By: Jean Johnson for Uterus1
It’s tough to be a fully functioning woman going into the weekend, only to wind up not fully “there” by Monday. That you also notice you also aren’t doing so well getting to the bathroom simply compounds the indignity of all that can happen when someone suffers a traumatic brain injury.
Uterus1 appreciates Jody Willer’s willingness to share her story of how a car accident that only resulted in $8,000 damage to her vehicle left her physical body in such a jam that her normal activities were put into a serious holding pattern for months.
The Car Accident and Immediate Aftermath
It was one of those gray, rainy November afternoons in a Portland, Oregon suburb when what weak light high noon had brought was on the wane. Jody Willer, who was 59 at the time, was traveling alone. She pulled up behind a long line of cars at a stop light not far from where she lives in the community of Bethany.
| Know the facts about urinary incontinence:|
An estimated 15 to 20 million people in the United States have bladder control problems.
Involuntary loss of urine affects both men and women, although it is nearly twice as common in women. It is reportedly experience by 95 percent of women in their reproductive and post-menopausal years.
Bladder control problems increase with age and affect 15 to 30 percent of adults over the age of 60.
“It was right by a school, and I think it was letting out so the line at the light was longer than usual,” said Willer. “But I didn’t have any trouble stopping even though I was going the posted speed limit which was 40 mph.”
Unfortunately, the car behind Willer apparently didn’t realize how far the traffic was backed up. “I looked in my rearview mirror and could see this guy wasn’t stopping. I knew I was going to be hit, so I pumped my brakes to try and get his attention and was actually considering putting myself into the ditch when the blow came.”
Even though Willer thinks the driver was also going the speed limit at the time of impact, she describes the immediate aftermath of the accident as deceptively trouble-free.
“It all happened so fast and didn’t hurt immediately,” she said. “I just kind of wobbled around in my car when he hit me. And I even drove myself home since my car was still drivable, and I didn’t think I needed to go to the hospital. Things seemed OK for about two hours, but after I got home I could feel my back stiffening up.”
Since the accident happened on Friday afternoon and Willer had to wait until Monday to see a physician, she decided to visit her neighborhood chiropractor on Saturday morning. That got her through the weekend after a fashion, but by Monday morning, she was ready for further evaluation.
“I could tell I had some soft tissue damage that weekend, but it was really a couple days before I could tell my brain wasn’t working right. I couldn’t focus on the right things, like at an intersection where I had a green light I waited for someone waiting to cross to go first.”
After that happened, I knew I wasn’t in any shape to be driving. The problem was that I couldn’t multitask and choose what was important,” Willer said. “I’d get distracted by whatever caught my attention.”
Backgrounder on Traumatic Brain Injury
Uterus1 consulted the University of Southern California’s Web site for the Los Angeles Caregiver Resource Center (www.usc.edu/larc). According to USC experts, 2 million Americans sustain brain injuries each year. They define the type of condition Willer has as “a closed brain injury that occurs when the moving head is stopped rapidly, as when hitting a windshield...” Scholars also note that while some brain injuries are severe and can result in permanent disability, “many brain injuries are mild, and symptoms usually disappear over time with proper attention.”
It’s comforting to people like Jody Willer that symptoms will generally fade since the consequences of trauma to the brain are many. Indeed, the USC lists several categories of symptoms that can plague individuals who have suffered a blow to the head.
Cognitive deficits, for one, “include shortened attention span, short-term memory problems, problem solving or judgment deficits, and the inability to understand abstract concepts.” Additionally USC states, “There may also be an inability to accept more than one- or two-step commands simultaneously,” the problem Willer observed behind the wheel when she realized that she was no longer safe on the road.
USC also lists motor deficits like “paralysis, poor balance, lower endurance, delays in initiation…and poor coordination.” And then there are perceptual problems associated with the senses including situations in which “the individual may have difficulty understanding where limbs are in relation to the body.”
That’s just the beginning, however. Speech and language deficits can also interfere with communication. Social difficulties that make it difficult to “make and keep friends, as well as understand and respond to the nuances of social interaction” can put a significant damper on things. Personality changes that “include apathy and decreased motivation, emotional lability, irritability, or depression” can result. Further, disinhibition can give rise to “temper flare-ups, aggression, cursing, lowered frustration tolerance, and inappropriate sexual behavior.”
Last but not least are “regulatory disturbances that include fatigue and/or changes in sleep patterns, dizziness or headache.” To this list the USC appends the terse statement: “There may be loss of bowel and bladder control.”
Urinary Incontinence Hits
Jody Willer faced many of the symptoms USC lists and particularly identified cognitive difficulties as problems. “It was like aging 5 or 10 years over night. It scared me and made me sad, to think that my life might be as changed as it was at first. The lack of confidence and competence. The lack of being able to get things done. The lack of being in control.”
Nowhere was the lack of control more apparent than in Willer’s inability to always make it to the bathroom, a subject we’ll cover in the second part of this series.
Continued in Part Two
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