Life after traumatic brain injury: 'It took me over a year to find out I had an accident' | Australian Books

CAroline Laner Breure is a rising perfectionist. She was restless and hungry, with a free spirit. It was this motivation that led him to leave his native Brazil and move to Sydney after graduating from university.

Pursuing her dream of living in Bondi, she began traveling the world with her boyfriend.

„I felt I had to be perfect in every aspect,” Brewer tells Guardian Australia.

„I wanted to be perfect in everything, whether it was with friends or partners or work. I always wanted to be perfect.

“But now [I’m] Not too worried.”

Her life took a drastic turn on holiday in Spain in September 2019, when she stepped into the path of a car – leaving an obstacle on her way to get breakfast.

First, her head hit the windshield of the car before her body flew through the air. The force was so great that her Birkenstock and phone were thrown to opposite sides of the street, picked up by passing strangers.

Brewer was vacationing in Dubrovnik, Croatia, before the accident

Brewer remembers none of this, of course. Speaking on Zoom with Bradley Taylor Grieve, the best-selling author of Penguin Bloom and The Blue Day Book, he explained how the pair put together the pieces of his story – including the accident – ​​for their new book, Broken Girl.

Brewer is in Lisbon while Taylor Grieve is in Los Angeles, and as they gently break down my questions and his experience into small, manageable chunks, they reveal in a small way how he managed to piece together his story twice and once. -Half a year and thousands of messages sent back and forth across time zones. Written from Brewer's perspective, the result is a book that is often atmospheric and ambiguous, with a deliberately implausible narrative voice. The reader is treated to a breadcrumb of detail and memory, just as Brewer himself experienced it.

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Paramedics put Brewer in an induced coma, and he was diagnosed with a grade-three diffuse axial injury at a Barcelona hospital. Doctors gave her a 5% chance of survival, and even if she pulled through there was a high chance she would be left in a permanent vegetative state.

Brewer is learning to use her legs again in a wheelchair, and her mother is close by if she needs help. Photo: Carolyn Lanner Brewer

In their book, Taylor Grieve and Brewer draw on official reports and witness accounts to imaginatively recreate the aftermath while lying in a hospital bed. If she were a work of art, the book says, it would be „Botero meets Hieronymus Bosch,” while her mind „walked.”[ed] The inertia between this dimension and the next”.

They explain how damage to the left hemisphere of her brain left her with Wernicke's aphasia, a language and comprehension disorder, and how she had to relearn everything she once took for granted. The simple act of using her hands became like „asking five caterpillars to pick up a spoon.”

After leaving the hospital, she underwent a relentless cycle of physiotherapy, facial paralysis rehabilitation, personal training, speech therapy, cognitive behavioral therapy, occupational therapy and sleep therapy.

Her life had changed, but it took a while to sink in; As her brain slowly rewires itself, she often forgets about the accident.

„I didn't even know I had an accident — it took me over a year to figure it out,” Brewer says. “At that point, personally, I felt 100% better, you know? I was perfect.

Brewer, still unable to use his right arm, fed himself pudding to gain weight before his final brain surgery.

It was only through the reactions of others to the visible changes in her appearance and mannerisms that she began to fully appreciate what she had experienced and her new reality. „I didn't know people could see me [differently] The way I walk, the way I talk Every way.”

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After eventually returning to Australia, she was struck by the loneliness of a condition that was obvious to everyone but her. It made her feel invisible and forgotten.

„I feel like a lot of people left me because they could see that I wouldn't progress; I'd always be like that, you know?”

Feeling frustrated and isolated in her adopted home, she returned to Barcelona three years after the accident, visiting the crash site and the hospital where she had been unconscious for months.

As her friends in Australia struggled to reconcile Caroline with a friend who had moved to Europe years earlier, the staff and doctors who had been with her during her treatment and recovery knew very well what she had been through and how she had been. She'll come a long way – even if her memory loss means they're virtual strangers to her.

“It was amazing… They were smiling and feeling so happy, even though I didn't know them, it was like I was a celebrity. Sure, I knew them when I was in a coma, or when I was trying to walk and talk, but they remember me well. They were very happy to see me.

They asked if she would like to see the room she had been looking after for months. „I was like, 'Yeah, sure,'” says Brewer. „But it didn't bring back any memories for me—I can't remember anything.”

She and Greve become like a detective picking up clues in her own life. It's tempting to put life before the accident on a pedestal, but when her memories return and she remembers the password to her old laptop, she's reminded that her old life wasn't always perfect.

„It's a bit revealing, like finding my password, or photos I've taken, or receipts,” he says.

Brewer had previously imagined his life as happy, but these details revealed a more complicated truth. „I thought, 'That was amazing, I had so many friends,' blah blah,” she says. But she discovered that „it wasn't really like that.” Her mother told her that she was depressed and that she was not really happy.

„I don't know what to do,” he says of feeling directionless after the accident.

She struggled to reconnect with her old life, friendships and business in Sydney, so she decided to start anew. In early 2023 he moved to Portugal with his cat Sandi.

„In Bondi and Sydney, where I was, I felt like I had 'brain injury' or 'accident' tattooed on my forehead,” he says. „I felt like I had that stigma.”

Photo: Hachette

Before his accident, Brewer had little appreciation for the small and seismic ways that life can change after a traumatic brain injury. Working with Grieve became a way of denying the experience to herself and the readers, and became a hard-fought act on her part – to make the world „forget” her.

„There are definitely days when I feel like, 'Oh I'm definitely a broken girl,' because I make a lot of mistakes, whether related to the brain injury or not. But there are other times when I'm not. [feeling broken].

„It's been four and a half years and I feel like I'm perfect just the way I am.”

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