April 2017 Brian Brigham
April 1, 2017
Brian Brigham - April 2017
As a reward for earning my Eagle Scout rank at the age of 15, my father and grandmother gave me a new car—a brand new silver Monte Carlo SS. It was the year 2000. On the afternoon of October 4 of that year, I went for a drive with two friends, Mike and Jared, Mike in his Saturn and Jared with me. As 16-year-olds too often do, we got involved in a game of chase that would change my life forever. Coming out of a curve on a narrow country road, I tried to pass Mike, but went off the opposite side of the road, over-corrected and slid sideways into a large tree, with a direct impact on the driver’s side door, and my head. The accident report said I was traveling at approximately 108 MPH when I lost control. If there was one fortunate outcome to this accident, it was that Jared was somehow not hurt.
I was transported to Maine Medical Center (MMC) where the trauma team, including my neurosurgeon, did not believe I would live, however, after 15 days in the ICU I was stable, but in a coma and dealing with the onset of meningitis and a fever so high I required ice packs and a cooling blanket. Five and a half weeks after the accident, I developed life-threatening hydrocephalus that required the implantation of a shunt, and which also was the beginning of my emergence from the coma
Almost immediately, I began acute speech, occupational, and physical therapy, which occurred twice every day for the remainder of my three-month stay at MMC. All that I remember from my stay in Barbara Bush is asking the physical therapist why he was helping me. I thought he was working with me as punishment for a crime. During my hospitalization I experienced my first tonic clonic (grand mal) epileptic seizure, which further complicated my recovery, and remains with me to this day, though fortunately it is under control and I have been seizure-free for several years.
Following discharge from the hospital, I began a year of outpatient therapy at the Brighton Rehabilitation Hospital, which towards the end included learning to drive again, a goal I had set for myself and which kept me focused throughout those long months of rehab work. On the day before the first anniversary of my accident, I passed the Maine driver’s road test and received my new license. During my outpatient rehab, I was able to return to school on a limited basis, and thanks to credits already earned and the incredible support of Windham High School’s teachers, special education staff, and my mother’s tireless commitment, I was able to graduate with my class in May of 2002.
I attended the University of Maine Augusta's art program for a year. Then I enrolled at Mitchell College in New London, Connecticut, to take advantage of their special programs for students with disabilities. I returned to Maine after a year there and enrolled in the UMA’s art program again, with a concentration in photography, and in 2014—12 years after starting college—I was awarded a bachelor of fine arts degree. I have also taken classes in video production at Southern Maine Community College, and continue to look for opportunities to further develop my skills in photographic and video art.
Throughout this long journey I have had to deal with periods of breakthrough seizures, depression, frustration, and disappointment, but also uplifting successes and joys. I am thankful for the support system of my family, but worry about having my own independence from them, and at the same time, what will happen when they are gone. One of the most difficult things at this point in my life is my inability to find employment that is both rewarding and at the same time accommodating of my disabilities.
I have memory problems, especially short term, and have to learn things at my own pace, often several times before I can get them down. But unfortunately businesses today do not seem to have the time, patience, and understanding that is necessary when working with TBI survivors. I continue to look for meaningful employment through State of Maine Vocational Rehabilitation Services, but in more than two years of trying, nothing has yet worked out.
I also participate in programs at the Krempels Center (a brain injury survivors' program in Portsmouth, New Hampshire), Maine Adaptive (formerly Maine Handicapped Skiing and other outdoor programs), volunteer with the Windham Historical Society, and pursue my photography. I recognize that my recovery would not have been as good, and I would not be where I am today, if not for the hard work, dedication, and support of dozens of teachers, medical professionals, TBI survivors and friends, and of course my family.