Homeward Bound After a Brain Injury: A Physical Therapist’s Perspective

October 7, 2015

Mike is going home today.

I remember the day I met Mike, as he lay quietly in bed, attired in his hospital gown. He really didn’t say much. I thought he was a quiet fellow. He didn’t move around much either, at least not his arms and legs.

In an unusual contrast, his head was in constant motion – shaking constantly. A slow, steady, rhythmic movement.  Something Mike had no control over. It didn’t hurt. It just was, and couldn’t be stopped.

He looked a bit confused, maybe as if to say “what is happening?” And when he did try to talk, his voice would shake so much you could not understand him.

Mike has no memory of the sudden events that led up to his hospitalization. He had survived a catastrophic bleed into his brain. He would also later survive a massive and life threatening infection. He has endured weeks, no months, of constant medical care and rehabilitative therapy.

I am Mike’s PT…his physical therapist. In those early days, I don’t think he remembered me from day to day. And he didn’t remember the hundreds of activities we would practice again and again, every day. At first, simple tasks like reaching or standing seemed impossible. They were impossible.

As he tried to reach to hold onto a railing, his hand would fly in all directions. His head couldn’t stop shaking. His legs could move, but he had lost coordination and he could not stand. Imagine this: spinning around in a circle until you are silly with dizziness. Arms and legs are flying. Then stop. You know you want to stay upright, but your legs and body just don’t seem to cooperate. Consider too, that maybe you are weak from being flat on your back for so long. This was Mike’s world. Constantly.

And, now in comes your physical therapist who greets you with, “Good morning! Let’s try that standing again.” And we did.

There are technical terms for his condition, and the area of his brain that was short circuited by the bleed, that caused his loss of coordination. But, all that hardly matters because today –  he is going home.

Mike never, ever, gave up. Sure, he’d get tired, actually, more like exhausted from his rehab efforts. But he never gave up. Every day he always gave it his all. It was exhausting and relentless work for him.

He’s walking now. Talking, too. And, remembering it all. There is a sly smile when he makes a sarcastic remark, or pulls a prank. Or wears his “The Beast is Back” tee shirt. Oh, yes, his sense of humor has returned too.

Mike is working hard to continue to overcome the coordination he lost. He may have lost his coordination, but he never lost hope. He never lost sight of being able to go home. He never lost his drive to work hard, to persevere, and to overcome obstacles. He never lost the devotion and wisdom of his wife and family that care so deeply for him.

And, every day, he earned the respect and admiration of this physical therapist, who knows hard work when she sees it.

A new beginning is just around the corner. Mike and his wife have looked forward to this homecoming for so long. His wife says It may be different, and is quick to say, “It will be a good life.”  And, I know she means it. They are both so glad to be going home.

And I am so glad to have been a part of helping to make that possible.


Mary Nishimoto, PT
Traumatic Brain Injury Rehabilitation Service