Kara Swanson's Brain Injury Blog

April 16, 2009

“One Damned Day”

When it comes to traumatic brain injury, I have wept shamelessly for all of us who know intimately this great scrambler of sense.   The ones thumping down to the ground on the teeter tauter of life when normal jumped off laughing….

Perhaps, if it even can, it hurts more to me when I see teenagers and soldiers suffer TBI.   Teenagers, I think, because it is during those years when everyone looks like each other.  You walk into any high school and you see every teen girl with the same haircut wearing the same outfits with the same brand label.   They talk the same and sound the same and it’s hard as hell to be different at that age.   Especially when kids can be so cruel.  Too many don’t yet own maturity and compassion.  Breaks my heart.

And then there are the soldiers who, maybe more than any, at least more than many, are forged and designed to believe themselves unbreakable.  Spit shined and polished, at the peak of their physical potential and mental sharpness, they march into our wars with the tools to break what they have to and rebuild what they need to.  But perhaps not the tools to return to a world when they can no longer tie their shoes.

We’re hurrying now to clear the kitchen table before company comes.  TBI resulting mostly from blast events have become the signature injury of this war.  So many, too many, are returning to flood the system with injuries that are often hard to diagnose, lengthy to treat and stubborn to heal.

They’re killing themselves.

I just read a story this morning about some of the soldiers who have returned from duty to deal with, not only an economy where jobs are thin, but also to a place where their loving family and friends cannot completely help them quiet the demons of their memories nor the every day shouting of new challenges brought by TBI.   They are searching and struggling and trying to hang on, desperately clinging to some morsel of hope.

One story, in particular, poked and jabbed at my heart.  A young man had struggled long and mightily after returning from duty.  He needed more treatment and couldn’t hang on to see if that next treatment could help him.  He killed himself and, the next day, his mother received a call from a treatment center saying that a bed had opened and he could check in.  “One damned day,” she lamented, in tears.  

One damned day.

I’d like to tell every teenager who feels so isolated by their TBI…every soldier who is struggling to find something that sings of sense…

I’d like to tell them that one day it does get better.   One damned day.

That the transition from “everything was so much better then” to “I think maybe today is better than yesterday” is uncomfortable and awkward and painful and confusing and frustrating and flat-out sad.

That some of the people you thought would be the answers or have the answers are going to let you down.  That some of the dreams you so painstakingly dreamed, often for years,  are going to have to be disgarded.  And that, for a while, one damned day is going to look like the one before it and you’re going to wonder why the hell everything went so wrong.

And then I’d tell them that one damned day, something is going to quietly turn.  One maybe quiet, unsuspecting day…you’re going to find what you need, even if you aren’t really sure what that is just yet. 

That around a hundred curious, crazy corners and down a thousand dusty roads you never heard of, you’ll find what feels like home. 

You’ll find you.

But you gotta stay.   You gotta stay and fight.   It’s your new tour of duty.  A new enemy.  A new battle.  And, though you have laid down your weapons and stowed your uniform, you remain armed.  

You are armed with today.  And, God willing, tomorrow.  And the day after that.  And with every day you put between you and the moment you were injured, you move closer to the day when you integrate your injury into a you that is whole again.  

Doesn’t matter that some of it doesn’t heal.  And, likely, some of it won’t.   But you can learn to stand again, even if you no longer have legs.  You can find again your voice, even as it sputters yet in hoarse whispers.

I wish you all one day.  One damned day.  One glorious moment when you realize that you just planned for something good to happen.   That you’re looking forward to something.  That you just learned something extraordinary in this new life.  That you just felt your heart love again or heard the sound of your own laughter again.  That day when you feel, like the first pitch on Opening Day, hope.

Keep walking toward that day.   Even when each day might feel like a thousand, keep moving forward.   Keep fighting.   Keep staying.  Please, keep staying.  There are more than you can possibly imagine, cheering your every step.



  1. You know me from DS. I have a tbi and my son is a marine that returned from Iraq missing one of his best friends. He died because of an IED that went off next to them. I just was with my son and he also won’t be the same from loosing his friend. As I left I wondered if his friend or myself was the blessed one that still has hope. My son is getting ready for deployment to Afganistan, it’s another war with the same troubles. Is there hope? I often give up but than I watch my son get ready to leave for a new mission. It reminds me to not give up even when I,m way down. God, thank you for another good day.

    Comment by Chuck Lindberg — April 21, 2009 @ 11:12 am | Reply

    • Hey Chuck:
      I cannot imagine a parent’s fear and worry when their child steps into danger. For every soldier fighting, there is a family and group of friends and loved ones who worry every second for their safety. I try to think of it this way: anyone can be killed at any moment doing every day things in the most innocent of places. We know of stories where someone was walking down the street and a tree branch fell on his head. Or a random car crash. A previously-undetected heart defect. A trip on a step and a fatal fall down the stairs.

      A hundred things, a thousand, that each of us are at risk for every moment of every day.

      Perhaps this gives our soldiers an added chance of survival because they are keenly aware of the danger. They are focused. Trained. Their job every day is to stay alive and they know it. They’re paying attention. They wear protective gear and they enjoy the benefit of speedy medical care. I hope knowing these gives you the hope you question. Yes, I believe there is always hope. Always. Godspeed to your son and to all of our young men and women serving so courageously overseas and here at home. And to those who wait at home, hope. Sweet hope.

      Comment by karaswanson — April 21, 2009 @ 12:29 pm | Reply

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