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Survivor Voices

Please Don’t Take It Wrong!

“In my eye appointment today, I learned something interesting. Apparently, I blink extremely infrequently, The doctor suggested that lots of people must think I’m staring at them. That may be the answer to why so many people are very annoyed with me for no reason that’s understandable to me. I suppose that could unfortunately mean that in addition to telling people that I’m a crackpot with unreliable information retrieval ability, I’ll have to also say that I’m inadvertently blinkless. Good grief!!”

When I stare at you, please don’t take it wrong!!

– Marilyn Macmillan

Janko Stukic’s story

On Saturday, January 17, 2004 Janko was out with some of his friends in London after coming home for the Christmas holidays from Fordham University in New York, where he was attending on a full soccer scholarship.

It was the night before he was to fly back to New York to resume his studies when the car he was in hit a patch of black ice and spun out, crashing into a telephone pole. Unfortunately, the point of impact was precisely where Janko was seated in the back seat.

Although his memory of that night is gone, Janko thinks he saw the pole coming because he turned his head and hit the headrest of the seat in front of him, smashing the bones in his face and skull. He also sustained a stable fracture of the C2 vertebra and his pelvis as well as a broken right ankle.

He was rushed to the hospital with a Glasgow coma scale rating of 3. The doctors were not optimistic about Janko’s survival. They told his family that if he survived the first 48 hours, then they’d talk about what steps to take next. He did survive and after much discussion, it was decided that Janko would require surgery for the compound fracture of his femur, which was worrisome because it had broken through the skin and there was chance of infection.

Janko survived that surgery only to have another to alleviate his inner cranial pressure by removing his forehead bone. This entire trauma resulted in a traumatic brain injury and it has changed Janko’s life significantly. Before the accident, Janko was extremely active playing basketball, football and his favourite, soccer. His relationships have also changed.

His relationship with his mother has strengthened because the love and support shown to him by his mother and family in general motivated him to keep going. However, he says that 95% of his friends prior to the injury have moved on, but he says he has made new friends that are more understanding at Cornerstone Clubhouse and in the brain injury community in general.

Janko says that he is most proud of returning to Fanshawe College and obtaining a certificate in General Business and his new responsibilities as the Member who oversees The Scene publication at Cornerstone Clubhouse. Janko is motivated by his desire to keep improving and proving wrong the people who doubted his capabilities .

Instead of playing sports, which he can no longer do, Janko spends his time volunteering at the Brain Injury Association of London & Region once a week and he spends time at the Clubhouse twice a week, attending the Wellness group and the outings with other Members to shoot pool every other week. Janko also spends an evening and an afternoon with a rehabilitation counselor, or as Janko likes to call him, a leisure buddy.

Despite everything Janko has gone through, he enjoys all the things that he is currently involved in and he is no rush to change, however he does understand that he needs to make a couple of very important decisions to determine where his life will be in the future, but one thing he is certain about, he enjoys being alive!!

Remember To Buy Bread

We need to buy bread and are kerfuffled by the meaningless of the advice we are given by caregivers as a guide to doing this simple task.

Rote is a way of learning by endless repetition. It is also a homonym for ‘wrote’. Rote is enacted by repetitive verbalizing, thinking and writing.

For those of us who are struggling with a degree of difficulty to retrieve information from our brain, we are advised that ‘rote’ helps us do that. That may be a fine thing to tell us, but it can be tediously boring. We can say ‘bread’ many times, we can write it out many times, and visualize paying for it at the store many times. This process can be so tedious that we wonder whether it really matters if we do get bread.

Since pencil makes the best memory, we are also advised to write it on paper, but that presents a problem. We can easily lose the piece of paper or forget that we have it to look at when we’re at the store. We are, thus, caught between a rock and a hard place by trying to carry out the advice of rote and list.

However, there are ways we can look at such types of advice to help our memory.

They are:

ROTE: Everybody, no matter how severe their brain injury, remembers the alphabet. That is because it has been etched in our mind by endless repetition, by repetitive singing of the alphabet song and by writing it out in sequence many times. Knowing the alphabet proves to anybody that rote does work!

LIST: We can carry in our pocket or purse a small blank notebook. This notebook can be used to record anything we want to remember to do. When we get to the store for our bread, we can look at our notebook and easily find what we wanted to buy at the store. When we buy it, we can cross it off our notebook so that we don’t foolishly end up buying bread later on in the day.

CUE: There is a type of memory that’s not particularly discussed. That involves visual memory. When we know we need to buy bread, we can visualize ourself at the store, picking out the bread, paying for it and putting it away where it goes at home. That visualization works. We are essentially cuing ourselves to what we need by what we see.

Thus we have solved our problem of remembering to buy bread. We can repeat it by the rote method, we can list it by using our notebook that is always with us, and we can give ourselves a cue by visualizing getting it.

While these words are focusing on buying bread, the same methods work for anything. Once you try it, you will be successful.

There’s no such thing as a problem that can’t be solved. Whatever you particular problem as a result of your brain injury, write in and you will receive advice of how to compensate effectively. Once you get into the swing of doing things you want when you want, your expectation of doing so will escalate tremendously.

With a positive expectation, most humans can do things. This is shown by the rhyme that goes: “I think I can, I think I can, I think I really can. I can do most anything if I only think I can. I knew I could, I knew I could.” It’s not whether you win or lose, but how you play the game. Play your game by trying things until something works! If you don’t try, you don’t succeed! Even though we’re not a judge, we can TRY!

Of interest, we should realize that the methods that are called rote, list and cue are used by anybody to remember anything. They are also the way students are taught by teachers to remember and babies are taught by parents to remember. With understanding that it actually works, we can be our own teachers!

– Marilyn Macmillan

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