My name is Aisling and I have an acquired brain injury. How did I acquire such an injury you may ask? On a dark rainy Tuesday night 25th October 2005 I was hit by a car as I crossed the road in front of my house on the Kentstown road in Co. Meath. It was on a bad bend and just like most teenagers I wasn’t properly dressed for the conditions. I did have on one armband but it was on the right arm and I was hit by a car coming from my left side. I was just about to turn 19 years old.
I can’t remember
Now I have no memory of any of this, nor of the year before my accident, nor of most of the year after my accident. so I have to rely on information supplied by my family and friends. They tell me I was taken by ambulance to Our Lady’s hospital in Navan, where they stitched up my wounds and put me on a breathing machine before sending me to Beaumont Hospital.
Touch and go
It was touch and go and a very tough time for my family who were travelling up to Dublin from Navan everyday. I spent my 19th birthday in ICU where I came through pneumonia, two tracheostomys and nearly died. Eventually, I was moved to a high dependency ward with a million tubes coming out of me. I did not know who I was, where I was or who anybody around me was except after a while my mam. I only had the functions of an infant of about nine months old. I could not walk, talk, or even hold my own head up.
My amazing family
During this time my parents and sister visited me every day, read to me, played music and DVD’s for me, played games with me, showed me photos of home, my dogs, my family, my friends all to help me with my memory.
After a total of 5 months in Beaumont and a lot of pleading and phone calls I was accepted into the NRH for a trial period of two weeks because they thought that I would be unable to respond to the therapies. However I remained there for five months working very hard with the doctors, nurses, therapists and my family especially my mam who came all the way from Navan every single day. I couldn’t have done it without them.
Home in a wheelchair
At the end of July my mam came and took me home for a 6 week break from the NRH. I was so happy to be home. I came home in a wheelchair, in nappies, using the banana board, a commode, a hospital bed and a walking frame on which I could manage a few painful steps. I do remember saying to my mam, “Mam people look at you funny when you are in a wheelchair. Mam people think that you are stupid when you are in a wheelchair.” My mam’s response to this was: “Well darlin, the best solution to that problem is to get yourself out of that wheelchair.” And I did.
Determined to walk again
Mam would help me walk up and down the hall with the frame until I could do it by myself. Then she walked me around the garden until I could do it by myself. Then she would take me into town and let me walk on the footpaths until she noticed that I was carrying the frame more than I was using it. So that was the end of the frame. Now I use a walking stick only when I go out to help me with my balance. I have a very cool collection of walking canes that my dad brought me home from America.
Agitated and exhausted
When I returned to the NRH 6 weeks later, I walked in under my own steam. Now that’s not to say that I was cured. Far from it. My short term memory was very compromised. I still suffered severe aches and pains. I had behavioural problems that needed working on. I got very agitated at times and suffered a lot from exhaustion. My friends who stayed in contact were moving on with their lives whereas I was stuck. So I enrolled at the NRH for another 5 months and worked hard on learning to cope with my condition, improving my motor skills, memory skills, as well as personal and social skills.
I was a different person
When I came home full time after that, I was not the person that I had been only one year previously. I looked different, I walked with a pronounced limp and still do. I had and still have to wear special insoles in my shoes and very practical (boring) foot wear. I carried and still carry a cane when outside to assist with my balance. My cognitive skills were still quite poor. My short term memory was severely compromised. I would not remember a conversation that I had ten minutes earlier. I could not read a book because I would not remember what happened on the previous page. I could not go out alone or I would get lost and confused. I would sometimes act and speak inappropriately. My sense of smell and taste were severely compromised. I would, and still do but to a lesser extent, suffer from exhaustion, back, leg and foot pain and discomfort. My digestive system and urinary systems have never fully recovered and I have to take medication for both.
Never give up
At first my parents were led to believe that up to 18 months after my accident I would plateau and then further improvement would be very slight. NOT TRUE.
My family continued to stimulate me and encourage my recovery by reading to me, doing puzzles, playing my favourite music, bringing me to physio and keep fit, the theatre, concerts, swimming and art classes. Taking me on interesting trips and holidays. Encouraging my friends to keep in contact. Joining brain injury awareness groups.
Heartbreak and new beginnings
During this phase of my recovery, my boyfriend who I had been going out with since the age of 15, decided that he could not cope with this new version of me. I was so very hurt. Mam explained that it was a huge situation for anyone to deal with let alone a 19 year old, but that didn’t help at the time. Soon after however I met my lovely man at a Brain Injury awareness meeting and we have been going out ever since. We are very lucky because we both understand each other’s challenges and limitations and this helps our relationship to work.
I was improving all the time thanks to the help and support of my family and friends. I accepted the fact that I would never drive and as we lived out in the country this would heavily impact on my growing independence. Then a new phase of my life began.
New house, new me
Five years ago my mam said to me “Would you like to come and look at a house with me ? “ Though surprised I went along to look at a house right in the middle of the town of Navan. I fell in love immediately . Mam was interested in this particular house because it ticked all the boxes as far as the whole family were concerned but especially for me. I loved every bit of it and especially the location. There were two rooms downstairs that could be turned into a self- contained apartment for me if and when I needed it. But I wanted to be like everyone else and I chose a proper bedroom upstairs as long as I could manage the stairs. There was a large enclosed back garden where mam has since installed raised beds so that I could help to grow our own fruit and vegetables as well as flowers and shrubs. Heaven.
The result of this move is that I have now learned to independently access the local amenities such as my doctor, dentist, chemist, hospital, bank, post office, hairdresser, cinema, the Solstice Art Centre, my ABI group meeting, meeting up with friends, and even more amazingly using public transport. Yes after many accompanied and supervised bus trips I can now travel independently on the bus to Dunshaughlin where I can meet up with my boyfriend. My coping and cognitive skills have improved hugely with the increase in my independence. I really appreciate not having to rely on people to bring me everywhere I need to go. I can just walk out of my own front door and do my own business as necessary and unaided. A small step to some but a huge leap for me towards my independence.
Happy in my own skin
So 15 years ago there happened an event that changed my life for ever. Yes it was an end to the life that I thought I would have and the life that my family thought that they would have. Yes it was traumatic, life altering, and shocking. Yes it took a lot of hard work, patience, compromise, acceptance and love to make this journey to where I am today. Am I different ? YES. Am I bitter ? NO. As mam says: “bitterness is wasted energy”. We needed all our energy to get me as good as I am today. Being bitter would have achieved nothing. I am here, I am happy in my own skin. I love life, meeting people, helping out where I can, being funny and being a bit mad. I love having purple hair. I love chatting to people and Mam says I’m like the Lord Mayor of Navan because when we are out together lots of people greet me by my first name. This is my story such as it is. This is my life. I am Aisling. And I have an Acquired Brain Injury.