ABI Week - A Life Rewritten - Debi's Story

A Life Rewritten – ABI Week 2024

This year the theme of Action for Brain Injury (ABI) week is ‘A Life Rewritten’ raising awareness of how life changes after an acquired brain injury. In this blog, we catch up with Debi and tell her story of a life rewritten after a brain injury.

A Life Changing Event

On the 11th January 2008, Debi Arnold’s life changed forever. Whilst driving home with her young daughter Phebe, in the back of the car, the car aquaplaned into the path of 16-ton tractor. Despite of the horror of the situation, two things were in Debi’s favour that day. The first was, that in the car behind was the clinical director of an acute care unit. He immediately called the air ambulance, because he recognised time was of the essence, and stabilised her at the scene of the accident. The second was that the impact was on the left-hand side of the car. These two factors combined, probably saved the lives of both Debi and her daughter that day.

Debi was left with a brain injury and both she and her family received support and information from Headway Essex. Sixteen years later, we catch up with Debi to hear how with her determination and the support of family and friends she managed to rewrite her life.

Debi’s Story in Her Own Words

“A life rewritten is a very appropriate title for what happened to me. You learn to live with what is different and your family and friends have to accept that you are different. This does not happen overnight, it took me a long time to accept that I was different and to adjust. Some friends were never able to understand and accept the changes, so have fallen away.

Brain Injury – A Hidden Disability

My brain injury is a hidden disability. To look at me you would not know I have a brain injury. I have a large blind spot on my left hand side. It means I can no longer drive. I do not see objects or people in my blind spot, even though it may appear that they are in my line of vision. My short-term memory is very poor and I have no facial recognition. This makes it difficult for me in social and work situations. Especially recognising people who I have only met one or two times before. Even if it was just a few minutes ago, I will not know if I have met them before. Another problem is I never feel hungry, so initially I would forget to eat. I learnt to recognise this, as when it got to about 2pm, I would get an awful headache. It was only then I realised I had not eaten all day. I felt cold all the time and even when I was away with the family in Florida, they would all be in T-shirts and I was in a jacket in the heat of the sun.

Determination and Belief

They told me if things had not improved after 18 months then they would never improve. In my situation, this was not the case and I would say to anyone to never give-up. I have always been a very determined person and pushed myself and I wanted to prove them wrong.

I was fortunate that before my injury, I worked with my husband in the family business and I managed the payroll. With all the hidden effects of my injury, my mechanical mind still worked. One of the first thoughts after coming out of my coma, was I needed to run the payroll!

Returning to Work

I wanted to try to ‘get back to normal’ as soon as possible and a few months after I left hospital my husband brought one of the computers home from work. Initially, he would check that I had done everything correctly. After a few months, it was apparent this was something I could still do well.

Eventually I returned to the office. I had to pace myself as the effort made me feel very fatigued. I also had to be reminded to eat lunch, as I did not feel hungry. There were other adjustments; before my brain injury, I printed out payslips and handed them out in the office. Now, ensuring they got to the right person was a challenge. This was only because of my memory and facial recognition deficits. I was worried people would judge me and question whether I could not do my job, if I muddled things up. Fortunately, I have overcome this problem as we now e-mail payslips to staff.

My Life Rewritten

Today, I am less confident than I was before the injury. Everyday things take more thinking and planning and this can make me very tired. I use routine to help me with things like remembering to eat. For example, regardless of what time I get up, the first thing I do is always to have breakfast and take my vitamins and tablets.

I used to be the one who organised everything and now I can only organise things for myself. Anything more will be overwhelming. I am sad that I can no longer just say, “We have a free afternoon let’s go somewhere and do something nice”.  A good example of this is, to travel to see my sister in Doncaster, I have to plan every step of the journey. I have to get to the station at least 45 minutes before the train departs to give myself time to orientate myself and find the right platform. The when I am on the train, if I need to go to the toilet I have to consciously think of the direction I walk in. I also have to register that when I come out I have to walk in the opposite direction to find my seat. Fortunately, now with a ticket app on my phone I can easily check my seat number to help me locate it.

I miss the feeling of relaxing at the end of a hard day with a glass of wine. As my brain has to work twice as hard to do the simplest of tasks, the only time I relax is when I am in bed at the end of the day. I can just read my book and I do not have to think about the next task.

The Positives from the Negative

There are still many positives and the main thing is I no longer take anything for granted. Although things take more planning and time, I am so grateful I can still do the things I could do before my injury. When I achieve something like travelling to see my sister on my own it makes me really appreciate my achievements and that brings a big smile to my face. I also appreciate the importance of having family and friends, who have accepted I am different and have supported me along the way.”

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