Several months ago I was asked to speak to the Stroke Support Group which meets at one of the NCH facilities in Naples, where we live. Apparently, the speech was a success. One of several results of the speech was that I was asked to become a Brain Injury Peer Visitor in the hospital as a volunteer. The program hails from Georgia where they service 39 hospitals but NCH is the only Florida hospital participating. Hospitals in other states are becoming interested in this particular program.
The concept of the organization is to visit each brain injury patient during their in-patient rehabilitation stay. About 50% of those patients had strokes and a large majority of the others have suffered traumatic brain injuries emanating from falls or automobile accidents. Others had less prevalent but still serious brain issues. During the visit the volunteer delivers a customized packet of materials with information about the malady, lists of resources and suggestions to assist the survivor, the caregiver and their family and friends.
All of the volunteers in the program have themselves suffered a brain injury of one kind or another as I have. I have often said that there is reality and theoretical. Reality is me, for example – I have had a stroke and have gone through stroke treatment, stroke rehabilitation and in my case have been fortunate to have achieved a high level of stroke recovery. No matter how hard they try, be they physician, therapist, family or friend – no one knows what it is like to have a brain injury if they actually haven’t personally experienced it. I do not say that to be negative or out of malice in any way. We have “walked the walk” and that’s the point! Similarly, for me, the big “C” is theoretical because I fortunately have not had cancer.
The Peer Visitor Program brings those who “have walked the walk” to those who are “walking the walk”. And in our visits we try to bring some comfort, an ear to listen, perhaps a bit of questioning to open an intellectual door, and some personal experience that that can be valuable and comforting. Our objective as we walk out of the patient’s room is to leave the survivor, and perhaps the caregiver and family more uplifted and perhaps a bit more prepared to do the work of recovery than when we entered.