Navigating ‘Invisible’ Injuries and Illnesses

Earlier this month, CBC News Saskatoon published an article by Chandra Groves, a Saskatchewan woman who suffered a ‘mild-complicated traumatic brain injury’ (TBI) in a head-on motor vehicle accident several years ago. The article focuses on Groves’ experience with ‘invisible illnesses’ in the wake of her accident. The symptoms of her TBI, she writes, “persisted for nearly two years” and included feeling “dizzy, disoriented, nauseous, confused, irritable and anxious.”

“I learned as time went on that the emotional side effects of a TBI can be just as paralyzing as the physical ones,” she wrote. “I was lonely and isolated, because my recovery required solitude in dark and quiet places. On top of that, the tools that I had used in the past to navigate challenging times were taken away. I couldn’t go for a walk or a drive in the country. I couldn’t listen to my favourite artist or visit with my best friends. I couldn’t write in my journal or reflect and learn from my experiences.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, the most severe forms of brain injury can cause the following symptoms:

  • Coma
  • Vegetative state
  • Minimally conscious state (“a condition of severely altered consciousness but with some signs of self-awareness or awareness of one’s environment.”)
  • Brain death (“no measurable activity in the brain”)

These are the worst-case scenarios; when a brain injury lawyer represents a client with any of these symptoms, it’s easy to convince a judge or jury of the injury’s severity.

With mild to moderate brain injuries, that task can be more difficult. Here are some of the symptoms the Mayo Clinic identifies for less severe TBIs.

  • Memory loss and concentration issues
  • Mood changes or mood swings
  • Depression
  • Anxiety
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Sleeping more than usual
  • Repeated vomiting or nausea
  • Convulsions or seizures
  • Loss of coordination
  • ‘Profound confusion’
  • Agitation or combativeness
  • Slurred speech

Many of these symptoms – mood swings, anxiety, confusion, etc. – manifest internally. In fact, it’s not uncommon for a brain injury survivor to heal physically while continuing to grapple with a range of serious mental and emotional symptoms which are known as ‘invisible injuries’ or ‘invisible illnesses.’ These are what Chandra Graves dealt with for years after her accident.

“A TBI is unlike any other injury,” she wrote. “Your brain is who you are. When it is changed, it changes everything.”

Recovering from these invisible injuries often requires significant time off work and extensive rehabilitation, both of which require funding that few accident victims have easy access to. It is the job of a brain injury lawyer to represent clients with invisible injuries and convince the court that their needs are just as urgent as a victim with physical injuries.

Doing so isn’t always easy. The Canadian justice system better understands invisible injuries today than it did several decades ago, but a prejudice against mental and emotional trauma remains.

“Society wouldn’t expect a person with a broken leg to run a marathon with a cast on,” Graves wrote. “TBIs are invisible, and for this reason, in my experience, others often underestimate the effect that they have on survivors’ physical, mental and emotional well-being.”

How Can I Access Compensation for My Invisible Injury?

The first step to securing compensation for for a TBI, chronic pain, or another invisible injury is to contact a personal injury or brain injury lawyer with experience representing seriously injured accident victims. Your lawyer will assess your case, lay out your legal options, and provide guidance and advice throughout the claims process. They may also be able to connect you with specialized healthcare providers to facilitate your recovery.

There are also steps you can take to improve your chances in court:

  • Visit a doctor soon after your accident and continue to visit the doctor regularly. Clearly and accurately describe your symptoms on each visit – this will provide a consistent medical record of your injury and its progression.
  • Keep a journal of your symptoms. This will make it easier to understand how your injury is evolving and will ensure you don’t omit symptoms during visits with your doctor.
  • Avoid social media as much as possible! People who use social media tend to amplify the things that are going right in their lives and downplay their struggles. Doing this could hurt you in a legal fight.
  • Follow your doctor and rehabilitation provider’s instructions. This point is less about legal success than ensuring your recovery goes as planned.

Contact Will Davidson LLP

If you have suffered a TBI in an accident, a brain injury lawyer from Will Davidson LLP would be happy to help. For decades, our team has helped vulnerable injury victims navigate Ontario’s legal system in pursuit of compensation to fund their recoveries. Contact us today to learn more about our history and experience.

Image: Shutterstock

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