Brain injury survivor Irene Fischer shares her story

ROLLING INSPIRATION sat down with author Irene Fischer to discuss her memoir I Am Still Here, which tells the story of her car accident in 2009 that caused extensive damage to her brain, and her journey through rehabilitation. The book recounts her feeling and thoughts about herself, human nature and self-motivation after her accident.

Why did you decide to write a memoir?

There are two reasons. The first was that in South Africa there is very little info readily available concerning traumatic brain injury (TBI) and its possible consequences. I heard from my family how much they struggled to find any information, any hope, any encouragement after I sustained a TBI.

The second reason is that there is a massive information deficit regarding brain injury, and most people don’t know how to act around me or treat me. I decided the best way to change this is by educating as much as I can. US poet and author Maya Angelou said it brilliantly: “The need for change bulldozed a road down the centre of my mind.”

What was some of the challenges of writing the book?

It took me four years mainly because I have never written a book and no-one can tell you how to do it. There is no formula. Secondly, I wanted my book to be informative and factual as well as to tell the emotional part of my journey. I had to do extensive research by asking questions of my various therapists, neurosurgeon, psychologist and psychiatrist.

You include lots of personal items, such as photographs, email correspondence and excerpts from your sister’s diary. Why did you put these in?

I wanted my book to be personal, to hit home. I used the diary my sister kept during my stay in hospital because it told part of my story that I couldn’t tell due to amnesia. I thought it was very important to show how it affected one of the people dearest to me. A picture tells a thousand words and I think the photos said much more than I ever could. The email correspondence is to make my book multidimensional by offering the opinion of others, also to lend it more credibility.

You often discuss terminology in the novel such as brain damage, brain injury, etc. Do you have a preferred terminology?

I am a brain injury survivor. I preferred to be called that because my brain is no longer injured. It healed as best it could, I adapted and now I am living in my new normal. It goes like this: whenever you sustain a traumatic blow to your head you sustain a TBI. A TBI is often just referred to as “brain injury”. It leads to inevitable damage to the brain. So, both were applicable to me, but brain damage is not this festering sore/entity in my head. I am as healthy as can be and that is why I preferred to be called a brain injury survivor.

What important message would you like readers to take from your memoir?

I bleed red. I was “repackaged” by the accident and I am physically disabled, but although I walk and talk differently to what much of society considers to be “normal”, I’m no less a human being. Please treat me, and others in a similar position, with respect and kindness.

The cover is very beautiful and interesting. Did you decide on the cover for a particular reason?

Yes, because I am a hemiplegic half my face is kind of blotted out. That is to tickle people’s curiosity, because hemiplegia is relatively unknown, unlike paraplegia and quadriplegia, which are almost household terms. Hemiplegia is when one half (hemisphere) of a person’s body is either completely paralysed or weaker than the other half of the body. I tried to hint towards that with this cover.

Would you ever consider writing another book?

Yip! But this book would be a work of fiction, not nonfiction, because I feel I’ve now told all I can to create a healthy platform for compassion, consideration and respect for all disabled persons.

What has your life been like since your book came out? Have there been any further improvements? Have you been able to assist people in your community to better understand the aftermath of a brain injury?

I have been very fortunate to receive great support and positive feedback regarding the book. To my delight everyone who has read it understood what I tried to say about consideration of and compassion towards any disability – physical and mental.

I have reached a plateau physically and I think my brain has stretch marks, because I never stop learning! So, my new sense of normal is deeply satisfying as I do what I can with what I have.

I believe (and hope!) that every person I came in contact with will definitely go away with a different attitude towards and a better understanding of brain injury.

“One person can make a difference and everyone should try.” JFK

To learn more about Irene, who is also a motivational speaker, visit her website at www.mylifewithabrokenbrain.co.za. Also keep an eye out for ROLLING INSPIRATION’s review of her novel in Issue 6!

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