by Ian Hebeisen
My mom’s TBI started the way most do: unnoticed. Six-and-a-half years ago, she stopped at a red light only to realize the car behind her wasn’t slowing down. On instinct, she braced for impact, causing severe whiplash, which ended up doing more damage than if she had relaxed. She walked away with what she thought was a headache and minor back tightness, only to be later diagnosed with a TBI.
Shortly after the collision, my mom learned she suffered five herniated discs, as well as soft tissue damage. Four months later, she was diagnosed with a concussion. More issues began to arise including nerve damage, vision impairment, and tremoring. Many doctors, tests, and appointments later, my mom’s current diagnosis is a traumatic brain injury with a related movement disorder. As time goes on, our family is still discovering new information regarding my mom’s condition.
Following the accident, we noticed immediate differences in our family functions. Many projects were suddenly put on pause: yardwork, cleaning the garage, even daily chores like doing the dishes. Tasks my mom used to handle began overloading her system, causing fatigue and convulsions. Something as simple as a song with a little bit of dissonance could knock my mom out of commission.
Our family has always been the clownish type. Family dinners consisted of whizzing one-liners and quips. Nowadays, Mom repeatedly comments on how she can’t keep up with us. She takes jokes quite literally, so more often than not, a punchline will go over her head. This results in hurt feelings because she cannot tell if we’re genuinely picking on her or just making jokes. At best, she understands the basic idea behind the joke; at worst, the humor gets to be too much and she starts getting overloaded.
Needless to say, my mom’s TBI tore an irreparable rift in our original family dynamic that changed who we are and what we used to be to each other. But it also forced us to change how our family worked together, and who we are as people. Instinctively, I started reading food labels with greater diligence because my mom’s allergies grew worse. I now ask my mom how she’s handling chores and life multiple times a day. This has actually carried over to my work; I continually ask my coworkers if they need any assistance.
Our family began listening more. We grew more patient with one another. We communicated our needs with greater efficiency. I’m not trying to frame my mom’s TBI as some magnificent blessing that united us; if I could undo my mom’s accident to relieve her of pain and improve her functions, I would do so in a heartbeat. But this TBI has forced us to adapt and overcome in a manner we never would have known otherwise. It challenges us every day, and we will continue to face this challenge head-on for the love of our family.
Ian Hebeisen is a Minnesota-based writer, currently living in Minneapolis. He graduated in May 2020, earning a degree in Literature with a Writing Emphasis. Ian began interning for Faces of TBI in the spring of 2021. In his spare time, Ian writes comics and poetry, and enjoys playing board games with his family.