Head Injury Rehabilitation and Referral Services, Inc.
I believe I came to the attention of HIRRS in 1993 (not sure what month). I had been injured in 1992 in an MVA as the driver. Another vehicle ran a left turn signal right in front of me and I was doing 50 at the time. I spent a few weeks in the hospital for brain swelling. Went home and then found I was confused and my language skills were terrible, vocabulary mostly. I tried to go back to work and found that I suffered from terrible mental fatigue and that lights and noises now disturbed me greatly. I was constantly distracted and felt as if I was walking about in a fog with the occasional person being able to break through for contact, even at work. I had no idea what was wrong but knew I was not making progress at the MD state rehab facility with prison parolees released there and so my wife at the time, began to go through the phone book yellow pages as this was before the web. I was lucky enough that a funding strategy was made for me to attend program.
Tom McFadden or Suzanne were my coaches.
I returned to the IT field with fair warning that it would change often and both incrementally or dramatically from Rick. I am presently near my home at the Quantico Marine base here in Virginia.
I have been in IT basically my entire life. First on the room size mainframe computers and in the 1995 period on the small desksize computers. I have been with my present employer as a contractor for a year now. I am on the employment benefits of my lovely wife, Irina.
I was on unemployment last year after a leg infection and required by the Virginia state unemployment to make and post a resume on their website. A fellow veteran with a small startup firm needed older, reliable employees with good references. I have several good references as once I learn my job I am fine at it. The key is not more than 2 things at once, a firm time to answer phones, work without interruption and be able to mostly figure my way out to do something. Now, sometimes I am totally lost as to where to begin but I have been blessed with supervisors who see I am still smart but may need a pointer or a jump-start to get moving. They show me what they need and I usually design my own process. I greatly benefit from written checklists, which I often create myself. Just don't change the procedures too often or move things in my environment ! So, the answer is "they found me on the unemployment resume website". Usually I go through DICE or Linkedin.
The BIGGEST skill I learned at HIRRS was to arrive "on-time". That is the same skill that school kids have to learn, that is why school starts at a certain time. It resembles work force socialization in the European tradition. Nothing can begin until one learns to arrive on time, that would include an interview. I then had to learn to listen without debating or being too forceful and mean. That particular skill comes in very handy, listening and then socially speaking WITHOUT being judgmental or mean. Had to learn that life is may be a contest but it does not always have to be a debate. I also learned to order from a menu. I learned to use 3x5 cards to wait my turn to make a reply in a conversation. It sounds trite, but all the previous things helped prepare me for getting back into normal society and smoothly existing to make a life in the work world and relations with others.
I later re-learned my vocabulary and how to work with a check book. I was quite emotional and confused at first, so all of this learning had to come in phases as I was ready and able to absorb it. I could remember how I was prior to the accident and was well enough to realize I was having trouble with math and organizing my day or travels; which was quite upsetting to me and my relatives. Although P\people with head injury can be rather oblivious to the injury in themselves or even the needs of others. They just don't see or hear other things outside their sphere. It reminds me of a mix of autism and being mildly drunk. Impulse control, logical ordered thinking and the consequences of anything long-term just don't seem to be there until healing takes place and rehab. It can be very difficult to organize a thought or wait your turn to speak, let alone remember what you were going to say when it is truly your turn. It's all the "frontal lobe" self-control or modulation stuff ;>)
Most of my career has been very "hands on" in either actual repair of computer equipment or installation in the post accident time frame. It was lucky that the actual hardware did not change for several years after my accident, thusly making reintegration fairly easy as I mastered social skills. The hardest thing has been keeping a "poker face" while listening to others. People claim they want honesty , but they do not always welcome facial emotions registering your feedback as a speaker speaks ! I consulted on each new operating system as it came out - XP, Vista and now windows 7. I am lucky to be able to drill down and study in a computer lab IF it is isolated and quiet. Noise is a huge distractor for me. Even to this very day, I become quite fatigued mentally but a quick break usually clears it up. I then went on to run a computer network and become intimately aware of the daily health of it as it changed and grew in complexity or as the security holes were closed up by me according to written plan. That is essential as well for me - the written note or structured plan. Finally, the answer to your question, what I do presently is document the migration plan of Marine Corps servers to their new secure location in a virtualized manner.
For me, the best part about working here is the relative ease with which or the ability to adjust my schedule. We have "core hours" that need presence and coverage but other wise I may come in late if I dont sleep well as long as I work late to have the 8 hour day required.
In closing, I would like to add a couple of quite anecdotes that show my condition early on, hopefully in a humorous light as well as to give a frame of reference for plotting progress for today. When I was learning to commute using the subway and it was being drilled into me the "importance of arriving ontime", I did get lost on occasion. I was not quite right "socially" as yet or socially adept as one would say. To illustrate, I recall not liking crowds and the sensation of just noises and voices of morning commuters overwhelming me and my thoughts as if I were a telepathic mind-reader in some movie. My impulse control was also severely lacking at this point.
There was a very kind older subway train driver (conductor) who noticed I tried to sit up near the operators cab with my back facing the glass each day when going to HIRRS in the old Church street location in Rockville. That way I could watch the other riders and maintain some type of control of my environment. I was coming from Greenbelt. It was an accomplishment to simply be presentable, with hair combed, read the McDonald's menu and then find the right pocket change to get on the bus. Find the change means "count it, not lose it, not overspend on breakfast or even the fact that sometimes there was NO bus money and HIRRS made sure there was bus money for me and I thank them for that !! Well, this particular driver and I got to know each other as I traveled 3 days a week in the exact same seat during my 18 months of rehab. From him I regained the use of morning pleasantries again such as "how do you do", "how is or was your day" ?, "where you going" ? or "what are your plans today" ? I recall humorously, one morning as I tried to regain these social skills , I simply burst out to him with exactly what I had for breakfast. He listened kindly with his little driver window open and never gave any indication as to how "odd" my answer was. He just tolerated me and smiled. I thought I was on the right path. In fact, I so strongly believed it that I asked him and a couple of other riders what they had for breakfast. It was only many years later, when I returned to the workforce , now in a suit and tie that we recognized each other one day on a train and he recounted this story to me of those beginning days. It was also the start of my sitting in a different seat and being able to speak with other riders in a more appropriate manner.
During my rehab at HIRRS, we had a "current events" time. Looking back, I can see that it worked several aspects of disability rehabilitation - being able to just read, to simply track with ones eyes properly, to remember and recall from paragraph to paragraph the news item in question, summarizing points from the article, asking questions about the article, for some disabled... simply holding the paper and turning the pages was a huge "post trauma" accomplishment. Fortunately, I could still read and rather speedily - even after my accident. I learned in rehab to take some bullet point notes ( a skill I still use today) to help me keep my focus as well as to aid in the upcoming discussion. What was unknown to me and others was just how passionately I would respond to the articles or op-ed pieces on nation security, which had been a focus of my military career. Needless to say, I was beyond opinionated and "loaded for bear, while gunning for blood to take no prisoners". That would have been fine if it had been an election or debate, but this was rehab with others who were either having trouble following along, getting the point or also having a lack of "frontal lobe" impulse or emotional control. Needless to say, I was pulled from this therapy for a while and it may have even been paused as a group activity for a bit due to "debate tension" caused by Bob the presidential candidate !
Final story, I swear ! The chinchilla. For weeks, it became the focus of my existence.... that I would have a soft furry pet chinchilla to have as a pet at my home apartment in Greenbelt. It was all I would talk about and it was becoming quite a distraction to my actual rehab work. It was "chinchilla this , chinchilla that" to no end. I even missed a couple of rehab sessions to go pet somebody's chinchilla near my apartment. Tom McFadden noticed this and deciding to have "none of this non-sense" and "no more missed sessions" came up with a suitable plan. Now, petting a chinchilla that belongs to somebody else is one thing, having your own is another ! A suitable cage and chinchilla were located by Mr. McFadden and he delivered them to me in his "very cool" new car , which now escapes me as to what it was exactly by model. But, deliver the newfound and wonderful chinchilla he did and straight to my doorstep, if only I would promise to return to rehab as before. This I did and that was the beginning of my undoing. You see, chinchillas ... even if they are soft to the touch and pleasant little animals can be noisy, smelly, dirty, mean little beasties and now I was the proud babysitter of one ! I dutifully fed and watered the chinchilla and cleaned up the rabbit style "poop" balls. No problem there. I petted it and let it walk around the house. No problem there. Then, it got under the couch and got lost. Only for 30 minutes but that was a panicked eternity for me at the time. I had to find it because I had to give it back. I was afraid to move furniture as I might squish it and what would my wife say about a chinchilla lurking in the walls after gnawing on the wainscoting ? Eventually, he came back out and I put him in his cage. Ok, safe and sound. Well, not quite... you see , he was a "him". He proceeded to urinate outside the cage which chinchillas are wont to do as a matter of cleanliness and this was unknown to me at the time. Boy was my wife going to be ticked ! He also then proceed to push his "poop" balls outside the cage as well. I finally located some plastic to place the cage on and moved the cage from the high location on my nightstand down to the floor area BUT still near my bed as this was "my super cool , wonderful always wanted one, chinchilla". Still, I had not had enough of the chinchilla. Night came and with it bedtime. Chinchillas are nocturnal and they are noisy either alone or in pairs. They squeak and talk and redecorate their cage environment from boredom trying to eliminate boredom. This chinchilla was lonely and alone and did a lot of squeaking and rearranging. Finally, I slept. Morning came. Tom called to see how it was going. I informed him that the chinchilla had to go and maybe it was not such a good idea.......... he left me with it 2 more days.
I hate change to this very day but I have gotten used to the idea that life is every changing as are each of us. Change is a part of life. It is all in how you structure the change and adapt to the changes. Got to have a plan, yup, you got to have a plan. Most of all you have to have friends and people who care. I could have disappeared under a bridge somewhere or simply been locked in a room at my parents home, instead I work and pay my way in life now but with a bit of a different perspective ;>)
How would you describe the help you got from this organization?
How likely are you to recommend this organization to a friend?
How do you feel you were treated by this organization?
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?
The service they provide is unmatched. Their hearts are big and their knowledge of brain injuries vast. They have helped me come so far and have never given up on me. I have a chance to make something of myself due to my own hard work and their guidance.
I've personally experienced the results of this organization in...
my own life. They are like my living, breathing guardian angels.
Ways to make it better...
If I had to make changes to this organization, I would...
Change nothing. Follow and build upon example.
What I've enjoyed the most about my experience with this nonprofit is...
seeing my life turn around from the worst point in my life after sustaining a Brain Injury & finding that many of the service provided elsewhere were substandard & not enough to give me the hope I so desperately needed. Only they, it seemed could do that.
The kinds of staff and volunteers that I met were...
Kind, warm, skillful in their jobs, patient, able to push me when I needed to be pushed, & support me when I needed to be supported. Help me get the services elsewhere that I needed. Excelent bed-side manner, so to speak.
If this organization had 10 million bucks, it could...
It could help, save, rescue, serve so many people across the country maybe (at least the state) & start an advocacy campaign to cause real systems change in the healtcare industry and also help so many of the returning war vets who have brain injuries too
Ways to make it better...
I hadn't needed their services in the first place. They set the bar for great services. I honestly feel this way & feel like if anyone gets services from them as a result of this review I'm posting I will have all but saved that person's life & am a hero.
In my opinion, the biggest challenges facing this organization are...
Getting enough funding and resources. And facing a world that doesn't recognize brain injury as the serious problem that it is.
One thing I'd also say is that...
The people at Head Injury Rehab & Referral Services (HIRRS) impacted my life more than anyone in my entire life, save my mom and brother, & b/f them I didn't think that people this good existed in the world. They gave me Hope, Faith, & Will to go forward.
When was your last experience with this nonprofit?