(Photo Courtesy of RIC)
I am a nurse on the brain injury unit at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago (RIC). This job means a lot to me because at one time I was the patient.
More than 22 years ago, I had an accident while working in a steel fabrication shop. I fell more than 15 feet from a ladder to the floor. While one coworker called 911, another coworker held my unresponsive body. I started to turn blue, so while he waited for help, he put me in a bear hug and squeezed me, "the way they do on TV," he said. I started breathing again, but to his surprise blood started gushing out through my left ear. He didn't know if he had saved me or helped kill me.
He had ruptured my ear drum, which allowed the blood and cerebral fluid that was building pressure in my head to escape, quite possibly saving my life. I had suffered a traumatic brain injury, caused by a basal skull fracture, in addition to a separated shoulder.
My short-term memory and speech were affected, and I suffered some left-sided paralysis. So, following my hospital stay, I started rehabilitation through outpatient therapy. I participated in cognitive therapy and physical and occupational therapies and admired the therapists and nurses who helped me find my way back.
After I was released from the hospital and went through ongoing rehabilitation, I was able to fine-tune some of the more creative skills I hadn't been using for a while, such as carving, woodworking, and music.
I started a small wood shop in my garage, and I started playing my guitar more, which was an escape from the daily challenges of recovering from a brain injury.
More than a year after my injury, I was released to go back to work, but I had a list of restrictions preventing me from returning to iron work. I started looking at other industrial-related jobs, given my background. After several job attempts, I knew I had to make some decisions about my future. Thinking about the life experience I had been through in recovering from a brain injury during the previous year, I was struck with the fact that I wanted to make a difference for people, just as the nurses and therapists had made a difference for me.
I found a job that provided tuition reimbursement, and I went back to school and began the steps toward a nursing career. I enrolled in the nursing program at Prairie State College in Chicago Heights, Ill. Balancing school while working 70 hours a week and taking care of my home and family was the ultimate challenge. But nothing was going to stop this future nurse!
When my nursing class took a tour of RIC, I decided I wanted to work there. Observing rehabilitation from an "outside" point of view made me realize this is where I should be helping people get back to life just as I had been helped. After graduation, I applied to work at RIC and was accepted, and I have made RIC's brain injury unit my home away from home.
One of my favorite things about working at RIC is being a part of the long-term care plan. This gives a nurse a chance to get involved with the patient and family.
Also, I'm able to use my other passions, like music, in my career. Some brain injury patients lose their ability to speak, so I have to find creative ways to communicate. Music is universal and has no boundaries, so it is a perfect tool to use when I want to connect with someone. Also, science suggests that sound stimuli helps hasten the growth of neurons and help them to find or create new pathways that once were thought to be lost forever because of traumatic brain injury.
Three years ago I took my guitar to work and played for a "sundowner," a patient whose circadian clock had been altered because of the nature of his brain injury, resulting in inconsistent sleep patterns. The music helped him fall sleep without medication, when nothing seemed to help before. His response to the music was a real breakthrough.
Today, eight years into my nursing career, I wouldn't change a thing about my life. If I hadn't been injured, perhaps I wouldn't have discovered nursing. It's almost as if I don't have to work any more I can't believe they pay me for what I do!
Kurt Butzbach, RN, works at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago. To comment, e-mail editorIL@nursingspectrum.com.