What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, Part 2

I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience. They spoke last week at a combined Survivor and Caregivers Support Group sharing what they’ve learned.

Written by Laura Nordfelt

Greg & Laura-landing pad.pngThe medical helicopter which came to life-flight Greg was very old and small. In fact, half of his body was in the nose of the aircraft. The ventilator was broken and one of the paramedics was trying to bag Greg (it seemed sporadically) while trying to preform many other tasks. I mentioned to her I was an EMT and asked her if I could do the bagging for her. She agreed and I continued on every 4 seconds like I was trained to do in school. The flight seemed to take forever (I worried we were going to Canada!) and only looked out the window once or twice. When we started to land, all I saw was a “tough shed” structure on top of a roof.  Medical people ran out to get Greg and down an elevator we all went and into the Emergency Department. By the time I felt comfortable enough to leave his side, I asked, “Where are we?” When they told me Coeur d’Alene, ID, I told them I needed to take Greg to Salt Lake City, but the doctor told me he would not survive the flight. I slumped down against the wall and lost it.

I made mistakes. I am fiercely independent and a stubborn woman. In the beginning I turned family and friends away. I said “don’t fly up here, I’m fine”. Then, “we don’t need meals, I’ve got this covered.” Not only did I watch him crash, but I kept him alive for 45 minutes until the paramedics arrived. I was a mess! I had post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and I was in a cocoon as much as Greg was in a coma.

An Executive Vice President from Greg’s work came to the hospital to visit and I cut her off down the hall and visited with her. There’s no way I was going to let her see the condition Greg was in. I was so worried that he was going to lose his job. I posted a sign “Family Only” on Greg’s door at the hospital. Visitors had to check with me or the nurse before entering his room. I took the phone off the wall and put it in a drawer and took his cell phone away from him. He wanted to call his office to “check on things” all the time. I was worried he’d say something inappropriate.

Greg & Laura-tableWhen Greg left the hospital, I sent out a message on Facebook telling our friends that Greg needed time to rehab and recover so if they could wait to visit, that would be much appreciated. I really only meant it for acquaintances, thinking our close friends wouldn’t take it to heart. A few months down the road some dear friends of ours called and asked if they could bring dinner and come for a visit. I was thrilled! Frankly I had wondered why they hadn’t called sooner.

While we were setting up dinner, she told me they would have come sooner, but wanted to respect my wishes of giving us our space. I said, “Oh, I didn’t mean you guys!” I realized then that I had alienated the very people Greg and I needed the most. Greg’s co-workers later expressed the same emotions. If only they’d known what to do. They wanted to help in any way, but we pushed them away.

I own a business and I needed someone to sit with Greg or run him to therapy appointments, but I said “NO, I’m fine”. I really wasn’t fine, but I wanted to be and I didn’t know how to let them help. Most of it was my fault, but some of it was not.  Caregivers leave the hospital with their tool bags pretty much empty. I had to earn my hammer, saw and screwdriver the hard way. I felt neglected, isolated, abandoned, ignored, lonely, unsupported, disrespected and misunderstood. When I needed family and friends the most, they were all gone.

Greg & Laura-walkIn order to heal, I had to get outside of myself. I started the first ever Caregiver Group in Utah as a survival mechanism. As much as I wanted to give back to the community, I needed other caregivers. As I spent time listening to their stories, I felt not so overcome by my own problems. I felt empathy and compassion. When “in the moment” of caring for caregivers and survivors, their hurdles felt more important than my own. When we get caught up in these “feel good” experiences, we don’t need anything in return. I also joined the Board of the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah. This is my passion now!

Another way I healed is a couple of years ago a friend asked me to join her book club. I love to read, but I was scared at first because I only knew her and no one else. I went one time and almost did not go back, but forced myself to hang in there. These women are now very near and dear to my heart. I’ve read many wonderful books which I never would have picked up on my own. The social setting has its benefits as well. We trade off hosting dinner so I’m learning new recipes. I work on my listening skills and forget my problems for a few hours. By the very nature of getting together with women, it forces me to get out of my pajamas. Therefore, I get semi-dressed up, put on my makeup and lipstick and wear my fun jewelry. All of this is very good for my soul!

Thank you, Laura, for sharing your experiences and what you’ve learned. Friedrich Nietzsche was right, “That which does not kill us makes us stronger.”  I see that in Greg and Laura’s life and hope you see that truth in your own life.

What Doesn’t Kill Us Makes Us Stronger, part 1

A German philosopher, Friedrich Nietzsche, actually said it more eloquently: “That which does not kill us, makes us stronger.” I thought this title was fitting for the couple I’m highlighting this week. I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Brain Injury Conference, just two years after Greg’s motorcycle crash. I’ve enjoyed our friendship and watching this couple get stronger through their traumatic experience

Written by Greg Nordfelt

Greg headshotI am a three time Traumatic Brain Injury Survivor (TBI). By looking at my picture, you’ve already noticed I have a huge forehead. Many have told me I could rent space out on it as a billboard. Well it’s also a magnet to immovable objects. That’s why I’ve had three TBI’s. The first was in high school when I was skiing at Alta. I fell on a mogul run and hit the post of a sign that ironically said, “SLOW SKIING”. I hit it head on with the left side on my forehead. The second time I was racing heavy bicycles in England downhill on the wrong side of the road. I didn’t make the turn at the bottom and my front tire hit the guard rail. I hit a lamp post head first, again with the left side of my forehead. The third time I crashed my motorcycle into a bed of Lava Rocks and, again, I hit them, you guessed it, with the left side of my forehead. I am an adrenaline junky, but unfortunately my forehead had a crazy attraction to all of those immovable objects which eventually caught up to me.

Last August was our 5 year anniversary of my accident. We drove to Coeur d’Alene, this time in a car, to meet with Kootenai Health’s executives, two surgeons, and the critical care team that save my life. This was my first time to meet them consciously. I wanted to thank them individually, face to face, and hug them so they would know how grateful I am for what they did for me and my family!

Greg & Laura-Gala

2016 Greg & Laura, Festival of Trees

The press showed up and articles were written. We were on the cover of magazines. They asked us to be their “Spokespeople” for their Festival of Trees. It’s a black tie fund raising Gala.  They asked us and we agreed to help them set a donation record. They were expanding their Emergency Department and Operating Room, the two areas that saved my life. They called us the “talent”. Put us in wardrobe and makeup. They ran out of spray for my face and said I’m “Ruddy” and “Scaly”! I’ve crashed into too many immovable objects and my “talent” and “cover” days are over! We helped them set the record they asked for and raised over half a million dollars!

My primary focus after I got home from the hospital was keeping my marriage with Laura because the TBI divorce rate is huge at 70%. My second focus was keeping my family together. Everything else I had was intently driven into relearning how to speak, read, write and walk again in Neuro Rehab. I worked harder than they asked me to so I could get my job back!

Unfortunately, I lost most of my friends and communities. They became the casualties of brain injury. As a survivor, I ruminate, isolate, avoid loud noise, bright colors, confusion, strangers and crowds. I fatigue easily.

As a result, I was no longer the late night party animal I used to be. I wasn’t as apt to go on long road trips on a whim. I avoided situations where I would get over stimulated and fatigued – the exact opposite of my old self.

I woke up one day after fighting to recover and realized I was a newer version of my old self and I had lost the human connections I once had. The good news is our neuro rehab physicians and therapists not only helped me remap my brain, but gave me tools which helped me nurture my most valuable relationships. Now it was up to me to reach out to friends and family and hold fast to the human connections that were dear to me.
On my second outpatient speech therapy session I learned my biggest lesson after my accident and it had nothing to do with learning how to talk again.  It had everything to do with being taught how to nurture the most important relationship I had – my marriage! I showed up complaining about having my first disagreement with Laura since the accident.  Remember I didn’t have my wits about me yet and could barely speak, so disagreement was a huge stretch!  I sat down across the table from Kim with a huff.

Greg & Laura-landing pad.png

2016, Greg & Laura Coeur d’Alene Hospital Landing Pad

“What’s wrong?” Kim asked. I tried to explain what happened the night before with Laura. After a few minutes she said, “Greg I’ve heard enough. Where’s Laura?”

“In the car,” I said.

“You need to stand back up in your walker, walk to your car and ask her nicely to come and stand next to you.” Then say these words to Laura.  I’m sorry.  I love you.  Thank you for all you are doing every day to take care of me and then HUG her.

This was the most important thing I learned in all of my therapy, by far!  It was an awakening moment for me. I learned that day I was a traumatic brain injury survivor and others were working their butts off to take care of me.  And, I need to thank them – often.

Thank you Greg for sharing and to your therapist, Kim, who told you what caregivers need to hear often. You are an inspiration and definitely stronger by your experience!

Greg had a 35 year career with Zions Bank and was Senior Vice President before the accident. Now he is a motivational speaker and a professional member of the National Speakers Association. The year 2016 was a big year for Greg as he was the Utah Speech and Hearing Association’s (USHA) Ambassador was awarded Survivor of the Year by the Brain Injury Alliance of Utah (BAIU) in October. He is a mentor and volunteer with Neuro Rehab patients and caregivers at IMC and is writing a Memoir expected to be published in 2018.

 To see Greg’s website visit: www.gregnordfelt.com

On Wednesday, Laura’s will share her perspective.

Where to Find Support

Support gearsWhen Mark was in a coma twenty-six years ago, the hospital provided a class once a week to discuss the effects of traumatic brain injury. Hating the position I was in and the information I now needed, I continued to drag my overwhelmed self into class every week. I wasn’t ready for the information, but I continued to go to the class and read the material they provided because I knew I had to know what might be ahead of us. I felt like I was just going through the motions, but it helped prepare me. Being with others who were in a comparable frightened state brought solace. Through our similar feelings and circumstances, empathy was found.

Months later at the rehab center there was a monthly support group, which Mark and I attended together. I felt comfort associating with others who were experiencing like situations. There is consolation when you realize you’re not isolated from society.

In the past, I hadn’t heard of a support group especially for caregivers, nor did I feel I had the time to participate in one. I knew there was a need, but finding the time is difficult if not impossible for some caregivers. That’s why I started Uniting Caregivers, which includes stories, tips and thoughts for online support.

My good friend, Laura Nordfelt, had a different vision. She saw the need to actually meet and strengthen each other by sharing experiences. She started Caring for the Caregiver shortly after I started Uniting Caregivers in October 2013. They meet monthly at Intermountain Medical Center in Murray, Utah and she’s done a marvelous job picking topics for caregivers. Laura asked me several times during the past three years to join forces since we are both passionate about supporting caregivers. I’ve given a few presentations to the group, but really didn’t know how I could add another item on my overloaded plate, even though it looked delicious and tempting to so.

This group meets at the same time the survivors do so I didn’t have to worry about Mark while I was at another meeting. I also belong to two writing groups; I enjoy the encouragement and information shared amongst authors. Support groups enhance my life and meeting face-to-face deepens relationships.

I decided it was time to juggle my schedule and join forces with Laura last November. I’m excited about the New Year and the presenters we have lined up and will share more of that information in upcoming newsletters.

Support-Stronger TogetherI still realize how hard it is for some caregivers to make time for a support group meeting. Since my mission is to encourage and help others realize they are part of a special society, I’ve decided to write monthly newsletters. I’ll share information and notes from the support group meetings I attend and list others around the Salt Lake Valley. I will include this newsletter on Uniting Caregivers. If you’d like to follow the blog, enter your email address on the website and receive notifications of new posts by email.

If you prefer just a monthly newsletter, please email Barbara@UnitingCaregivers.com. Type “subscribe to newsletter” in the subject line and you will receive a monthly newsletter with upcoming events and information on support groups.

March 2017 Newsletter <<<Click for PDF

What has been your experience with support groups?

 

The Effect of Brain Injury on Caregivers

Laura &amp; Greg kissingOn the third Thursday of every month, Laura Nordfelt inspires and uplifts caregivers in the Salt Lake Valley at the Intermountain Medical Center in Building 1. I met Laura and her husband, Greg at the 2013 Annual Brain Injury Conference. The circumstances which caused Greg’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) were different from Mark’s, but the feelings and experiences with therapy and the desire to return to a familiar way of life are very similar.Our hearts knitted together as they shared their story with me and their goals for helping those affected by brain injury.

At the last caregivers’ meeting on March 17, 2016, Laura shared some of her feelings on how brain injury effect’s the caregivers. I was unable to attend, but Laura emailed me the handout she’d put together. I was impressed with how accurately she’d expressed my own feelings. When I called to tell her how well she pinpointed my thoughts, she said many others at the meeting told her the same. With her permission, I share them with you.

Written by Laura Nordfelt

 Feelings of Isolation – You may be worried or sad because your loved one doesn’t “know” you or “understand” you the way he or she used to. Sometimes your new life may feel like a life sentence of solitary confinement because you are alone with the thoughts you used to share with your significant other. Remember its ok to feel frustrated. You may feel guilty for having thoughts of “not living up to the task.” Forgive yourself.

Brain Injury is Contagious – With shock and stress your brain might stop working the way it used to. You may experience memory loss, forgetfulness, following through with plans, lack of organizational skills, etc. TBI caregivers deal with a new plate of responsibilities in epic proportions. Some caregivers find it necessary to write every detail down (i.e. wash my hair). There are even stats to back up our forgetfulness and occasional depression and anxiety.

I Don’t Know How to Ask For Help – This was by far the hardest for me. I had too much pride and began to develop guilt and inadequate feelings like, I’m not doing a good enough job. Should I be leaving him to go to work? Is it ok for me to have free time?

Taking Care of Myself is a Group Effort – It sometimes means that you have to say “no” to phone calls, emails and events that you used to say “yes” too! Those very people who told you to take care of yourself may even get offended. Saying “no” will give you permission to get the much needed quiet time away from the world.

To truly support a caregiver in successful self-care, expectations need to be substantially lowered. This will lift the caregivers load enormously! Telling a caregiver to “take care of themselves” initially after an incident, may be too overwhelming. This advice needs to be delicately communicated in a loving manner at the right time and phase.  The closer a loved one is, the better they will be able to discern when it is essential to help a caregiver understand the “self-help” concept.                                                                                                         

I’m Not Perfect and There’s No Manual – Some days you will shine at caregiving and some days you won’t and you may doubt yourself. This is an intense situation. It’s a brain injury and it’s not just packaged into a small amount of time. It’s a lifetime role change. Just do the best you can and forgive yourself.

We received a large packet of TBI and Neuro Rehab information when we were discharged from the hospital, but I have no idea what happened to it.  I was in survival mode during the first 6 months after Greg came home.  Details and instructions were difficult to remember and organize. There was significant pressure coming at me from all angles. Keeping things straight became a foreign strategy.                               

Brain Injury Doesn’t Go Away – I received a lot of help at first and then support started to get quiet. In some ways it’s comparable to a death. Family and friends sort of go away over time. I realized its natural, but I was still trying to handle significant TBI rehab issues. Brain injury doesn’t go away. It goes with you on vacation and it’s with you everywhere. People will have to adjust to a new way of interacting with you and your survivor. Your friends and family may miss the old you, who you were individually and as a couple. That’s okay too.

I found that the first year is about surviving.  Then it’s about processing all the things you’ve lost while still being grateful for what you still have. This is much harder work!      

Making Lemonade from Lemons is an Art Form – Most of the comments I heard from Greg’s accident were positive and supportive. However, a few caught me off guard making me feel as if our lives were ruined. I refused to accept his brain injury as a life in ruins. If anything, it has provided us the challenge of living better and more productive lives than we were before.          

Volunteering in the TBI Community – Greg’s brain injury provided us both with volunteer opportunities that we never would have imagined. It’s brought us closer together in so many ways. It’s about looking for the silver lining in life.  It’s about lowering our expectations and getting real about what really matters in life like relationships, joy, time with loved ones, great meals together, sunsets, etc. What we would have considered small accomplishments are now huge victories.

Laura &amp; GregSome of Laura’s thoughts and ideas originated from Abby Maslin, Reinventing our family. Ref: http://www.abbymaslin.com/ I’ve been reading Abby’s blog and I highly recommend it. She expresses herself very well and also writes articles for  http://www.brainline.org/abbymaslin/

For more about Greg and Laura Nordfelt’s story, see the articles I shared on March 30, 2014 and their news interview on September 20, 2015.

Thanks Greg and Laura for all you do for the Brain Injury community.

Greg Nordfelt’s Story

Laura & Greg

Image credit: Greg & Laura 2011

One of the benefits of my caregiving journey is the people I meet and have the privilege to rub shoulders with. I met Greg and Laura Nordfelt at the 2013 Annual Brain Injury Conference. Immediately, our hearts connected when they shared their story with me. The circumstances which caused Greg’s traumatic brain injury (TBI) were different from Mark’s, but the feelings and experiences with therapy and the fight to return to a familiar way of life are very similar. They agreed to let me share their story on Uniting Caregivers in March of 2014, Greg and Laura Nordfelt’s Story. We have kept in touch over the past two years and I’ve enjoyed my friendship with them. Watching this couple grow and seeing the amazing outreach they both give to others inspires me. Thursday, September 17, 2015, Greg shared more of his story with Channel 4 News. With their permission, I share what Laura writes and the Channel 4 News interview.

“I am so proud of Greg Nordfelt and this interview on Thursday with Channel 4 news. Most of the recording ended up on the cutting room floor, but what showed was a glimpse of what he has been through in the last 4 years with his recovery process. More than all of this is the amazing job he has done volunteering with the TBI patients since then at TOSH, who meet twice a week working through their aphasia issues. On top of all this, three weeks ago he started volunteering at Intermountain Medical Center (IMC) on the very floor where he learned to get his life back with Physical, Occupational and Speech Therapy, giving hope to TBI patients and their caregivers. This is my sweet, giving and incredibly loving husband. xoxoxo .”

http://www.good4utah.com/news/local-news/new-study-provides-better-treatment-for-traumatic-brain-injury-patients

Greg & Laura

Image Credit: Greg & Laura 2011

I appreciate the inspiration Greg and Laura give to everyone who knows them. I am grateful for the awareness of TBI they spread by sharing their story. Together they are a powerhouse and are making a positive difference in our community. I can’t wait to see what they accomplish next. They are wonderful and I’m blessed by their friendship. Ride on Greg and Laura!