4. Plate Spinning! – (Divided Attention)

How good are you at spinning plates? I’m terrible! Everyone has to learn to a certain extent but for those recovering from a neurological trauma it is a skill they may not regain and have to use a strategy to overcome. Of course I don’t mean literally like in a circus I mean metaphorically; I’m talking about divided attention! A circus plate spinner must attend to each of the plates they are spinning because if they ignore one then they will fall and smash!

Divided attention or multitasking is something that can become virtually impossible after a brain injury…. Have you made the joke yet girls…?! Go on say it, you know you can’t help it! The joke of course is something along the lines of “Well you’re a man and men can’t multitask anyway!”

Well actually nobody can multitask, that is do two things at once! What you are referring to, which admittedly women tend to be better at (according to them! haha), is switching their attention between two or more different tasks and back again to complete two or more tasks simultaneously. I was always pretty bad at this but since my brain injury I am shocking. I’ve learnt that I can only concentrate on one thing and even that is only if I’m feeling quite fresh!

A more advanced example of multi tasking would be reading a holiday catalogue whilst watching a tv program. Managing to compare conflicting hotels in Kos whilst managing to watch, but not allowing yourself to be distracted by the latest 90s celebrity in Ant and Dec’s jungle attempt to revive their career by valiantly munching on a wombat’s willy!

However after a brain injury a patient can have difficulties with something as seemingly simple as eating their breakfast and watching TV, especially in the early days. Whilst this probably seems difficult to believe to anybody with a healthy brain but think about it watching TV and eating are in fact two separate tasks. A baby would struggle to do this the first times they attempt it and will probably end up covered in food that is because they are just learning and after a brain injury that person is re-learning.

One of the first times I can remember addressing this problem was when I was in Trafford Hospital in the summer of 2007 and I was set the task of cooking a breakfast; grilling bacon, heating beans, frying an egg and making toast. I of course had nothing to worry about for I had been a proud Beaver, Cub and Scout of the 1st Scarborough Scout Troup. In amongst the silverware from my glittering career was a Home Help badge proudly sewn upon my sleeve by… ahem by my nana! This was earned for the preparation of a cooked breakfast with military precision!

I set out to take them to school:

Bacon was under the grill
Beans in the pan and on the heat
Toast was down leaving me just the egg to fry
Fat in the pan
Crack!
The egg goes in…

Damn!
Should have heated the frying pan and melted the fat before the egg went in but no worries it would heat…

I was doing it at the same time as this guy from my ward that really irritated me, I’ll call him Harry! After Harry’s discharge from hospital he said he was going up to London to live with his sister!

Up to London?! Don’t you mean ‘Down’ you berk! He’d try and tell me how to do things and it used to really annoy me, what would I need to learn from a guy who didn’t know that Manchester was north of London?! So irritating!

POP!
The toast popped up! I
t wasn’t quite done so it went back down I would just pop it up again in a 30 seconds or so as that was all it required.
CRACKLE!
The egg!
Oh well I wanted it over easy anyway… whatever that means?!
The bacon was smoking!
Best turn that over
Now the beans are boiling over, just turn them down
Oh no I never took the egg off the heat!
Oh well I liked rubbery eggs anyway
Now the other side of the bacon was burning
POP!
I forgot about the toast that was now black.

The pride of The 1st Scarborough Scout Troop was in tatters! I was qualified, I had a badge sewn onto the sleeve of my scouts jumper to prove it, oh the shame! So what happened?

If you compare making breakfast to the circus act of spinning plates on top of poles, the plate spinner has to watch all 4 simultaneously attending to each one to make sure they keep spinning and that they don’t fall and smash. I tried to spin 4 plates (toast, bacon, beans and egg) at once when I can’t even manage two that’s what! I would have difficulty concentrating on frying an egg at this stage. If you add in making toast, heating beans and grilling bacon, I became overloaded, smashed plates everywhere!

The egg was far from over easy (I still don’t know what that means)! The bacon and toast burnt and the beans boiled dry! Further still I was also distracted by the annoyance of a man who thinks you go up to London not to mention the pressure of carrying the pride of the first Scarborough Scout Troop on my shoulders, it proved to be too much and I crumbled under the pressure!

I hope you enjoyed this story, I have more to say about Plate Spinning but I worry that anybody’s attention won’t be able to withstand more of my stupid stories and metaphors in the same blog post! So I’ll leave it here for now and be back for part 2 soon! If you can relate to divided attention problems please comment – I’d love to hear your own stories and comments!
Brooke x



8 thoughts on “4. Plate Spinning! – (Divided Attention)”

  • I burnt my finger doing my safety in the home badge at Brownies – so be very proud of your Scout badge! Also be very proud of what you are achieving to raise awareness of TBI issues.

    Another great blog Brooke (men can’t multitask anyway – there I said it!)

    T xx

  • Remember doing that breakfast myself at trafford general in the end just made do with the toast (does it happen to b ward 15 I ru )

  • You are an amazing young man and have defied all the odds to get this far in your life – well done Brooke – your blog is very entertaining and informative keep the good work up xxx

  • Leigh Birch

    April 16, 2015 at 10:06 pm

    You know George, almost everything you’ve said hits the nail on he head!
    My head injury was also in May!
    May 28th 2006, the call went in to the police at 11 minutes past 7 in the evening, I completely understand what you mean about memory being fragmented and you can remember stupid things from years ago but nothing new also things that you attach feelings to are easy to remember. I remember the same year that I came out of hospital I can remember my dad falling over the dog when he was putting Christmas decorations up but I can’t remember my daughter being born in 2004, my first memory of her is playing with her on my bed in hospital when she was nearly 2. You were in and out of hospital really, I’m sure I told you this but I released from hospital eleven months and one week after my accident. My brain activity was almost immeasurable when I was monitored in hospital and nobody thought I was ever going to wake up. They let me out early because my mother was a rehab nurse with 20 years experience ( she was far more experienced than the nurses on my ward and they probably had a party wen I left!) I used to go home at weekends because of my mother and going back on a Sunday evening was always a miserable experience. I remember my dad saying one time that I always went quiet on the way back to my ward. My personality has completely changed, before I was a proper lad (weekends were football and on the piss) but now I’m clean, tidy and organised, I’ve got almost 800 cd’s and every one Is arranged by artist then year so you could name any artist and I could point to it straight away, I’ve eve caught myself with a fucking duster in my hand on a number of occasions! That’s not Leigh Birch for fucks sake! I’ve got loads and loads to tell you because it feels like this is really good therapy for me, I just want to tell everyone everything. I’ve shed lots and lots of tears over the last 9 years( the first 5 especially) but I’m in a good place now with an incredible girlfriend that I want as my wife one day. I’m going now but we’ve got lots to talk about my friend

  • I Honestly can sit hear and say that i am crying reading your story. Its just like you have read my mind and wrote the words for me. i never had rehab. In fact it took them 5 whole long months to find out that i had had any sort of brain stem insult as they call it… i was accused of being drunk on duty as a senior HCA…. only now 7yrs later are the full ramifications coming out. I get very angry as No-One understands and offers help or counselling either xxx

  • Ahhh!!! The Downsides of Camp Cooking!!! I Found in that situation, Eggy Bread (or if you want to be posh “French Toast”) works wonders, come to think of it I whipped up a mean omelette worthy of BASICs Chef Rob on one weekend….and you know me brooke – Scrambled egg thinking? at end of the day – it was bread dipped in egg and fried…I just had to take care with the spatula (and we all know soil adds to the flavour right ;))….Cooking in a Galley on the Irish sea was a doddle compared to Middlewood….They had Gas stoves….but as always…prep was everything…don’t get me started on peeling spuds!!!

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