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A Day in the Life of a Squirrel-Brained TBI Survivor

Here we go again—another week of meaty topics derailed by reality. I think sharing this with you may do more good for us all than trying to finish my researched topics this week. Maybe you’ll relate to my day.

Like my body, my brain (which is, after all, part of my body) has good and bad days. The poor thing has had a hard decade. After being slammed into by a hunk of metal hurtling along at 45 mph, with only an inch and a half of Styrofoam and a hard plastic shell to cushion the blow, most of the bloodflow was cut off when my carotid artery collapsed from the impact. My body’s effort to shunt blood to my brain by every other possible pathway while losing blood pressure from a severed radial artery resulted in a stroke. After hours of surgery to deal with other injuries in the ER, I was placed in a chilled coma to give my brain a chance to recover from this massive insult.

My skull cracked over the impact site. My helmet stove in like an eggshell. By some miracle, the hematoma was small and didn’t cause enough pressure to warrant drilling burr holes. (Bless you, every engineer at the Limar helmet factory in Italy.) Oddly, most of the hair fell out over the fracture and has never grown back—I have a permanent thin spot there that I feel when I French-braid my hair.

I came out of the coma with almost no sensation on my left side, which was a mercy at the time because my left arm hung shattered and useless, waiting for me to stop bleeding from my bashed internal organs before they could vacuum out the bone chips and join the intact ends with a rod. I’m glad I never really felt the creepiness of a limp-noodle arm. My right hand was enough to deal with as the reattached nerves woke up one by one and screamed for morphine.

Two nights before I was released from inpatient rehab, I tripped on a corner of the sheet they used to cover the recliner in my room. I couldn’t break my fall with either arm, one of which was bound to my chest with a sling and one with a reattached hand at the end of it, that instinct protected that night. I broke the fall with my elbow and smacked my head hard on my roommate’s tray table, an inch from the fracture line. Somehow, the next day, I passed all my balance and agility testing and was still allowed to go home.

Since then, I’ve had two severe concussions. After the first of the two, my doctor told me that one more concussion would result in permanent, disabling brain damage. So I fell face-first on a broken sidewalk and cracked my orbital bone.

My recovery from these things has been nothing short of miraculous. Still, I have my days when my mouth stumbles in the effort to make words, and the words I’m trying to say get lost in a dark tunnel somewhere. I get severe migraines, sometimes bad enough to make me vomit. And then there are days like yesterday—The Squirrel-Brain Days.

I started out with the best of intentions. I had a great chat with a client, who lavished praise on my work and my attitude. I tried to keep my promises to her—really, I did.

It was the first of the month, and that means month-end closeout. As a self-employed person, I have to tally my time and send invoices to the firms I contract to. I keep a tracking spreadsheet of my own financial condition, and I update this as well. I didn’t finish closeout until almost lunchtime, and I decided to eat early and jam on work for 2 hours before my chiropractic appointment. I looked forward to riding my bike there, as the weather app on my phone said the rain would stop in time.

I usually prefer to work in silence, but it was a cold, rainy July 1 and I had to run the heat in my house. An insult on that level calls for a good playlist. I turned on my Bluetooth speaker, with my iPod Classic hooked in by a cable (the Classic is not wi-fi ready). As usual, the speaker cut out in the middle of my favorite song. I had asked a techie friend about this a few days ago, and was told it timed out automatically after no change in signal for 20 minutes. He said I should be able to turn off that feature somehow. There were no buttons on the speaker to play with; it’s a modern tech piece with no visible control panel.

I am a manual reader, but like most tech these days, the speaker didn’t have one when I bought it. I searched for a model number to Google, and found it in impossibly faint gray-on-black print on the inside of the cable compartment cover. The downloaded manual opened a new world to me—I discovered that the speaker is supposed to be controlled by an app on my phone. This was not stated anywhere on the box. I installed the app and learned how to stop the time-outs, then played with it some more and changed the annoying colored strobe lights to a gentle fade-in color change sequence. I learned how to switch on “party mode” and play DJ sounds and play electronic drums with my fingers on various parts of the speaker. I was 27 levels down the rabbit hole when my phone rang.

I felt genuine confusion at this intrusion from the outside world. It was a spam number and I ignored the call, but I had been yanked back to reality, and I was 5 minutes late leaving for my chiro appointment—if I drove, which I had to because it was still pouring even though my weather app insisted it was just cloudy.

The chiro adjustment helped by relieving some of the shooting pains that distracted me from my work, but after I got home, my squirrel-brain came back in earnest. I couldn’t concentrate on anything for more than a few minutes. I gave up and turned on the TV, only to replay the episode of The Pretender because I’d spent the whole time Googling random thoughts on my phone and missed the whole story.

Today is another day. I’m still a bit muzzy, but the fact that I finished this piece before lunch is promising.

Anyone else out there with a TBI, ADHD, or any other issue that affects your concentration? I bet my off days are mild in comparison to what some of you go through.

A Day in the Life of a Squirrel-Brained TBI Survivor

Kristin Noreen

Kristin Noreen lives in Bellingham, Washington with two cats and her vintage touring bicycle, Silver. Her triple passions are animal rescue, long-distance bike touring, and writing. Her book, On Silver Wings: A Life Reconstructed, is about reinventing her life following a catastrophic injury.

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APA Reference
, . (2020). A Day in the Life of a Squirrel-Brained TBI Survivor. Psych Central. Retrieved on November 26, 2020, from


Last updated: 2 Jul 2020
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