June is Traumatic Brain Injury Awareness Month
By Rita Friesen
It is a natural progression from ally to advocate. For Jodi Ginter there have been a series of events in her life that have caused her to become involved with survivors of traumatic brain injuries. On a daily basis Jodi faces three very different types of brain injuries. Her son, her husband and her father all come under that broad category. What most of us don’t understand is that brain injuries can be caused by accidents, sports injuries, strokes and whenever the brain is without oxygen for a period of time.
The effects of a brain injury are as varied as the individuals that suffer with them. For some the taste and texture of food changes, dramatically. Old favourite foods now taste repulsive. Smell present differently. And often words become elusive. For some the nouns are like drops of mercury, skittering away when needed. For others it can be verbs, or simply longer words. Most of us also don’t understand the torments of the personal journey of the survivors. It requires an incredible amount of courage and stamina to walk through the routine of a regular day. Going to school, going shopping or even hanging out with friends saps their inner strength and resources. The ultimate goal is to look normal, to fit in. To be accepted. When such huge deposits of coping skills are withdrawn for a public appearance, too often the reserve is empty by the time our loved ones are safely back home. Home is where the negative energy can be dispelled, and is.
Studying the effects of brain injury is enlightening. I had several aha! moments. The effects are often invisible, as are the symptoms of mental health diseases. The public fears the unknown and the unseen. People with brain injuries, and mental health issues, only go outside the home on their good days. So they look normal, but they pay a high emotional price for that. Individuals from both groups have been heard to say that they wish they suffered from cancer, because people understand that.
Jodi’s initial aim was to educate her immediate family about brain injury and the effects. She wanted people to know that when a survivor is out in public they are trying desperately to cope with a barrage of outside senses. They are processing sights and smells and their brain is literally making new maps and tracing new images of ordinary events. That’s hard work. Jodi spent a great deal of time with her son as he recovered from his injury. Knowing him well, she was able to decipher his wants and his dislikes. Unlike the doctors who have the book learning, or nurses that spend short periods with a patient, as a mother Jodi listened and learned from her son. The natural progression from ally to advocate occurred rapidly. With an excellent command of the English language and a commanding mother presence, Jodi got the attention of the professional staff. She was not ‘just a mom’. She was a primary caregiver. Her son lost twenty-five pounds in his initial hospital stay. When food aversions due to a perceived change in taste, texture and smell, caused a loss of appetite, Jodi and the listening staff worked to find food that could be enjoyed.
The roll as advocate has broadened to educator. Jodi was asked to present her journey and it’s lessons to a class of nursing students at ACC. She and her family work with the MBIA, Manitoba Brain Injury Association. The group has chosen an oak leaf as their symbol, the oak tree being recognised for its strength. These oak leaves appear in different colours representing the uniqueness of the survivors. The organization provides a support group, a safe place where people speak the same language.
When asked what one thing She would like people to understand, Jodi replied,’ Please do not assume that everything is fine just because they look fine. There is a hidden picture.’ Survivors constantly fight the image of people with brain injuries being dumb. They fight feeling dumb.
Jodi Holmes Ginter is a remarkable individual. Despite the dramatic twists and turns that life has tossed her way, her faith remains strong. She appreciates deeply the miracles their family has witnessed. Jodi can even appreciate God’s sense of humour. How did he ever figure her to be strong enough to deal with so many things- wife, farming partner, mother of four, daughter and friend – and advocate for three loved ones with brain injuries!
This month is Brain Injury Awareness Month. To gain a better understanding of the issue follow Jodi’s blog. http://visibleangels.blogspot.com