Page 1

Running head: MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

The New Normal: My Journey Back from a Traumatic Brain Injury Amanda Keaton University of Kentucky

1


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

2

Abstract In May 2012, one week before graduating from high school, I was involved in a serious white-water rafting accident in Pennsylvania. I sustained a traumatic brain injury and have struggled to recover. After being forced to postpone my enrollment at the University of Kentucky, I was forced to reevaluate my life. I realized the habits I maintained in high school were not becoming of a success pre-medical student and now enjoy the challenge my college courses deliver. I have had the opportunity to reaffirm my desire of medical school, and my self-concept has evolved into a motivated student with clear plans to ensure I reach my goal. While I still struggle with effects from the accident, I have come a long way and am getting healthier. Taking all I have learned about my chosen profession and myself over the last year, I predict I will continue to academically succeed in the future.


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY High school graduation is a milestone. A milestone many students seek and achieve. When handed a diploma on graduation day, similar to the one shown on the right, it is a rite of passage to a future filled with dreams, excitement, and the knowledge of a vast world waiting for you to discover it. It gives high school seniors a chance at a fresh start and a clean slate in a place of their choosing. Despite the events of the week leading up to it, on graduation day, May 27, 2012, this world of wonder was still in my grasp. As I have struggled to come back from a traumatic brain injury over my past year and a half, my self-concept has drastically evolved and reaffirmed my desire of attending medical school. I attended high school at The Linsly School, a college-preparatory school in Wheeling, West Virginia. During the four years I spent here, I cultivated many valuable friendships, and I dreaded graduation day when we would part ways. On May 21, 2012, my senior class embarked on our last voyage together. Among other things, this trip was complete with white-water rafting at Ohiopyle State Park and a trip to Kennywood, an amusement park in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. This trip, commemorating the end of our high school career, was just days before prom and graduation. When we arrived at Ohiopyle State Park to begin our white-water rafting adventure, there was a distinct mix of nervousness and excitement in the air. This was a new territory for many of us, and unlike my family’s yearly vacations to Walt Disney World, my safety was not guaranteed. We received abbreviated training before embarking on our journey, and if our boat happened to flip, we were instructed to keep

3


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

4

our head and feet up. This would lower the chance of lower extremity entrapment and potential drowning. We were also required to sign a waver stating they were not responsible for any potential injuries that occurred. As we began rafting down the Youghiogheny River, it was not as petrifying as anticipated. I had the opportunity to pick my crew and was accompanied by eight of my best friends and an instructor. The outlying factor of the day was the temperature of the water. While it was the end of May, the sun did not shine and the water barely reached 40 degrees. The Dimple Rock was where my problems first began. A seemingly meek rapid, our boat hit the rock head on and flipped over completely. In a mix of panic and shock, I soon realized I was trapped underneath of the boat. While the details are unclear in my head, the next memory I have is physically bumping into rock after rock. The water was extremely shallow but also had the ability to quickly pull you under. In that moment, I can honestly say I believed death was eminent. Later on, I realized this feeling was mutual among many of the girls involved in the accident. We were all eventually rescued, however, many were bruised and bleeding. Despite hitting my head and other parts of my body, I assumed I was perfectly fine, and it was just another experience. Approximately 2 hours after impact, I began experiencing alarming symptoms. I soon had a splitting headache and began throwing up profusely. These symptoms were also accompanied by severe dizziness. No other girls in my boat were experiencing such symptoms, and my teachers began to worry. A school employee took me back to Wheeling, West Virginia, where my parents picked me up. They decided to take me to MedExpress, a local clinic, to ensure nothing was wrong. From this point, I was quickly


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

5

put in a neck brace and taken on a stretcher to our local hospital, less than two miles away. There was speculation that I had broken my neck. As the tests concluded, I was given the diagnosis of a mild head injury and was told it would take less than week for me to make a full recovery. As days slowly passed, I continued to get worse. Among other things, I was dealing with vertigo and constant extreme headaches. My symptoms were clearly not improving. My mother soon took me to our family pediatrician who recommended I see a specialist as soon as possible. I began seeing Dr. Derrick Eddy, a double board-certified physician in pediatrics and sports medicine. At every appointment, I was required to take an imPACT test. This computer-based assessment evaluated my brain function by asking a series of questions involving sequences, memory, and motor speed. After receiving alarmingly low results during my first appointment, I was instructed not to drive, text, or attend my upcoming prom. These measures were taken to cut down on the possibility of permanent brain damage. He prescribed sleep but did allow me to attend graduation the following Sunday. My high school made special accommodations for me, such as providing bottled water and ensuring my parents were close by. I was also escorted off the stage to guarantee I did not fall. While Dr. Eddy was the premier doctor for injuries related to broken bones and sprains, I quickly realized the lack of knowledge about concussions by healthcare professionals in rural communities. After every appointment, his sole recommendation was sleep. I did not improve in the months following my accident, and this caused much concern by my doctor and my parents.


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

6

My family moved to Nicholasville, Kentucky in August 2012. This planned move would allow me to attend the University of Kentucky and place my dad closer to his current job. I began seeing Dr. Kara Kennedy-Fister, a neurologist in Kentucky Clinic. From this point on, I improved exponentially. I began taking a course of medication that allowed me to begin to heal, whereas before, rest was the prescribed treatment. I was officially diagnosed as having post-concussive migraines, as a result of a traumatic brain injury, i.e. concussion. Uniquely enough, my doctor’s appointment fell on the same day I was scheduled to start my first semester at the University of Kentucky. Unfortunately, I was forced to postpone my enrollment and take a semester off. This decision was not made lightly and was one my family and I wrestled over. This was also something my doctor strongly recommended. We knew deep down it was the right thing for me, as well. I was unable to function properly and would not have been able to juggle the workload. Despite the recovery that began to take place, I was still far away from healthy. The first months after moving to Lexington and delaying my college career, I struggled to get better. I had monthly doctor’s appointments, which consisted of major medication adjustments. Courses of treatment were changed regularly, but thankfully, my headaches slowly subsided. During this period, my time was solely spent watching television or sleeping. I was unable to read or do anything that stimulated my brain, because it would result in an instantaneous headache. I could not use a computer for long periods of time or participate in any physical activity. As you can see, the list of things I could not do greatly outnumbered the things I could do.


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

7

At this point in time, my world could be described as solely black and white. As shown in the photo, the previously happy girl with aspirations and dreams bigger than life itself was forced to take a step back and reevaluate the future. My world seemed dark, and I wondered why this had happened. Questions and doubts flashed into my head constantly, and I questioned the probability of ever being normal again. With the help of my family and friends, I slowly gained perspective. During this transition period, I was able to think and evaluate who I was and hoped to become. I questioned my beliefs, goals, and immediate future. From a young age, I had an immense desire to attend medical school. I spent over 174 hours volunteering in the Wheeling Hospital Emergency Room during senior year, and the combination of the patient contact I had and the procedures I assisted on intensified this desire. I also spent a large amount of time shadowing doctors of different specialties and had a good idea of what a career as a physician would look like. As a whole, I was enamored with the profession. When I graduated from high school, I knew this was the path I was destined to pursue. However, much like many of the pre-medical students in the University of Kentucky’s freshman class, I was not prepared for what it would take to get there. I did not have a realistic idea of how demanding the pre-requisite classes were or the probability of medical school admission. This greatly stemmed from my work ethic in high school. I did not have the desire to work hard or the sense of accomplishment when I


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

8

did well on a test or paper. I relished the idea of no homework or not needing to study for an upcoming test. Senioritis had developed. Throughout my semester off from school, as I continued to improve, I began to read. I read countless books regarding study strategies and getting good grades in college. I learned how to take good notes in class, the appropriate way to email a professor, and countless other valuable lessons I was unaware of. I studied statistics and requirements of medical school admission and began to plan out the next four years of my life. I researched pre-medical summer internships and now have a distinct plan of what I need to do to get to where I want to go. I was also happy to sign up for a medical school mentor through the pre-medical club the University of Kentucky currently offers. Though this mentor program, I befriended multiple medical students and had the opportunity to constantly quiz them regarding the logistics of getting into medical school. These students helped me realize the caliber of applicants applying and confirmed the need of a high GPA, among other things. They also discussed potential majors, volunteer opportunities, and the grave importance of getting involved in research early on in my college career. Through these experiences, my self-concept evolved into a confident and motivated student. In high school, my priorities were backwards. My desire to have fun and spend time with my friends trumped all, and I was genuinely concerned with other’s perception of me. I did not feel smart or knowledgeable about any particular subject; therefore, I lacked the desire to try. Now, not only do I have the desire to do the best I can in school, I have reaffirmed my desire to be a doctor. Some think of the pre-requisite courses, volunteering, and the other necessary components of a successful application as


MY JOURNEY BACK FROM A TRAUMATIC BRAIN INJURY

9

intimidating. However, I am more confident than ever that I am up for the challenge, and this is where I am meant to be. I hope to care for my sick patients in the same way I have been cared for by the healthcare professionals I have encountered. Presently, I still struggle with many health problems from the injury I incurred. I see many specialists, including a neurologist and ophthalmologist, on a regular basis to manage my recurring symptoms and side effects from my daily medication regime. I am unable to do many things other students my age may be able to do, including going to concerts or staying up late. I adhere to a strict sleep schedule and am forced to constantly monitor my progress by charting the intensity of my headaches. Fortunately, despite these remaining problems, I do attend school full time. While I may have limited free time, I am doing well in my current classes, and this will continue from semester to semester. I predict my self-concept will positively be impacted as I continue to learn more about my classes and my major. In conclusion, graduation from high school represents many things. For me, it meant a new house, a new town, and a chance to start over. As you can see on the left, when I graduated, I was happy and exhilarated by the prospect of my future. This was a momentous occasion. However, throughout this experience, I have learned that, while graduation represents many things, the path to success is never easy. As I fought to overcome my injuries, I have evolved immensely as a student, and I now make conscious choices towards academic success and my ultimate goal of becoming a physician.

The New Normal: My Journey Back from a Traumatic Brain Injury  

This essay was written by Amanda Keaton for the Project 1 (Self-Concept) assignment in CIS 110.

The New Normal: My Journey Back from a Traumatic Brain Injury  

This essay was written by Amanda Keaton for the Project 1 (Self-Concept) assignment in CIS 110.

Advertisement