Trauma and Recovery

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Robert Silverman

When “Dr. Bob” Doman suggested that I write a section for his book, I was a bit puzzled. “Write something about attitude,” Dr. Bob suggested. Now that word didn’t seem adequate but we failed to come up with a better one. Yet it is really attitude that has driven me to do this rigorous neurological program for nearly seven years, and very successfully I might add. Actually, whatever arms you with enough fortitude to continue in the midst of despair is surely the right attitude.

Let me familiarize you with my case. In 1976, I was struck by a car that sped through a red light. I was crossing the street where I shouldn’t have and failed to look. My life would change in that instant, I was struck at 50 MPH and landed head first on the cement roadway. I was rushed to an emergency room. Both legs were broken. An orthopedic surgeon performed a fine series of operations and saved both legs. At one point gangrene had infected the left leg, and it was about to be amputated. My orthopedic surgeon, however, insisted that they wait. Luckily they did and the gangrene disappeared. I was not to learn until much later that the decision that would save my leg would eventually play a large part in my ability to do these exercises and save my life, make my brain well.

When I awoke from the coma, I was in a neurological ward. Yet, I barely knew that. I did not know where I was or what had happened to me. I felt that “something big” had happened. It felt as if ten sandbags lay on top of my head. That feeling was from hydrocephalus that wasn’t to be detected or even tested for in twenty months of conventional treatment.

Everything was very dark and what I could make out was in double images. I spoke in eerie, haphazard bursts and was disassociated both from body and surroundings. At one point, I finally realized what had happened, loudly announced that I had been hit by a car, and promptly lapsed back into the coma, not uttering a sound for days. When I did speak again, it was with great effort, slow and labored. The words were not very intelligible and evidently what you could hear sounded as if I had a mouth full of mashed potatoes. I did not make much more progress.

After a few months in the hospital’s neurological ward, I was sent to a nursing home. Life at the home was comprised of eating and sleeping with daily forays to “occupational therapy,” ashtrays and baskets. I could not see or think well enough to know what I was doing and was thought to be depressed. It would have been difficult to be otherwise for I could not see, walk, talk, smell, taste, hear, or feel well at all. Also, I was hydrocephalic and had enormous pain in my leg. Was I supposed to be a good, compliant patient?

Long months of hospital therapy followed. It proved worthless and worse, confusing. Finally a friend heard of my plight. He managed to arrange an appointment in Pennsylvania with Dr. Robert Doman. It was an outside chance, but at least a chance. In all the months at the hospital with this gross injury, there had been no mention of the word “brain.”

On my appointed day in Pennsylvania, I was greeted by a group of doctors who not only knew that something was wrong with me, but also were audacious enough to suggest that they knew how to make me well. Meantime, back in Toronto, my friend and angel, Stuart Kent, had organized a volunteer network for me. The first few weeks were a beehive of activity at my house. People were learning when to push or pull my body, apply pressure, put salt and sugar on my tongue, talk to me in a dark closet, spin me in a chair, gently tickle my face, etc. I was the focus of all the attention but a most passive participant. The most vivid recollection I have of this time is the hydrocephalus starting to break up as I was rolled on the floor. It felt like chains snapping in my head, as though I were being released. I would require volunteers for only a year, until November of 1978.

As I write this it is May, 1984, and I have waged and won a long private battle. It is the only world I have known and it is only at this time that I’m aware of how long it has been in “real” time. I knew that if I wanted to live a full life, my birthright, once more that I was doing the only correct thing in the world. Anyway, there was nowhere to go but up because I was far worse than dead. From the beginning of my odyssey, I felt that I was the authority on my body, that I knew more than anyone else about it instinctively. I had always kept a firm image of what I would look like when whole again. To do this, I’ve had to keep to myself for years. Full reintegration into society will be problematic but when compared to my problems over recent years, a piece of cake. Anger has fueled me, anger as a result of what I could not do, i.e., everything.

In reading this over, I wonder if I have been too “hazy” about my “problem.” Let me be straightforward. I WAS BADLY BRAIN DAMAGED. I was alive because my heart was beating, but I have not been able to live a full and normal life in eight years. What Dr. Doman writes in his book actually does exist and works. NOTHING ELSE WORKS. CERTAINLY NOT TIME. NOTHING! Many other doctors will have you believe that fixing the brain is impossible. THEY ARE WRONG! These men and women at NACD know about the brain.

I have had to persevere through massive obstacles of both medical and public opinion and worse, the brain injury itself. I’ve said that re-entering society in a full way will be difficult, no question. It will be its own “voyage of discovery” laden with all the emotions that accompany a returning vet.

This neurological program then is a long, involved, complicated process, a ball of wax even. There will, however, never be a manmade computer as complex as the human brain. I have made these exercises work to my advantage. They have kept me from the mainstream, and yet I’ve used that separateness for private, personal gain. Presently, I’ve about perfected the art of being. I’m ready for a little doing in my life.

Comments from “Dr. Bob” Doman

I first saw Bob Silverman back east nearly seven years ago. His soaring career as a highly talented and respected dramatic Canadian actor had been suddenly stopped when he was struck down by a speeding car in February of 1976. Bob awoke to a very confusing world where he couldn’t see, hear, taste, smell, feel, or think properly. The medical world that had saved his legs and his life didn’t know what to do to restore his brilliant but injured brain. They finally relegated this confused young man to a rest home where he could do nothing for the remainder of his life. Few amongst us would call that living. It might better be described as a constant state of dying.

Sadly, such a story is neither a cruel fairy tale nor is it a rare incident. In the lives of tens of thousands of young head injury victims, it is a common scenario. Many doctors in evaluating their head injury patients, look on the word “Hope” as a “four letter word.” Yet I wonder, what would the world be like if there was no hope? In my thirty years as a Board Certified Specialist in the field of Rehabilitation, I have seen many head injury and brain injured patients and their families have all hope crushed from their minds by the attitudes and remarks of many doctors dealing with them.

These patients are given two alternatives, spending the rest of their lives in confusion and despair doing nothing, or trying a program involving hard work over a period of years with some possibility of hope. Many families today, as Bob Silverman did seven years ago, are choosing to at least give our program a try.

When I first saw Bob the only thing I promised him was hard work. Fortunately, the thought of hard work didn’t frighten him because he has worked very hard ever since that day. Although he may have had some doubts about us or some parts of his daily program from time to time, Bob never completely lost hope in himself and persevered.

When, a few months ago, I asked Bob to write about his personal struggle to succeed and break free from the depths of doom and despair, I knew that he couldn’t do so without revealing an important attitude of wanting to get better more than anything else in the world. I am happy to be able to tell you that Bob is getting better and better. He is again acting. He moved to Hollywood and is now reevaluated at the NACD National office in Redlands, California, where I have the opportunity to see him every revisit.

Bob was recently nominated for the Canadian equivalent of an Oscar for Best Supporting Actor in a film made since his accident. His film credits are far too numerous to list here. I hope to be able to do so as well as including his article in my book on Head Injuries that will be released in the near future.
To update you on Bob Silverman’s last visit to NACD in May of 1984, he is at the top of our profile with above our scale scores in academics. He has an auditory and visual digit span of eleven. He is totally right-sided in dominance and we are now taking the final steps to make both hemispheres more efficient with bilateral activities including juggling, typing, etc.

Our new goal for Bob Silverman is to help make him better than he was before the car hit him. We can hope, as Bob does, for even greater success.

Reprinted from the Journal of The NACD Foundation (formerly The National Academy for Child Development)

Reprinted by permission of The NACD Foundation, Volume 4 No. 1, 1984 ©NACD