A Lifelong Battle With TBI

Just shy of his third birthday, my son John ran behind a playground swing and was struck hard on the right side of his head. Because there were no obvious signs of concussion or external injury, the pediatrician, reached by phone, advised against an emergency room visit. Twenty-four hour observation at home did not reveal any obvious signs of trauma, and I breathed a sigh of relief. That relief, however, was very short-lived...

The heavy blow to John's head, although seemingly innocuous at the time, had caused a closed-head traumatic brain injury (TBI). Despite the almost immediate physical and behavioral signs that continued to worsen throughout his life, John's injury remained undiagnosed for the next sixteen years.

My numerous pleas for help to physicians and John's teachers were ignored. Eventually, John, with minimal frontal lobe "executive" brain functioning, barely eked out a high school diploma in spite of having a high I.Q. The neurologist who finally diagnosed John at age 18 described the discrepancy between John's high I.Q. and his failure to achieve academically as a major symptom that John's difficulties were brain-injury related, and should have been identified by teachers and physicians years earlier.

When John was finally diagnosed at age 18 - almost 16 years after his injury - HIPAA laws necessitated John's cooperation in allowing his father and me access to his medical records. Those records were necessary to guide John to the help he so desperately needed, but, because the injury was to his brain and his ability to process information was affected, he did not always comply. I sometimes begged his doctors to release information to me, but their hands were tied by the HIPAA laws as they are currently written, so John's medical care was compromised.

In spite of attendance at a nationally-known brain injury treatment program, John could not undo the long-standing patterns of adaptation he had devised. That program focused mainly on John's cognitive difficulties, which were significant. Unfortunately, the psychological trauma, resulting from the years of blame and verbal and emotional abuse John had endured because his injury had remained undiagnosed, was mostly ignored. When John did not immediately respond to their methods of treatment, even this group of professionals, trained in assessment and treatment of brain injury, used shame as a teaching tactic. Since John had suffered shame throughout most of his life because he was unable to succeed without any known reason for his failures, this shame tactic caused him to "give up." Finally, at the age of 22, John purchased a gun, put it to the exact area of his head that had suffered the injury, and had caused him a lifetime of social, psychological and emotional pain,

and pulled the trigger...