After experiencing a serious car accident, Spencer’s life was turned up-side-down. His visual world was not what it used to be and things that used to come easy stopped being easy. After learning of his diagnosis, Spencer found himself searching for answers. And this is his story…
On June 4th, 2018, my wife was driving our family back from vacation. After 20 hours of driving, we were finally 20 minutes from home when another driver ran his stop sign. At that time, I was lying in the middle aisle of the van trying to comfort my six-month-old who had enough of being in the van. What I remember of the accident is my wife screaming, breaks screeching, then all of a sudden, there was luggage piled on top of my family, and I was crying. In a panic, I got out of the van and went around to check on my family to make sure they were all okay. At that point, my adrenaline was pumping, so I had no idea if I had lost consciousness or been injured myself. Looking back, however, my wife and I have pieced together that I was very confused. Even though I didn’t see the collision, I was more clueless about what had happened than I realized. When it comes to the “fight or flight” instinct, my wife is definitely flight, so I knew that I had to be a stable influence to make sure everyone and everything was taken care of.
When my in-laws arrived to drive us home, I got upset that my father-in-law wouldn’t let me drive one of the vehicles home, since as far as I was concerned, I was perfectly fine. However, once we were all home and settled, I went to my bed and immediately fell asleep, exhausted. Later, when I began to suspect a head injury, I was asked if I lost consciousness during the car accident, I said, “no,” however, to this day I am honestly unsure.
I took the next day off work, but then went back and tried to carry on as normal. It took two months before I acknowledged and accepted that there might be something beyond work stress and the injuries I sustained to my back from the accident that was effecting my life. During those two months, I thought I was going through my life as usual, but my wife was noticing that I was more of an ‘airhead’ than normal. She started to call me more during the day because she would hear the seatbelt warning chime when I was driving. The conversation typically went something like this: “Are you wearing your seatbelt?” “Yes.” “Then what am I hearing?” “Oh, that’s the seat belt warning.” “Well, why is that going off if you’re wearing your seatbelt?” “Oh, I guess I forgot it wasn’t on.” I didn’t realize it then, but I would really struggle with one of my symptoms during that time. Essentially, I could only hold onto one individual thought at a time. The seatbelt incident is an example of that. It may seem like that is one thought-the chime means you need to buckle-but when you suffer from a TBI; you realize that some things are more complex than you first thought. I could hear the chime, and I knew that meant I needed to buckle, but I couldn’t follow that first thought and connect it to the action it implied until my wife specifically told me what was going on.
Another example was one I struggled with often at my job, part of which was managing websites. To verify that you aren’t a robot when logging onto the access portion of the sites I managed, you had to answer a simple math problem. Because of the cognitive struggles, I was going through; it would take a lot of concentration and time to solve a problem as simple as 4+9. Because I could only hold onto one thought at a time, after solving the math problem, I would forget why I was supposed to solve it. Once I remembered that I needed to solve the problem to log onto the website, I would have forgotten the answer. Sometimes I would get a calculator so the answer would stay visible. However, I still had the problem of forgetting why I had the calculator in the first place, remembered that I was logging onto the website, came across the math problem, forgot that I had the calculator available, and went back to trying to solve the problem mentally. If I didn’t even have the cognitive power to do a simple 2 step process (solve the math problem, log onto the website), there was no way I would have the capability to recognize that there was something wrong with me that needed to be addressed.
Often, by the end of the day, I would end up coming home and crying in our room without knowing why. Before then, my wife had seen me cry, maybe three times in our seven years of marriage. The final straw that pushed me over the edge and made me accept that I need help was when I missed the funeral for a good friend/mentor. It hit me hard when he passed, I knew the date of the funeral and planned to be there for it. I worked in the same building where the funeral was being held. That day I kept seeing people in their nice clothes and wondered what they were all doing there. My wife had reminded me every day that week about the funeral. And yet, I sat in my office and tried to work. Eventually, the noise and amount of people became too much for me to handle (another symptom I didn’t realize I had at the time), so I left the building to go to the local park to try to get more work done. When I opened my calendar 2 hours later, everything connected, and it hit me. I completely missed my friend’s funeral. I called my wife crying and told her that something wasn’t right, and I needed help.
I met with my primary doctor, a neurologist, a neuropsychologist, a psychiatrist, two vestibular therapists, and a speech pathologist. All of them agreed that something was wrong, even though the symptoms I was able to explain didn’t all line up with what was typical. Some of them thought they had the solution, and I believed them. I went to months of therapy, often going to an appointment four times per week, and while some of my symptoms did decrease, my worst symptoms remained. One thing that was a big challenge for me was shopping. A grocery trip for even two items could easily take an hour and a half. Earlier this spring, I went to the local store for a couple of 5-gallon buckets. I went through my usual system when trying to find an item in the store. First, I have to find the correct aisle. Then, since my mind struggles to filter and organize information, I would start scanning the whole aisle one item at a time. I didn’t always logically do this, sometimes I would start in the middle of the row and make my way left, not realizing the item I was searching for was just to my right. If I got interrupted by sight or sound, I would have to start the whole process over, scanning each item and label. On this particular trip, I eventually gave in and asked an associate for help finding the buckets. I was standing right in front of them. She must have sensed my continued confusion, so she handed me one of the buckets. At that point in time, I had learned to trust people and wait until they walked away to take more time to process if necessary. So, once she walked away, I stared at the bucket and went through a mental checklist asking myself why I thought this was not a 5-gallon bucket. After some time, I was able to confirm that this was indeed the bucket I had come in for, but it was red instead of white like I had in my mind, which is why I spent 45 minutes in the aisle with buckets.
After the car accident, public spaces with lots of movement and noise became one of my biggest challenges. Before starting Wow Vision Therapy, I would become completely disoriented and confused within minutes. I would lose all spacial orientation of myself in the environment that I was in. You know the feeling you get after spending too much time in a wave pool or the ocean? I would sometimes get stuck feeling like I was at the upward motion of a wave, just waiting to fall up toward the sky. East would become West, and left would become right. I could be trying to exit an open area knowing the exit was on the left, but my body would walk to the right, even while I was looking left at the exit, mixing up the directions even though I knew the way I needed to go. Doctors have asked if I got dizzy, but that didn’t really describe how I would feel, it was more like the world was constantly moving.
Disorientation was typically the first symptom in public spaces. Once that happens, my understanding of many simple things becomes compromised. At a surprise party for my in-laws, I became so disoriented and lost so much understanding that my wife had to step by step get me out to the car to take a break. ‘First, you need to stand up, now I am going to hold your arm while we walk forward, we need to leave the building, open the car door, now sit down, let me turn on the car, I’m turning on the air for you, you need to just sit here and rest, no don’t try to get back out, just lean the seat back and rest for a while.’ If I tried to push myself too hard or endure for too long, I would lose complete control to the point where I would just curl up in the fetal position and cry.
After nine months of seeing different doctors and trying different types of therapy, I lost hope of ever being able to be my normal self again. They started saying that this might be the new “normal” for me, and I will have to find new ways to function like I used to, so I put all of my efforts into figuring out how to accomplish things that used to come so naturally for me. Throughout these nine months, I was unable to return to work for a long enough period of time that they had to fill my position. I was working with media and technology and had begun building my own web design and marketing business. I loved doing that type of work; it was something that came easily for me. I had strength for visualizing all aspects of a project and being able to picture exactly what I wanted to happen, and then I could make it happen. Yet now, my biggest gifts that I had nurtured and developed were taken away from me. The car accident damaged ten discs in my spine, causing me to stop weight lifting, which I did almost daily as a way to cope with stress, and damaged my brain, which I was then hearing would never be the same. I was ready to give up trying to get back what I had lost and was ready to move on and accept my new life.
So again, I spent nine months in a different type of therapy and still struggled with those symptoms and more. I didn’t even have the cognitive strength to put into words all of the ways I was struggling to get the help I needed. The best way I found to explain what was wrong was by saying that I couldn’t picture things in my head anymore, and I have always been a visual processor. At one point, a substitute vestibular therapist asked if I had seen an eye doctor who specialized in brain-related vision issues. That gave me enough information to start researching and stumble upon Wow Vision Therapy. It still took months before I took the plunge and called for an examination. I had become so beaten down from lack of progress that I was beginning to accept that this is how I will have to be now, and I’ll need to learn to live with it. I didn’t want to hope or wish for what I used to have; I just wanted to move on. At some point, I decided that I had just enough energy to try one more type of therapy before moving on. What I expected and what I experienced were two utterly different things-and that was a very good thing! What I expected was to feel, once again, like I was completely misunderstood, but to be still told that they can fix me even though they couldn’t really understand my issues or how I was struggling. I was amazed at the different tests Dr. Fortenbacher did. He performed specific tests that were everyday challenges for me, without me having first to explain what I was struggling with. When we had our consultation, I was finally able to tell a doctor some of the things I was struggling with, he listened intently, and for the first time in over nine months I heard a doctor say “well yes, that makes sense.” Then he took the time to explain in detail why those things were happening, and the process they would use to treat it.
In the months that I have spent at Wow Vision Therapy, that sense of understanding and a desire to help has never dwindled. My recovery has had highs and lows, which I was warned about from the beginning, but I have never felt like my therapist, or Dr. Fortenbacher was ready to give up on me. I am now able to continue trying to start up my web design and marketing business, I can hold conversations without my wife needing to jump in for me, I still don’t like to go grocery shopping, but it no longer takes me over an hour. Just last weekend, I was able to go with my wife and our three kids to a local fall festival without feeling immediately overwhelmed. I can’t say enough how thankful I am for Wow Vision Therapy and all of the work that Dr. Fortenbacher and his staff do!
So, if you feel like you have no more hope for recovery and you are tired of not being understood, please don’t give up until you at least consider Vision Therapy. I didn’t think my symptoms were related to vision; after all, how could my eyes affect my ability to hold conversations and multitask? But as we know, the brain is an amazingly complex organ, and everything is filtered through it. As I’m writing this, I still have some work to do to get back to my pre-accident status, but Vision Therapy has given me my mind back, something I had feared would never happen. Recovery from a TBI is possible. I hope you or your loved one get to experience the life-altering change I have experienced through Wow Vision Therapy.
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