Fall Risk: Reflections on Injuries After TBI
So I broke my clavicle last month. How? Was I juggling fire on a unicycle while practicing acro yoga? I might as well have been. The bottom line is that I was trying to challenge my abilities with the goal of further rehabilitating, but I was doing so in a dangerous way. You see, I have ataxia due to a hypoxic injury (injury due to lack of oxygen) that has rendered the left side of my body uncoordinated. This was the reason that my left hand was completely flexed inward and why my left foot was pointed downward (plantarflexion).
I have worked to rehabilitate many of my abilities, and I have clearly succeeded in many ways: I am able to type with both hands, to play guitar, to walk, to ride a bike or motorcycle, to drive, and even to snowboard. On the other hand, I am still unable to run, to play basketball, and I dance like an old man. Perhaps if I focused on rehabilitating my physical abilities, I would be able to get them back, but instead I prioritize where I spend my time so that my rehabilitation is more in the direction of my ultimate goals, and my main priority is to share the tools that I have found to be helpful throughout my recovery (I don’t need to be able to run or dance to do so). 🙂
While the focus of my recovery has been mostly in rehabilitating and excelling my mental function, I also put intermittent work into rehabilitating my physical abilities. I know that the only way I am to regain my abilities is by consistently attempting things that I have trouble with, and so I try to give myself obstacles rather than taking the path of least resistance. I tend to take the more difficult route in order to challenge myself. And that’s totally beneficial when it’s safe for me to do so, or where my safety is not dependent on the diminished ability that I’m working to rehabilitate. But last month, that was not the case.
While I have been nursing my broken bones back to health, I have had much time to think about the cause of this, and several other injuries that I have sustained. I have written about this characteristic of mine many times before.
From Voice of Reason: How I Married Speech and Music Therapy:
One of the songs that I would attempt to sing was “Rocky Raccoon” by The Beatles. One day while trying to play that song, it dawned on me how relevant the last verse of that song was to my current situation. The last verse takes place after Rocky gets shot. “The doctor came in stinking of gin and proceeded to lie on the table. He said ‘Rocky you’ve met your match’, and Rocky said ‘Doc, it’s only a scratch and I’ll be better as soon as I am able!'” In earlier posts, I have talked about how I was at least partially blind to the extent of my injuries. How “I didn’t know what I didn’t know.” How my false confidence gave me the drive to press on regardless of my inabilities. And, as dangerous as this delusional audacity was, it was and is certainly better than wallowing. Rocky and I shared this mentality.
At one point during the first year of my recovery, I was explaining to my mother how it was my confidence that was driving me to rehabilitate the way that I was. My mother noted something especially profound to me as we discussed this trait. “You know…” She said ” the same trait that’s getting you out of this mess may be exactly what got you into it.”
I’ve been thinking of that ever since, but even more so after breaking my clavicle. And yesterday, before the anesthesia dripped into my veins to prepare me for the clavicle surgery, I noticed the bracelet wrapped around my wrist: “FALL RISK”
Just like Rocky Raccoon, this delusional audacity may be dangerous or risky, but Rocky and I are the kind of people (or raccoons) who are up everyday to fight the good fight, to hop the next hurdle, to conquer the next obstacle. We are both at risk of falling… all of the time.
“As dangerous as this delusional audacity [is],” it is who I am, and especially with my ataxia, I am a fall risk. But can I be who I am without the danger? Can my falls be less risky? Of course they can and they almost always are because I weigh the risks and unknowns vs. possible benefits. I take safe risks everyday: “calculated risks.” We all do.
You see, the danger of our delusional audacity is only in the circumstances surrounding the activities that we attempt to perform to challenge our abilities. For example, challenging my balance by jumping onto a steep incline that leveled off could be safe as long as the landing was padded so that if/when my balance was not coordinated enough to move down the incline, I would land only on a foam safety.
I know this well, yet I apparently still need painful reminders. I’m over it. These reminders are excruciating (even for someone with a high pain tolerance). I’m all about rehabilitating abilities, but it is paramount that I only do so with the proper precautions.
At one point while I was in the hospital, a doctor asked me how I sustained my brain injury and I wrote down that I climbed a water tower. He said to his residence “well he’ll never do that again,” and I thought “probably not, but I’d like to be able to.”
The thing is that I do not want to be overly cautious and debilitated by my fears, I only want to be safe. I don’t want to be fearful, nor do I want to be fearless. I will conquer my fears with precaution. I will do so with padding, wearing a helmet (for head protection, not brain protection), in good overall health, with antioxidants that are able to cross the blood brain barrier on board (for brain protection), and/or with a harness and rope. Life is too short not to live to the fullest, or to live without allowing fear to call the shots, but it can be especially short without precautions. Let’s get better SAFELY every single day. Let’s play hard with precautions. And remember that we don’t need to be sick or injured to get better.