Vera Quijano – Survivor

We would like to introduce Vera Quijano.  A brain injury survivor who is telling her story.  Vera chose to do this in a video format with the help of her granddaughter as the interviewer – as a 2 part video to share here. 

You can find the transcription of each video under each one.

Video Interview 1 of 2 

Grandaughter (Interviewer):  Hello my name is Keilani Bell and this is my grandma Vera Quijano.  So what happened to cause your bodily trauma and or TBI? What injuries did you sustain?

Vera: What happened was, I was on my way to a funeral. My friend’s son was killed by a drunk driver and I got hit by a drunk driver in a car accident…. on my way to the funeral; and I got a brain injury and I hurt my shoulder and my hip I think.

Grannddaughter: When did your injury occur (date or season, and year)?

Vera:  It was in I…it was right after my birthday it was August 21 of 2015

Granddaughter:  How old were you when you acquired your brain injury or polytrauma?  How old are you now?

Vera:  I am 52 now and I still can’t trip…trap keep track 51….50…48… I think I just turned 47 or just turned 46….you’d have to do the math.  I can’t do math without a calculator or in hand a piece of paper…so, I’m 52 now I’ll be 53 on August 11, 2021.

Granddaughter:  If you sustained a traumatic brain injury, was this your first one?  How many concussions or TBI’s have you had pre..pre..preserviously?

Vera:  Previously.

Granddaughter: Previously?

Vera:  This..that was my first one, I didn’t have any before.

Granddaughter:  If you sustained a polytrauma, what were your various injuries?

Vera: So at first I didn’t know that I had any other injury other than my shoulder and my hip hurt; but I had also with the head injury I also had vestibular issues.  I was dizzy and I was hallucinating and all kinds of things happened; but as far as physical injury there was shoulder and hip…from the seatbelt – from the hit, and the way the seatbelt was on my hip and my shoulder.

Granddaughter:  How long was your recovery?

Vera: Recovery.  I would say I’m still in recovery.  So going on 6 years and it was really just last month where I felt like I could move forward and start recovering….fully.

Granddaughter:  If you are still recovering, what are you involved in for care – physical therapy,  ahkoopiational therapy?..

Vera: oh..occupational…

Granddaughter: cunselling etc…

Vera: Counseling. I am… what I go to regularly…every other week I go to physical therapy/chiropractor.  I have a really bad whiplash injury.  I was hit on the side of the head I had headaches for the past few days.  It’s been less, it’s been a lot less, but um, that’s what I am still working through now, is the back injury – lower back stuff and neck stuff.  The whiplash was probably one of the worst things I would say…um….  I teach yoga and I teach dance, I kind of know how to do the chakra micro meditations and utilize yoga for healing – body, mind, and soul….and so that I use that all the time I actually used that when I first got hit – my own chakra micro meditation audio;  I listened to that because I was such a wreck. I think that’s it. 

I do need to go back and get some tests done with some stuff.  I want to go back and re-assess….um..I still have vestibular issues…but I practice that because I know that I was originally…I taught dance before, so I know how to practice that and how to do some of those exercises; they’re not horrible – I could dance again.  I couldn’t for years, but um, still something like crossing the street I’ve gotta spot things, I can’t really look off to a diagonal without getting dizzy, but I’m pretty good at that now.

Granddaughter:  Could you identify what your biggest struggles are or have been over the weeks, months, or years?

Vera:  Abandonment! I’m feeling abandoned….sorry hon…and not…for people not recognizing how everything felt is probably the worst;  but it kind of still is, your missing a lot of people in your life, that your family, your friends, your relationships, that people don’t understand how bad it really is, and how much help you really need.   I didn’t know, I couldn’t articulate it; so…it’s still… but that’s a work in progress.  I’m ready to go back for more counseling just it…

Just go to the next thing…

Granddaughter: How have your injuries impacted your life?

Vera: Um…they’ve…emotionally, mentally, physically, spiritually, financially – horribly impacted my life;  but i feel better now, I actually really do.  I’m not mad about it. I forgave the drunk driver even though she didn’t care how much she wrecked me, and how difficult it has been; but um, I’m ready to get back into the swing of things now; so it’s…it’s been…it’s uh, probably needs some more counseling, probably go back and sort through some things; but I sleep well, sleep is my litmus test.  I couldn’t sleep before.  I was very angry at a lot of people; and um, I’ve learned to forgive them, and I’ve learned to forgive myself for however I may have responded in my broken state – because I really didn’t know better; so, you can only say sorry for so long…lots…most of the relationships have…have left or probably won’t come back, but I’m doing okay…it’s good and I’m grateful every day…..thank you.

[Keilani Bell, the granddaughter, paused video 1, to go and give her grandma a great big hug.  Then they continue]

Video Interview 2 of 2

Granddaughter: Have you had the social support, financial support, and resources you needed to recover?

Vera: No *chuckles*. Social support I would say is mostly from uh Kaiser therapists, so I don’t know if you’d really call that social support. There have been a few…a handful of people…most are gone. Uh, financial support, no – I, uh, my finances went to…down the tubes. I just got done last year paying off the lawyers, and all the doctors, and the dental. I have in…it hit my…broke…you know issues with my teeth…

so, um, financially I’m still trying to recover. It’s the first time since, um, my daughter was in 4th grade…now my granddaughter is in 4th grade that I haven’t been able to get a car. I usually lease a car, so um..not enough – but there’s been some. I’m grateful for what little I did get.

Financial, social, and what else?

Granddaughter: Financial, so…social, and resources needed to recover…

Vera: Resour, no…the resources are..no…no, doctors don’t know what resources you need.

Granddaughter: How have your injuries impacted your relationship with others, with employment, with your spouse, with family,with yourself?

Vera: With my spouse? Well…he….didn’t get it and leave – I’ve lived in, I counted – 11 different places in the last 5 years; 5 years and 3 months or so. I’ll probably have to move again in June, but that’s fine because I have a roof and food and i am never going to be on the street so I’m still grateful. So, um, my spouse is trying to get it, but he still doesn’t get it.

My employment, I was, um, a Salsa Dance teacher and Yoga Instructor – so I couldn’t teach dance at all – though I had a lot of support from my Dean at the time, and I got a paid assistant for my dance classes because the vestibular issues were very bad. The….the dizziness was terrible and the Yoga…I prob…in addition to the physical injuries…it was…and not being able to sequence – I couldn’t remember…um…there was just a lot of stuff I couldn’t do; so it was terrible for work, terrible with the spouse.

Um, I’m usually pretty smart, sharp, and remember stuff…and I don’t – so….people were short with me, you know, and expected me to be a cer…to be the way I was before, and I wasn’t; so, and that was just too bad for me, so…it’s fine now and it impacts me now, because I can’t stand that I was not like I was before, but I’m very grateful for how far I have come. I just don’t have quick access to that information – so it’s irritating today.

Granddaughter: Where do you live now – State, Country?

Vera: I live in Redwood City, California

Granddaughter: What kind of activities are you able to do from day to day? What ki…what kind of coping strategies do you use? What do you do for any chronic pain of symptoms from injuries?

Vera: Uh…coping strategies I use a lot from my…I went to group therapy for PTSD – what does that mean? you have to say it I can’t…

Granddaughter: They also taught my grandma to do this thumb work of pointing to her thumb and then pointing to her other thumb, kind of like this *demonstrates thumb pointing exercise*.

Vera: Ohhh….you did that with me?

Granddaughter: Yes, I did.

Vera: I don’t remember that. Okay….so, I don’t remember a lot of stuff….tell me, I forgot the question. Tell me again what we’re saying..

Granddaughter: What…

Vera: Oh! Coping Strategies!

Granddaughter: Yeah

Vera: I forget everything all the time and it’s just….it’s irritating and I don’t. I used to cry about it, so now I just deal with it. I embrace being able to hide my own Easter eggs and wrap my own Christmas presents because I really don’t remember, and it could, you know cry about it and I don’t cry about it anymore.

Um, in uh…I did group therapy for PTSD and there was a lot of grounding exercises I learned and I loved them; and I had a psychiatrist I went to and who gave me some worksheets and things to work on and deal with, um, learning how to set boundaries, and learning how to um…I forgot the term, it’s um, something called uh…uh…it’s like isolation – it was something about, uh, I can’t think of the term, its uh something behavior…not evasive ….avoidance! – healthy avoidance behavior! I learned that. I do breathing techniques, the stuff I teach to my students; I try to be accountable. I do my Yoga, I do my meditation, I do my micro-mediations. My brain’s not as good at meditating. I used to get really upset with it, but I don’t anymore – and um, but the breathing techniques helped. 2-1 breath to engage the parasympathetic nervous system and uh, I’m alone a lot and I think it’s good for me and I am very grateful. I have a regular….I pray every morning and night. I’m grateful for the basics in life; so, I am, in a state of gratitude now…..and HOPE….and determination….and I love my granddaughter – she’s my driving force. She’s my “why”.

Granddaughter: What do you want other people to know about your experiences?

Vera: People don’t…..doctors don’t understand.

Every doctor I talked to…so, I went to the first year I had gone to the doctor I think like, 50 times, 40 or 50 times, and not one doctor that I had seen, and I probably saw about 20 different doctors – noone had ever been through a brain injury; so it’s kind of like my OB/Gyn, who had delivered my doctor…..who delivered my daughter….who’s told me what contractions would feel like, he read about it, but he does not know what they feel like – so a lot of doctors just have read about it and they have no clue. Most people don’t….most DOCTORS do not understand female injury, they don’t understand female brain injury, they don’t understand that we have our hormones.. are different…..they’re different at different stages in our lives, they’re different during the month; so there’s a lot of information that just isn’t out there, and if you’re basing you diagnosis and prognosis on what the…uh…football team concussion of male – of men – 20 year old men – then that data does not apply to us, and…and noone wants to go and take the time to give us better….to give us better date.

Would you ask me the question again? I forgot what I am talking about.

Granddaughter: You are talking about what you want other people to know about your experiences.

Vera: Oh yeah. That it really sucks and it is not easy, and it’s…. I know that if someone – even the people that abandoned me in my family…I know that if this happened to them, I would know they need a room and I need to take care of them, and I need to make them 3 meals, and that they need a ride to the doctor, and that they need somebody to take notes for them – because I couldn’t remember anything, so I would go in the doctor and didn’t know what I was doing there; I couldn’t get on the elevator; I couldn’t take the stairs; I didn’t know where I was supposed to be; and I didn’t get any help, and I didn’t need to sit with a Neurologist and have him tell me all these things and I don’t understand anything *your gonna shake the camera – to granddaughter*…and I don’t…they don’t…I’m not going to…I’m not going to remember anything; so yay that you’re so smart doctor/Neurologist but it’s….you’re not helping if you don’t give me a way, to coordinate my care.

So that’s what I really want people to know, is that your brain injured person isn’t just moody, their brain is injured and it needs time to heal, and it needs attention from someone else that has a brain that functions properly; and you need to forive people who you are mad at because healing doesn’t start until you do that. Even if it’s a drunk driver that doesn’t care about you, and I forgive her. Okay.

Granddaughter: What did you choose to tell your story?

Vera: Why did I choose?

Granddaughter: Yeah

Vera: Because my goal in life is to help anyone and everyone who can make this experience easier if they ever end up in this state; that there are ways….I wish I’d learned about the doctor…the military doctor who prescribed omega 3’s. I wish I would have known about progesterone. I wish someone would have told me these things I could be doing..and tell me…

Ask me the question one more time.

Granddaughter: * sighs* Why did you choose to tell your story?

Vera: I just want to help people who have brain injuries and I know they don’t need too much information. I want to give them little bits, and give them HOPE that they can heal, but it’s not going to happen in 2 months. It’s not going to happen in 6 months. If you’ve seen one brain injury, you’ve seen one brain injury. You cannot do a one size fits all protocol for a brain injury; and someone said this to me – they said “brain injury is the last thing you think about, until it’s the only thing you think about”; and it is….if you think that your life is stuck in that state, you don’t feel like you want to be a part of this planet, and a part of this existence, so somehow give them hope and step-by-step protocol. Give them only 1 or 2 things to do, to start the healing journey, and let them know that it is going to take time, and that time could be 5 years. It could be 5 months, but it could be 5 years, and it sucks but that is just how it is, and you just gotta keep on, keeping on.

Granddaughter: What name do you want reflected online? First and last please.

Vera: Vera Quijano. First name is V-E-R-A. Last name is Q-U-I-J-A-N-O Veraquijano.com I am trying to put some stuff up there. I have a TBI tab there. All free stuff access for TBI folk. I love you guys.

Granddaughter:  Do you have any pictures you want to submit of you before, during, or after? (accident, hospital stay, incident, etc?)

Vera: No um, no pictures. I think the best thing to say right here is that, um, the brain injury, is uh, is um, is….my daughter’s coming home right now…we’re gonna…is the brain injury is an invisible disability…so um…that’s probably one of the hardest things is that people who are in depression, anger, anxiety, sadness, grief, physical pain – it’s all invisible disabilities and you look one way and sometimes people just treat you that way because they don’t see any blood or a broken bone, or anything like that, so they just treat you that way.

Maybe that’s a good thing too – to show a before and after. I look pretty much the same; but I’ve got this debilitating whiplash, and this brain doesn’t work, and I have this stabbing pain in my head, and I’m hallucinating, and my back hurts and this should hurt and my hip hurts, but I look the same; so yea before and after looks exactly the same, but it is nothing compared at all….completely different.

Granddaughter: What things have you felt, saw, smelled, touched, experienced that stood out to you? What part of these things helped you or hindered you?

Vera: I don’t really know how to answer that one. I think my favorite thing is that when you…YOU, my little Keilani Bell…you give me my things like *shows items in a jacket pocket* these uh, these uh….”chakra rocks”. I carry things like this….amethyst. Just things to remind me where I am carrying my pain in my body, and just to keep on healing; so just little things like that.

Granddaughter: Okay, thank you. Bye.

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