Long recovery after thong slip causes brain injury
"I FELT like I was locked in a cage for 18 months. I could understand what was happening, but I just couldn't articulate anything."
Graeme Gates knows his experience is one shared by 1.6 million Australians with a brain injury.
After two-and-a-half years of relentless work to retrain his mind and body, the Toowoomba father-of-two is finally able to share his story.
Life was turned upside down when Graeme and his wife Paula were moving house from Dubbo to Ipswich in January, 2012.
Of all things, it was a slippery thong that caused the whole ordeal. Graeme was moving boxes into his new garage when he lost balance and hit his head.
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He was only in hospital for two days. From thereon in, it was up to Paula and their two teenage daughters to bring back the man they loved.
Graeme was "basically mute" and the few words he did say were jumbled. This lasted for months.
He was constantly exhausted and felt nauseous for 18 months - an infuriating turn of events for someone who, before the accident, regularly ran triathlons.
"You don't realise they can understand what's going on, but they can't express it and they can't absorb everything," Paula said.
"I'm a real sticker at things. It's been hard - it would have been easier to run, but you've just got to work it through.
"His mind is what I loved and that's what we lost, because it wasn't functioning the same."
Paula moved her family to Toowoomba, which has been excellent for Graeme's recovery.
Little by little, Graeme has re-taught himself to play chess, Sudoku and guitar and is starting to regain a grasp over foreign languages he lost to the injury.
Most importantly, his laughter has returned along with his "dad jokes" - which he admitted were often less-than superb comedy.
"It's taken until this year for his sense of humour to come back. I can give him cheek now and he'll give it back, whereas if I did it before, I would get in trouble," Paula said.
Graeme attributes his ongoing success to his family's unwavering dedication and his own refusal to give up.
He hopes to inspire a similar philosophy in other victims of this invisible injury.
"I felt like I was a failure. I left my whole family with no job, nothing," he said.
"But you can either look back and be negative, or you can draw a line in the sand and look ahead.
"Yes I've lost some things, but that's not going to help me at all. I have to go forward."
Brain Injury Awareness Week ends this Sunday. To donate or find out more about treatment options visit www.brainlink.org.au.