Getting back on track after brain injury

Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident
Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident
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SUSAN Wild looks back to the day her life was turned upside down.

She was 42, a working mother of two and a keen cyclist. It was a long, bright September day in 1988 and she was pedalling home from her pal’s in High Green.

Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident in earlier times

Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident in earlier times

Then, bang. A car had hit her. She crashed to the ground, making a noise so loud that a customer in the local video shop ran out to see what it was.

By the time Susan came round the car had disappeared and she was on the ground, shaking.

She wasn’t wearing a helmet and the damage, though she wasn’t aware at the time, would have a profound effect on her life.

“I don’t remember anything – only that I woke up in Northern General and they were giving me lots of painkillers,” says Susan.

Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident in earlier times

Cyclist Susan Wild who suffered a brian injury as a result of a cycling accident in earlier times

But while her pain was being dealt with, the huge blow to her head was an issue that would remain ignored and not understood for years. She left hospital armed only with paracetamol. She wasn’t given any information or any contacts.

“After the accident, I knew I needed help but the only support I knew about was the Headways Organisation that a friend had mentioned.

“I sent for eight of their booklets, which were marvellous in explaining head injuries, but I was confused in terms of what related to mine. The organisation also had group meetings for support which were useful, but a lack of confidence prevented me from attending on a regular basis.”

This lack of confidence was a result of her brain injury. “I knew I wasn’t right. My daughter would say I wasn’t the same as I used to be. I didn’t know what to do about it.”

Instead, Susan started working again just four and a half months after the accident. “I went back because I didn’t have any visible signs of illness. It was like an invisible disability.”

She was a liaison officer in Sheffield City Council’s Women’s Unit. It was a struggle. “I kept forgetting things – I still can’t read novels because I forget who’s who. I didn’t know whether it was just my age or a result of the accident.”

“I carried on and kept a brave face. I had difficulty concentrating and had lapses of memory so couldn’t remember things. So I developed strategies to help manage my difficulties. My diary was my second memory and my note book got full very quickly.”

But the struggles with day-to–day tasks and the pressure to overcome them made Susan feel like she was on the verge of a nervous breakdown.

“My work meant I did it on my own, which didn’t help me as it heightened my anxiety I had loss of confidence, frustration and depression. I visited three counsellors but head injuries wasn’t part of their remit.”

She was lost and lonely.

Susan’s problems came to light during one business meeting, when Susan told someone she hadn’t understood what they said in a meeting. The response was ‘Well you have to in this job.’ Susan broke down and went home. She was off ill for 18 months. That time gave her chance to think about her future. She started some college courses and got involved with community groups and then, when she reached 52, decided to take early retirement.

It took years before Susan finally got the information, help and support she needed. At 65 she explained to her doctor that the consequences of her injury were still making her life difficult.

The doctor referred her to the Sheffield Community Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team (SCBIRT) and at last, everything began to make sense.

“They explained that I had sustained a severe brain injury – not a mild one as I had originally thought. My X-ray showed that I had a fracture on the right side of my skull above my ear, called the parietal lobe, and had structural damage to my brain, including bruising and bleeding on the left side of my brain, called the temporal lobe.”

This particular area of the brain is responsible for comprehension, talking, memory, sensing through touch and reading and writing – most were areas with which Susan struggled.

“One of the doctors told me that I had done brilliantly well to cope in the years since my accident, but my pride, dignity and commitment made me do things I knew would be a problem. This made me overload my brain with too much complex information.”

Understanding what was wrong with her brain has been a huge relief for Susan.

“To try and explain to people what a brain injury is like when you don’t really understand yourself is half the problem. Up until this point nobody understood me. But the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Team really helped me to understand what I was going through. I now feel so much more positive about myself and feel like a load has been lifted from me.”