I refer to myself these days as "a proud brain injury survivor." It's not a histrionic statement or some limp stumble toward cleverness. Rather, it's the fact that the contuing journey from a summer in a coma is a remarkable education - yea, OK, the tuition is high but here's what I've gotten for my money so far.
First, empathy. It's a kind of global empathy that grew from interactions with other TBI survivors. For me, and, I'm pretty sure, a whole bunch of us, the trip to empathy followed this path. Injury ... acute recovery ... depression stemming from the "I'm-not-what-I-once-was" cold reality. This was followed by the first flickers of the lifelong recovery process where the empathy for fellow survivors begins. And, if we're lucky, this grows into a kind of global empathy for people who struggle against overwhelming odds. A few years after my injury, when I regained enough cognition to work, I took a job with the Blue Ridge (Virginia) Independent Living Center, which did exactly what the name says, helping people with profound disabilities to live as independently as possible. I did go into the job with some trepidation about dealing with severe disabilities. After a while, in the job, I had a huge "ah-ha" moment and realized that this was the most uplifting experience I'd ever had. I worked with clients with cerebral palsy, spinal cord and brain injuries, multiple sclerosis and on through the list. Ninety percent of these folks wanted to and did everything within their power - often exceeding what so-called experts said was their limit of power - to live on their own. Sure, there were the other 10 percent who were sorry asses soaking the system for handouts. They are both said and disgusting cases.
Watching all the day-to-day victories translated to pure energy and a realization that sometimes even the smallest accomplishments are huge victories for some folks. I learned that for some of the folks I worked with that getting up in the morning, grooming and getting something to eat were huge victories - especially in cases of advanced neurological disorders. ... I worked with one gentleman - who in addition to a Will Rogers wisdom-as-humor demeanor - raised chickens for a living and he only had the use of one arm and hnad - paralyzed legs, one arm paralyzed and only slight shoulder movement. From his chicken and egg money, he supported two children.
But for my brain injury, I would never have seen these extraordinary stories. What an elegant lesson.