Getting dressed following an Acquired Brain Injury

As you all know, Charlotte was left with extensive brain damage following her stroke which is known as an ‘Acquired Brain Injury’ or a ‘brain insult’.

I wanted to write today about one of the things I found most difficult both practically and emotionally which most people wouldn’t have thought of or understood without explanation. If you are a parent or family member going through a similar experience, you may relate to this and I hope, that by relating to it, it gives you a little peace of mind and confidence that what you’re feeling and going through WILL get easier. I won’t tell you to accept it or that any of it is normal but I really hope you can take some comfort in the fact that you’re not alone in what you’re going through.

Getting Charlotte dressed was possibly one of the top 5 most harrowing things to go through during our stay in hospital. For the first couple of weeks she had an EVD (a drain consisting of a tube which was inserted into her skull and stitched at her scalp coming down into a bag on a stand which stood by the bed collecting fluid from inside the head unable to drain itself), a catheter (a tube inserted into the bladder to collect urine in a bag next to the bed) and various lines to keep veins open for fluids, medication, blood gas analysis etc) All of these needed to be contended with and thought about while dressing her. You may think well why dress her then? Originally I thought I would just leave her with a nappy on around where the catheter was inserted but then I had to think about how Charlotte must be feeling. She would hate having a nappy on and certainly wouldn’t want anyone to see it, as Charlotte used to say “I’m a big, growed up 7 year old!” so that was out of the question. She couldn’t have any of her PJs on as the trousers wouldn’t go over the lines coming out of her foot or the catheter tube so I asked for some nightdresses to be brought in. This was tricky in itself as the nightdress had to be passed up and over the drain that was coming out of her head. Of her head! There’s a tube in my child’s head that’s ridiculously long and I can’t just put a nightie on her to keep her warm because of it!

The real difficulties came however, when Charlotte was recovering and starting to learn to get dressed again, or being dressed by me. Things which she and I had found easy and were second nature were suddenly seemingly impossible and so confusing for her. She suddenly had no idea what a sleeve, sock or shoe was. She even had no idea what an arm or foot to put in the sleeve, sock or shoe was let alone how to organise herself to actually move her arm or foot to do anything with it!

I think that was the most frustrating part but bless her she just kept getting the giggles and looking at everything as if it was the first time she’d seen it, which I suppose to her, it was! I had to giggle along with her and she never knew that really I just wanted to smash the entire city up in frustration on her behalf.
It does come though with practise, encouragement and patience. The best piece of advice I can give is to break things down. Instead of ‘put your sock on’, try ‘Let’s get this sock on’ while showing the sock and ask, ‘lift your foot’ whilst gently prompting the foot up slightly and gently so that they understand what ‘lift’ and ‘foot’ is. Explain every single stage of what you are doing and eventually the brain will recognise it.
Charlotte still needs a lot of help but there are some days when she will not only dress herself but will have picked out her outfit herself too! Not bad for a kid that couldn’t blink eh?


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