Your Husband had a Traumatic Brain Injury – Living with a TBI

Your Husband had a Traumatic Brain Injury - Living with a TBI
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In December 2001, I answered the phone to the news that every wife fears. Bradley, my husband of three years, was in an accident. He was riding his motorcycle on a country road. His crotch rocket hit gravel and he went down at high-speed. Brad was in serious condition with a Traumatic Brain Injury or TBI, and he was being flown from our small town of “population 3000” to a big city hospital, an hour away. My stomach was in knots as a friend drove me to the hospital.

Your Husband had a Traumatic Brain Injury - Living with a TBI

I was not allowed to see my husband when I arrived at the hospital because he was literally out of his mind. At the scene of the accident, Brad was having seizures and fighting the paramedics. They sedated him for the helicopter ride to the hospital. After being admitted he broke the restraints that held him to the hospital bed and was now wearing heavy-duty cuffs. All of this can be “normal” for a traumatic brain injury, even though the words normal and brain injury don’t belong together.

Bradley was wearing a motorcycle helmet and armored clothing. He did not break a single bone in his body but he rattled his brain around inside his skull, bruising and tearing sensitive tissue. Without his helmet, I have no doubts he would be dead or worse. Brad was heavily sedated for a few days and upon awakening, he was not the man he was before. He spent 28 days in the hospital and in-house rehab therapy for his injury. Thankfully he did not need surgery because the internal swelling went down on its own. On the downside, Brad could not talk, walk, or think properly.

A stroke is a kind of brain injury. Brad’s brain injury was brought about by outside forces, not a battle within like a stroke, but there are similarities. Stroke victims may have to learn to walk, talk, and think again. Brad had to relearn all of these simple things too. For him, much of it was still floating around inside his head but the pieces were not connected. Such as:

  • He was awake but not really awake. He would say and do things that no one could understand. At times he was like a child. Not only was his speech ineligible but so was his thinking.
  • He had to learn to walk without a walker. He had no balance and he could not support himself without help.
  • He would brush his teeth six times in one morning because he did not remember brushing them. Short-term and long-term memory were affected.
  • His dreams were real to him. The science-fiction books he loved were coming to life. One night I was leaving for home, (because by law I could not stay overnight at rehab therapy), and Brad was worried to the point of tears about my safety because “the robots” were out to get us.
  • He could not understand where he was or why he was there. Rehab had to put an alarm under his bed for his safety. When he got up the alarm went off.

When we came home Brad was improving a little every day. He continued outpatient therapy for a month or so, but that is as long as our insurance would cover it. We drove an hour each way to therapy to make sure he was receiving the best care. On one trip I caused an accident with a dump truck. I was stressing and not paying attention. You can never prepare for someone you love and live with to have a TBI. A lady who lived down the street from us in Kentucky left her husband after he had a TBI at work. It was a sad situation. His injury was severe and he did not heal as well as Brad. He went to live with his parents even though they had kids together. I wish they could have stayed together.

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How Does a Person Live with a Traumatic Brain Injury?

Never give up. People who don’t know my husband would never assume he had a TBI. Eventually, he went back to work. It’s crazy how the brain works but he did not forget how to do trim carpentry. That doesn’t mean it went smoothly. Brad’s father and brother were there for him, as well as his hardworking employees. His long-term memory was deeply impacted. As the years go by, he forgets more and more of our time together. Sometimes he will remember small details like flashes of light, and is happy for these. Brad knows people who remain close to him but if we lose track of individuals for long periods of time, he forgets about them. Brad is better at math after his TBI and is claustrophobic after his TBI. How is that for weird? I have known this guy since we were 11. I mean, we were close growing up. We have been best friends for 25 years. Brad is different after his Traumatic Brain Injury. A couple of our friends said he was sweeter. He has always had a sweet spot for me, so I don’t know on that one :-)

Brad worked hard for nine years after his TBI. Yes, nine years. There were so many things that happened behind the scenes, things I won’t share. I can tell you that this was not easy for anyone. Unfortunately with Brad’s brain injury, as time passed he developed more problems, or maybe he just couldn’t hide them anymore. During in-patient therapy, Brad’s psychologist said this could happen. TBI victims are prone to dementia and Alzheimer’s, as well. Brad was having complex partial seizures in his frontal lobe. This caused aggression, disruptive behavior, anger, swearing, and black-outs. The more stress he was under, the most seizures Brad experienced. After the particularly bad ones, he would be drained of energy, have headaches, and dizziness for a week at a time. We needed the help of family and friends to get through those times. We had to make changes, especially Brad. They included:

  • Avoiding anything that causes seizures or black-outs. For Brad this was dehydration, becoming over-heated, hitting his head, energy drinks, alcohol, overexertion, strong chemical fumes, and the worst and hardest to control, stress.
  • Taking prescribed medication as needed. This stuff all has side effects but sometimes it’s necessary. We went through several medicines before we found what helped Brad.
  • See your doctors. Rehab doctors, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, and family doctors. They can help, especially if you have to apply for SSDI or Social Security Disability Insurance.
  • Cutting back on work. Brad went from running a company to working part-time and this still wasn’t enough. He had to sell his company shares to his father, leave the business, and apply for SSDI or disability. Then we declared bankruptcy, finally moving to Mexico, where our life is much simpler and calmer.
  • Realize your limitations and accept them. For Brad, this has been the hardest part of this journey but with humility and sacrifice come blessings and happiness. Eventually.

How Do I Live with Brad’s TBI?

Same thing, never give up. Sometimes you want to but you can’t. Loser’s quit ;-) This TBI was not the first rodeo in our time together. When we were dating Brad had a serious auto accident. He lost a lot of blood and almost an entire arm. Both of these accidents were very traumatic for him and his family. I am not going to lie. They sucked for me too. I have suffered from PTSD for many years due to these accidents and the aftereffects of the TBI. In the States, I had therapy, which helped me cope. Only since moving to Mexico have I been able to function without Clonazepam or therapy. My panic attacks are practically a thing of the past and the bad dreams are lessening as well. Life is going on and it’s not leaving me behind.

I love my husband and our beautiful children. I love Mexico and our new life here. I am very happy that Brad is realizing his limitations. He is a good husband and father. Things can always be worse. The TBI could have dealt us more damage and pain. What more can I ask for than what I have now?

How Should You View a Traumatic Brain Injury?

With care. Remember the following if you meet someone with a TBI or if someone you love has a TBI:

  • Traumatic Brain Injury is a serious injury.
  • It may be a disability for this individual.
  • Their personality may change. This can be good or bad!
  • They may say or do things that don’t make sense. They may lose their filter between their brain and their mouth.
  • Don’t treat this person differently. Give them the respect they deserve.
  • Don’t let this person mistreat you because they have a disability. It’s not an excuse for bad behavior, although it may be a reason.
  • Their life is not necessarily over and neither is yours. Never give up.

The reason I write this is because a TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury can be very hard to understand. For one thing, no two brains are alike and no two injuries are alike. The brain is the world’s coolest and most advanced supercomputer. It can not always be fixed and it does not always heal correctly. Many war veterans return to the US with a TBI. It is an injury everyone needs to be aware of. You can’t assume, “That person is drunk.” or “That person is mentally incompetent.” Many times a TBI will present itself like drunken behavior or mental illness. A doctor once told me that the TBI was a past injury. Perhaps but I live with its scars every day and I am only the wife. Do you know what my husband is going through? A little understanding can go a long way.

I can only hope that sharing part of our experience with Traumatic Brain Injury will help others dealing with this situation. Take what advice works for you and leave the rest :-) Signing off in Mexico, Tina

Originally published July 29th, 2015

13 thoughts on “Your Husband had a Traumatic Brain Injury – Living with a TBI

  1. Claire says:

    My heart goes out to both of you. 9 years ago I suffered a severe TBI as well and, as I read your story, I cried. My broken bones healed and many initial brain issues resolved within the first couple of years. But…I had changed. Things no one would see from the outside… memories forever lost, resilience replaced by anxiety. The frustration of being unable to complete tasks the way you used to. Unfortunately, dear sister, this is one shared experience I’m not happy to discover that we have in common. Jehovah has helped us in ways we could not have imagined over the years, so stay close to him and the brotherhood. My love and prayers to you and your husband.

  2. Megan says:

    I know I am very late to this, but had to tell you how well written this post was. I work with men & women with TBIs and have often wondered what it’s like for the families who don’t get to “clock out” at the end of the day. Best wishes and prayers to you and your family. Thank you for sharing your experience.

    • Tina Marie Ernspiker says:

      I was hoping this post would offer a bit of insight to what a TBI is really like for all involved. It isn’t something that goes away. Thank you for reading Megan and leaving me a comment :-) I am happy you found it helpful!

  3. Deew says:

    Hi Tina,
    I just stumbled upon your blog. I too, have a husband who suffers from TBI due to a car accident in 2011. Although not officially diagnosed, I did some research a year after the accident and found out about TBI. I noticed a lot of changes in him. Little things will annoy him and he’ll yell or get upset. His depression got worse, he sleeps a lot and also his memories has been choppy. Sometimes he remembers things that happened 30 years ago, and forgets things that are recent. Memories of our life when we were starting our family were forever lost. In the beginning before I read about the TBI, I thought he was just making things up. I used to get so upset with him because he even remembered his first girlfriend and their outings together, but couldn’t remember our events!
    I am trying my best to understand and work with him, but at times I feel as if I am no longer needed in this marriage. Things that he does and says….
    Thanks for reading my rant, I hope and pray my situation changes, before I decide to let go. I am glad you’re doing well in Mexico, take care!


    • Tina Marie Ernspiker says:

      I am very sorry you and your husband have to experience this Dee. Communication, patience, and understanding are very important qualities for TBI caregivers. Be sure to pick a good time and be calm when communicating. Also, your husband needs to take action on his part by seeing a doctor, possibly many doctors. Sometimes it takes a while to find the right person to help you. For us, it took a psychiatrist in Mexico and a few prescription medications, and this was after many years! Just don’t give up on doctors or medicine and hopefully, your husband will agree to get some help. Take care and I wish you the best, Tina

      PS Your comment went to my spam so I didn’t find it right away :-( Sorry about that!

  4. A K says:

    I lost my wife to a tbi. She was in a wreck on the interstate and her airbag did not deploy and steering wheel met head. Concussion for months and a tbi. She was no longer the woman I married. She lied, she was secretive, she was talking to other men, she was mean and cruel. I never forgot my vows and I was prepared to do anything to help her. She moved while I was working. She lives 70 miles away and I’ve seen her once since April (it’s almost Sept) In the handful of times I’ve talked to her it’s all manipulation and lies. To paraphrase the Grateful Dead “She’s gone and nothing’s gonna bring her back”. I still haven’t figured out how to process this. I go to therapy but I miss my wife so much. Death is logical. An instant change to another persona is baffling. I’m not getting divorced. She did not ask for this. I might never see her again. I’ll remember the woman I loved and continue to devote myself to her as if she were here. I took off my wedding ring because I couldn’t look at it anymore. It became a ring of pain. All these months later during a pandemic I’m starting to grieve. I have no support system. My daughter from my first marriage does not need to hear me dump on her about a woman who isn’t her mother. She’s only 13.

    “I wonder if this grief will ever let me go”. Sade “King of Sorrow”

    • Tina Marie Ernspiker says:

      I am very sorry that you have to experience this. How terrible for you! For me personally, two scriptures give me comfort. Isaiah 33:24 says “No resident will say I am sick.” And Revelation 21:4 promises “He will wipe out every tear from their eyes,” and pain will be no more! I am thankful to have hope for a better future with my husband where he will no longer be sick or in pain! I hope they help you feel better as well. If you feel like it, you can visit this article for more info: What Will God’s Kingdom Accomplish? Tina

  5. Sherry L Hume says:

    how long do you continue with therapy for the tbi survivor? I’m only 10 months post injury and I have no idea what the future will hold for us. God does and I’m clinging to that. fortunately my husband can physically care for himself but at this time we’ve been told he will not be able to return to work – my hope is that someday he will be able to given the opportunity . our biggest argument right now is me not giving him the keys to the car as i have been told not to let him drive which makes him incredibly angry with me. I have always been in great health but as a caregiver yourself – you know the toll it takes on your body. My husband is oblivious to the fact that he even has an injury and is in better health other than the TBI than he has ever been. Just the opposite for me. Am I looking at a lifetime of going to dr appts, therapy and counseling sessions?

    • Tina Marie Ernspiker says:

      Each person is different Sherry. Each brain is different. It took my husband many years to accept his disability. It was better for both of us afterward. Now 20 years after the accident, he is taking three medications that help him cope with the brain injury and they work very well for his symptoms. As far as therapy, it comes and goes over the years. As life changes, other problems arise, and we get older, we may see a therapist as needed and then we may not see a therapist when things are better. Since your husband’s injury was recent, I highly recommend learning everything you possibly can about TBI and get as much help as is available. Before my husband could drive he had to take a test ftom rehab. And then later when he had seizures, it was put on his drivers license for safety. Much can also be learned if you know the areas that were damaged in the brain. Because each injury is also different. I wish you the best. It can be a long road. Tina

  6. Sherry L Hume says:

    Yes I am certain this is going to be a very long road – not one I want to travel but will make the trip. Thank you for your reply.

  7. Amanda says:

    Hello Tina, my husband was in a dirt bike accident and suffered multiple broken bones, a fail chest, and a DAI TBI. I had our 3 year old and our 3 month old at the time. It’s been 2 years since the accident, and we are extremely lucky he’s made such a good recovery and is able to be resuming life almost the same as before. If you asked him today the only change for him is pain, he rarely complains about it but I know it has to be excruciating, two rods in one leg, 5 rib plates, and a ball of scar tissue under his now heald scapula. He works full time and stays busy outside of work. I can’t get him to sit or relax because that’s when it hurts and his mind if free to think about it. But he has no idea how much his brain injury changed him.. emotionally he’s become like a robot. Sometimes he will blatantly disregard feelings, and when talking about any one person’s feeling or views on anything he feels as though his are right and there is no evidence that can proof other wise. It’s like he thinks how he feels or sees something that is how everyone else should be. When he does show some kind of empathy it’s with very little emotion. He hates going to doctors especially neurologist or counseling. But…
    I wanted to thank you so much for writing this article, it has been very eye-opening and enlightening to hear about others tbi struggles because you feel like your going through it all alone. I’m so thankful that your husband and you are so far in his recovery and experience of life.
    We are young and have young children and I worry how the mental changes in his brain will continue to impact us and how we do in life and raising our children. I wish I could do more to help him become more emotional and loving to himself and others…

    • Tina Marie Ernspiker says:

      You are very welcome. Thank you for sharing your experience. The path in front of you will not be easy. Both of you will need to accept and change along the way. It can take many years. Brad’s injury was before our children. Now we have 17, 16, 10, and 8-year-olds. And we are both still learning and growing. One of the best ways you can help him is by helping yourself. Find a good therapist for yourself. Someone you can talk to. And someone who can give you good suggestions to improve your situation, maybe not the brain injury but how you deal with it. That is what I am doing now and it is helping me a lot!! I hope you find some peace and light, Tina

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