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I would like to tell a brief story about adjustment and meaning that I often share with our patients at TLC. I believe it highlights many important aspects of healthy post-injury adjustment. Many years ago, TLC had a patient who had suffered a severe stroke. He had been hard-working in his life as a truck driver, and his dedication to determined effort did not decline after being injured. This patient worked incredibly hard to get better and in fact, he did improve. However, his injury was too severe to allow him to return to his job. He had an arm that did not work, weakness in one leg which caused walking to be more difficult and he had left neglect (a condition which causes the brain to ignore items on the left side). He simply could no longer safely fulfill all the requirements of his job due the effects of the stroke. It was apparent pretty early on in his rehabilitation that he would not be able to return to work at his former job in the foreseeable future and his psychotherapist attempted to help him plan for a different but still meaningful life after discharge. The patient initially insisted that he was going to be able to get back to work, but after several months he began to understand and accept the reality of his situation. After this acceptance, the conversations he’d had with his psychotherapist really began to sink in. What happened next was truly special.
One day, the patient walked into his psychotherapist’s office and stated that he had come to a decision. He was not a young man but he had two young children. He said that prior to his injury, he woke up before his children arose and came home after they had gone to sleep. He never really saw his children except on Sundays. Prior to his injury, he was a truck driver who was a good breadwinner for his family. But now, his new job was going to be as a full-time dad who would be present for all of his children’s events and activities. He was happy with his decision and found great meaning in being an active father. By making this mental switch, his mood was brightened and he was excited for the future. Seeing another potential opportunity, the therapist encouraged him to contact an adult daughter with whom he had not spoken in a long time (even prior to his stroke). With a little encouragement, he made the call and was able to rekindle the relationship with his daughter. She had two children, so he also was able to renew his relationship with his grandchildren. He was truly happy.
Most of our patients at TLC are driven to return to their previous lives, and their visions for these restorations often include resuming previous occupations. There is nothing wrong with this and our therapists work diligently to help patients reach these goals. However, a brain injury may be too severe to allow a brain injury survivor to return to his or her old job. Though this is sad, it does not mean an end to happiness and meaningfulness in the survivor’s life. The survivor need only find a new or adjusted role that he or she can then embrace. This adjusted role does not have to look the same for each survivor, it just has to bestow upon a given survivor’s life the sense of value that accompanies that recognized significance.
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