Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Guest Post from Tori Martinez

What I Learned on My Vacation

It's been 17 months since my traumatic brain injury, and if there's been one constant in my life during that time it's been doctors. Each week, I see multiple doctors and therapists several times a week. Some weeks, I have two or more appointments in one day. Other weeks I have an appointment each day of the week. Sometimes it's both.

I've come to know my doctors, therapists and the medical staff in their offices very well, and have formed very good relationships with almost all of those I see regularly. They have become very much a part of my life and, without question, an integral part of my ongoing recovery process.

But - and there's always a BUT - seeing doctors on such a regular basis can also begin to wear on the mind, body and spirit. Even though I know I need them, it often feels like my life is consumed by medical appointments, insurance costs, confusing explanations of benefits, and the overwhelming sense that this is not what life should be all about.

A little over four weeks ago, as I was preparing to leave for a three-week vacation in Europe to visit with family and friends, I was in a very bad place emotionally. I felt overwhelmed with my conditions caused by the TBI and consumed with fear about the financial pressure all my treatments have put on us.

I had been on vacations before since my TBI, but this one was going to be an especially long one, and I was scared of many things. Would I feel miserable and ruin the trip? Would I run out of medications? Would I trip and fall in a foreign country? What would I do without my doctors, therapists and TBI friends and support groups?

Now that I've been home a week and have had time to reflect, I realize what a blessing the vacation was and how much it did to increase my confidence and sense of independence and liberation. It's not that I didn't have rough times, but I realized that I had the tools to deal with them, as well as the patience and support of my husband, family and friends.

Surprisingly, I took far less of the pain and anxiety medications than I thought I would need. My balance and coordination at good times was decent even on the roughest old cobblestone streets. At bad times, I managed by pacing myself and holding on to David. Even in big crowds I could tell that my anxiety levels were lower than they had been in the past. At times, I was enjoying myself so much I didn't even register anxiety or panic.

Most significantly, perhaps, was the realization a few days after we got back that I had managed just fine for three weeks without doctors and had more than taken for granted how wonderful it was to be free of any medical appointments! Granted, by the time I went to the neurologist, I was more than ready for my monthly nerve block injections for my pain, but even then I discovered that I needed fewer than in the past.

As my neurologist said when he demonstrated why I no longer need the nerve block injections in my forehead, but now only my neck, shoulders and back: "You've graduated to the next level."

Yes! I've graduated in many ways, I guess. And my vacation was a turning point for me. It helped me take a step back and see the transition more clearly and with a fresh perspective. I'm far from "cured," but I am improving, and that is a tremendous blessing made even more so by the recognition of it.

While I was away, I also saw one of my ambitions come to fruition: to publish a book. For years I have been writing historical non-fiction articles for magazines, web sites and blogs. Now I have a book! "An Unusual Journey Through Royal History" is the first of what I hope will be many books that I publish. Lord knows I'm not going to let my TBI get in the way of my hopes and dreams, not while I have an ounce of strength left in me!

To me, all of this says so much for what we as TBI survivors can achieve. I know so many TBI survivors who are doing wonderful things with their lives. Whether it's publishing a book, hosting a radio program, serving as an advocate, running across country, moderating an online support group, being a great parent... I could go on and on.

Sure, doctors have a lot to do with our recoveries, but doctors can't heal us without our cooperation or make us determined to move forward with our lives. They are like parents who do the best they can when we're in their care and leave the rest to us.

The bottom line is that those of us who have survived TBIs are survivors in endless ways. We are people who don't give up, and our immense challenges make us stronger, more resilient people. We just need to take a step back sometimes to recognize how far we've come in our individual journeys and see how much we've achieved.

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