We Take Care Of Our Own. Or Do We?

Bruce Springsteen concertCrowded Bruce Springsteen concert.  We Take Care of Our Own

We Take Care of Our Own. Or Do We

Bruce Springsteen, a song, brain injury, and a lack of support. What do they have to do with each other?

For me they all linked together to become this weeks article!

I was thinking about the people I have met, and read about, who are living with brain injury. It impacts on the the life of each person differently.

For some, brain injury brings changes that are overwhelming, unacceptable, and sometimes just plain sad. When you really pay attention to these stories the lack of the right supports at the right time often creates the difficulties.

Preparing the article last week on Brain Injury and Homelessness left me outraged. Outraged that a person could end up homeless because of sustaining a brain injury, often through a lack of adequate care and support. I thought I would share more of my outrage this week.

Please share any “outrages” you have about support and brain injury in the Comments below.

 

It Outrages Me That:

  • a significant proportion of people who are homeless have a brain injury and it would seem often became homeless because they acquired a brain injury.
  • young people unfortunate enough to acquire a brain injury find themselves living in nursing homes with people who are ageing. Statistics compiled in Australia tell a startling story.  In 2010 it was reported that 6456 people under the age of 65years were living in aged care facililities, 130 were under 40 years old.
  • 80% + is the rate of brain injury reported in the population of people in prisons . With multiple brain injuries being reported many sustained their first brain injury before first being imprisoned.
  • soldiers who acquire a lifelong disability, such as brain injury, doing the job they are employed to do for their country, then find themselves left without appropriate support from their country. The graph below shows the increase in numbers of soldiers with brain injury in the US over the past 10 years.

 

 

We Take Care of Our Own

In thinking about all this, I was reminded of a Bruce Springsteen song.

And not in a good way!

I am a latecomer to the music of Bruce Springsteen. So late I only went to my first Bruce concert a year ago. Loved it so much I went again this year. That’s not the point of this article in case you are losing interest.

The point is a song, well more the lyrics. “We Take Care of Our Own” and it really made me think:

Do we?

Do we take care of our young people, our soldiers, and the groups of people who are on the outer edges of our community for whatever reason?

It has come to me over and over again that we do not. As I read articles on people with brain injury finding themselves abandoned; not getting the support needed to get back in to life; not being supported to stay safe.

We are definitely NOT always taking care of our own.

 

Before I go on. As you know I am a strong supporter of dance to ease the tensions and focus the mind! So if you need a little break from all this bad news and need a bit or refocussing here is a video clip of Bruce performing “We Take Care of Our Own”.

Personal Stories

Now a few personal stories I came across that seem to support my theory that we do NOT always take care of our own:

One of the triggers for this article was a very distressing biography of a young returned soldier I came across. This article was in “Stars and Stripes” a multimedia news outlet for the US Military community.

A Postwar Casualty

The full article “Marine’s final battle: Years of fighting PTSD, Brain Injury end in Postwar Casualty”  gives an account of the sad and difficult path of a young man returning from a war. Paul Oliver, a young, returned soldier from Memphis, struggled with brain injury, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) after his return from active service. His death in 2013 was reported as “an accidental drug overdose, citing a toxic mixture of Xanax and Oxycodone — prescription drugs for anxiety and pain.” Paul’s brain injury and PTSD were as a result of injury and experiences while posted to Iraq and later Afghanistan.

At the investigation of his death Jerry Easter, a court coordinator and himself a Marine who fought in Vietnam summed up: “We give them training on how to kill, but not how to come back into the world. … Then we wonder why we have issues.”

A poignant summary.

A Young Person Moving Out of an Aged Care Facility.

In Australia there has been a lengthy – and I mean a more than 20 year effort to stop young people being admitted to facilities with older people. It is estimated this still happens for over 200 young people each year.

One organisation working to build better futures for young people Summer Foundation collects the stories of many people who have experienced inappropriate accommodation. One digital story belongs to Monique and her family:

 

Prison and Brain Injury

In his early 30’s ‘Gerry’ was constantly in trouble with the law, his family and his community. Three brain injuries had left him with significant cognitive changes including rigidity and frontal lobe damage and behaviour changes. Sitting with his mum ‘Shirley’ one day, Shirley told me a bit about his early life. In this story she mentioned that Gerry had never been the same after he had been hit over the head with a piece of wood as a toddler. Yet no-one would listen to her. This was not one of the three brain injuries recorded for Gerry. His adolescent years were turbulent and involved a number of criminal charges and spells in prison. One wonders if the outcome might have been different had Gerry had assessment, diagnosis and support as a toddler.

 

We Take Care of Our Own. How Can We Do Better?

Maybe we could make a start by thinking about and acting upon the lyrics of Bruce Springsteen’s song!

While “We Take Care of Our Own’ is a song about America the sentiments are kind of universal.  Beginning with the way we often find attitudes now:

“I’ve been stumblin’ on good hearts turned to stone

The road of good intentions has turned dry as a bone.”

People, councils, countries who have switched off. Who despite setting out with good intentions have lost focus, or are overwhelmed by the need so people lack the right support at the right time in the right way.

Where do we start?

“Where’re the eyes, the eyes with the will to see

Where’re the hearts that run over with mercy

Where’s the love that has not forsaken me

Where’s the work that set my hands, my soul free

Where’s the spirit that’ll reign, reign over me

Where’s the promise from sea to shining sea…”

 

We can open our eyes and remember that brain injury is still misunderstood, mis-diagnosed and missed completely. And I don’t just mean by people in the community. Brain Injury is known as the hidden disability for a reason: a person may look like there is nothing wrong, yet be living with significant cognitive disability.

We can be honest, open, and see what is really happening for people in our community and our country (whatever ‘country’ that might be””). No sugar coating. Advocating for what our communities and countries can do to improve the lives of others.

We can be compassionate, empathic and open towards people who are living in difficult circumstances because of brain injury. What can each of us do to improve the lives of others?

We can look for ways to support each person with brain injury to live a meaningful life.  Support might be physical, emotional, social, cognitive, behaviour, life style or a combination. Whatever it takes to ensure each person is safe, living in their community, participating in their community.

What other messages do you get from “We Take Care of Our Own”? Or do you have another song that resonates with you?

5 Responses to We Take Care Of Our Own. Or Do We?

  1. Cheryl Green June 13, 2014 at 10:05 am #

    Oh, thank you for this! I feel like we put so much emphasis on individuals needing to stay positive that we find it easy to ignore or overlook these other pieces. There are real institutional and systemic oppressions that keep people in a cycle of injury, poverty, and lack of access to adequate care or loving community. Our recovery simply has to be more than our individual efforts in our own rehab. I don’t hear many people talking about this overlap of houselessness, incarceration, and brain injury. HUGE KUDOS to you! And thank you for the Summer Foundation link. Wow!

    • Melanie Atkins June 13, 2014 at 10:22 am #

      Thanks for this Cheryl, I was nervous about this one and spent a long time writing and changing and questioning what I wanted to say. To know it has found the right spot is music to my ears.

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