My name is Dean Fyfe and it’s been 13 years since my wife, Cheryl sustained an Acquired Brain Injury after a car accident.
It’s hard to explain exactly what it’s like to live with Acquired Brain Injury (ABI). But I’d like to try.
I wasn’t thinking so much about the impact on me. It was the kids. I was the adult, so I just had to try and hold it together for them all.
I quickly discovered that while the medical team was excellent, the emotional support and advice just wasn’t there. We were offered some assistance from a social worker, but it wasn’t enough. It wasn’t exactly what we needed. And most importantly, it wasn’t available when we needed it.
So I got on with what I needed to do. I had to think about Cheryl’s needs, the four kids – and me in there somewhere. Our family GP provided great emotional support. But it was never really enough.
What I didn’t comprehend at the time was the lifelong impact of Cheryl’s injury. That the emotional ‘ripples’ would go on and on forever. Because ABI is not something that affects families for a short period of time. It’s for life.
The kids were all at different stages of life with different needs. Our eldest son, Brett was already facing one of the most challenging times in his life.
He was studying Year 12 and learning to drive – this alone was a constant reminder of what had happened to his mum. The majority of Brett’s driving lessons involved going to see his mum in hospital or rehab.
Brett felt guilty that he couldn’t spend as much time with his mum as he wanted. Once he got his licence, he would take his school books and sit by his mum’s side at Hampstead for hours on end, studying.
Life evolved into a new rhythm. Brett seemed to be coping as best he could. But five years ago – eight years after the accident – everything fell apart for Brett.
He had a mini breakdown from the stress and guilt he had been carrying for years, the grief of seeing his mum in so much pain and that dreadful feeling that maybe, it would have been better if his mum had died. At the time of the accident, he was a young man. He thought he could deal with it and he didn’t get any help.
Brett has sought counselling and continues to work through these feelings. But this guilt, these feelings that were not dealt with at the time, still affect him today.
We need to give young adults and children as much help as we can to cope with this change in their lives. We need to tailor support so it is available when they need it.
My kids needed help more than five years after the injury occurred.
We need to help these kids enter adulthood as well-rounded, confident young people with the emotional skills they need to succeed in life.