New book a milepost on Salem man's road to recovery
SALEM - If you ask David Grant how he is, he'll tell you, "I still have stuff."
It's a victory of sorts for a man dedicated to educating people about traumatic brain injury, a silent epidemic affecting about 1.7 million Americans annually, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
On Nov. 11, 2010, Grant, a writer and endurance cyclist who averaged about 30 miles a day, embarked on the longest journey of his life.
Traveling down a road he'd ridden a hundred times before, Grant pulled up to a stop sign. He checked left - clear. Right - clear.
"I gave one push with my pedal, and the next thing I knew I was airborne," Grant said.
Striking a windshield, Grant was tossed 50 feet through the air along Main Street in what he calls his "superman act." The episode lasted about three seconds but felt more like 30, Grant said. He remembers the moment with amazing clarity and in stunning contrast. He recalls noticing chips of mica shining in the pavement and becoming aware of the upcoming impact a split second before hitting the ground.
He awoke to people screaming "Call 9-1-1!" and realized he had been knocked out. As he was loaded into an ambulance, he yelled for someone to call his wife. He found some comfort that his children knew they were loved and would be in good hands if he didn't make it, Grant said.
He would never be the same.
In his book "Metamorphosis, Surviving Brain Injury," Grant describes the battle to rebuild his life.
"It has been the most amazing journey I've been on," Grant said.
He would give anything to avoid the accident and not have to play the hand he's been dealt, Grant said, but he hopes his book will help others with traumatic brain injury see the possibility of leading an enriching life.
The diagnoses came slowly. Too stubborn to stay in the hospital, Grant returned home the night of his accident with a broken elbow, a cast on his leg and bruising over most of his body. Doctors said he had a concussion that should clear up in six to nine months.
His first appointment with a neurologist after the accident brought good news.
"I passed with flying colors," Grant said.
After correctly answering 26 of 30 questions on a MOCA test, his doctor sent him home with "Congratulations, you dodged a bullet."
Still, Grant recalls feeling different and chalking the felling up to the "slow crawl of recovery."
He continued to develop symptoms including incessant tinnitus, chronic headaches, and vertigo.
About two months after the accident, he was baking brownies for a social gathering, an activity so familiar to him that friends had dubbed him "Baker Dave." This time was different.
He knew the recipe by heart but couldn't recall it. Looking at the box of ingredients, Grant realized that he could see the words but couldn't read them.
"I stood there. I didn't know what to do," he said.
Within days, he was back in the neurologist's office, where he again passed the tests. After discussing all his symptoms, Grant was diagnosed with post-concussive syndrome, which he was told would pass in about a year.
He left the office with renewed hope.
Grant had returned to bike riding three months after the accident. On a warm March day, he pulled his bike out for a two-hour ride. About what seemed like five minutes into the ride, he checked his watch and got a shock: More than two hours had passed. The odometer confirmed that he had traveled 30 plus miles, but Grant had virtually no recall of it.
Back in the neurologist's office, he was diagnosed with global transient amnesia and post-traumatic stress disorder.
Early in 2012, a final appointment with a specialist brought Grant a diagnosis of mild traumatic brain injury and a new label: permanently disabled.
"There's nothing mild about a mild traumatic brain injury," Grant said.
The first year following the accident was spent navigating the medical establishment.
Grant was faced with developing strategies to cope with his "new normal." An experienced public speaker, he found himself dealing with a speech disorder within four months of the accident. Memory problems also surfaced.
That's when he began chronicling the changes in his life.
"I found the process was immensely cathartic," he said.
Grant began writing his book believing that people with the most difficult circumstances need to do something for others. His motivation in writing the book, he said, was to let people know there's a huge amount of resources out there and to assure them that there is a way to rebuild a life after brain injury.
The book took about a year to write. Grant's research confirmed much information that he already knew about the profound personal changes brain injury brings. Nine out of 10 close relationships involving someone who recently has experienced traumatic brain injury dissolve in the first year after the injury.
"I think part of that is (people involved in such relationships) are reminded of their own mortality and how fragile life can be," Grant said.
He said doesn't resent the friends who drifted away, believing people do what they deem necessary. A new circle of friends has entered Grant's life since the accident. He joined a monthly support group and later became the co-facilitator.
"They are the most inspirational group of people that I have ever met," Grant said.
About 90 percent of people adopt a recluse lifestyle after injury, Grant said, but he finds sharing his experience beneficial.
"For a lot of folks, you never get back to where you were," Grant said. "You have to learn to reinvent yourself in your post-traumatic injury world."
Grant continues to struggle with word substitution problems, loss of linear memory, vision difficulties and tinnitus.
"I no longer experience true silence anymore," he said.
He fights anguish or frustration by developing compensatory strategies, he said. He has created oases of white noise areas, such as a fish tank with an aerator, to battle tinnitus.
"It doesn't take away the discomfort, but it makes life a little more bearable," he said.
Some changes have a silver lining. Losing his emotional filter made Grant more open with his thoughts and feelings, he said: "I connect with people in a way that I never did before."
Grant still lives in Salem with his wife, Sarah, and envisions a positive, but different, future. "Nothing beats me," he said. "This came close, but I'm a chronic overcomer."