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Seeing Double, By Ruth Hamlin
My name is Ruth Hamlin. My story is no different than many others who experience a brain injury every year. I was driving to work when a vehicle entered the interstate and hit the side of my car, pushing me into the guard rail. My car bounced off the rail, spun across the freeway and hit the guard rail on the opposite side. The car was totaled and I was pretty shaken but there were no broken bones or gashed limbs. An MRI indicted there was no internal bleeding and I should be fine in a few days. I returned to my home and immediately went to bed. I slept for 32 hours.
About 3 weeks after the accident I started having trouble reading. Considering my age, I assumed it must be time to start wearing reading glasses. During the exam I told the doctor I felt as if my eyes were not working together. She asked if I had been in an accident or hit my head? For the next 4 years I went through multiple exams, eye therapy twice a week, and wore glasses with black tape, clip on prisms and various other methods to help improve my vision. I struggled to do computer work, read basic print, and made a lot of mistakes. I felt overwhelmed, helpless and began to doubt myself in every decision I made. I was frustrated and in denial, which lead to depression.
At the time, I had a promising career as the Executive Director of a foundation as well as a partnership in a jewelry business and small boutique. I was making a good income and life was good. Over the next couple years, I relinquished my share in the business and eventually resigned from the foundation as the stress of the mistakes I continuously made were creating problems both emotionally and mentally.
In 2017 I was referred to an ophthalmologist that specializes in brain injuries resulting in vision loss. He was the first person that made me feel empowered and as if there was hope for me and my situation. Over the next year I worked with him, purchased several specialized pairs of glasses and did numerous tests to track my progress.
While my eyes are in no way healed, today I can read if the print is magnified, and I have learned coping skills to overcome the double vision. Financially, I am still in debt and diligently struggling to climb out. However, I know that I will.
Since the accident, I have started a vision support group to help others with vision issues. My partner and I are creating a new nonprofit called Martinwood International that works with family caregivers and their loved ones. After years working with family caregivers, I now know what it is to have to rely on others to accomplish my goals. Through this journey, people have come into my life that were unexpected and yet have made all the difference in my recovery. Without discounting the difficulties, I have to acknowledge the blessings.
What I have learned is individuals with vision and balance problems resulting from a brain injury can regain their self-confidence, learn new skills, and return to a happy, productive, and fulfilled life. We may need time, support, effective treatment and certain accommodations to heal but together we can find our new normal and regain our life.
A brain injury does not mean your life is over. It means your life has changed. It may end up being a change that gives your life an even greater purpose.
To learn more about Martinwood International or the Vision Support Group please see our webpage www.MartinwoodInternational.com.
News & Notes
Concussions in athletes have received attention in recent years, but experts are now looking to also address the needs of a large, yet overlooked, population – domestic abuse victims. Most of the blows from an abuser are to one of the most vulnerable parts of the body and, over years of daily and weekly incidents, those hits take a toll. “In a domestic violence situation, a lot of the abuse is focused on the head,” said Jonathan Lifshitz, director of the Translational Neurotrauma Research Program at the University of Arizona. Lifshitz said that football players, who encounter significant blows but are supported by on-hand medical assistance at games and in the off-season, have a different brain-injury reality than abuse victims. Brain injury research has followed soldiers after combat and professional athletes but the subjects have been mostly male, Zieman said. Researchers are just beginning to understand differences between men and women with concussions.
If there’s one thing adults just don’t understand, it’s probably the world and culture of high school. So when we started talking about a series on head injuries in youth sports, we thought: “Why not ask student journalists to help?” Last fall, project manager Lee van der Voo and I visited Portland-area classrooms to tell students about Rattled: Oregon’s Concussion Discussion, ask for their input, and see if they wanted to contribute. Sure enough, they did. And for many of them, the interest is personal.