The Invisible Wound: Brain Injury

The global war on terror has already yielded more than ten thousand traumatic brain injuries (TBI) to American troops. There is no sign of the rate slowing down. The Air Force Theater Hospital (AFTH) at Balad Air Base in Balad, Iraq has the unique and undesirable honor of being the brain injury capital of the world.

In his book, Head Cases: Stories of Brain Injury and Its Aftermath, Micheal Paul Mason writes:

Should a brain injury befall you in America, you stand a 71% chance of being alive one month after your ER visit. If a brain injury occurs anywhere in Iraq and you’re medevaced to Balad, your chances of survival skyrocket to 98%, the highest rate of survival for any trauma hospital in history. Balad hospital proves that we are no longer asking most soldiers to die in service; we are asking them to accept a lifetime of severe disability.

According to a report by NBC, 68% of the returning wounded have brain injuries.  Because of the body armor worn by troops now, more people are surviving war injuries than ever before. However, portions of the skull and face are not protected resulting in moderate to severe head injuries.  Brain injuries are common just from the force of explosive blasts even when no external wound occurs.

In America, every 15 seconds, someone suffers a TBI. There are about 1,500,000 new brain injuries each year, and it is the leading cause of death in Americans under the age of 45. That is three times as many deaths resulting from brain injuries each year than result from AIDs in the U.S. There are more TBIs each year than new cases of ALL types of cancer combined. (Cancer does tend to be more lethal.)

TBI is often referred to as a “silent epidemic.”  I mean no disrespect to anyone, but I have to wonder why we don’t see any metallic ribbons stuck on cars for TBI.  Why are there no ribbons for TBI printed on yogurt lids?

Brain injuries are invisible wounds.  I know that I often wished I had a big bandage on my head because, although I was far from normal, I looked like nothing was wrong.  Each brain injuries is unique and brain injured persons slip through the cracks in the medical and insurance systems.

Oftentimes, the initial physical emergency is covered by insurance, but the necessary, follow-up rehabilitation, which can take years, is not unless there is a diagnosable condition other than the brain injury.  Many people are mistakenly diagnosed with psychological problems or even intentionally in order to get some rehabilitation services.

While a monetary value cannot be put on the emotional and physical costs that arise as the result of a brain injury, the monetary expenditure required to treat a brain injury varies significantly.  Treatment is astronomically expensive and can be required for a limited duration, years, or a lifetime.  It’s estimated that on average, a mild injury can cost $85,000, a moderate injury  $941,000, and a severe injury around $3 million or more. The National Institute of Health estimates that brain injuries cost the nation 48 billion dollars per year.

Because the brain is the essence of a person, an injured brain changes a person at their core and affects everything in their world including relationships, reality, and dreams.  A brain injury can alter a persons ability to learn, go to work, be in a marriage, parent, and just about every other aspect of life.

In your life time, chances are that your life will be personally touched by a brain injury.

image source: https://www.flickr.com/photos/38007920@N03/

11 Comments

  1. Stephen Gemmell Reply

    Hi Debbie, I love you for this type of hard-hitting post. You’re right, I do know people who have been impacted directly and indirectly by TBI or other deterioration in brain functionality. Mood swings, frustration, lack of confidence on the inside with little to give that away on the outside. This is such an important area that deserves a lot more, focussed attention. Thank you. Stephen

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Hiya, Steve. I did not realize that it was “hard-hitting.” I just write. I do feel passionately about this, and I guess that comes through. Brain injury is something no one ever really even thinks about until it effects them directly. I know I never did. It is up to those of us who have been effected to raise the awareness of others. That is what I am doing!

  2. Bravo for raising awareness. I’ve not worked with brain injuries yet, but I’d like to. I’m confident energy healing would improve recovery.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      I went to an energy healer for about a year. I started about 3 months after my brain injury. I did not really even know the premise behind what he was doing, but I was trying anything and everything. I have no doubt in retrospect that the sessions helped tremendously.

      What also helped me tremendously was just talking to him and him sharing his philosophies. I had been to counselors with fancy degrees on the wall for the past decade. He made more sense and helped more than any of them.

  3. Having long participated in volunteer groups to assist Veterans in readjusting to civilian life, I am also glad to read about this topic anytime. The Vietnam War and the spread of street drugs increased the occurrence of this type of injury, and it’s certainly not invisible to the families of those who live with cerebral traumas, PTSD, and other kinds of post-combat damage which can also lead to violent behavior, schizophrenia and substance abuse habits.

    It’s a big part of what made me a pacifist. This cost of war is both unjustifiable and inestimable.

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      The comment where Mr. Mason writes that we are basically asking those who serve to be willing to live with severe disabilities is chilling to me. For some reason, that seems like a higher price to me than one’s life.

      It is all so senseless – war – and accomplishes nothing really in the end.

      The book also tells that Iraqis with injuries…especially head injuries and especially children….are taken to Balad. They and their family face retribution from their own because of it. Senseless.

  4. Paul Benton Reply

    Im lucky ? enough to have had 2 TBIs. My first was when I was ejected in a helicopter crash in 2008, I’m a flight nurse. That was my easy crash. I rolled my car after hitting an elk last Aug, and was out for a month, extubated after 1 week, came to, as it were, a month later and life will never be the same. Im back to work, trying hard to get a life back, my happiness is sparse. I have come a long way and on the exterior seem fine, I had paralasis for a month after, due to swelling, sensation is still different on my R side. Sleep cycle is way off, sadness is constant, as luck would have it I was getting divorced prior to the crash, and our mutual friends were apparently her friends not mine. In many ways things are improving but in many ways they are not. I live in a small town, have no support and seem to have to find out things my own way. My head is up, I’m a determined, person who was alone at birth, will be alone at death and is alone currently. C’est la vie

    • Debbie Hampton Reply

      Oh,Paul. I can hear your frustration and exasperation. I want to encourage you that, yes, things are hard, and it does suck right now, BUT IT WILL GET BETTER! Do what you can do every day to make yourself better. Do this FOR YOU! A lot of rehab can be done on your own at home. Physical….exercise, cross lateral movement, Taub therapy, just jumping rope, or doing jumping jacks…whatever. Also do brain training…there is a lot of free stuff on line. Posit has some really good products that were miraculous for me. Learn a new language, do crosswords, etc… Do whatever you can that fits into your life. Neurofeedback was amazing in helping me to recovery from my injury, sleep better and beast depression.
      Something called Brain Optimization is the next the next evolution of neurofeedback and was amazingly fast and incredibly effective for me.

      For your mental health and sanity, to address what has to be a lot of emotional crap going on, start meditating…even 5 mins a day will benefit your brain and change your life. It does not have to be complicated. It can be as simple as concentrating on our breath. Even if you do not know what the hell you are doing…JUST TRY…and keep at it. Learn to reframe your thoughts. Argue with those depressing, negative ones. Jeffrey Schwartz has a 4 step process to follow which scientifically has been proven to change your brain. Start visualizing a better brain and better life for yourself.

      My point is that YOU CAN MAKE IT BETTER. No, you cannot change the physical realities, but you can change the way you experience them and do a little bit every day, what you can to make your life and brain better! Blessings.

      • Paul Benton Reply

        Debbie,
        First it’s been a long time since I came back to this site. Didn’t think I was going to get a reply or comment. Lo and behold, along came you, thx. As far as exercise goes I try to eat right and keep in shape. Even though money is tight, I have a personal trainer and I’m working hard at getting my body back. My first anniversary came and went, one more thing to cross off the list. I do puzzles all the time, tried to get back in the habit of reading again too. Life isn’t where I want it but it’s also been way worse, a new perspective… I try to be more organized, diary for planning and I attempt to be more upbeat but that part is tough. My friends have vanished, but I’ll try again.
        I will try the meditating tho, that will be new. After this recent crash any spiritualism I may have had, not much really, has vanished. I felt at one point I was Judas in a past life. My email is flagrn@gmail that would be easier. Thank you for your words
        Paul

        • Debbie Hampton Reply

          Paul, thanks for revisiting. I hope things are a little better. I know in my case, it was pure hell for 2 years at least, but I kept at it. I think the mental anxiety and depression on top of a brain injury is a lot.! BUT…if you keep working at it and doing little things every day to improve yourself and your life, you will see results! It takes patience, persistence, determination, and hard work. I was mas and thought “There is no way in hell that I am staying like this!” I am 4 years down the road and am happier than ever. I still talk funny, have some manual dexterity issues and some mental challenges, my children still live with their father as I lost custody of them and I am alone – no relationship in 4 yrs – but, you know what? I am a much better person than before and happier than ever. KEEP AT IT. YOU can do it, and YOU can make your life better. It is in your thoughts and within your capacity to do so. Blessings.

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