16.) Post Traumatic Amnesia

If I had £1 for every time I’d been asked what was it like being in a coma I wouldn’t be a millionaire! I’d probably have something like £17! Which in 2017 you’d be lucky to get 4 pints for, but 17 is quite a lot of times to be asked something!

It is a subject people find intriguing and a good discussion to have over those pints. My unfortunate answer for those 17 is that I can’t bloody remember! I’ll tell you what I do know though: On 31st May 2007 my eyes opened for the first time as I started to wake from my coma. I’ve seen on tv and in films how waking from a coma is depicted as waking up after a long sleep: a bit confused about where you are or what day it is before simply carrying on with your life. You may not be surprised to know that it didn’t quite work out like that. In my opinion the most interesting thing about waking from a coma, (caused by a head trauma anyway) is something called post traumatic amnesia. Now unless you have personal experience, are close to someone who has had a brain injury or you work in the industry then the world of brain injury is probably something you know nothing about. This is what Headway says about the subject:

Post-traumatic amnesia (PTA) is the time after a period of unconsciousness when the injured person is conscious and awake, but is behaving or talking in a bizarre or uncharacteristic manner.
The person has no continuous memory of day-to-day events, and recent events may be equally affected, so that they are unable to remember what happened a few hours or even a few minutes ago (https://www.headway.org.uk/about-brain-injury/individuals/effects-of-brain-injury/post-traumatic-amnesia/).

You can look up PTA and it will say something similar; the patient may be holding simple superficial conversations appearing to be fine and well. However, my experience of PTA also involved something that the consultant warned my parents and family about. He advised them that I will be massively confused and may not be able to tell when a dream has stopped and reality begins. What he meant was: You know when you’re having a dream, you wake up and think ‘thank god it was only a dream!’. It may be a bad dream and you feel relief or you may have won the lottery and feel disappointment on waking. Well whatever it is, I wouldn’t realize it’s over!

Now I had suffered a pretty severe brain injury, to give you an idea just how severe, this is how the severity of a brain injury is judged:

Loss Of Consciousness Post Traumatic Amnesia
Minor Brain Injury < 15 minutes < 1 hour Moderate Brain Injury 15 minutes – 6 hours 1 hour – 24 hours Severe Brain Injury 6 hours – 48 hours 24 hours – 7 days Very Severe Brain Injury > 48 hours > 7 days

A very severe brain injury is categorized as a loss of consciousness of more than 48 hours and being in post traumatic amnesia for more than 7 days. I had a loss of consciousness for 16 days and was in PTA for 6 weeks.

There are only a couple of things I can still remember but I remember them as a real occurrence that happened and not as a dream. I’ve since learnt about PTA and realized that that is what they must be.

The first was on a train and I had been kidnapped, why? I have no idea but details like ‘what the whole thing is about’ don’t seem to matter when we are dreaming do they?! It was on the transpennine express from Scarborough to Manchester which was strange because I had been kidnapped in Manchester but again details aren’t important in the world of dreams!
The memory I have took place between Seamer and Malton which are the second and third stops on the journey. I even bizarrely remember the announcement “If you are leaving the train, please take all your personal belongings with you!”. We were sat on one of the tables and I was in the aisle seat oddly, with my kidnappers sitting on the other 3 around the table. The guy opposite me had a gun pointed at me under the table. I don’t know if you’ve ever had a gun pointed at you but it is a very scary experience! Ok, I know I haven’t either but it certainly felt real and almost ten years later I can still remember it well! I remember being sat on the aisle seat with the aisle to my left. The train was going forward and the refreshment trolley was making it’s way down the train towards me. I remember feeling powerless, desperately wanting to get the attention of the woman pushing the trolley who was Debbie actually, the same lady who gave out hot drinks in the hospital (she must have been moonlighting in patient’s dreams!). I’m not sure what I was expecting looking back, unless Debbie kept an Uzi in the tea urn it was pretty pointless! If I spoke or gave my kidnappers away I would be shot! All I could think to do was open my eyes really wide to get her attention. She just looked at me a bit strange and went past like you would at a man glaring at you with bulging eyes. Then came the conductor and I intended to do the same genius plan to him, probably (because it worked so well the first time!) Then I guess I woke up, my mum and sister came in to see me, I was apparently full of abuse and swear words. It must have been frightening for them seeing their son/brother perhaps not surprising was that the description of my kidnapper exactly fitted the male nurse who had been assigned to sit at the end of my bed and attend to my needs all through the night.

The second thing I remember was on a morning that I couldn’t find my slippers. I remembered I told the nurse I left them in the steak restaurant so I went and asked him if I could phone the restaurant and ask. Now I’m sure that the nursing staff on a neuro recovery ward must hear some pretty incredible stories and simply play along for an easy life but he had to admit that he had no clue what I was talking about.

The steak restaurant I remember (and just like the train kidnapping I do really remember it) was situated on the hospital roof where there was a field of grazing cattle. Have you ever been to a seafood restaurant where you choose your meal when it is swimming in a tank? If you haven’t been then you must have heard of such a place, well it was the same theory except you chose your steak whilst it was grazing in the field or in this case the field on the hospital roof!

Now it is hard to put yourself in that position, years down the line it’s easy for me to do it as well. That’s because I now have a normal(ish) working brain that uses logic to solve a problem, at that time I had a brain that had recently had a massive trauma and was still in shock and using logic is quite advanced thinking. Thinking that would be done in the frontal lobe of the brain behind the forehead and less than a month previous my forehead had smashed through a car windscreen, so lets say that it wasn’t working as well and efficiently as it ever had!

Just as a toddler doesn’t have the mental capacity to understand a mortgage payment or a witty joke I didn’t have the mental capacity to problem solve. I didn’t work out that I had woken up and it was a dream, I didn’t think to ask why I had been kidnapped, why we set off from our destination I just remember being scared and to this day it’s quite a harrowing memory. In terms of the ‘steak restaurant’ I didn’t think how impractical a herd of cattle on the roof of a hospital was, about the hygiene risks to the patients, the ethics or even the massive cost to the NHS I just wanted my bloody slippers as my feet were cold!

As amnesia means memory loss, I can only remember the last couple of dreams before I came out of PTA. Those memories have stayed with me for almost ten years.
There is another memory I have about being trapped in a shower covered with a blind, the type with the horizontal slats. I remember being unable to get out and putting pressure on the blind using all my strength until it snapped. I still don’t know if it was just a dream. I worry that I sleepwalked into a cupboard, got trapped, vandalising some piece of machinery in the process. Also, what was the shower about? I do hope I didn’t pee somewhere! I guess that is an unsolvable mystery!

My poor family had weeks of this, the whole time I was in hospital I never thought there was anything wrong. In fact the only time since 2007 I’ve known I’ve done wrong is with hindsight. A person with a brain injury can be a nightmare to live with but we never think we’re wrong! If you are caring for someone after a TBI be prepared for a lot of work with very little (if any) thanks in return! Remember there is no quick fix for the symptoms. It just takes a lot of time, requires a lot of patience from good friends and family who care, not to mention a lot of professionals. You do it because you’re a good person and the support of good people is what we need to help us make the best recovery.

On 15th May 2017 I’ll be ten years down the line. I have worked hard but I’ve also had a lot of support along the way. Don’t expect instant results, things will get better in time just remember it’s a marathon not a sprint!

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3 thoughts on “16.) Post Traumatic Amnesia”

  • Gives great in sight to TBI. My husband is 5 yrs on from a severe BI. Unfortunately, I don’t believe his recovery will ever be as good as yours. But there are still small improvements every day. Graham 2 can still make me laugh and tells me he loves me. Mind you he says that to the army of supporters that help us. Good luck with your journey.

  • Reading this really settled my mind. My 19 year old brother has suffered similar injuries to you, a stretched frontal lobe following a bike accident. He was in a coma for 8 days, slightly sedated for 3 days and full “conscious” for 8 days now. He still has PTA and we could deal with the confusion but didn’t understand why he was talking about events that haven’t happened. We clicked that it was happening after sleep, thinking he had been out with friends and lost them. I don’t think there is enough information about this part of PTA so thank you. If you could, it would be great to ask – is it better to play along or should we tell him it is a dream? We have tried both, pretending makes us feel guilty but settles his mind and he doesn’t listen if we tell him it was a dream anyway…

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