Beck: PJ thanks for sharing your time with me this morning.
Long: Thanks for the invitation.
Beck: I really liked your book. Its an amazing and personal reflection of the accident, your slow and purposeful recovery, and the many laborious steps along the way. You are a survivor, and you have an amazing inner strength. PJ, if you dont mind, please tell us about your education and your professional career?
Long: My undergraduate degree was in psychology, and I have two masters degrees: one in Interpersonal Communication from the University of Minnesota, and the second in Spirituality and Psychology, from Holy Names College. Prior to the accident, I was a psychotherapist, in practice for almost 20 years. I worked with individuals, couples, and families. I also did some consulting with different organizations.
Beck: Very good. PJ, would you give us a thumbnail sketch of the accident?
Long: September 17th, 1999, I fell off a horse, flipped in the air and landed on my head. I bounced and then struck my head a second time; fortunately my helmet stayed on. I was unconscious only briefly, and when I came to I was able to stand up and walk. But within days, the swelling in my brain forced me to bed where I remained for several months, sleeping nearly 20 hours a day. When I finally emerged from that thick pall of fatigue, I was a stranger to myself, like a ghost with no me inside.
Beck: It sounds like you had traumatic brain injury and a concussive syndrome?
Long: Yes, exactly right, although, at the time we didnt know the extent of the brain damage. It took about 6 months to come to a fuller understanding of how pervasive and insidious it was.
Beck: As you emerged back into your life, did you notice any auditory perceptual difficulties?
Long: Yes. I had tremendous difficulty understanding language. I couldnt follow conversations. When people spoke to me, I could hear their words and voices clearly, but I could not make sense of it. I couldnt shut out background noise, or focus on a speaker; everything came into my head all jumbled up. I couldnt read either. I knew the letters and the words, but the meaning was missing. I couldnt process information, or sequence things It was very frustrating, and difficult.
Beck: Had you previously had sensory perceptual deficits?
Long: None. Before the accident, multi-tasking was my norm. And my auditory memory was excellent. I was able to meet with clients, listen to their current situations and reports while at the same time recalling their previous history and specific conversations wed had. With no effort at all, I could integrate all of that into a cohesive understanding.
Beck: During those first 3 months of recovery, and in the months after that, were you aware that you were not right? In other words, did you realize that you were no longer able to perform at your previous level, or were you just accepting and unaware of the pre-and-post trauma differences?
Long: Well in the very beginning I was mostly asleep, and I didnt have the cognitive ability to reflect on my situation. But as the months passed and I gradually emerged from the sleeping and the silence, I started to realize things were not right. I knew I wasnt performing as I had before. I couldnt even look up a number in the phone book; daily activities were overwhelming. I couldnt drive a car, cook a meal, or help my daughter with her third-grade-homework. I was aware that many things were different within me, when I compared my pre-versus-post trauma abilities.
Beck: And then if we skip forwardabout a year later, I believe you had your hearing tested and underwent an auditory processing disorder (APD) evaluation?
Long: Yes, thats right. It was about 13 months after the accident. Some of my symptoms had abated, but others persisted, and listening was still a demanding and tiring ordeal.
Beck: What did you learn?
Long: I learned that my peripheral hearing was normal, but my brain struggled to process or apply meaning to the sounds. The audiologist confirmed that I had significant auditory processing deficits. My results from the compressed speech test taught me that if people spoke a little slower, about ten percent slower, and if they spoke a little louder, I would do much better. In particular, the information coming into my brain from my left ear was not being processed nearly as well as info coming in from my right. I seemed to have a problem with binaural integration. And when I explained that I couldnt think in words but only in pictures, my audiologist suggested that having people read aloud to me would be very usefulbecause thinking is essentially a language function, an auditory process.
Beck: I agree. Thoughts are to a large degree derived in pictures and language, and language is an auditory derivative for the majority of people. In other words, people organize their cognitive abilities based on learned language, and most language is learned via audition. PJ, for the readers, let me re-state that auditory processing disorders are not defined by hearing in particular. Rather, as Dr. Jack Katz taught me, theyre defined by What you do with what you hear.
Long: Thats right. The sounds got through my ears just fine, but my brain couldnt handle the information. My audiologist was encouraging, though. He thought there was a good chance that, with training and time, I would be able to recover many of the auditory processes. He really was a genius, and developed a therapy program for me, using binaural integration through headphones -- exercises I did at home for about 6 months. He also taught me how to work on auditory memory enhancement, by increasing my flexibility with thinking in pictures and in words. Id read a short passage, then convert what Id read into a quick sketch. Then Id have to re-tell the story from my sketch. There were other exercises too. It was a slow and purposeful process, but it helped significantly. The whole program is outlined in a published case study in the Journal of the American Academy of Audiology, Feb. 2004;
(Volume 15 special issue: Hearing and the Brain).
Beck: Do you still have APD issues?
Long: Yes, I do, but I am much better now. I still have cognitive deficits too, but I have strategies and accommodations that work well.
Beck: You also worked with a speech-language pathologist, didnt you?
Long: Yes. I started to work with an SLP about 9 months after the accident, and that was very useful. My SLP helped me on many levels. She was the one who instructed me to start writing as a way to help rebuild my speech and language skills -- through reading and writing.
Beck: PJ, did you ever feel like giving up, like the work and energy required was just not worth it?
Long: Yes, I have to admit there were certainly dark moments, when it all seemed overwhelming. I felt like such a burden to my husband and my kids. And when I finally understood that I would not be able to go back to my professional practice, that was very hard. Often, I wondered if Id ever be normal again. But I just had to keep working at it, trying not to get stuck in despair. My survival mantra was patience and gratitude, acceptance and hope.
Beck: PJ, youre a delight to speak with, and youre doing so well in this conversation! One quote from John Muir which you noted in your book, which I think describes you aptly is The sun shines not on us, but in us. I am very impressed with your writing and your inner strength. I could speak with you for hours and would love to explore this further, but the best thing for me to do is to recommend your book. Your experiences and abilities are truly inspiring and I really want to encourage the readers to get a copy, to see what the human spirit is capable of.
Long: Thanks Doug. Thats very kind. I appreciate your time and interest too! If your readers wish to contact me, my website is www.pjlong.com
To acquire the book
Gifts From the The Broken Jar: Rediscovering Hope, Beauty and Joy
Beck: PJ thanks for sharing your time with me this morning.