Sometimes it’s better to just say something ….

Like everyone else, I was anxious to see Tracy Morgan’s first interview since his accident. As you may recall, the comedian, famous for his role on “30 Rock”, was seriously injured in a crash in June of 2014. He recently sat down for the first time since his injury for an interview with the Today’s Matt Lauer.

At the time of the crash, I was certain he had sustained a traumatic brain injury. However, I waited and waited … for months all the news reports talked about were his physical injuries, which were significant.  I had not heard a word about a brain injury. As a nurse who has worked in the field of acquired brain injury for nearly 30 years, I knew that he could not have emerged from a crash of that magnitude without sustaining an injury to his brain. What I figured was that those around him did not want that fact mentioned. At some level, I totally understand that.   I’ve seen it many times – those who sustain a brain injury may feel it will affect peoples’ perception of them or their ability to perform their jobs. (How many football players say nothing when they know they’ve had a concussion and just play through so it won’t affect their future in football?)  Public misconception of acquired brain injury is well documented – people believe that there is a recovery period and then the person returns to the way they were. Those misconceptions are fueled by the media images and information about brain injury that is more often wrong than right. In addition, healthcare professionals, who do not work in the field of brain injury, may often hold those misconceptions too.

There is an oft-repeated phrase among brain injury professionals: if you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury. While one may certainly draw some generalizations regarding physical and cognitive functions after a brain injury, each injury manifests itself uniquely in each individual. It may be physical paralysis and/or weakness, balance and coordination problems, speech and language deficits, memory problems, emotional issues and other personality disorders… the list goes on. A person with a brain injury can have one or more of a host of deficits which significantly affect their ability to work and reintegrate into their families and communities. Recovery times and paths vary considerably from person to person.

I do not know Tracy Morgan. Like most people, I have just seen him on TV.   Considering his profession as a comedian, however, I suspect he will have a long road ahead of him in his goal of returning to his previous occupation. Comedy requires a high degree of cognitive ability and, while I’m sure he’s getting the best care possible, I know it won’t be easy. That may explain why acknowledging his brain injury was so delayed.   As I watched him tell his story, it was hard not to be struck with great compassion for what he’s been through. I know the road he’s been on, both for he and his loved ones, has been extremely difficult. I was not surprised by his very emotional responses during the interview –increased emotional intensity and dyscontrol is frequently seen after a brain injury.  Reading the comments of people on the internet to that interview, however, demonstrates to me that many still exhibit incredible lack of understanding and knowledge regarding brain injury.   I was particularly struck by how many people talked of money (the WalMart settlement). The responses indicated that people thought he was going to be living a happy life on easy street. Anyone who knows brain injury, knows that no amount of money in the world can even begin to replace what this man has lost. I am certain he would trade whatever he received to get his previous life back.

Tracy Morgan, and the more than 5.3 million children and adults who live in the U.S. with a lifelong disability related to brain injury, deserve our understanding and support. I applaud his courage in speaking out. I hope and pray that Mr. Morgan is able to return to the stage.

I believe we as brain injury professionals continue to have a great deal of work ahead of us in helping the public understand the complexities of this type of injury.  We must encourage those affected by brain injury to feel comfortable with talking about what’s happened to them – and educate and encourage others around them to listen and learn. I believe it’s better to say something and get the help and support you need early on.

The Nolan Law Group, in association with the Brain Injury Association of Illinois, is committed to public education regarding acquired brain injury. If you would like to schedule an information session for your community group, or if you have any questions, please contact me at gml@nolan-law.com.   For further information on brain injury and brain injury support groups visit www.biail.org.