Brain injuries are the youth’s worst enemy. The biggest cause of disability in young people. They can happen in an instance. They can be anyone’s fault or nobody’s. The reality is that not many chose to share their life with others, but when they do, an incredible story unravels. Jasmine’s story is nothing short of fantastic. Now 21, she finally chooses to open up about her experience in the hope that others will understand better what she, and may others like her, go through on a daily basis.
How were you before your brain injury?
“I was out all the time, I was very outgoing, very independent, and a very happy teenager. I was 17 just before going off to university or doing a gap year. It was March when I had my accident and I was meant to sit my final A levels a month after, but I didn’t sit my final exams.”
How did your accident happen?
“It was Good Friday, but it wasn’t that “good” (she laughs)… not really a very Good Friday! I had a horse riding accident and I landed on my head onto concrete, because a car went by too fast… it was just on a normal road on a country lane, I’ve always been out on the country bumbling about since I was little. I fell off, landed on the top of my head and I woke up at home.”
“When I got to Worcester hospital I didn’t get scanned and that was the problem; I bled out completely. I should have been put into a coma but that didn’t happen. I went back into hospital because they thought I just had lots of pain killers which is why I was floppy. But it was actually because I had two and a bit bleeds on my brain. The neurologist said “I don’t know how you woke up”.
Were you alone?
No, I was with a friend. The horse bolted off. It was icy so after my head landed on concrete, I then slid and landed quite near a ditch. It was a really cold morning. Apparently they put horse rugs over me because I was chattering. I was laying on the concrete floor for a good couple of hours. A car ambulance was the first response, then a big ambulance came and then an air ambulance and the only thing from that entire day that I remember is them asking if I’m okay with flying. I winked to my dad because my dad fly’s helicopters and that’s the only thing the only memory and that’s dad.
What did you remember waking up?
I was at home. I woke up with a crumpet in bed.
You didn’t wake up in hospital?
I was awake but I don’t remember anything. My brother came to the hospital, my dad came, mum was on holiday so they didn’t tell her and apparently I just thought I was Dory the Fish as kept saying “just keep swimming” the whole time for hours on end.
How long were you in and out of hospitals?
“I went to Worcester (Royal) for all my treatments. I was there five-six days but then I still have treatment now. I had to leave school and I wasn’t allowed back to college because I was a health risk. All in all, I spent probably two years in and out of appointments.
To begin with it was like three-four days a week and then it was two days a week. I didn’t live there. I was an outpatient because mum and dad lived locally they could drive me everywhere. I lost my driver’s licence… that was annoying.
I lost all of my independence, I was 17 nearly 18 and just about to fly the nest, go to university or go travelling and all my friends went and… I couldn’t walk.
Were you left paralysed?
I wasn’t paralysed, I was in leg splints and had to completely learn to walk again. I hadn’t had a stroke but I looked like a stroke patient as I needed to learn how to walk again and I couldn’t even count backwards. Everybody else had flown the nest and I was just at home; it was probably only 6 months after when everybody had gone that I kind of realised what had happened and I was a right miserable sod (smiles). I didn’t think anything was wrong with me for 6 months, I was absolutely fine and I didn’t know what everybody was fussing about.
Everyone else knew that I could have died and I now couldn’t walk, I wasn’t talking, I wasn’t myself yet I thought I was fine!”
What about conversations with people? Were they hard to have?
“I could talk, I could have a conversation but if someone else came in the room and there was another person talking, that was it, I couldn’t concentrate as there was too much going on in the room. I would sit in the corner in silence. Everybody was telling me “you need to get out and see people”.
Mum and dad encouraged me to get my friends to pick me up and take me out. They all knew that I couldn’t really be knocked and I couldn’t really walk very well, my friends were really good. They would just sit me in the corner on a chair in a pub and I would just watch the world go by, I was happy as Larry. Having my friends around seemed like I was back to some kind of normality but I didn’t actually join in any conversations. I just sat and kind of… smiled. The only thing I didn’t lose was my smile, I just smiled the whole time and I think some people didn’t get it because they were like “why are you smiling?” but it was because I could tell people “well, I’m alive”.
Did you find that you only noticed just how much more different things were quite later on in your recovery?
“I couldn’t deal with change at all, I didn’t like a change of routine as it would just blow me over the edge, and it still does a bit now, even if you move the kettle or something.”
What else did you have to relearn besides walking?
“I did everything with the occupational therapist and went through the alphabet. I could talk, but just generally, she taught me to type an email on computers, turn the DVD player on things you’ve learnt over your 20 years of being alive that you’ve now forgotten to do.
I remember to begin with, I wasn’t strong enough to do my knife and fork and I really wanted a roast dinner. I remember at 18 having to ask my dad to chop it up for me (she laughs)… you shouldn’t get your dad at 18 to chop your potatoes up for you!
I’ve got a good group of friends and they accepted it and drove me everywhere so I wasn’t in the house by myself wallowing. I was getting better to be at home by myself and it only became an issue later on, when mum and dad went back to work but I was still at home by myself; all my friends were either at work or Uni and that’s when it kind of sunk in that actually, I’m inside by myself for 8 hours until they get back from work. It was frustrating because they would get back ask “how’s your day been” and I had nothing to and that frustrated me… I felt like I was being a boring person.
So mum started to leave stuff for me to cook, so I could learn to cook when she trusted me with a knife (laughs) by myself. My coordination wasn’t great to begin with so she would leave a little knife and say “you can only use that one”.
“Looking back I pushed away my mum but didn’t realise. It was only a year down the line when I apologised as I didn’t know what I was doing or saying. I was in my own little world and to me everything was fine. My brother purposely didn’t get a job near University because he wanted to come back. I didn’t know that he didn’t actually tell mum or dad that until a couple of years down the line.”
“the way I do things now are completely differently to the way I used to do them. For example, I get tired really easily and for a 21-year-old that’s the most frustrating thing ever. Even now if I know I’m going out on a Saturday night I mustn’t do anything Friday because I won’t be able to do it. Or if I get tired, my walking gets bad and I start to wobble.”
“I’ve had to learn to plan ahead and accept it because I’ve thought ‘I’m not tired’ and went on and on and on and ended up hospitalising myself. I ignore the signs because I wanted to be a teenager but then you only end up in hospital. It is frustrating to say ‘I can’t do’ because you’re supposed to be young, fit and healthy.”
“I remember about a year ago, I said in hospital I wished I shaved all my hair off so then someone could see that something is wrong with my head. When people have a cast on their arm you know they’ve broke their arm but with a brain injury no one can see it. Even though at that point I could talk and I was walking okay I was struggling with grasping things and doing things. People just don’t get that I’m tired instead people see me as being lazy and ask “has she got M.E.?” and family reply “no it’s a long-standing symptom of fatigue” but people don’t understand…
It’s frustrating. Still now, people say “you’re absolutely fine Jaz”, they think you’re back to normal. That is the most frustrating thing ever because yes, I’m coping with life; I’ve got a job, I can drive (again), I’ve got nice friends, nice family but I still struggle. If you do say “I’m struggling today” they’ll think your wallowing in it and you’re not. Sometimes you need to take a step back and actually think “I’m alive”.
I’ve learnt to walk as an adult and spent years doing swimming with 60-year-old people who have all had strokes. Being on the stroke ward with David’s, Harry’s and Tom’s and you’re there too. One of them thought I was a physiotherapist, he asked “are you going swimming with me?” and I said “no, I’m a patient (laughs)… I’m here with the same injury as you”.
People just don’t get it, because as soon as they think brain injury, they think stroke, old person. The thing I’ve struggled with is I’ve never met someone with a brain injury that’s up and going like me, I’ve only ever met people that are still in their wheelchair or in legs splints. I’ve never met anyone that is standing like me but still has a disabled pass. People just don’t get it, I got grief for parking in a disabled bay once, someone said “you’re not disabled”
So what else is different now?
When you go out clubbing they think you’ve got drugs in your clutch and sometimes I have to explain that they are epilepsy pills, which really annoys me.
Also, when I’ve had a drink, sometimes my leg goes a bit wonky and so you don’t get let in to the venue and my friends have had to say “no she’s had a stroke” because it’s so much easier to explain.
Everyone says “you’re so mature for your age!” and all I can say is “well I had to, I had to grow up because I’m having to medicate, I’m having to look after myself”… You don’t want to have an old head before your time. You want to let lose a bit, but you get used to it.
How long have you been receiving help from Headway Worcestershire?
“My nurse is linked with Headway, she referred me and she’s been with me since day one. It took two years to persuade me to speak to people about it (the brain injury) because I just didn’t want to talk about it. I thought if you spoke to a psychologist you’re mad and no one will believe you. I only accepted this help two years after the brain injury.”
“Now, I’ve got a life again, I go out. I can say that since speaking to the psychologist I can happily say to someone that I’ve got PTSD and it’s not a bad thing.”
“She (the psychologist) sets me goals and targets, just talks about normal things… When you go to hospital so much you get in a bit of a rut talking hospital talk and don’t actually say “oh how’s your week been?” It’s quite nice to have someone that is medically trained but also like a normal friend. It’s nice to have a person who comes over to your house to have a cup of tea with you and you don’t feel like they are assessing you. She is there checking my wellbeing but you can just relax a bit more because it’s in your home and you’re not in a clinical place.”
How does your brain injury affect you now?
“Fatigue mainly. I still have to go to hospital so I take a bit of time off if I get run down, otherwise I get poorly quickly. I declared everything when I applied for the job; even in the interview I mentioned it and they were completely understanding, so I can go to my boss and say “I’ve been to hospital last night after work, I’m knackered” and they’ll say “right you don’t have to walk to the top floor today, you can do something else…”.“
“I do find it difficult at times especially towards the end of term… I’d never be able to do a normal job, because by the end of the term, by the fourth or fifth week, everybody notices that I get slow and I’m not myself… I’ll be all pumped and bubbly all the time and smiley and by the end of it, I’ll completely drag my pace. Last Christmas I ended having the last week off before Christmas because I was just ill. Mum joked and asked we do not spend another Christmas in hospital! “
What is the biggest hurdle that you’ve overcome lately?
“I flew New Zealand by myself and I got stuck in quarantine because I had mud on my shoes… they took my over shoes off me and washed them and left me bare foot in security for 40 minutes… I got interrogated (laughs) but I talked myself out of the fine and stated how they never told me that dirty boots were illegal. Two hours later I got let out. That was in a nut shell but it took a while!”
“But that’s not the biggest hurdle, that was an accident and I don’t want it to happen again. The biggest hurdle would be accepting it that my brain injury happened and not using it to fuel a conversation – “oh well, I’ve had a brain injury”. It was the only thing I had to talk about and I’d bring it up straight away. I don’t say that anymore but sometimes it comes up into conversation. Now I’ve got work to talk about, friends to talk about, so I don’t need to talk about my brain injury. You talk about it all the time in hospital…
What are your plans for the future?
“I’d like to earn some more money and I’d like some more qualifications but I think that’s being greedy right now because I’ve got good health, so I’m not going to be greedy and ask for it all right now. Time’s a good healer.”
Have you got any messages of support or words of advice you like to give others with a brain injury?
“I’m not going to say you’re not alone because I felt very alone… you can look online for stories but you never find the one that’s the same as yours because none of them are the same. I think you’re used to hearing these stories on the news about meeting your best friend who had the exact same thing… It’s not true at all; you’re never going to find somebody exactly the same as you. No one’s the same.”
“I wouldn’t know what to say because if I met someone on the ward that was actually my friend and my age that would be a miracle in the first place. I know I’ve been really lucky because I’ve read stories of other people my age and they’ve been wheelchair-bound and all this it’s like I’m a bit of a miracle in that sense… As the neurologist said, who’s been a neurologist for ten years: “you shouldn’t be alive!”, but I’m definitely a cat with 9 lives and I’ve lost all of them so far… but I don’t know, adventure is out there!”
“Some people who have strokes already have families and kids and …I was only just beginning. The injury hit me quite early; in that sense they are quite lucky because they’ve got their family but to try and explain… try and explain a brain injury to someone you’re dating. You don’t want be a burden, but then you’ve got to say “just so you know, I take epilepsy pills and if this does happen all 999”; that’s not what you have at a dinner date, is it?”
Looking back at you brain injury now, who would you say was the biggest help to you during those times, who made a significant contribution to the rehabilitation?
“I think until I started believing I was going to get better, no one. The one thing that I never stop doing was trying to get better. I never slumped once and said “ah, I can’t be bothered to learn to walk…” I never had a drop like that and I don’t know how I did that because, if that had happened to me now I’d have given up completely. I don’t know where it came from. I went to hospital 4 days a week and I just said yes to every treatment given to me. I think mum couldn’t believe it.”
“When people say when I’ve got to go to hospital “you’re an inspiration”… I do not believe that whatsoever, because when you’re in my situation, when you can’t walk… I’d like to think you’d want to learn again because why would you wallow in it?! I think some people would have just given up…”
“It wasn’t as though I was thinking that I want to give myself the best chance… I was so blinded that I powered on and then it hit me – and I realised what had happened and I don’t know where this strength came from. “
“I think it will slowly sink in to people who have helped me: mum, brothers… I don’t think I really properly said “thank you” because I hadn’t realised how much they were there for me during that time.”
Do you still ride?
“No. Too scared.”
How was your helmet after the accident?
“It was fine, you wouldn’t have thought anything was wrong with it; if I didn’t have it I’d be dead. Smashed to pieces. “
Jasmine then shared some pictures from her scrap books, some fond of memories along with others taken after “not so Good Friday day”. Amongst those, a picture of her at her school prom with her leg in splints, many pictures of friends and her horses.
Her life has completely changed since her brain injury. Fatigue is the deciding factor between an evening with friends or a solo evening in, between finalising her studies and staying in a job with an understanding employer. Jasmine’s support with our psychology service has helped her cope with her unfair situation and has helped her to accept the condition she now has to live with. Although limited in many ways, she now leads a happy life.
Many young people struggle with brain injury in the UK. Many in Worcestershire. We are here to help. Here to make those connections. If you or someone you know has suffered a brain injury, get in touch with our team.