Disability Embodied: Narrative Exploration of the Lives of Two Brothers Living with Traumatic Brain Injury
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Disability Embodied:
Narrative Exploration of the Lives of Two Brothers Living with Traumatic Brain Injury

Any discussion of personal experiences with disability, inevitably lead me to recall the experiences of my brother, Richard Kidd. An examination of our journeys clearly illustrates the term disability. More so, our stories reveal the outcome of severe physical impairment dictates the limits of personal agency and autonomy. Perhaps an obvious conclusion, but exploration of our experience is useful as we provide living testimony to eventualities that could similarly occur to others. In order to provide context for discussion of our disabilities, I will briefly recall how we acquired our traumatic brain injuries (TBI), as well as how our brain injuries are expressed. The article will demonstrate that due to the severity of the brain damage he acquired, Richard is entirely subject to the whim of the society he encounters, and thus disabled. The article will also discuss how the disabling attitudes I have encountered sought to diminish my humanity.

Richard Kidd

Richard’s descent into impairment began in the early evening hours of December 31, 1987. As a pedestrian, Richard attempted to cross a street in Indianapolis, when a car without using headlights, slammed into him. In addition, the driver fled the scene of the accident. After stabilizing from the initial trauma—multiple compound fractures to both legs and severe brain injury—Richard spent approximately ten months in coma. After emerging from coma, Richard underwent months of therapy. Albeit with consistent direction from others, therapy enhanced Richard’s ability to hold a cup and use a spoon. These were significant victories for Richard and signaled the beginning of his recovery. However, within two years of his accident, monies ended for rehabilitation and Richard entered into custodial care at his first nursing facility. As time passed, his daily interactions with poorly supervised, unskilled, and underpaid nursing facility employees with little time to work with Richard meant it was more cost efficient for staff to simply spoon–feed Richard. Consequently, Richard lost the ability to participate in an aspect of his self–care. Richard’s humanity took years to gradually erode, but due to the severity of his impairments, he became viewed by those he encountered as an object of treatment, or reservoir of pain and pity, rather than an individual worthy of respect. Accordingly, [End Page 199] Richard became viewed as other. Thus began Richard’s descent into disability.

A complete lack of dental care for decades provides a good example of Richard’s treatment as other. Richard’s experience also demonstrates that desensitized members of the medical, dental, and long–term care professions sometimes precipitate grave circumstances. The combination of an inattention to his needs and his limited ability to participate with his self–care meant that Richard typically went without dental treatment. His quality of life diminished further when aides at a nursing facility dropped him. During the fall, Richard’s face smashed into the floor and several teeth were shattered. More than a decade passed before Richard finally received follow–up dental treatment—that day nearly cost him his life. Due to prolonged neglect, all of Richard’s teeth required extraction. I do not question the dental surgeon’s assessment of Richard’s teeth. I am certain that all of his teeth needed to be removed; but Richard’s sedentary lifestyle meant that he had limited ability to cope with the trauma associated with having 24 teeth removed in one session. I feel certain the dental surgeon assumed Richard was like most other patients and could handle the stress associated with the procedures. However, Richard could not cope with trauma and blood loss the extractions produced. What is worse than the dental surgeon’s assessment of Richard’s ability to withstand surgery is the post–op personnel decision to discharge him to home, shortly after surgery. The nursing facility was ill–equipped to cope with the extent of the blood loss that ensued and soon Richard began to aspirate on his own blood. Accordingly, Richard was sent to the hospital where he proceeded to slip into coma. Richard remained in a coma for approximately four days and in hospital...