A cardiac arrest that changed my life forever

Patient Story

By: Brooke Miller; Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital patient

On April, 3 2013, I had an event that most people will not understand. Where I have been and what I am still going through today would surprise them all.

I suffered a Cardiac Arrest on this day and it has changed my life forever. My girlfriend found me unconscious and from this I had an Anoxic Brain Injury. I then had a second issue when I had surgery for the installation of my pacemaker and defibrillator. I then had two more cardiac arrests and was left in serious condition. When I came to, I was in a state in which I had no idea what had happened to me.

From the hospital, I was transferred to Bryn Mawr Rehab to start my journey towards recovery. This is where I met the folks for rehabilitation.  I went through physical, occupational and speech therapy. It was here, through the efforts of the team, where I worked my way back to do the things I used to do. I am still recovering today and hope that one day I will be fully recovered.

What I really want to say is that no one knows exactly what is going on in my mind. It was hard having my caregivers learn what is expected of someone who has had a severe brain injury. People who look at you think you look great, but in reality I look at everything different now. The energy that it takes to do simple tasks is no longer simple. My anxiety issues made me more irritable and people did not understand why. Family members looked at me and said I was fine, because they did not want to see what had truly become of me. Understanding brain injury is a key to all those who are interacting with the patient and facilitating the steps of recovery. An important part of rehabilitation from a brain injury is to help family members learn about the injury and set expectations not only for the patient, but for everyone who is interacting with the patient outside the hospital. About a month or so into my treatment, it was recommended to me that I get psychological help. Once my doctor told me more about the injury and explained what I may be feeling, things started to turn around for me.

I hate the words, “you look great!” I have found that I now say, “ I look great but you do not know what goes on inside my head.”  No one will ever know this by looking at me, but I need to make people aware that I have these feelings and my mind no longer works like it used to.

Another helpful aspect to recovery is to have a pet. For me it is Bella, a Bernese Mountain dog. Many may not believe this, but talking to her every day and feeling her love just gave me strength.  It was also a great way for me to learn to communicate.

My recommendations to all those who are recovering from a brain injury and experiencing these issues are to talk to your therapist and put together a plan. Just recently in March of 2014, I tried to go back to work fulltime but could only do it for a week. I found that I am still recovering and it may take me several more years to fully recover. I once was able to multitask and now it is extremely hard.  I am working 4 hours a day, and at the end of the 4 hours I am mentally drained and need to take quiet time to help me recover the energy I used during that time.

I hope this message gives more insight into the struggles other people may have experienced.  I also hope that working with the specialists in Rehab will help other patients find a way to meet their goals and expectations and get back to some normalcy!