Here, Max Bongard shares his experience of brain injury in his own words.
The story of my brain injury begins nearly five years ago when I had just turned 26. Having celebrated my birthday a few days before, I collapsed and suffered a cardiac arrest, resulting in a hypoxic brain injury. Fortunately, I was with my friend who knew what to do by giving me CPR and kept me breathing, subsequently saving my life.
After spending four weeks in the intensive care unit, I gradually recovered enough to go to the main ward to further my rehabilitation. A friend brought my headphones to the ward one day which was a great help. Not only to drown out the sound of a busy ward but also to try and remember what life was like outside of hospital.
I quickly discovered that learning how to do the most basic things in life can be frustrating and depleting - but extremely satisfying at the same time.
I had to relearn pretty much everything again; walking, talking, holding cutlery, tying my shoelaces etc. The simplest everyday tasks suddenly became impossible for me to try and do. It’s not what your average person has to go through in their mid 20s, and it doesn’t come quickly.
I’d pretty much given up hope of thinking I’d be able to be independent and go back into the world, but with the help and support of my friends and family I was able to do just that.
Having a clear goal to aim towards was a huge help for me. At the time of my brain injury I was extremely happy, with a great friendship group around me and a job that I loved and was desperate to get back to. I knew I wouldn’t be able to return to working my role in the same way as I did pre-brain injury, but I had a huge amount of support from my team and senior management to help in my phased return.
You never see the progress you’re making until you’re way past it and realise what you’ve achieved. But after going back to work in London, the full impact of my injury began to dawn on me. Despite looking exactly the same and sitting at the same desk to do the same role, I couldn’t cope. For me the hardest thing is coming to terms with how invisible and disabling a brain injury can be.
People look at you and assume you’re the same person with the same characteristics - but you’re simply not. Learning to overcome that and be happy within the new version of yourself is the toughest challenge of all.
Being in the rehabilitation unit with fellow survivors really helped the recovery process for me. Sharing your story with other survivors and progressing together was an experience I’ll never forget – even though my memory isn’t quite what it was.
Unfortunately, my brain injury wasn’t my first experience spent in hospital. As a teen I’d been hospitalised in Manchester with severe burns and needed a huge amount of surgery to save my life. It was similarly life-changing – but the two injuries were completely different. The burns were physical as opposed to cognitive - but the recovery had similar challenges to overcome.
My love and appreciation for the NHS and all the staff who’ve looked after me over the years is difficult to put into words. My NHS number is tattooed on my wrist as a frequent reminder as to how lucky I am to be alive, and how thankful I am that I had the NHS to look after me when I needed it most.
I feel like the best advice you can give someone in a similar situation is to be as patient as possible and never underestimate yourself.
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