OVER MY HEAD

June 17, 2017


Over My Head is an extremely rare look into the workings of an injured brain from a doctor’s perspective.  It is a true story of a young doctor’s battle to overcome a debilitating head injury and build a new life.  The book is an inspiring story of how a medical doctor comes to terms with the loss of her identity and the courageous steps (and hilarious missteps) she takes while learning to rebuild her life. The author, a 45-year-old emergency-room doctor and clinical professor of medicine, describes the aftermath of a brain injury eleven years ago which stripped her of her beloved profession. For years she was deprived of her intellectual companionship and the ability to handle the simplest undertakings like shopping for groceries or sorting the mail. Her progression from confusion, dysfunction, and alienation to a full, happy life is told with restraint, great style, and considerable humor.

I’m not going to spoil the story for you but eleven (11) years ago, Dr. Claudia L. Osborn was riding her bike with a roommate, Dr. Marcia E. Baker.  It was a beautiful Saturday afternoon in Detroit with just about perfect weather.  Due to a fairly narrow road, they were riding in tandem with Marcia in front and leading the way.  A car made a right turn onto the road they were riding and swung much too wide to avoid hitting the ladies.  Marcia saw the car first and managed to navigate to the shoulder of the road where she “dumped” her bike.  Claudia was not that lucky.  The car hit her head on. She traveled over the hood, over the cab, over the trunk and landed on her head.  She was taken to the emergency room but the damage had already been done.

The beginning of her post trauma period is consumed with behaviors we so often see in this population; denial, depression, and frustration.   I am sure the medical profession has patients coming in after such an injury with unrealistic plans to return to exactly the same life they had beforehand?  Their all- consuming drive is to go back to who they were, to the life they lived before the injury, when in reality all around can see that will not happen.  However, everyone around is afraid of what will happen if they ever give voice to these concerns.  So there emerges an unspoken conspiracy to not put voice to the facts that serve to block the full return to a former life, in fear that these comments might be as traumatic as the actual injury was.

One symptom above all seemed to override nearly everything in Dr. Osborn’s recovery and this was a profound short-term memory deficit.  What many consider a simple errand, buying two or three things at the store turns into nightmare after nightmare for her.  In those instances when she would get to the correct store, she might find the first thing she had set out to purchase, then end up not remembering the other two things she needed.

Claudia might actually remember to get all the things into her basket to realize at the checkout counter she had not brought her money, or not being able to find her car after getting all of those things done correctly and having to wait until the parking lot cleared out to find her car.

Although from Michigan, Claudia ended up enrolling in a treatment program at the Head Trauma Program of New York University’s Rusk Institute, which included physiatry and allied rehabilitative specialists.     This book clearly demonstrates the roles that others play in working her acceptance of the new person who emerged after the head injury as well as helping to deal with her severe depression.

Those important in Claudia’s life serve as tremendous examples about what to do and not to do in supporting and helping an affected person.  Her mother is very supportive from the beginning but demonstrates many of the expectations that it will be ok in time and life will return to the way it was before.  Claudia also has an amazingly understanding life partner who seemed to know just the right times to back away and give Claudia the time and distance to discover who she was.  Accepting these evolving expectations from their relationship allowed them to come through the event and long recovery still together.  So often this is not the story.   As soon as it becomes evident that the injured party will not return to whom they were before the injury, the physically undamaged person leaves the relationship.    This story is a powerful message to those life partners and family of head injured patients everywhere about life after such an injury.

I can definitely recommend this book to anyone who has personally had a head injury or to anyone who has had a family member with a serious head injury.  For that individual, a “new normal” must be sought and accepted.

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