As an 18-year severe Traumatic Brain Injury survivor, I have learned how to handle losing the function of a critical body part! While it has never been easy to navigate, it has presented a few challenges I had to overcome to put myself in a position to function without the full use of some body parts. I had to learn how to work with adaptive equipment in order to function as I had previously. I also learned that it was not always adaptive equipment that assisted my progress. Sometimes it was that I had to perform functions differently to complete the task.
I think back to an OT therapy that was focused on dressing and grooming. I remember putting on a jacket to go outside. Because my Left hemiplegia, I had to start everything using my right arm. I could have tried to start with my left arm, but it would have taken too long to do and at this point of rehab, I was just trying to complete the task. I called this adaptive dressing! Because the majority of the ADL’s (Activities of daily living) I could perform, required me to use my right side to get everything started. Followed by using my right side to help with the left, you might look at me and initially think that I had a bad case of left neglect! But… I did not care how it looked, because I could get things done!
Another example was when I was eating food that required me to use a fork and knife at the same time! I think I avoided eating a lot of meals that required me using two utensils at the same time. Using one hand meant that I had to use a knife in my right hand and hope I could cut the food without it moving. This was called my adaptive eating! However, when I was introduced to the rocker knife, I no longer had this problem! This rocker knife allowed me to cut food without it moving away, because I could do everything using my right hand. Again, stare and talk about me if you want, but I was EATING!!
When I think about coming and going to day rehab five days a week, I had to be efficient at walking down stairs by myself. This meant I had to install railings on the steps leading to my front door of my house in Chicago. When I first started day rehab I was motivated to get out of my house and into another rehab setting but going up and down the stairs on my own was a challenge. Initially, I had to put each foot on every step so I was safe. This was known as my adaptive stair climbing! But as the weeks went by, and I got stronger, I could climb and descend the steps normally using one foot on each step. When I was feeling confident, I could skip a step! That’s when my therapists would tell me that I was showing off or getting cocky!
Here is the best adaptation made going through my first 6-9 months of rehab… Inside my unit, I had access to the basement, but it required walking down the steepest steps in my house! Fortunately, I had a railing on the right side so I could make it down the steps without too much of a problem. However, adaptive stair climbing reached its peak when I needed to go back up the steps. Now the railing that was on my right side going down was now on the left side going up the stairs. I wasn’t strong enough to hold the railing with my left arm and go up the stairs, but I was able to hold the railing with my right arm and walk backwards up the stairs! This was not initially pretty, nor was it a quick trip, but I eventually made it up the steps!! This was my greatest adaptation!! I never hurt myself going up or down the stairs, and while it scared others when I showed off my adaptation I was very comfortable! This actually reminded me of how Batman and Robin would climb buildings with their Bat rope! The same process on the way up was the same process on the way down. This is what I tried to mimic walking up and down the stairs using the railing on the right side!
Brain Injury recovery involved making life adaptations! These adaptations can either be with adaptive equipment or making physical adaptations to complete the functions most important to you! I encourage you to always be focused on completing your goal first! Take your time to research and test adaptive equipment. Break the function down into steps that can be completed separately, so they can all be put together. When you are comfortable with completing the entire function, practice to make the steps look better. You can do it; it just takes repetition!!