It all started in October 2018.

At 22 years old I was your average young woman from Brisbane. I was busy travelling, renting my own place, working with children, I had my own pet and house-sitting business and a great relationship.

I had seen 20 countries by the time I was 21. Then one Sunday morning, I was planning to go out to breakfast with my housemate, but I never made it downstairs. I collapsed in my bathroom. I wasn’t sure what happened, I was still conscious and thought – if I could just get to my knees I can stand up. I had seen my Dad do this many times after falls due to weakness when he was going through cancer treatments. For some reason, I just couldn’t stand up.  My housemate found me on the floor. She wouldn’t help me up because she was worried I had broken something. I protested when she wanted to call the ambulance and insisted I was fine. She called the ambulance anyway.

In the Hospital

When I arrived at the hospital, I was still talking, and my vital signs were perfect. Hours later I had a scan of my brain which revealed a blood clot on the right side. By this point it was too late for clot-busting drugs.

There were nine unsuccessful attempts at clot retrieval. I had a craniectomy – this means the doctors removed part of my skull to relieve brain swelling. I was put in an induced coma and then had to have another operation to remove part of my temporal lobe due to concerns of seizures. I remember waking up from the coma and asking mum to get my Taylor Swift tickets off my fridge because her concert was that night. I was firmly told, ’no’. Out of all the people that I could have asked for when I regained consciousness, I asked for her!

My ICU stay was complicated by hospital acquired pneumonia. I had a nasogastric tube and couldn’t swallow much except thickened fluids. The nurses had to come and stretch my limbs for me because I was in pain and needed to maintain the muscle length. On the acute ward I met my first lot of therapists. The physiotherapist asked me what song I wanted for my first gym session. I requested the song ‘Insane in the Brain’ by Cypress Hill. The physiotherapist said she liked my style.

Recovery & Rehabilitation

I was transferred to the Brain Injury Rehabilitation Unit in November 2018. I still had my nasogastric tube. I wasn’t able to eat solid food until I had a videofluroscopy which is a type of X-ray where I had food and drinks mixed with barium so the speech pathologist could make sure I wasn’t aspirating. After this, I could start eating soft food and have normal drinks.

While in BIRU I had a cranioplasty (bone plate put back in my skull). I was relieved to no longer have to wear a helmet to protect my brain! I took my first steps in BIRU. I hid from mirrors for ages because I hated seeing my reflection – particularly my shaved head and my nasogastric tube.  I met lots of other people with brain injuries in rehabilitation, not many of them my age except for one other guy – I cried my eyes out when he had to move hospitals. I have kept in touch with lots of people I met during my stay in BIRU.

I spent a total of nine months in inpatient rehab. After this, I was eventually discharged home – back to my family home not my own unit. Since then I have been having weekly outpatient rehabilitation. I can’t yet use my left arm purposefully, I can’t drive and I have hemianopia – no peripheral vision on the left side of both eyes – and hemi-spatial neglect, which means my spatial awareness is not good. I also can’t wear high heels which makes me very sad as I have to wear an ankle brace, called an AFO.

These days, while my balance is still pretty poor, I no longer need to walk with a cane and I’ve discovered a new hobby of reformer Pilates, which I really love! I’m back pet and house-sitting, I cook one handed, go out with my friends, volunteer, eat and drink normally, and I go on dates with my boyfriend!

I’m getting so strong but there’s much more recovery still to be done.

My advice to anyone with an acquired brain injury

  1. Where you can, do things that make you feel like you. For me this was wearing mascara and perfume and having my nails painted even when I was in hospital.
  2. Be brave and reach out to people who know what you’re going through. They make you feel like you’re not alone and can help you see what recovery, and the future, might look like.
  3. It’s important to remember there’s no ‘new you, ‘old you’ there’s just ‘YOU’