Twenty-seven days after a truck accident in which Philip sustained a brain injury, he still has no memory.
Sharon, his wife, and daughter, Claire, and all those who visit him in hospital and rehabilitation engage Philip in conversation. He’s always been a friendly guy. “But as soon as you leave the room, you are out of his world," Sharon says, “no matter how long you’ve been with him”. He simply can’t remember.
Sharon and family have created a photo album and labelled all the important parts of his life. Favourite horse, Banjo. Loyal dog, Jasper. Daughter, Claire, and a family wedding, four days before the accident.
For a severe brain injury, you might expect a post traumatic amnesia period of seven days. On day 28, Philip finally regains some memory.
Recovery at home
“Philip’s cognitive function was quite heavily impacted," Sharon says.
Sharon’s family recorded Philip’s journey in a photographic diary - in hospital, in rehab, and at home - which he used as homework for a memory jogger, and which he still uses today.
“I can’t tell you how often he has used the diary. He reads it and studies it. He wants to remember.”
“There are photos of him exercising at home, and it looks like I’m smiling. But I’m yelling at him. I had to. I had to get him moving. Brain injured people are so fatigued.”
Sharon used a range of tactics, including the family dog, Jasper, to counter Philip’s extreme tiredness.
“I used to say Jasper, it’s time to get Philip up and he would go in and just annoy him until he got up.”
Despite such tiredness, exercise is important to mental and physical recovery.
Sharon made use of the electric fence surrounding their 50-acre property as well. “I’d put a twig on the fence somewhere and would tell Philipp the fence is shorting.”
“You’re going to have to walk the fence to find out where the short is. It might be broken.”
“So he’d do a lap, and he and Jasper would do the circumference of the block. “And he’d say, you’re not going to believe it, I found a twig over there that was shorting the fence. And that was his exercise achieved for the day."
“If I had said to him, Phillip, I want you to go and walk around those two blocks, take the dog down to the school and back again, he wouldn’t. But to fix a problem, he would go and walk.”
Sharon also bought a “noisy doona” to help keep Phillip in check. When Sharon phoned from work to get him out of bed, she could tell if there was movement or not. “The fake satin made a certain noise and I could hear the rustling when he moved.”
Flexing the mental muscle is just as important.
“He’ll read the daily paper. A daily paper also tells him with its masthead what day it is. And if he forgets the date, he goes back to the paper.”
Phillip loves rural news and has a maintained a ritual with the television show Landline.
“He watches, absolutely religiously. We call it his church because it’s Sunday," Sharon says.
After a while, he may also forget the episodes of shows that he’s seen. “He became absolutely addicted to the Antiques Roadshow. And watched show after show, rerun after rerun. He was amazed that I could tell him how much an antique was worth, because it was the 15th time we’d seen it!”
Phillip and Sharon are both 61 years old. Life is not without challenges.
“Well, I think we are hitting a couple of hiccups. He is starting to struggle a bit. I don’t know whether there is an element of dementia. Or if it’s just the aging process in the presence of a brain injury,” Sharon says.
Philip has lost the ability to learn anything new. When his old mobile phone eventually broke, he was unable to learn to use a new one - just one of many thing that have “strained him”.
“It’s sheer frustration,” Sharon says.
“And this is a very gentle man. The degree of frustration for him is so profound. It’s just – he does it with class. He is just incredible.”
It’s all part of what Sharon describes as the “new norm”.
Sharon receives an award
In 2010 Sharon was voted "Woman of Achievement" by Brainlink, a Victorian based service that is dedicated to improving the quality of life of people affected by Acquired Brain Injury (ABI).
She is pictured with Phillip at the ceremony below.