Being over-optimistic about working again is common after a brain injury. Trevor Short shares his experiences . . .
Thankfully the specialists tailored my re-entry into work appropriately — four hours a day, three days a week, with 10 minute breaks every hour. I had forgotten how exhausting any relearning experience was during rehab, and thought I could go straight back to 10 hour days.
I needed the utmost willpower to drive the half hour home after four hours of work, followed by sleeping the rest of the day due to total exhaustion. This fatigue is one of the effects that does not appear to heal with time.
They started me back on the job with apprentice-type work such as punching holes with a machine which was scary at the best of
times. I may as well have been a new apprentice on the job as I did not know what I was looking at. By this time I was getting very cunning when it came to hiding the effects of my injury, so I explained to one of the guys that I had to do everything correctly and ‘by the book’ before operating any machinery. I asked him to act as if I had never used this machine before, and give me a five minute explanation and demonstration of its use. This worked better than I’d hoped, and was immediately adopted as my means of relearning the years of experience and knowledge that I had lost in an instant.
An interesting aspect of this process is that most people when approached in this manner were more than happy to comply to the extent that I am sure that I have learned more about some equipment than I knew before.Somehow I survived the first week and moved to the next phase — four hours a day five days a week — which resulted in the same fatigue levels. By the fifth week I was back to normal hours without the hourly breaks, and trying to manage problems as they emerged. Eventually I could cope again with up to 60 hours a week, as long as I could focus on one thing at a time; I still have problems if I’m expected to do several
things at once. A major reason for coping with fatigue is starting so early that I can get home for an afternoon nap at 2.30pm.
Some of the problems encountered were related to a newly- discovered dyslexia, which I am sure did not previously affect me.
It really was a shock to write something and discover that some of the letters were in the wrong places. Having to read things very carefully one word at a time to avoid misunderstanding is something else that I was preparing to come to terms with.
There was also the inability to rotate images within my mind, which I had thought was the product of a female mind simply because I had noticed that most women I knew would turn a road map to the direction of travel to see which way to turn. I was now doing this, so maybe I was getting in touch with my feminine side!
A common issue with metalwork is being 10mm out. Before, this was a mistake made by other people, not me. I now had to remeasure
and double check all work, and sometimes it was still wrong.The inquisitive part of my brain was still there insisting that it had to find the reason why this was now happening. I would talk to myself in the third person, “now he is measuring this part, he’s double checking, he knows how important accuracy is” and this eventually led to checkers commenting on my accuracy.
Insensitivity to pain
After the injury it seemed as if I did not feel pain, which is probably why I started refusing any pain medication in hospital. One day, I
burnt my hand with an oxy-torch. I could see the heavy leather glove wrinkling and smoking, so removed the glove and some of my skin came off with it. Workmates thought I was very tough to cope with the pain, but the reality was I did not feel pain the same way after my brain injury. This is actually very scary when working around machinery and can be very dangerous.
I’ve always taken great pride in my ability to do my job well, so it has been difficult to accept that I may make more mistakes now, or
not cope as well with multiple tasks or changes. I know I did make a great recovery though, as various people were laid off as the global financial crisis hit, but I kept my job until having a run in with a supervisor who unfairly put me on a list of staff to be retrenched. I’m still very fortunate, as I know many people can never work again after their brain is injured.
In retrospect losing my job was probably a good thing as it forced me to start actually using what was left of my brain to start writing. And it is growing every day — my brain that is!
This is an amended excerpt from a book written by Trevor Short called Overcoming Brain Injury. You can email Trevor for details of his book at email@example.com
This story was first seen in the Synapse bridge magazine www.synapse.org.au