Guest Post: Healthy After Brain Injury

Hey guys! It’s guest post time again! This one comes from fellow LA-ite and reader Ellen who blogs over at Scrumptious Gruel. The subject of this guest post is one I (thankfully!) can’t relate to — recovery from brain trauma — but which I find wildly inspiring. Ellen has made such an incredible recovery and I am beyond impressed. Read on to hear her story!

Stupid diet trick o’ the day: Incur major brain trauma. Smash your right wrist to smithereens. Not only will you get to sleep all the time and have to limit all physical activity to things that don’t jostle your head or involve the injured arm, but you will eat A LOT and gain no weight because your body is laboring so hard to repair itself. Yep. Sounds like a dream, right?

Actually, a dream is exactly what I thought it was at first. My first memory post-accident was not until about four days into my hospitalization. I realized I was in a hospital bed, sporting a huge cast, a neck brace, a lots of needles in my left arm, and damn, was that a catheter between my legs? I was being fed the best potato soup of my life. It was so good because I was so hungry. I was told I was so hungry because I had not been allowed food for the last several days because the doctors though I might need brain surgery. Hmmm I thought, this is weird. You say I had a bad fall? Surely this is a dream.

Let’s backtrack. How DID I get there?

February 28th, 2010, I headed over to my now-ex’s place. It was Sunday afternoon. We were going to hang out, maybe get some Indian food. At least, that is what I am told. I have NO memory of any of the following: the boyfriend let me in to his place, an art loft in downtown LA that is sort of like a giant concrete box. No windows, so if the lights are out you cannot see a thing. I told him I was going to use his restroom and I’d meet him upstairs. The landing at the top of his staircase had no railing. He tells me that he was in his room with the door closed and because the lights were out elsewhere my depth perception might have been off and I probably just walked off the edge. My theory is that I tripped. I am a dancer which means I am a huge klutz. 😉

Whatever happpened, I freefell about a good ten feet onto a concrete floor.

The boyfriend heard a scream and a crash and ran out to find me passed out with eyes open and my hand wrenched waayyyyy out of place. Poor guy thought I was dead then I came to and apparently would not stop babbling the whole ambulance ride to the hospital about how they needed to hurry up and set my hand. In the hospital my hand was set and brain scans showed I’d hit my head on the right side causing my brain to bounce off the left side of my skull which is where internal bleeding and swelling began. The prognosis was, “This is bad. Get her parents here.”

My mom and aunt made it across the country by the next afteroon. My father was on work in Ethiopia but made it within the next couple of days. He is a neurologist so I can’t imagine how scary hearing, “Your daughter has brain injuries” must have been. Things kept getting worse. Every time I woke up I’d have to be told where I was and what had happened. The swelling continued and the bleeding began to spread, seeping into my brain in what is called arachnoid bleeding, I guess because rivulets of blood branch out from the main area like a spider’s legs. I had a big subdermal hemotoma. Doctors were getting ready to operate if the tables did not turn. The area of my brain affected was messing with my kidneys. I wasn’t retaining sodium which messed with my heart rate and made me even more confused. I was pretty much only allowed to drink Gatorade for a good month after the accident, as water would reduce my sodium levels even more. Miraculously, four days into the whole thing, the swelling in my brain began to subside on it’s own. The docs finally ok’d me for solid food, and I began to retain some memory. It figures that the first memory I had was of food, the delicious potato soup.

Once my brain was stabilized it was time to operate on my messed up hand. I’d cracked my radius nearly in half and the bone was severely splintered. I now have what I called the bionic arm, full of metal plates and pins.

A couple weeks after the accident I was discharged from the hospital which is sort of where the hell began. The reality of what had happended set in. My whole body was in intense pain much of the time, still recovering from the blow of hitting that concrete floor. My memory was still cruddy, and speech was sometimes difficult. I would stuggle to find simple words. I could not stay awake for more than a few hours at a time. It took a full year for me to feel like my memory was finally back to normal and I had to plan my days around naps for about the next 8 months. The one good thing was that my insomnia was finally cured!

I have always been very active. I dance, do yoga and lift weights, but I could not do anything that jostled my head or strained my healing arm. My first solution was to get an exercise bike. I also took walks which progressed to hikes once my arm was healed more. I got a mighty cute cast in the meantime:

Two months after the arm surgery I got my cast off and began physical therapy. My wrist had zero mobility. I couldn’t take any real weight so I started working with resistance bands to build strength in addition to my PT sessions. My favorite thing at therapy was when electrodes were attached to my arm and the electric pulses would make my hand curl up-totally creepy!

On the nutrition front, I was advised to eat lots of eggs and fish for my brain. I do not eat meat, but I ate up eggs like there was no tomorrow. By late August, the neurologists said I could try going to ballet class again but to start slowly with things like jumps and turns. Wow, did I ever suck in class! I was so out of shape, dance-wise. Around the same time, the opportunity was given to me for a month-long run of an autobiographical one-act play I wrote, and fortunately my memory was working well enough for me to be able to start performing again. It is now more than a year later and I am back to dancing, acting and being an insomniac and I couldn’t be happier.

This whole experience made me feel incredibly blessed. Yes, it was difficult and traumatizing but it could have been far worse. I could have been killed. I could have ended up paralyzed or permanently brain damaged. I may not have had such amazing family and friends to be there for me. Instead, I recovered much faster than the doctors thought would be possible and had my loved ones there for me every step of the way. This has taught me to be grateful for the simple things, like, oh, say, being alive? I now know that you have to be grateful for each day. Don’t put off telling people you love them, or doing the things you want to do. Life could be too short. Finally, eat eggs, lots of eggs. Oh, and dance!

To get y’all started on the eggs, I am leaving my recipe for Vegetarian Baked Scotch Eggs, adapted from The Joy of Cooking, the version published in the 90’s (yes I am a dork who has multiple Joy copies!).
Combine in bowl:
  • 3/4 package of litelife soy ground sausage(the type that comes in sort of a tube shape)
  • 1 egg
  • 1 tbsp.chopped parsley
  • 1 tsp. salt
  • 1/4 tsp. dried sage
  • 1/4 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1/4 t tsp. freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 tsp. coriander
  • 1/4 tsp. ground nutmeg
Place on plate:
  • 2 Tbsp. Flour
Beat in bowl:
  • 1 egg
Place on another plate:
  • 1 cup fresh bread crumbs
Divide soy mixture into 6 parts and wrap around 6 hardboiled eggs. Roll in flour, then egg, then breadcrumbs and bake for about 30 minutes in a 400 degree oven, turning midway through. Let rest 5-10 minutes before trying to cut. Eat hot or cold, they are tasty both ways!
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8 Comments

Filed under Blog Posts, Recipes

8 responses to “Guest Post: Healthy After Brain Injury

  1. oh my gosh. I cringed when I imagined that fall. Holy crap.

    Also I am a JOY nerd and have several copies too! I love that you do as well. I love eggs too!

  2. Pingback: Brain trauma and eggs: what more do you want? « Scrumptious Gruel

  3. Eeek! I cringed, too. How terrifying. Glad you’re back to your old self! Very inspiring.

    • Thank you! Hehe, I cringe too imagining it. While it’s weird to be missing a few days of memory I’m glad I have no recollection of the actual accident. I like to think my brain is protecting me from having traumatic memories…

  4. Don’t forget that you also had a small subdural hematoma (inside the skull, as opposed to the huge subdermal one.) That was the reason they thought you might need surgery. If it got too big, they would have to operate to relieve the pressure on the brain. Your Dad and I are also grateful for all the support we received during this ordeal. Thank God for mobile phones and the internet. I could never have made it sanely through the first 36 hours until your dad arrived without the support of my dear sister, who dropped everything and flew to LA with me. She kept me distracted on that long cross-country flight.

  5. Bel

    I’m so happy you’ve recovered, Ellen… you’re such a strong, amazing person. The Vegetarian Baked Scotch Eggs look delicious!

  6. Sabrina

    Amazing girl, amazing guest posts, and, of course, amazing egg 🙂

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