The experience of surviving traumatic brain injury

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This paper reports a study describing the experience of surviving traumatic brain injury as narrated by individuals 1 year after injury.


The experience of surviving traumatic brain injury is an individual and invisible experience. Healing and resolution of grief is still problematic for many years after injury. This experience includes those with severe injury. There is limited literature focusing on the survivor.


Sixty people with hospital admission diagnoses of traumatic brain injury were interviewed 1 year after injury using the Extended Glasgow Outcome Score questionnaire. Survivors then described their experiences of recovery. Data were collected through unstructured in-depth interviews, transcribed from audio-tapes and analysed into references. Qualitative content analysis was used to compile their frequencies from recurring themes.


Sixty survivors with a median age of 35 years were enrolled in the study, with 100% follow-up. Twelve per cent returned to full preinjury functioning, 35% had residual psychosocial and physical sequelae, 38% had significant restrictions in lifestyle and work capacity, and 15% were unable to care for themselves throughout the 24-hour period. The common narratives were classified into five categories: ‘regret and grief within self’; ‘insensitivity of health professionals’; ‘invisibility of self’; ‘stranded self’; and ‘recovery in self’. These self-narratives reflected renewed ways to view the self, which were conceptualized to be intact ‘in spite of’ or to be worthwhile ‘because of’ the traumatic brain injury.


Self-narratives could be a worthwhile focus of psychological intervention by substituting positive narratives for negative ones, demonstrating hope and a positive outlook on life in order to enhance self-reflection and improve mental health. They can assist people to minimize, avoid or overcome devaluation and, as such, provide a basis for considerable nursing rehabilitation practice, even in those with severe injury.

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