Brain Injury Journal

Breaking your brain. Round 1

I took part 1 of what’s called a “neuro-psychological” exam last week. It apparently helps doctors pinpoint what functions of the brain are still working and what areas are damaged. This should help to identify the kinds of rehab I’ll need.

My initial thought was that this might actually be fun – it’s word puzzles and math problems and problem solving. Oooohhh! I miss the cue that this is not supposed to be a fun test. Well, not a hint exactly, but something more like a direct statement that most people cry during the exam made even more complete with a hand gesture to the tissue box. I just remind myself that I’ve made a good living from my God-given intellect and I like stretching it. Ignore my hubris because you know where this is going.

We start the exam and I notice that I can’t really form the pictures I’m supposed to with these little blocks because my left hand is shaking too much. Score 1 for the test. We bounce from word problems and recall exercises to math problems and others. I ask to stop between every few tests so I can snack and get my blood sugar back up. Does that count against me? Not sure.

I’m slumped back and sliding out of my chair with my hands alternately massaging my temples and covering my eyes (when did the room get so bright?) mumbling answers when the neuro-psychologist breaks through the fog settling in my head to say we’re one hour in. I sit up and soldier on stopping myself from asking to put my sunglasses on because I don’t want to look weird. And that’s when my brain goes AWOL on me. “You just need to turn one set of numbers into a fraction and then solve for the missing number,” I coach myself but it’s not enough – I’ve hit a silent, blank space in my brain that I’ve never encountered before. Rattled, I excuse myself to go to the bathroom.

We start a new exercise. I’m read a story and then asked to repeat it back word for word. And here’s where the test breaks me. I try to recall something, anything. The best I can do is a phrase that there was a woman involved but none of the texture or key points. Words are what I love, what I’ve always been good at. Why can’t I remember them? And that’s when I cry – the intellectual equivalent of ringing the bell at SEALS school – you pushed me and I broke. Unlike the Navy, this proctor doesn’t let me quit even though I’m sobbing, sliding out of my chair again, clutching my stomach because I think I’m going to throw up, and covering my eyes with my other hand. He tells me that this is normal for a person with a brain injury. (And I am reminded again that this is my new normal.)

Later, he tells me the results of the test are important but my physical and emotional behaviors during it also matter. Round one: the test.

Where’s the good news in this? Well, I feel blessed to have this particular doctor come into my life. It can be a game of roulette with who’s in network and out of network with insurance providers but through fortunate circumstances I got a guy who has already shined a bright light on what’s going on in my head and he gives me hope.


3 thoughts on “Breaking your brain. Round 1

  1. Neuro-psych assessments can be extremely challenging. My own was broken up over several sessions (3 or 4, I can’t remember how many), over a several-week period. I’ve always hated tests, because I’ve never known how well I would do on them – the ones that I think I ace… well, I often don’t.

    The thing is — this test definitely does not show your “new normal”. Not permanently, anyway. It shows you a point that you’re starting from. And hopefully your doc tested you to see where you are at, relative to YOU, rather than some “objective” measure. You need to know how you are now, compared to where you once were, or they’re going to have difficulty really understanding your true deficits.

    I started experiencing brain injuries as a kid, so I’m not sure I’ve ever really had an “old normal”. Or maybe that works in my favor, because I’ve had to recover so many times, over the course of my life (and 9+ TBIs).

    Be gentle with yourself, and remember – these are test results, not YOU. And it just shows you where you have opportunities to focus and grow.


    Liked by 1 person

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