As medical understanding of the brain continues to grow, treatment options for brain-related issues continue to expand. Service members with a psychological health condition or traumatic brain injury now have a variety of clinical treatment and supplemental care options. These choices for care can feel overwhelming or confusing at times. This series will feature stories by service members and veterans sharing how a particular treatment, either clinically recommended or complementary, helped them cope and heal. All experiences shared are that of the author. People coping with a psychological health concern or traumatic brain injury should work with a health care provider to determine the best treatment option for their individual needs.
In this post, Marine Corps Reservist Eve Baker describes how following her doctor’s guidelines for prolonged bed rest – one of the toughest prescriptions for active service members – helped her heal from a traumatic brain injury (TBI). Learn more about Baker’s story through her video by A Head for the Future, the TBI awareness initiative from the U.S. Department of Defense.
On May 5, 2005, I was riding my bicycle to work at Marine Corps Base Hawaii when I was hit head-on by a careless driver. If I hadn’t been wearing a helmet, I likely would have died instantly or at least been left with extremely severe brain damage. Even with a helmet, I was still knocked unconscious and experienced a TBI. After a few days in intensive care, I was sent home under the 24-hour supervision of my mother, a registered nurse, and my fiancé, a Marine and former emergency medical technician.
The doctors said that for a while all I was allowed to do was sleep, read or watch TV. I don’t remember much of the first couple weeks out of the hospital because I slept a lot – 12 to 16 hours a day. That’s common after a head injury, and it was all I wanted to do.
Hard to Sit Still
At a follow-up neurology appointment, the doctor told me I would have to take another month off from work and was absolutely not allowed to do anything to get my heart rate up. The fear was that if I did get my heart rate up, my still-healing brain could start hemorrhaging again, definitely something I wanted to avoid.
Since I no longer had as much physical need for sleep, it was a lot harder to sit still. I’m an active person, and I generally spent a lot of my free time working out. I was an active-duty Marine at the time and a competitive athlete – before the accident I had competed in triathlons, running races, and a 100-mile bike race. The doctor told me I could not go for an evening walk or even float in a pool in case I’d be too tempted to tread water or swim. Further, my computer time was limited, because I needed to rest my body and my brain. So I couldn’t even spend much time at my computer doing work from home.
A Simple Choice
The choice was simple for me, though: Follow the doctor’s instructions and rest. My neurologist spent several years in medical school and many years practicing medicine, so she knew what she was talking about. I might have been willing to test the limits with a sprained wrist, but not with my brain. The idea of lifelong brain damage was terrifying.
Unfortunately, I didn’t have a video gaming system, and Amazon Prime wasn’t in existence back then, so I watched a lot of TV and read books. Someone from my church came over and gave me a lesson in crochet, and I worked on a baby blanket. Though I wasn’t sleeping quite as much as I did in the initial weeks after the accident, I took a fair number of naps.
Resting like a pro led to a full recovery. Since the crash I married, had two children, and resumed my competitive, athletic lifestyle. Today, I serve in the Marine Corps Reserve and hold a civilian job. I had serious anxiety around cars for several months after the accident, and it was about a year before I wanted to try bicycling again, but I’ve had no major problems since being hit by the car. I’m not completely untouched by the experience, as I do have a slight memory problem and am easily startled to this day. However, thanks to careful adherence to the doctors’ advice in the early days after the accident, I was able to survive and thrive after a brain injury.
We are running an ongoing series of articles about clinically recommended or complementary treatments that work. If you know anyone who would like to share their story, we are accepting submissions. Email the DCoE blog team.