Living With Brain Injury – Part V: Where Are the Employees?

It would be interesting to learn how many people living with brain injuries are in management positions  in the companies providing services to people with brain injuries living in the community. Not many. I can think of one provider that has an individual with a brain injury in a management slot.

The last company I was affiliated with was the Belvedere Brain Injury Program in Albany, New York, and, sadly, in Syracuse too. In the end, not a pleasant experience. Once their substance abuse program got underway and a plethora of survivors began to complain they were being denied their right to choice, I began advocating for them. I was soon told to leave.  I have no reason to believe conditions have changed and  no one running the show  has a brain injury. But this affront aside, the larger picture begs the question, how many people with brain injuries are in management positions in companies like Belvedere? Given that the answer is hardly any, the next question is,Why not?

Is one of the reasons why not may be that many still cling to the belief that those who live with brain injuries can’t do the work? Not so. Bob Woodruff, as good and decent a man as God ever created, lives with a brain injury and is back at ABC News dazzling in his work as always. Is another reason that some companies know that someone with a brain injury might not take kindly to the way survivors are treated by the company?  It’s kind of like creating a group of companies to provide services for veterans and not having any veterans on staff.

Keep in mind, there is such a thing as warehousing in some community-based programs.

Wouldn’t you think that any company providing services to people living with brain injuries would work hard to  get  people with brain injuries on staff because, deep breath now, they might be well suited to tell you what it is like living with a brain injury and thus help you design a more effective program?

Perhaps I’m not the one to ask. After all, I have a brain injury.


Dear Bob Woodruff,

You and I and far too many others are survivors of traumatic brain injuries. You and I and far too many others who have survived traumatic brain injuries, or any trauma for that matter, have found themselves in the insidious grip of guilt. You and I and far too many others like us are guilty of nothing. Because you feel guilty doesn’t mean you are guilty, it means that is how you feel. It is a feeling, not a definition.

It was the explosion the wounded you, it was the gunshot that wounded me, it was the car accident or the fall or the assault or the stroke that wounded so many others. It is these events and these events alone that provide guilt its just living quarters

In recent interviews I have watched you and Lee take the wide-open courage step of letting people see what it is like to suffer a traumatic brain injury and what it is like to live with one. I have heard questions seeking to know how far back you are. Would you say 95 % they ask? As you and Lee and your family already know, the answer is not that easy and my thought would be, put down any instinct to measure and gauge that answer and live.

I work with survivors like us nearly every day and recently I asked them how they would describe living with a brain injury on a daily basis. There were answers like, Well, there are things we can’t do any more and other statements like they (the injuries) make it harder to manage our emotions and I don’t remember things as well as I did and I can’t talk the way I used to. In each of these discussions these answers would land on the table and we would all look at each other, shake our heads, and nearly in unison acknowledge that none of these answers come close to describing what it is like to live with a brain injury on a daily basis.

Here is what we did agree on. Living with a brain injury is different every day. In fact, living with a brain injury has one reality when rested and another reality when fatigued. We also agreed that none of us are defined by our injuries nor are we defined by the symptoms we deal with as a result of our injuries. We also agreed that none of us are diminished by our injuries, even though there have been and, for some, still are times when we feel diminished because of our injuries. We also know that there are times we are treated by others as if we have less value and less worth than others and that treatment too delivers an inaccurate message about who we are.

Years ago a very wise old man was asked what it was like to age. He paused and said, We are each like a lit light bulb. You have to decide, are you the bulb, which breaks down over time, or are you the light inside the bulb? We are the light inside the bulb, and that never dies.

The light of who you are, Bob Woodruff, is not gone. It is not damaged or diminished by the trauma you have survived. While you may not see the light all the time, while you may not see its luster and brilliance all the time, it does not mean it is not there all the time. From time to time life blinds us to the light that is our humanity’s unbending value and worth. Those moments of darkness do not mean the light is gone. Darkness, like emotion, are experiences in the moment and of the moment. Neither are definitions. The inner light and human value of all survivors is present all time.

Needless to say, the words written here apply to all of us for all of us in life encounter experiences that blind us to our worth, yet none of these experiences remove or diminish our worth unless we allow them too.

There is a nugget of American Indian lore I am particularly fond of. A warrior went to his chief and said, Chief, I have two wolves battling inside me, the good wolf and the bad wolf. Which one is going to win? The chief said, Whichever one you feed the most.

Keep feeding the good wolf as you are, Bob Woodruff. And remember, there will be times when people will ask for your attention and your presence and the healthier choice will be to say no and give yourself and your loved ones time away from all others. Saying no can prompt another bout of undeserved guilt, so here is another expression. Taking care of your self is not an act of disloyalty to anyone else.

Stay in the day, remember to live, and keep listening to Bruce Springsteen. You and I are very much in lock-step when it comes to the Boss. His songs got me through many a dark day and helped me remember that the light, for me and for you and for all of us, really is always there.

In his last album he sings We Shall Overcome. We will.

Warmth and respect,

Peter S. Kahrmann


I am with all my heart glad you are alive Bob Woodruff. I say that here first because when a friend of mine hugged me after I returned from the hospital after sustaining my brain injury, he said, “I’m glad you’re alive, I’m so glad you’re alive, I don’t know what to say” I realized I’m glad you’re alive is just about the most beautiful thing anyone can say. And so I say it to Mr. Woodruff now and I am grateful my friend said it to me just weeks after I was shot in the head, leaving the bullet lodged in my brain.

The ABC special last night about Bob Woodruff and so much more brought the harsh realities that come with traumatic brain injury (TBI) to the public’s attention like never before. He and his wife Lee (and their families) have, by allowing so many to see Mr. Woodward’s journey thus far, helped drive home the reality that those of us with TBIs are human beings, not remnants of human beings, not piecemeal human beings, not human beings to be used by greed-driven medical providers or greed-driven attorneys in order to fill their wallets and puff their egos. Those of us with brain injuries or with any disability for that matter, are still people.

While a disability might change or take away one’s ability to walk, see, remember, hear, talk, eat, or manage emotion or movement, it never takes away one’s humanity. Only humans do that.