good. It reminded me that I was not okay and that I should at least wait until it had gone. I would sleep ten hours or more every night, napping often twice a day for two hours each. I missed being able to effectively read.

While in hospital I asked for a favourite book of mine to be brought in, thinking I would use my time with it. While I knew the words, I could not hold the beginning of the sentence in memory long enough to reach the end. I set this as my goal. I would read for an hour or two each day, Stephen Fry’s More Fool Me. In the beginning, rereading sentences until some of the meaning stuck. Though a minor task to accomplish, it was extremely tiring.

I wasn’t allowed to be alone or to cross the road unaided. I walked slowly now, all strength gone. But I was nearly back to normal, nothing that would take too long to fix. My sister in law was a nurse and she advised that I apply to Headway and to Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. In the cover letter to one of these applications the word ‘disability’ was used and I did not take the implication well. I did not want to apply. The process was also demeaning. There is something about rating the bad areas of one’s life to an anonymous party, frequently quite personal in nature, that made me quite angry. Even in asking certain questions there is an implication that the answer will confirm the presence of the issue or problem. I was incredibly enthusiastic about the assumption that all was going very smoothly and that I needed little if any help. My sister filled it all out, asking me the questions.

A case manager from ABI Ireland contacted us, as initial contact is given to the caregiver, again assuming, often quite rightly, that the patient is unable to correspond. She arranged a time to visit and I was gearing myself up to convince her that most things were well. She answered a huge amount of questions, many of which I had not thought to ask, allaying so many of my fear, putting me at ease.

I remember meeting with my consultant. My brother came with me so that I would remember everything. The consultant was really friendly. He was surprised at my progress. He showed me some brain scans taken from the night. I could see the swelling and the fractures in the skull. I had a list of questions and he answered every one. More than once he had to shrug.

For instance, when asked if the headaches would go away, he said that they might, but they might not. He went through my prescription and got rid of much of it. Apparently he visited with me every day after waking from the coma and we would speak, but I don’t remember.

The next few weeks were given to ticking boxes. Medically, visiting with referrals. ENT and rehabilitation in James’s. I performed well. My GP, whom I had to meet first weekly and then monthly, was of great help. He would talk to me and tell me stories. Oddly, an acupuncturist who my mother was visiting, asked me to take an appointment. I went with incredible scepticism, but she obviously gave me what I needed. She also practiced very ‘airy-fairy’ areas, but the talking was incredibly beneficial. She gave me books to read to which I also owe a lot. Some just on positive thinking, others on souls before birth deciding to be born to life a certain life. I love fantasy literature, maybe that is why it was restorative. Likely, now I wouldn’t engage with the subject matter, but it was what I needed at the time.

I was, with incredible luck, brought in to the National Rehabilitation Hospital for an assessment and asked to bring a bag to stay. I was not only lucky that I was given a bed in the NRH, but I was also lucky in being placed in St Patrick’s Ward, the ICU area of the brain injury section. It offered more privacy and more space than was available in the other wards They had many who were high dependency and I believe I fit in as requiring less attention. I would also be short term, only six weeks. The NRH changed everything, in ways that I did not realise they needed changing.

They tested me for everything, asking me what areas I felt I was lacking in. I said that I was afraid I would fall again, that perhaps I had fallen down the stairs because there was something lacking in my balance. They tested me and found that my balance was just fine, nothing to worry about. I was getting dizzy now and again, the room swirling around me. A vestibular physio fixed that for me. I berated myself over lapses in memory and concentration so, probably as natural protocol, I was tested for the different types of memory. There only seemed a deficiency in facial memory, planning and in concentration. It put my mind at ease.

Most of the help came in the form of talking. My occupational therapist and my social worker were incredibly important. So often it was about focusing on the future, planning and taking into account the areas that would be most difficult.

Most importantly, they got me to see that those areas of difficulty were not an example of weakness or failing, but were the natural ramifications of a traumatic injury. I met so many fellow patients in the NRH and we would talk at lunch times and around the quadrangle in between our appointments. We would trade symptoms and stories, showing each other again and again that we were not deficient or odd, simply all experiencing recuperation. There was little to do in the NRH but the wifi was good and there were some great characters there. They showed me that any difficulties I was having were perfectly normal.

An art teacher visited out ward once a week for two hours. I never considered drawing since my ill-fated junior cert art result. She taught me how to draw and I discovered that I enjoyed it. I’d like to say that I remembered that I enjoyed it, but I don’t remember enjoying it so much. It gave me a boost in confidence and did not require concentration or strength.

Drawing of an elephant drawing of a hand drawing of a horse's head and a chicken

Some Stephen’s drawings during his rehabilitation

Stephen's sculpturesWhen I left the hospital I took a sculpture class. Though the three hour classes were exhausting, having a project and the social interactions that came with the others in the class were exactly what I needed.

On being discharged from the NRH I stayed in contact with my occupational therapist and social worker. I was also given outpatient appointments with another occupational therapist. They assessed me for driving and was finally able to return to drive. I now attend counselling in Headway and am a member of a support group there.

Life is good now, but the support I receive is still essential. So often life seems to be about proving I am okay, proving that there is nothing wrong, nothing to see here. I made a list of goals when in NRH that I wished and felt I needed to achieve. The list became steps back to normality and to restoring self-confidence. As the year anniversary of my accident approached, the recent new year, I was focused on completing them all. It was as if, should I complete each one, then I would no longer be ‘that guy who had the brain injury’, no longer the man that needed to be cared for or seen as less than normal. So much of this existed purely in my own mind, but I have learned that it is quite common. It is something that still comes to the surface in my day to day life.

I have mentioned luck so often in this piece. Some of that is simply that there exists knowledge in the area of neuro-rehabilitation, that it is available in Ireland. But I was also lucky in that I was one of the blessed few who would avail of these services. Some never even know that they exist. I am now self-sufficient again, independent and okay. My employer is to be commended for his help during the long months during which I could not work. I owe them much I do not exaggerate when I say that I might not be here if it was not for the people who helped me to recover. I skipped a few things, you see. I sidestepped the breaking down in tears in the early days at home, wondering if it was worth proceeding. I also left out the sleep deprivation in the NRH that led to me breaking down, the psychiatrist seeing me and sleeping tablets being prescribed. There were other episodes I will continue to leave unsaid. I could give you a list of professionals who came at the right time, knew what was needed, helped me sometimes beyond the letter of their job descriptions, but that list is too long for here.

As wonderful as the NRH is, it is far too small and underfunded to serve the needs of the whole country. There is no private option available to patients with insurance. There are two main charities who deal with people in the community, Headway and Acquired Brain Injury Ireland. Though partly funded by the HSE, not all will be able to avail of their services.

There are few families that will not be touched by brain injuries at some point, be they brought on by encephalitis, stroke, accident or cancer. As important as families are in rehabilitation, as mine surely was, there are areas that they cannot cover. Many patients feel burdensome and will not complain in case it is seen as being ungrateful. As nurturing as a family member can be, it cannot be understated how beneficial a professional is, as they with a weight of experience look you in the eye and tell you that something is okay. It is somehow more acceptable to express your natural frustrations and fear to a professional than to a loved one. Many will go without these therapies that are not expensive and are cost-effective, in part due to lack of availability, in part because so many who experience a brain injury may not be able to speak up, perhaps not able to speak at all.

It’s okay, I am nearly finished. I will clamber down off my soapbox, survivor’s guilt scrawled across, and go on my way. I hope your brain remains healthy and untroubled, but now at least you are aware of what services are available, and hopefully you receive what you need if the time comes.