Peers bring hope and help to those experiencing brain injury
About one in 25 people experience brain injury.
It can bring pain, confusion, and a whole new rulebook for life. Things that were easy are suddenly hard to grasp. Memory can be difficult to hold on to. Your body and mind may be out of sync. And a lot of work can be required to regain or re-learn things that you wouldn’t have even called skills before.
Luckily, when you arrive in hospital, doctors, nurses, rehabilitation professionals and social workers are available to help. They are essential. But they are often part of the 24 in 25 who haven’t gone through what you are experiencing.
Speaking to a peer – to someone who can tell you they’ve been there; helping you validate your feelings and learn what to expect going forward – is invaluable.
The Nanaimo Brain Injury Society (NBIS) has run an in-hospital peer support program since 2016, putting those newly injured in touch with volunteers who can say they’ve been there, too.
“To be able to speak with somebody that truly understands the confusion, the terror, and at some points, the hopelessness depending on the injury … to have a peer that can come in and say, ‘I understand fully what you’re going through,’ it’s really hard to put a price on it except we know that it’s very effective,” says Adele, a volunteer coordinator with NBIS.
A Peer can help family members and friends understand what their loved one with a brain injury is going through and be a confidant and sounding board when it comes to sharing things that others might not know how to react to.
Unfortunately, hospital visitor restrictions put in place due to the pandemic meant the peer support program had to stop.
“’People don’t stop having brain injuries. What are we going to do?’” Adele says it was the immediate reaction amongst volunteers and NBIS. So, they got to work figuring out solutions. And United Way British Columbia was there to help.
At first, to keep those in hospital connected, peers sent messages:
“I can’t imagine being in hospital dealing with a fresh brain injury AND this pandemic that has affected all of us. You are in my thoughts and prayers for not only a speedy recovery, but for an extra dose of peace and serenity …"
“It wasn’t overnight, but I eventually came to understand the more I put into my recovery, the closer I felt to being my old self again … Anything is possible when you have hope.”
“Don’t step back to be who you were, different does not mean bad … work on who you can be.”
“I encourage you to share your feelings. Don’t keep them inside. It’s perfectly okay to be totally ‘ticked off’”
And then, just a few months into the pandemic, peer volunteers had become comfortable using web-based video conferencing, and the program went virtual with United Way funding.
Now, volunteers are able to connect with patients through a safe network, supported by NBIS and hospital staff.
The virtual program has been such a success that NBIS plans to make more of their programs available virtually when needed.
During the pandemic, NBIS has had more than twice as many people with brain injuries reach out and go through their intake process. NBIS interprets this as a reaction to increased awareness and more people reaching out for help during a stressful time for us all. Keeping programs like this running is essential to the networks of support we need to get through the many challenges we face.