On August 15, 2011, our friend Jimmy, my husband Greg and I were riding our Harley motorcycles along a scenic section of highway 95, about 60 miles south of Coeur d’Alene, Idaho. Greg was feeling sick, from food poisoning contracted at a diner the night before, but he insisted that we continue on with our planned trip. I was on my own Harley behind Greg and saw him pass out and crash into a bed of lava rocks at the side of the road. I anxiously ran to him and gave first aid until the Emergency Medical Technicians (EMT) came. I’ve had EMT training and my skills took over until the professionals arrived. Greg was transferred by life flight to the nearest hospital in Coeur d’Alene.
Even though Greg was wearing a helmet he suffered a severe brain injury, a crushed leg and had deep open wounds from the impact. We spent 11 days at the hospital in Coeur d’Alene until he was able to be flown to the Neuro Rehab at Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) in Murray, Utah, which was closer to home and family. He was there for a couple weeks before coming home. He worked extremely hard to get back to work as a banker full-time over the next 5 months (starting initially at only 2 hours a week).
The left side of Greg’s brain was damaged beyond repair and the right side had to learn to take over the tasks of reading, writing, talking, walking, banking etc. This was difficult for both of us because it effected his personality and how we related to each other. Greg read a book called “My Stroke of Insight” by Jill Taylor, which explains in detail a neurologist’s loss of her left side of the brain function during a stroke. She had to cope with a complete driven right brain for all her activities. This book had a tremendous impact on both of us.
Our marriage has been very different since the accident and not what I was prepared for. I’ve had to cope with his strange changes and sometimes I say to him, “Who are you and what have you done with my husband?” I wouldn’t say I’m a patient person and our six children can probably attest to that, but I have been extremely fortunate to be able to take one day at a time. After all, isn’t that what marriage is all about?
Greg and I were very “fly by the seat of our pants” kind of people . . . always ready for the next adventure, whether it was motorcycles, riding our bicycles down hills at 60 mph, hiking where we maybe shouldn’t be hiking, jumping off cliffs, extreme diving, etc. NOT so much now. We are discovering new adventures in less dangerous ways.
I was not prepared to be a caregiver for my husband. My EMT training seemed to help some, but as a mother, being a caregiver came naturally. However, the thought of taking care of an adult TBI survivor long term was extremely hard, especially when there was no one taking care of me. Brain injury patients are constantly surrounded by doctors and therapists. They are initially monitored and recorded and any progress is celebrated. As a caregiver, I was left completely on my own to figure out my new life and how to make it work. I felt like I was set up to fail! There were no guidelines, no manuals and no pats on my back.
I was also dealing with Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) from the accident. I tried personal therapy a couple of times, but couldn’t seem to find the right therapist for me. I looked for caregiver groups, but none were readily available. Within a year after Greg’s accident I asked to join the board of directors at the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BIAU). It was my attempt at giving back to the TBI community. I was motivated specifically to start a “Caregivers Support Group” that was not available to me during Greg’s recovery. It was extremely important to me to help other caregivers that were lost like me. I also felt it would help my own healing while supporting the daily living issues of other caregivers. I felt that working together in groups would be therapeutic and healing for all of us.
Now we have our very own Caregiver Group monthly, at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah. We meet in conjunction with the Survivor Group on the third Thursday, at 7:00pm. Together we can learn how to cope, and find helpful resources. A big shout out of thanks goes to Kim Kirkham at TOSH for all her help launching this group and for her continued support. Greg has also been supportive and has helped me find a way to support TBI caregivers.
Monthly updates concerning the caregiver support group can be found on our facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/pages/Caring-for-the-TBI-Caregiver/705869382781093 Please press the “Like” button to get updates.
You can listen to Greg and Laura recount their experience and tell their amazing story.