Living With Brain Injury

Quote by Rabbi Dr Milton Pine

Over the years I have often thought about a paper presented at a Head Injury Council of Australia (HICOA) Conference during the 1990s. Written by Rabbi Dr Milton Pine the paper was insightful, moving and a wonderful personal story of his life before and after brain injury.

Some may remember I attempted to quote the last paragraph of Rabbi Dr Milton Pine’s paper in a past article about Ethics.  At the time I well remembered the impact of his final words but could not find the paper to quote directly.

I have now been given a copy of the paper and permission to present the paper in full here, in the hope it may help others struggling in those early days post brain injury.

This year, 25 years after acquiring a significant and life changing brain injury Rabbi Dr Milton Pine died. I knew him for a time over those years and as I said above, I was lucky enough to be present as he delivered his moving and insightful paper about living with brain injury at the Head Injury Council of Australia (HICOA) conference.

Forgive my memory, I no longer remember the actual year of the conference – it was during the 1990’s. On reading it now, this paper still seems to contain relevant tips and strategies, along with Milton’s interesting story-telling  of his life.

I leave the rest here to the words of Rabbi Dr Milton Pine:


Before presenting my paper, I would like to thank both the panel and the Head Injuries Council of Australia for allowing me the opportunity to present this paper, as well as sharing some of my problems and achievements with you.

I was born on the 21st August 1937, in the Bronx New York. I spent a total of 20 years at Yeshiva school and Yeshiva University. I graduated from High School, then I attained a Bachelor of Arts and a Master of Hebrew Literature at the University, as well as my ordination as a Rabbi. My Doctorate in physics was entitled “Orr the Origin of the Solar System”. 1 received guidance from Professor A.G. W. Cameron who was then at Yeshiva University. Later he transferred to Yale. Professor Cameron was instrumental in helping me achieve a position in Astrophysics with NASA for 10 years.

In between all my academic studies I married. My former wife, an Australian wanted to return to Australia to be with her family, so in 1972 we returned. Shortly after my arrival in Australia I started lecturing in Computer Science at Chisholm where I stayed for 3 years and then transferred to RMIT as a Principal Lecturer in Computer Science, where I remained until my accident, except for a short break of 3 years from 1985 to 1988.

In addition to my secular duties at RMIT, I took up religious duties as a Rabbi, when I was appointed the Rabbi at Brighton Hebrew Congregation 1978. I remained the Rabbi at Brighton until I returned to the US of A to further my studies in 1985. I remained in the US, until 1988 doing post graduate studies and lecturing at the University of California, Dominguez Hills, again in Computer Science.

I returned to Australia in 1988 and immediately resumed my former position at RMIT. In 1989 1 was invited by the Association of Computer Science in San Francisco to deliver a paper entitled “Artificial Intelligence” By this time I had returned to a number of Rabbinical duties and in 1990 1 was appointed Associate Rabbi at Brighton, where I continued Rabbinical activities.

In 1991 1 was again invited by the Association of Computer Science to deliver a paper, this time in Ireland. My paper, an extension of the previous one was entitled Do Computers have Managerial Ability?”

After delivering this paper I was again invited to expand on this theory and I was preparing for another paper to be delivered in Austria in 1993, but unfortunately July 17th,1992 interrupted all my plans.

July 17th was the fateful afternoon when my life shattered at the same instant as my bike collapsed with me on it. As a result of this accident I suffered a closed Head Injury, resulting in a Comatose condition for about 16 days, followed by PTA (Post Traumatic Amnesia) which lasted until about the end of September.

I am told that, whilst I was still in PTA, I managed to get myself included in initial therapy sessions for an hour a few times a week. Even at that stage I did not conform to a pattern, but selected the sessions I would attend.

As my therapy increased so did my individuality and selective processes. I felt that the therapists were supplying too basic and low standard treatment to which I objected. I felt e.g that the physiotherapist would not accept my fitness and reduced me to a programme that in my opinion was not of a sufficiently high standard. Naturally I protested very vehemently. This did not endear me to the staff.

However, to begin with, I was proven right as I did things they did not believe possible. When I began to overdo I paid the penalty because the over—exercise contributed to a few epileptic seizures. I realise now that I must keep my exercise fitness under control.

With the speech therapists who were initially appointed, I started off very badly. It took a lot of arguments, unpleasantness, and protests, for me to finally find a speech therapist I could work with. After sifting through 4 therapists I found Allison, who is absolutely wonderful and I believe we are working extremely well together. I attribute a lot of my progress to Allison and from the bottom of my heart I thank her for her patience and belief in me.

An example of her work, was when I was asked to officiate as a Rabbi at a wedding in January. Allison made herself familiar with Jewish Wedding Ceremonies and worked together with me preparing me for the event. With a lot of difficulty and against all expectations I did officiate at that wedding, even though it was a short time after my fist seizure in December. If I had listened to all around me I would not have done this, but I did, and it was wonderful.

With the occupational therapist I started off quite well until she tried to restrict my movements to “her bounds”. She did not believe I could cross streets or find my way around and tried to set impossible boundaries for me. In order to prove my point I began to sneak out on shopping trips, during which acquired 45 Tee Shirts, 16 pairs of similar jeans, and so forth, but most importantly I gained my freedom. I now move around by myself, to many places I can walk to, or catch public transport. The domestic occupational therapist intimated I could not manage on my own. I now cook most of my meals, do my own shopping and am king of my castle.

In late October, or early November I began to feel that the anti convulsants (medication) I was taking were impeding my progress and with my usual pig headedness I proceeded to persuade the staff to take me off the tablets. I succeeded, but with terrible results. At the beginning of my 4 week stay at home, I over— exercised and had my first seizure which landed me back in hospital. Following this seizure I was put on to massive doses of Dilantin which turned me into a modern day Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde. I am told I became impossible to be with. However the decision to change the medication was not initiated by the hospital but by myself. Initially they refused to acknowledge the symptoms.

The one thing that I have found from the first is that “experts’! do not listen to patients with head injuries. After my seizures I developed very bad pains in my neck and back no matter how much I complained nothing more than an aspirin was ever given. I went to the Chiropractor who took X—Rays and found substantial damage. This is slowly beginning to be righted.

Early after my accident I was always terribly cold, again nothing was done I attended Yoland Lim (Integrative medicine) for acupuncture and was given minerals and vitamins. These symptoms have now disappeared.

At the Alfred Hospital after my accident the doctors advised to do nothing about the coma(tose) and paralysis – let things happen. Those around me did not listen they used music to bring me out of the coma(tose), which worked much quicker than doctors predicted, they said to leave the paralysis as nothing could be done. Again we did not listen and organised pressure point therapy I now have at least 90% use of my right side.

Please do not think that I am dismissing orthodox medicine but all I am saying is that when the orthodox is not helping let us try alternatives before slamming all doors shut.

The therapists all advised I needed full time attendant Carers and 50 hours a week was authorised by Workcover. This again proved too restrictive and with a lot of selection I now lead a reasonably independent life style with Carers only being available for transportation and swimming. The flexibility and fluidity of my activities makes the organisation of the Carers a very demanding task. Sandy of Communitique has been absolutely wonderful in adapting to and coping with all these changes. Had I done what I was told or expected of me I would now be a dependant person who relied on everyone for every essential in life.

No one appreciates more than I do that people with problems need the support of friends and loved ones. I believe it would be impossible to go on without those people, but for me it would be equally impossible to continue without some independence and self-respect.

From what I have been told I believe I have progressed substantially from the beginning of my accident- comatosed for 16 days, right side totally paralysed, PTA for about 3 months, no memory of the last 30 years of my life, some brain damage to the present.

One of the saddest consequences of this type of injury is that you lose friends and family who, after a while begin to feel that you are well and therefore you don’t need them. At the hospital there was never enough room for all my visitors, now hardly anyone ever bothers. This is very hard to take.

Even though I realise that I will not be able to resume my life as a Lecturer, Rabbi, Academic, and I am constantly furious , frustrated and angry with myself for forgetting where I put things, words, people’s names etc, I am determined to resume as much of my life as possible e.g. I have performed 2 weddings, one consecration and one funeral. I attend Synagogue by myself every Saturday morning I am able to cook for myself, I have spent a few nights by myself, I attend Adult literacy classes, individual learning programmes, I undertook a course in Shiatsu and I am now thinking of going into a business.

Before concluding I ask one thing of “the experts” please listen when the injured speak to you, we just may have something to say. Certainly, we will be wrong at times, but that is the prerogative of the living. The dead do not make any mistakes. Please don’t bury us whilst we live.



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