My New Brain

August 26, 2010

I watched a powerful and very moving TV documentary last night about one lad’s struggle to recover from a brain injury. The programme followed the progress of 20-year old Simon Hales over six months as he and his family come to terms with the challenges of life after brain injury.

Each year in Britain, 135,000 people end up in hospital with a traumatic brain injury. Most at risk are young men and the effects, though often hidden, can be profound and life-changing for the people affected, as well as their families and friends.

A popular undergraduate at Newcastle University, Simon was on a night out when he and a friend tried to climb back into a nightclub they’d been thrown out of by mistake. In the dark, Simon fell 20 feet and landed on his head, suffering a severe brain injury. He was lucky to survive, but it took Simon five weeks to wake from his coma. Luckily, he did pull through, but nobody could recognise the newly awakened Simon from the Simon of old.

Simon emerged from his coma in what seemed at first to be a blissfully unaware state. He could remember nothing of his life before the accident, and he could not remember the accident itself although he asked about it obsessively. He had also lost his short-term memory. His concentration was hopeless; he couldn’t plan or organise anything. He obsessed about things, especially his accident and his coma.

Although this was a film about the progress of one young man following a severe injury, it also raised questions about the nature of personal identity.  “You can’t blame everything on your brain injury,” his mother said, when his frustration was once again getting the better of him. He had perhaps found a ready excuse for his explosions, but it seemed that the “prison” that Simon had longed to escape was not just represented by the walls of the rehab home.

That said, this sad, tender film was far from depressing. Simon had the love of his close-knit family, and there was hope for much improvement yet. We could also see just how much dedicated care he was receiving at his specialist unit.

The documentary ended with Simon making a speech at his 21st birthday party, surrounded by family and friends. As he took to the floor, he appeared absolutely normal on the ‘outside’ but it wasn’t long before it became obvious that he was still battling with his brain injury. Having got his speech off to a good start, he quickly lost track of what he wanted to say and I felt decidedly uncomfortable watching him as he fumbled through his notes. Touchingly, one of his younger brothers jumped to the rescue and tactfully guided Simon through the rest of his speech.

If there’s one thing to be learnt from this documentary, it is “never to judge a book by it’s cover.” While Simon looked more or less ‘fixed’ on the outside, on the inside it’s a very different story.

You can watch My New Brain on Channel 4od here or on You Tube here (after ads).

Information Source: The Arts Desk.