Do you ever get the feeling like you KNOW there is something not quite right but you just can’t put your finger on it!? I am sure everyone has or does… It can’t be just me… can it!?
I felt like that for about 10 years with my husband. OH! Please don’t get me wrong it wasn’t that I thought he was secretly with the CIA or KGB (that would have been way easier to find out I am sure!) He is a great guy that works hard, will lend a hand to anyone that needs it, is willing to drop everything to help someone and is always the first in line to set up fun for the family…
But he has a few (what I used to call annoying) qualities that used to drive me up the wall. He would (I should say here that he still does this but now that I know why he does it I don’t find it quite as annoying) repeat a list, directions, recipes, plans etc. to me over and over and over again—at nauseam– to the point where I would sometimes snap at him that “I am not 6 years old, I got it the first 3 times!” (I can be a slow learner at times☺) Sometimes his mind is going so fast in so many directions that he will think he has said or done something …but hasn’t. He used to have a short temper and could not understand why I did not do everything his way. I know a lot of this seems like ‘normal’ behaviour for some, but as with most people with an ABI, the caregiver knows that it is not everyone else’s ‘normal’ and that there is something that is just different but you can’t
Dennis doesn’t remember much (if anything) of his childhood before 1980-ish, except for the stories that his family talks about and then he wonders if it is just their telling of it that he ‘remembers’. He used to have a short temper and only saw things from his perspective. I know a lot of wives are going to laugh and say that “that sounds just like my husband!” But there was a difference that is unexplainable until you know the rest of his story…
Dennis is the youngest of 4 kids, born in British Columbia (Canada) and raised in Manitoba on a mixed farm from 1977 until we were married in 1993. He is a diehard farmer. (I remember reading a poem about “The Prairie Man” in grade 12 and not really gettin’ it – then I met Dennis and after a few hours talking with him… I remember thinking ”Oh! I get that poem now!”) He was a rural farm kid in the eighties and had 2 older brothers and an older sister. Growing up, Dennis had been in a few truck accidents where he should not have walked away from (he was not the driver in any of them). He did walk away though – with torn muscles and ligaments, bumps and bruises…
In 1990, Dennis was in another accident and hit the second engine of a train – this time he was driving. He and his friend Sean were coming home from town one day and from what Dennis remembered there were no lights working on the controlled train intersection. Dennis and Sean both were thrown from the truck. Sean died. Dennis didn’t.
I started dating Dennis 2 years later and in 1993 we were married and started our family. This is when I started to notice these unexplained things…
In 2004, after 4 kids (at the time they were 5 through 10yrs) both Dennis and I went back to college – Dennis for his Agri-Business Diploma and I for an Education Assistant Certificate. My dad had already had his accident and so I was interested in Traumatic Brain Injuries and I did my term paper on it. I found it hard to read some of the articles on BI (brain injury) as my dad at that time lived in Alberta and I was in Manitoba. I felt quite helpless and very overwhelmed with the information I was finding. It was hard to identify with some of it because I wasn’t able to connect it with my dad on a daily basis. I worked on my paper for about 6 weeks and on the day of my presentation I had it all ready. I had the overheads, the PowerPoint, the hand outs and the activities. I was ready! But what I wasn’t ready for, was the shock of realization as I gave my presentation to the class that my husband had a brain injury. It all slowly dawned on me as I was talking about ‘side effects’ and ‘issues’, that what my husband had been living with, was in fact a brain injury. It hit me like a wall and at that point I broke down and started crying. Lucky for me my teacher and fellow students were very understanding, they let me re-group and continue.
I talked to Dennis about my new found insight that night and he listened…
And that was it.
He didn’t want to talk about it and so that was it. Subject was closed. So I prayed.
I talked to our doctor (who was also Dennis’ doctor and the doctor that treated Dennis after his accidents) about it and he agreed that I was most likely right. When Dennis was involved in the accidents there were no reasons to go for CT scans or even think of a brain injury. Brain injury was not a concern really at that point in time unless you had visible head trauma and add to the fact that it was still very rural Manitoba…
It took some talking with Dennis (and a lot of praying) and his seeing that a BI doesn’t always mean brain damage or diminished mental capabilities. I had to point out – that this is a guy that not only was going to college with a wife, 4 kids and a farm to look after—but he also received his Diploma with 2 Scholarships, a Bursary, his Farm Business plan came in second place in the class AND he graduated with Distinction (above a 4.0 grade average). I think that even Dennis originally thought that a BI also meant you had other issues too – no matter how I tried to talk to him otherwise… so I prayed.
Now fast forward to 2008 and our son Sam’s accident with the .22…
Sam and Dennis were (and still are) complete opposites when it comes to most things. Sam loves to work with wood – Dennis claims to be a wood butcher. Sam has an eye for things looking good – Dennis will wear almost anything and not care what it looks like. Sam has a love for all games electronic – Dennis will use a calculator to work out figures and that is about as electronic as he likes it.
But once we started to work with Sam on his road to recovery, I started to see that both of them had quite similar issues in dealing with noise, stress, change and directions… but they didn’t.
As I spoke with doctors and therapists about Sam and read articles, books about BI, I was seeing a pattern that was almost mirrored in Dennis. I told Dennis about what I had discovered and again it was met with indifference –but as we went to BI survivor and caregiver meetings and listened to other people, Dennis began to see what I was talking about and half of that battle was over! He began to see how his behaviour (or denial) was not only affecting Sam’s recovery but how it was taking a toll on me. He started to make a more conscious effort to help –which meant admitting to his own injury and working with me on his recovery.
Some of the things that had drove me crazy before are now dealt with in a quiet manner (and less eye rolling on my behalf), such as when he begins to ‘ramble on’ or ‘lose his cool’ in a situation, I will just very discretely touch his arm, back, leg etc. to help him to either get back on topic or calm down. This is a tool we have both adopted using—so I get my fair share of hand squeezing or back touching also!☺We also keep lots of lists of things needing to be done, we BOTH keep organizers/day planners to keep on schedule with our life on a farm , 4 active kids, appointments and just life in general. It works for us! I try to keep all the organizers and calendars updated and ‘in sync’ and that helps Dennis to keep on task with his days. He will use the alarms on his cell phone daily to remind him of things too. We also try to spend time each day praying with and for each other. We have regular time each morning (usually around 5.30am… sigh) together where we read our bibles, pray and just discuss issues in our life that are occurring.