Stories of Trauma Survivors

The purpose of Out of Calamity’s 27 stories and the case studies in Interrupted Lives is to demonstrate the nature of post-trauma struggle and how people cope, adjust and achieve.

Out of Calamity - Roger Rees

Post trauma brain injury includes traumatic brain injury following car accidents or assault or sporting injury. Brain injury also includes stroke, brain tumour or diseases such as multiple sclerosis and meningitis. Any insult to the brain damages a person’s ability to think, remember, see, speak, walk and feel, as well as know who they are personality-wise.

"Stories of courage and endurance in the face of affliction, told with raw honesty"
Peter Goldsworthy - Novelist and Playwright.

From Doctor Rees - Why I wrote Out of Calamity

It is said by a reviewer that the stories in Out of Calamity “opens up the bewildering world of brain damage and disorder (whether from car crashes, assault, stroke, brain tumour or multiple sclerosis) – the confusion, the fear and sheer hell of it but also moments of healing and redemption.”   

I wrote these stories to identify the:

  1. Nature and extent of life changing effects of trauma, as told by survivors … which no textbook or Government report ever indicates.
  2. Great if not superhuman courage, resilience and inventiveness of people who experience severe trauma and loss.
  3. Many intact skills and talents of people who experience severe and disabling trauma, … which can be successfully nurtured.
  4. Effects of trauma on parents and spouses and to demonstrate their often unseen unknown, but never ending love, herculean commitment, humour and creativity in their caring.
  5. Other people and events in our community who unheralded contribute to rehabilitation and post-trauma nurturing and learning.
  6. Importance of inclusion of people who experience severe trauma so that once again they are able to make significant contributions to and enrich the life of their communities.

Roger Rees

June 2011 

Below are some exerpts of the stories from Out of Calamity.

from No Heroics: 

Regaining life from ‘near nothings’, when Joe was generally expected to ‘perish before day was out’, was a starting point. Near nothings is so often reality when a person begins to recover from and adjust to serious brain injury. …

Sometimes Joe came to a point of such nothingness that even death didn’t exist. But always a profound sense of longing and dreaming about a new life filled any void.

Joe has always been a keen fisherman. Now we are on another adventure, another rehabilitation challenge: to fish again. We park to face the lake that in winter brims to the crumbling grassed edge. …..It doesn’t matter whether he catches anything, just being there is satisfying. …Joe sits there for an hour with a few bites from the odd carp. He is enjoying himself but then he tires. ... His is the story of the will to achieve in the face of all the conditions for despair. He’s come back now to a place of his childhood, this remarkable man. He has fished again, sensed the energies and resilience of the landscape and is ready to continue living, galvanized by the trip. He fingers his greying beard and gazes again far off across the lake.


From I’m So Proud of My Girl

Her impudent spirit once again appears to turn the tables on her illness. She never complains. I wonder what is going on inside her head…. As she talks I realize how her spirit is buoyed by her observations of and respect for others. …She says:

“A week before my hair fell out I’d seen an old lady in the supermarket with hair so thin that her scalp was exposed beneath the few blue rinsed strands. She was still making the best of it, still having her hair styled. I admired her for that. …I had fun searching for a wig; blonde, brunette or brindle? What a collection. I dressed up that day and tried on many wigs, fancied myself for a moment with long black hair, a sort of Lorna Doone. Hairstyle helps positive thinking, you know, bloody sight better than spending time with a psychiatrist, especially one who never looks at you.”

Of course Sonia has dreams about recovering and confounding the pessimists. …Then suddenly the remission is over. There is more chemotherapy. … There are few subtleties in this treatment. ...  Green becomes grey, three dimensions two, space wrapped and enclosed. The straight path from her front door narrows, becomes twisted, moves and sometimes never ends. The road and shops beyond the house are for Sonia enmeshed in a moving kaleidoscope in which hoardings collide with walkers, cars with stobie poles and shops. Traffic lights dance, twist and change their position size and shape every time she looks.

Sonia reminisces about how when she bought her house it was tumbledown, but her renovations, paintings, entertaining and the music that had been played in the house make it her home.

“Rousing old Beethoven,” she says, “I love his symphonies. She talks about poems she has read. What about Prayer Before Birth?” she asks.  I like that. Read it to me.

Sonia talks about the symbols in her home. Glassware and wood carvings placed by ferns that soften and cool her home and wall hangings that bring splashes of colour.


From Sailability

 Robert is tormented by inactivity with little evidence of progress. Alone he is unable to move from his chair. The lack of any prospect of recovery haunts him. …He fears what will happen. … His wife feeds him mashed vegetables and helps him to drink through a straw. In the morning she lathers and shaves him with a safety razor. She combs his hair and wipes trails of saliva from his chin.

Robert Dolan wants this sailing to go on forever. He waves his arms in the air, his right arm slowly at first and then more quickly. He knows that he will go on improving adjusting. He is confident of that. He keeps his eyes in the course ahead. He knows that wind changes alter fortunes. Every point of a tack, every sight of the bow wave, every adjustment of the sheets and every sound of the flapping jib every few seconds is available to him.

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