Brain Injury Awareness Part 4: The road to recovery
Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside is back to his favorite hobby of rock climbing, but with a constant awareness of the need for safety after suffering a severe TBI.
Editor's Note: This article has a graphic photo below, which some readers may find unsettling.
It’s been a long journey of recovery for Coast Guard Petty Officer 3rd Class Colin Woodside, who suffered a traumatic brain injury while rock climbing in 2014.
“It was the day that changed the rest of my life,” said the San Diego-based maritime enforcement specialist.
During the past two and a half years, Woodside has undergone treatment for the severe TBI he suffered and is finally experiencing the joy of recovery.
“With a severe TBI, we’re often confused and don’t want to admit to things,” said Woodside. “Someone can tell you, ‘You’re hurt, and you need to rest and recover.’ But we tell ourselves, ‘No, I’m fine, I’m fine. Don’t worry.’ I thought I knew better about my recovery than I actually did.”
He took the first steps on the road to recovery in the hospital in Seattle, where operations and therapy started him on the healing path. His parents, Regina and Jim Woodside, got the news about his fall at their home in San Diego. When they reached their son’s side, they knew it was bad; they also believed he would recover.
“He was alive,” said Regina, speaking in a video posted on the Defense and Veterans Brain Injury Center website, A Head for the Future. “And every day he got better, so every day was another day we had.”
Those first days of recovery involved simple things: playing his favorite music, which produced visible reactions and signs that he was cognitive of what was happening around him—the first since his fall. He worked on regaining his memory, strength, and ability to walk and talk. Later treatments would become more involved, teaching his brain to regain cognitive and motor abilities.
Woodside admitted recovery was an emotional rollercoaster. “I’d be super happy and cheerful one second,” said Woodside, “and a couple of minutes would go by, and I’d become really upset.” He said the first year was especially difficult. “I wanted to get back to my original life of hiking and camping and rock climbing, and I knew I couldn’t.”
He battled through those feelings to understand it would be a long, difficult process. Today, Woodside continues on his path to recovery, slowly but steadily regaining concentration skills wiped out after the fall. He still has issues with his memory that could continue for the rest of his life. But he feels the treatment received from the care providers in the Military Health System has resulted in important milestones, such as his return to full duties last summer and now, the ability to rock climb again. “I don’t know how much longer my recovery will take, but I do know that over time, I continue to improve,” he said.
While the traumatic events of October 2014 sent Woodside on the difficult path of TBI, they also made him appreciate the life he has and the life he is regaining as his recovery continues.
“I’ve actually had some real emotional growth from the accident,” he said. “I no longer take the small things for granted. I went through a very severe injury, but I came out OK. I can walk, I can talk, I can run. It’s a complete turnaround from where I had been when first injured. It keeps me humble and makes me appreciate things more. When I come home from work, I’m thankful that I could go home, because I know what it’s like not to have that.”
And he offered this advice to anyone with a TBI: “If I can recover from the severe type of injury I had and get back to my life before it, you can too. You’re going to be OK.”
See Woodside’s full story of recovery on A Head for the Future website.