Can someone who has had a traumatic brain injury recover? According to Model Systems knowledge Translation CenterA period of confusion and disorientation often follows a TBI. A person’s ability to pay attention and learn stops, and agitation, nervousness, restlessness or frustration may appear. Sleeping patterns may be disrupted. The person may overreact to stimulation and become physically aggressive. This stage can be disturbing for family because the person behaves so uncharacteristically” (Thomas Novack, Understanding TBI: Part 3- The Recovery Process).
In the book “The Book of Unknown Americans” by Cristina Henriquez, there is a girl named Maribel Rivera. Maribel and her family, Alma and Arturo Rivera, lived in Mexico. Maribel had the kind of beauty that would brighten mens days, even if they were older. What they didn’t know was that Maribel was different now than she used to be. She suffered from a brain injury due to a fall from a ladder.
In the beginning, the Rivera’s learn that there may be a school in America thatmight be able to help Maribel get better. They decide to leave Mexico and come to America. After leaving Mexico, they arrived in Delaware. Arturo is able to get a job working at a mushroom factory so that he could get a visa for him and his family in order to get Maribel to be able to go to the school. They arrive in America from a truck bringing them over the border to their new apartment where they settle in to start their new lives. Alma and Arturo enroll her in the school but they have to wait for them to allow her in.
Alma is very protective of Maribel because she feels guilty for what happened to her. When they lived in Mexico, Alma was holding onto the ladder that Maribel was standing on. Something happened that made Alma turn and while she was turning, Maribel fell from the ladder. Alma won’t let Maribel out of her sight. As soon as she gets home from school Alma is there waiting for her to get off of the bus. Alma takes Maribel to a dollar store to buy food when they run into their new neighbors Celia and Mayor. Mayor tries talking to Maribel but he thinks that she is so pretty that he is at a loss for words and ends up saying something that he feels was really embarrassing. After school one day, Mayor saw that the town bully was messing with Maribel, so he stood up for her and since then he felt the need to protect her. Because of that he starts to develop feelings for her. Mayor spends time with Maribel every day after school and talks to her like she is normal.
Because Mayor talks normally to Maribel and treats her differently than everyone else, she starts to get better and become herself again. She has started smiling and she is able to remember things better than she did before. She no longer has to look at her journal. Mayor was able to give their parents ideas about things to do as families to get out of the house and have fun. He told the Rivera’s about a special place where the lake froze over and people are able to skate on it. Maribel told Mayor that she has never seen snow fall and she would want to see it.
While eating at the dinner table with her family, Maribel and her family start laughing. That is the first time they have heard her laugh since before the accident. Alma and Arturo looked at each other as if it were a Miracle and they loved it. In Understanding TBI: Part 3- The Recovery Process, Novack states “the fastest improvement happens in about the first six months after injury. During this time, the injured person will likely show many improvements and may seem to be steadily getting better. The person continues to improve between six months and two years after injury, but this varies for different people and may not happen as fast as the first six months. Improvements slow down substantially after two years but may still occur many years after injury. Most people continue to have some problems, although they may not be as bad as they were early after injury. Rate of improvement varies from person to person.”
One day it started snowing outside so mayor had his friend teach him how to drive stick shift and then he took his father’s car so that he could drive to Maribel’s school and pick her up. He took her to a beach where it was snowing and he was able to kiss her and help her to enjoy her time out. Unfortunately, while they were out, Alma panicked about Maribel and told Arturo about the bully messing with Maribel. Because Alma panicked instead of asking around, Arturo went to the bully’s house. When Arturo got off of the bus and went over to the Bully’s house, his father came out with a shotgun and shot Arturo. His wounds were deadly. After being taken to the hospital and undergoing surgery, the doctors came to let Alma and Maribel know that there wasn’t anything they could do to help him.
Because of his death, Alma and Maribel have to go back to Mexico because their visas are no longer active. They get picked up by another truck to take them back over the border. As they were driving, Maribel started feeling sick so the driver pulled over and when Maribel got out of the car she threw up. As Alma was holding her hair back Maribel asked her if she got any in her hair. After Alma assures her that her hair is clean Maribel tells her that she wants to cut her hair and dye it purple. In that moment Alma realizes that Maribel had been getting better this whole time. Maribel was becoming her rebellious, independent self again. Alma was too busy trying to get Maribel back to how she used to be to realize that she was right there all along. In Understanding TBI: Part 3- The Recovery Process, Novack tells us “we do know that the more severe the injury the less likely the person will fully recover. The length of time a person remains in a coma and duration of loss of memory (amnesia) following the coma are useful in predicting how well a person will recover.”
Someone who has suffered a traumatic brain injury can recover, but it depends on the individual and how bad the injury was. Someone could go into a coma and wake up and be better within a few months and someone else might have the same thing but never recover. Everyone is different. Maribel was one of the lucky ones.
Henriquez, Cristina. The Book of Unknown Americans. 2014.
Novack, Thomas and Tamara Bushnik. Understanding TBI: Part 3- The Recovery. Model Systems Knowledge Translation Center. 2002. http://www.msktc.org/tbi/factsheets/Understanding-TBI/The- Recovery-Process-For-Traumatic-Brain-Injury