My New Brain

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.

6 Responses to My New Brain

  1. Annb says:

    That sounds like an amazing story I must try to watch it. We have similar issues with Boy Wonder due to the fact that he was so sensory-deprived as a baby because of his illness. He didn’t get to experience the world in a ‘normal’ way and consequently those parts of his brain – the ones for example that deal with hunger, thirst, hot, cold, spacial awareness to name a few – have not developed in a normal way. Our challenge now is to tie them all together and get them to communicate efficiently with each other. That is where the therapeutic listening has come in and has been very successful. Luckily unlike Simon, these areas of the brain are not damaged but merely under developed and in need of specialist stimulation. It always amazes me how Boy Wonder can spot those who ‘get’ him and those who ‘judge a book by its cover’ – it’s like a sixth sense for him. Those who judge get blanked those who don’t get charmed! A rather good lesson in life I think!

    • Steph says:

      Ann – I think you’d LOVE this programme.

      I’m fascinated by the issues surrounding hidden disability. Simon looks and sounds like any other 20 year old but he needs constant supervision, like a small child.

      I would imagine that Boy Wonder’s heightened powers of detection have developed as a result of him having to rely mainly on his sight and hearing for sensory input when he was a baby? As a result, he can now very quickly spot who’s likely to be advantageous to him and who’s not! I can partly relate to this when I think back to times when I’ve been hooked up to IV pumps and confined to bed post-operatively. As a patient, you very quickly work out which nurses will be sympathetic to your needs and which ones to avoid at all costs!

  2. Joe Smallman says:

    I loved the show, and found it very touching. You can see in the documentary how close Simon and his family are, and I think they are what helps him through this difficult time. If Simon, or any of his family read this, then I want to congratulate you on your hard work and wish you the best of luck for the future.

    • Steph says:

      Hi! Joe – Welcome onboard.

      I agree, I loved the programme too. I was very moved by it and particularly touched by how caring and protective the younger brothers were of Simon. I’ve great admiration for his Mum too, it must be very hard on her.

      All in all, it was a fascinating insight into the world of recuperation from a traumatic brain injury. It would be really interesting if Channel 4 were to do an update in about a year’s time, to chart Simon’s progress in the interim.

  3. Baino says:

    I saw that and it reminded me of one of the bloggers I follow. She literally walked into a telegraph pole and had a nasty ‘bump on the head’ as she calls it. She was actually knocked cold and suffered a severe brain injury. She’s amazingly intelligent, worldly, great mum, great wife but there’s something about her that just hasn’t ‘clicked’ and what’s worse, she’s blatently aware of it.

    • Steph says:

      Baino – That must be very tough for your friend. Did you notice the way Simon constantly banged his forehead with the palm of his hand whenever his cognitive function failed him? It’s hard to imagine what it must feel like not to be able to make connections that previously came naturally.

      All this talk of brain injury reminds me somewhat of my father’s steadily deteriorating cognitive function as a result of dementia. He looks normal and sounds normal but he’s no longer able to process what he hears into action.

      With brain injury, it’s a question of re-educating the damaged brain to make connections. With dementia, the brain slowly and insidiously closes down.

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