Brain damage

Dr Em and Brain Damage, A Full Disclosure

Dr Em discusses her brain damage and the affect this has on her life. Dr Em has been banned from Medium. We are rehosting her articles here.

I have been in the movement for a few years now and met many wonderful people but it is time for full disclosure. There is never a good time to bring this up, although usually I do like to mention it briefly and early because it provides context for some of my ‘quirks’. I am severely disabled, it is a ‘hidden disability’ as in you wouldn’t know to look at me. I have to raise it because it affects everything I do and it gives me a slightly different insight into the importance of female only care and spaces and being on steady ground with reality.

I acquired a traumatic brain injury as the result of a very nasty car crash when I was a teenager. The fates had aligned and not in a good way. My friend had just passed his test and, as it was raining, I didn’t want to walk through the woods to the gig so he and a mate offered to pick me up. A mile and a half up the road from my house he took a sharp turn at over 80mph and we rolled off the road and down a bank until we hit a tree which stopped us. It seems I took a lot of the impact with my head although, in the split second I had, the scars from the glass and metal that drove into my arms show that I got into a brace position. I was sat in the back, the part of the car which had really crumpled in. It, and I, were in such a sorry state that the fire brigade cutting me loose and the ambulance service declared that it was unlikely I would be pulled out alive. That night and my survival was a community effort. One of my school friend’s Dad was a paramedic in attendance and part of the team who took me to hospital, at one stage he restarted my heart. It was only the morning after when he had heard from our close knit community that my parents needed support because their daughter was at death’s door that he realised the teenage girl he had brought in was me, the kid who regularly sat at his breakfast table. I was unrecognisable and I was Jane Doe for hours. When my dad’s friend, a police officer, walked into the night club my father ran with an ashen face and said ‘it’s about *$@~#£’ and that my father needed to sit down, by all accounts, my father simply responded ‘I’ll stand, what has she done this time’?

It was touch and go for a long time. I was in intensive care for months, a vegetative state. My mother refused to allow my ventilation machine to be switched off on the basis of some quasi-religious feeling that I had not gone. Thank the goddess for stubborn mothers. When I eventually woke, almost 6 months later, it was nothing like what is depicted in the movies. I had muscle atrophy from lying in bed so long, I didn’t know where I was or what had happened and I freaked out that I was wearing what I thought were someone else’s pyjamas. I was horrified that my legs and arm pits were hairy but I had very little hair on my head (it had been shaved months earlier). Then it dawned on me — how had I been going to the toilet, who had put me in these clothes? I cannot express the sense of violation, even in the most necessary medical circumstances, that descends when you realise you have been naked for goddess knows who to see and had your body touched by you don’t know whom. One of the traumas that still sits with me is that when I was awake and could be wheeled to the shower room I would be stripped and washed by strangers, nurses. I hated it. It went on for months, even when I could walk I had to be supervised in the shower, told what to do. I have never gotten over that. The only thing that even makes a dent in this is at least they were female. None of these thoughts and feelings I could express as I no longer knew how to talk so I learnt how to comply, and how to watch and wait.

Watching and waiting is a valuable tool. I have carried it on since. Nevertheless, the specialists for brain damage rehabilitation got me talking and walking again. They taught me other necessary skills such as crossing the road, and played hours of battleships with me (how to imagine what one can’t see and employ strategy). I was in rehabilitation until 2013, but, through hard work of myself and the team, was an outpatient after a few months. Throughout my experience it has always been a prognosis of doom and gloom. Almost a decade ago they told me I would never read and write again but should focus on fulfilling hobbies, I am now a doctor of one of the best institutions in the world. Headstrong is often bandied around as an insult but it has served me well.

Much of my brain is now dead matter, whole swathes of it no longer work. The other parts which are still ‘on line’ have picked up the slack. I am subsequently permanently exhausted, which is not feeling a little bit tired, it is when I slowly stop functioning. It is like if video game characters begin with a full life bar my character starts at half. Every decision I make and task I do such as picking and putting socks on depletes my energy. This is significant with the current fight for women’s rights. I came into this to address paedophilia, male violence and the sexual objectification of women and children. I am now having to fight for the recognition of sex as a reality and what women’s oppression is based on. I’m exhausted.

I think this stretching of women’s energy and attention is a deliberate tactic. It is not just me and my medical condition. Think of all the things we could have achieved, the campaigns our energy could have gone into and focused on as a movement if we weren’t having to battle for fundamental definitions. A positive aspect is that this has re-ignited the women’s movement. This feels less like a wave and more of a tsunami of fired up women.

I hope I am doing my bit. I have lasting problems and won’t list them all but here are the ones which you may encounter. For starters, my frontal lobe has been destroyed. This means that I have no inhibitions and no block, I say what I mean and I can’t stop it. It is important that my fellow warriors know that as I truly do not wish to upset you. It also puts me in a particularly dangerous situation with regards to “misgendering” being treated as a hate crime — due to my disability I find it near impossible to lie and words will just slip out. I have memory impairment from temporal lobe damage and struggle to lay down new memories so if I don’t remember you immediately or can’t recognise your face then I’m not being rude. I’m never going to be able to remember the pronouns — another way the transgender ideology clashes with my disability. I appreciate prompts and reminders if I have told you I am doing something. The damage to my Broca’s area has resulted in aphasia which means I can pick the wrong word, or not know the word I want. It also means my brain can get stuck on a word, like a broken record, the best so far has been ‘orgasms’ for a week — I even ordered one at Costa without realising. Alongside that some contusions on the Wernicke’s area means that sometimes I can’t understand what people are saying. I don’t want to hurt anyone’s feelings by giving them the impression that I am not listening. I get overwhelmed by a lot of people and a lot of noise, it is an overload of my limited functioning, this is why I tend to stand outside or appear to withdraw.

I felt I needed to tell you this, the context, for why I may seem to behave a little strangely. I am giving the movement everything I have but I do occasionally need a little help and understanding.

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