Wednesday, February 06, 2008

Lots to do

2/6/08 Wednesday
I’m doing much better than yesterday. That one didn’t clear up till about 8:00. Right now I am running a good nine on the bob scale, way above average where my fingers just dance on this keyboard. I love it and need it as there is so much that needs to get done in order for this year’s crops to get in the ground. It’s my first real year of this farming stuff so I want to do a good job of it. Much of the work I do will be laying the groundwork for future years, making them easier. I think.

The part came in for the tiller so that’s good as there is much tilling I need to do. I’ll run into town in a bit to get it. I’m having to make Cherie stay in bed and rest. She keeps wanting to get up and do things cause she’s feeling guilty about not working. She wore herself out at Janie’s yesterday and needs to get well from the flu so Dr. Bob is ordering bed rest.

There is so much I want to write but too much to do. I did finish the letter to the editor of the Wall Street Journal article on traumatic brain injuries. Unfortunately it ended up being several pages and is certainly too long to get published so I will post it here.
A friend who is familiar with my TBI problems emailed me this article. When I contacted Tom Burton he suggested that I send this to you.

I have a long history of undiagnosed head injuries that date back to when I was an infant. My grandmother told me of seeing bruises and other signs of abuse until my other (paternal) grandmother paid my mother for custody of my brother and I. There was always “something wrong” with me and I was sent to see psych doctors through out my younger years. I was the kid that never fit in, never had friends, and the one always picked on and beat up. My research on TBI leads me to believe I had Asperger’s Syndrome or at least was a high functioning autistic. This is very often associated with TBI’s. Despite having a very high IQ I had no social skills and pretty much was lost most the time. My military dad didn’t have a clue what to do with me so I spent most of my time locked in my room and was seldom allowed to be out of sight. At fourteen I got tired of being beat and ran away from home. I was sent to live with my grandmother in the small West Texas town I was born in.

Still without social skills I found acceptance of sorts with the drug crowd but never had a girl friend or got close to anyone. I ran into a car at about forty five MPH on the off road motorcycle I rode around town on when I was sixteen. Unbeknownst to me I broke my neck along with knocking myself silly though I never lost consciousness. The neck injury wasn’t detected till years later because I never went to a hospital, just stayed in bed for two weeks. Shortly after that I got more rebellious and in trouble with the law. I was given a choice of military service or prison. On my seventeenth birthday I was put on a bus to basic training.

Despite having only completed the ninth grade I easily passed my GED and had scored so high on the entrance exams was assigned to be trained as a crew chief on B-52s. But I had problems. Couldn’t fit in and couldn’t get along. Drugs were again my source of acceptance so I delved deeper into that realm. After the Vietnamese war ended I was “strongly encouraged” to accept an honorable discharge. It didn’t take long for me to get into trouble again and at nineteen was sentenced to ten years in the Texas prison system. This was for a packet of ground up aspirin and Alka-Seltzer I was selling for ten dollars as cocaine.

After two and a half years I was released and went to a bible college where I studied for the ministry. It was there I met and fell in love with the woman who would be my first and third wife. (I’ll tell about that in a bit) She was not only my first love but the first girlfriend I ever had. My social skills were much better by this time.

When I graduated we moved to Toledo, Ohio, where Cherie is from. There I was actively involved in the ministry and helped start a church. Things were going great until I fell out of a tree. I broke my back, neck, and sustained a concussion. This was when we discovered I had broken my neck previously as it showed up on the X-rays.

I went through a dramatic personality change that none of the doctors could explain. My ability to control my emotions was gone and I would fly off in rage at the slightest thing. This was an old problem that had plagued me my whole life, and its return was not a good sign. Cherie (my wife) tells me that even the way I talked to others changed. All of this scared her and we ended up going through a heartbreaking divorce.

It tore both our hearts out and for the next seventeen years we never saw or talked to each other. Cherie left town and traveled the country, coming to Toledo only when her parents needed help because of health problems. I got married but also drifted back into drinking and drug use. After five years I founded the first of three companies I would start up. It was successful and one year I employed 127 people.

My emotional control issues had subsided for the most part but I had a serious short term memory problem. This was compensated for by my efficient secretary who would remind me of where I needed to go and who it was I was talking to. In 1992 I founded my second business, a liquidation company. With two companies to run I worked about eighty hours a week but was able to handle all the fast moving complexities involved and they both thrived.

Then came another traumatic brain injury. Whether it was the car accident or a twenty foot fall off the pallet racking in my warehouse I don’t know. What I do know is my secretary tells me I became an “instant ass----“. It was probably a combination of both but the fall knocked me out and broke two ribs. Now everything began unraveling. My second marriage had always been unstable but now seriously deteriorated till she filed for divorce (after I caught her with another man).

I sunk into a deep depression that only accelerated how my entire life and everything I’d achieved was falling apart. I became addicted to the pain medication I was taking for the broken ribs and when that prescription became unavailable began using heroin. In addition to that I was drinking and using other drugs at a suicidal level to escape the reality of my failed life.

After filing charges against an employee I caught stealing (by this time the rats were taking as much as they could) his dad and wife accused me of selling them a stolen computer. Unable to rationally defend myself I just complied with my court appointed attorney’s advice to plead no contest and was convicted.

That was the last straw. My divorce was finally finalized so I signed the papers, packed everything I could into my car, and headed to Texas. Trying to make the twenty four hour drive without stopping I fell asleep just on the other side of Oklahoma City. I was flung out the back window as my car flipped end over end and initially pronounced dead at the scene. After being lifeflighted to the hospital I remained in a coma for about seven weeks. This was the third time I broke my neck. Without insurance I was taught how to walk and talk as quickly as possible and discharged into my brother’s care.

He took me to St. Louis and stuck me in a run down building with broken windows, giving me twenty dollars a week to live on. I struggled to a hospital because of my pain and being unable to sleep for days. When they discovered my situation I was put in touch with social agencies who began to get me the help I needed. This included being enrolled in the Brain Injury Institute along with physical rehabilitation. After testing me to determine the extent of my brain damage the Brain Injury Institute began to teach me how to function and live. This is the first time I have ever been diagnosed with a brain injury.

Unfortunately I had been placed on probation in Toledo when convicted of the “Receiving stolen goods” charge and had violated the probation by being in a coma and not reporting. Of course leaving the state was a violation as well so I would have been in trouble regardless. When check was done on me the warrant for my arrest showed up and I was extradited back to Toledo.

It wasn’t until then that I began to understand how much of my memory I had lost. When the court saw just how bad a shape I was in they decided not to violate my probation and placed me in a facility designed to reintegrate convicts being released into society. I was unable to get along, accept my circumstances, or even be rational, refusing to participate in fire drills and other similar behaviors so was put back in jail. Not knowing what to do with me and unwilling to bear the expense of getting me the help I needed I was kicked out onto the street to fend for myself.

There I wandered homeless, sleeping where I could and researching who I was at the main library. There I found articles and pictures about me and my companies. I walked for miles looking for anything familiar and when I did memories would often return. It took me four days of walking to find my former secretaries house even though I had lived next door at one time. She had been told I was dead because the police had been looking for next of kin when the wreck first happened. You can imagine her surprise to open the door and see me.

Still unable to function well in society I was kicked out of several homeless shelters. I emailed all of the local television stations asking for help and the ABC affiliate responded. They did a story calling me “Toledo’s John Doe”. I knew I had friends but couldn’t remember who they were. When the story aired many of my old friends saw me and called in to help. They got me off the street, giving me a place to sleep and providing meals.

One of the people who saw the story was my first wife, Cherie. What a shock it was for her to turn on the TV and see me, a homeless messed up man. She called in to help, initially because she knew so much of my past and could help restore these memories. When we finally met after carefully communicating by email for a month we both realized we had never stopped loving each other. It wasn’t long before we rekindled our relationship and remarried.

Getting off the street and finding the comfort of old friends, and Cherie of course, greatly reduced my stress, which allowed me to start healing and to be able to function in society. Being a veteran I was placed in the VA’s homeless program and began to get medical attention through them. Congresswoman, Marcy Kaptur, who was sponsoring a bill to get TBI’s recognized under the American Disabilities Act, had me flagged for congressional interest. This helped speed my approval for Social Security disability. Otherwise it would have taken years if it ever happened. The VA, after extensive testing, also accepted that I had a disability so I was approved to receive a veteran’s disability pension.

It’s been seven years now since I had that accident. My brain has been steadily repairing itself and I do much better. I still have had problems getting along or fitting in. We were asked to leave one church in Toledo, and were more or less shunned at one here in West Texas. Through my blog, we have found people who have taken the time to understand the issues that come with a traumatic brain injury and have accepted us. What a joy, relief, and comfort it is to find acceptance and understanding. We now attend the church many of them go to. Right now Cherie and I are rebuilding our lives and marriage on the farm I inherited from my grandmother (whom I’d been going to see when I had the accident). It is a challenge to do so on a disability check but a farm is just what the doctor ordered. Less stress, more exercise, and everything moves at a slower pace I can keep up with.

It is so hard for people to comprehend when someone has no obvious outward signs of an injury. I can hold a normal intelligent conversation much of the time so folks think I am “normal”. They can’t see the confusion inside as I struggle to interpret what I see and hear. They can’t see my fear and paranoia of saying or doing the wrong thing and again being rejected. It’s hard when I don’t remember what I said a few moments or days ago. The most important and helpful thing others can do is to talk with me. To let me know what I said and tell me if it was inappropriate.

Anyway, I was glad to see the article and hope to see more as with knowledge hopefully understanding will follow. I had multiple TBI’s that were never diagnosed and have met many who also have unrecognized injuries yet must deal with the problems that come with them.

I’m sorry this is so long. I wrote Tom about two paragraphs and he suggested I revise it and send it to you. So you got a life story. Feel free to shorten or modify it if you feel it is appropriate for print. If not that’s fine. Thank you for bringing attention to this issue.

1 comment:

Amy E said...

Very nice Bob! I liked your letter to the editor...