My New Backup Brains, or What I Learned from my Recent Head Injury

Gentle Readers, you may have noticed a lag since my last post. About 6 weeks ago I was in a car accident, and I’ve been milking that for a while (trying to get out of changing poopy diapers, etc.). Overall, I was lucky – my air bags deployed and I received only minimal external injuries. It took me a couple of days to take my head injury seriously, which is ironic considering that I oversee a team that makes mobile health applications for things like mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI).

My first clue that something upstairs wasn’t working properly should have been my terrible decision making immediately following the accident, plus the fact that I couldn’t remember any phone numbers. The day after the accident, I got lost while driving. Twice. [Yes, I know, I shouldn’t have been driving. I’ll add that to my list of stupid things I did in the week following my accident.]

The day after that, as I was getting ready for work, I couldn’t figure out which contact lens went in which eye. I only stayed at work for about an hour, during which time I realized I couldn’t really understand my email and I still couldn’t remember my phone number. Finally a coworker had to scold me before it really sunk in: my grey cells were slightly scrambled.

Things are pretty much back to normal now. I feel like my cognitive functioning has completely returned, and I am grateful. Overall, this experience has taught me two things:

1) There are a lot of good writing and memory aids out there. While I was struggling at work in the few weeks following the accident, many folks tuned me into helpful memory and work aids. A couple have been especially helpful for my writing, so I wanted to share them with you all.

Evernote is a mobile app and website with a cloud-based server that can sync your writing, recordings and photos whether you input them from your smartphone (iPhone or android phone), tablet computer (iPad, kindle fire, etc), or online from a desktop or laptop computer. The mobile interface can be a bit confusing, but once you’ve figured out the navigation, it’s pretty terrific. I like that I can record a note to myself while driving, and it annotates it with the time and place. I can then retrieve it from any device/computer later on. Plus, it has a cute logo. If you’re really into Evernote, here’s a cool post from a SuperUser.

PocketMod. I love, love, love PocketMod. If I wasn’t already hitched, I would try to marry it. Quite the opposite of Evernote, PocketMod is delightfully low-tech. It’s essentially a folded up paper booklet to help you organize your thoughts. You go to the website and select what kind of information you want in the booklet (to-do lists, blank lines for writing, calendars, tip calculator, etc), and then you print it, do some cutting and taping, and Ta Da: A back-up brain to carry with you on your journey. [So — at the time of this post, the PocketMod site seems to be having some difficulty due to its popularity. Here is a shortcut to the app. PocketMod, I am seriously questioning our imaginary engagement!]

2) It’s hard to ask for help. I feel much more empathy for our service members who receive head injuries. Part of why I didn’t want to take my mTBI seriously is that I didn’t want to look weak by asking for help. At the scene of the accident, paramedics asked if I was okay. They bandaged my cuts, but I said I was otherwise fine. That was my opportunity to let someone help me, and I blew it off. I really can’t imagine how hard it would be to ask for help for a head injury following a vehicle blast while others have visible injuries. I’m more committed than ever to helping reduce stigma related to head injury and other psychological and physiological health issues. To learn more about brain injury and some amazing work to help prevent and treat mTBI, I suggest the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center (DVBIC).