I would like to tell you the saddest story of my professional career. I was working at a major city hospital and one of my jobs was consultation neuropsychological testing. When a patient was admitted to the general medical unit of the hospital but the attending physician suspected the patient also had cognitive deficits (such as memory problems) I was asked to conduct a neuropsychological evaluation. It was in this role that I experienced the saddest case of my career.
One day, I was contacted by a doctor to conduct neuropsychological testing on a patient. The doctor told me the patient’s room and bed number. Naturally, I asked for the patient’s name. The doctor responded that he didn’t have the patient’s name, as the patient had been too confused to give it. He had been found injured at the side of the road and his brain was still in the beginning stages of healing, and the hospital had yet to be contacted by anyone who could provide his name. As I had never encountered such a situation before, I asked how long the patient had been in the hospital. The doctor replied that he had been in the hospital for two weeks. Two weeks had passed without any kind of contact from anyone that might know the patient.
I met with the patient and conducted the neuropsychological evaluation. Although he could respond verbally with excellent clarity, he could not give his name. He was so confused that at one point during testing, his responses indicated that he thought he was in a television show. I completed my testing and wrote up the evaluation. A week later, I asked the referring doctor if we’d finally found out the patient’s name. Three weeks later, we still had no name for the patient. He could not remember his name and no one had come to find him.
The saddest part of this story is not the patient’s severe confusion. I have assessed plenty of patients who struggled with recalling and conveying basic personal information. That is a large part of my role as a professional. The saddest part is that for three weeks, not a single family member, friend or co-worker had come to look for him. It was as if he was a lone deserted island in the middle of an ocean, and no one knew he existed.
There are several important lessons that I take from this story. As an adult, no one has to support you after you are injured. Legally, in most cases everyone can walk away and leave you on your own. Whether it be a spouse, child, other family member or anyone else, no one has to stick around when you are down. For instance, a spouse can choose to file for divorce or a parent can choose not to take responsibility for an adult child. This means that every single person who has decided since your injury to remain in your life has made a personal decision to remain. Every single visit, call, text or even a “like” on social media is completely voluntary. No one is being forced to do this. These individuals are choosing to be a part of your life. This means it is incumbent upon you to appreciate that each individual who has taken the time and effort to be a part of your life has made this decision willingly. Whether it be out of romantic or familial love, a strong friendship connection or any other reason, they have chosen to remain in your life following your injury. That is a big deal and it is important to appreciate their choices.
It is also incumbent upon you to recognize that your relationship with that other person is something that they find valuable even after your injury. If there were no value in the relationship, it would be easy for the other person to leave. So, you still contribute to that valuable relationship. He or she finds something about your relationship exceptional, even though you may not be in the same state of health as before your injury. You are still special and it is vital to appreciate your importance in the relationship.
It has been approximately 15 years since I saw the patient with no name and no loved ones. I hope life has turned out better for him than it was those many years ago. When I see the amazing love and caring that TLC patients receive from family, friends and co-workers, I think back and remember with sadness that not everyone has such great support. This makes me appreciate the relationships between TLC patients, family, friends and co-workers that much more.
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