Ronan suffered a horrific horse-riding accident shortly before his leaving cert year. Fracturing every bone in his face and with a bleed to his brain, his parents were told to expect the worst. Fifteen years on, and following extensive reconstructive surgery, he has made a recovery which you could describe as almost miraculous. But a recent decision to take a Masters degree in Business Administration (MBA) made him reflect on his head injury and his ability to achieve his goals. He talks in this interview to Headway’s Richard Stables about his forward focus and its importance in his continuing recovery.
When was it that you first started to wonder about how you were doing?
There were a couple of stages. In my physical recovery, about six or seven years after the accident I met someone who had been injured in a motorbike accident. He recommended an osteopath to me who very quickly was able to take away a lot of stiffness and pain in my back which allowed me to focus again on getting physically fit. I’ve worked hard from that point and now I jog regularly. In terms of my mental recovery, it was my girlfriend who suggested that I do a Masters in Business Administration (MBA). I thought it wasn’t a bad idea but I got to thinking: ok, well tackling an MBA with a head injury is a whole new level of challenge; will my level of ability or concentration be up to it?
So I started thinking about head injury. I’d read in Making Headway about a story of recovery similar to mine, and I thought: I should probably do the course, but will I be able for it? Anyway, I applied for the course, was accepted a week later and before I knew what was going on I was starting an MBA.
And did you have any difficulties? MBAs are notoriously intensive courses.
Yes, I did have difficulties concentrating. I found that when someone asked a question, instead of paying attention I was already off on a track of “well I know the answer to this” before the questioner had finished. I’m not sure if I would have had that problem with concentration beforehand, but I’m a creative thinker which can mean you are naturally inclined to hop around the place. No matter how hard I tried to adapt and concentrate, I couldn’t alter this lack of concentration. This gave me pause for thought.
So, what made you come to Headway?
Part of the MBA involved a module of personal development. The idea was to survey people around me and figure out where my key weaknesses are in my professional life. It turned out that I had two areas I had to work on: Stress and creative problem solving – both these areas were personal weaknesses rather than professional. I honestly didn’t think I had stress, but when I started looking into it I realised I did have stress, not so much to do with work but to do with things like managing money, which I believe people with head injury can sometimes have issues with. Also, the stress wasn’t allowing me to think through problems. I would make very quick decisions but without thinking through the problem. So that got me thinking about my head injury.
You came to us with questions about your functioning – what did you get out of it?
I found out a lot about my accident. Until then, all I knew was that I had broken bones and a head injury. I had all sorts of false memories of the period immediately after the accident, thinking I’d just had a bang on the head and I was fine. In fact, I’d no idea that months had gone by and I hadn’t a clue where I was.
It was interesting to do the psychological tests and learn about my strengths and weaknesses. I learned that my long term memory and my hearing memory were fine, but my visual processing wasn’t so good which explained why I had difficulty remembering directions for driving. It gave me a lot of information.
Beforehand I had presumed the news would be all bad, but there was a lot of positivity to come out of the assessment. I’d also been experiencing flashbacks to the time of the accident, and those have resolved now.
How has that understanding impacted you?
I don’t know that understanding what happened to me has had a big impact. I think it has had more of an impact for other people. To be honest I think I was a bit immune to it myself- I didn’t even know this information was there. My focus has always the whole time been forward, getting back to school, doing my leaving cert and focusing on the physical recovery.
Has that forward focus been helpful for you?
Absolutely – I believe it is the reason I made the recovery that I did. I very quickly accepted the situation as it was and sought to make the best of it. Probably more so than anything else, I think that’s why I recovered to the extent I did, no looking back or “sorry is me”. My girlfriend sometimes asks “Do you ever think about what could have been if it didn’t happen?” – I just don’t think like that. I look at me prior to the accident as a curiosity, particularily as I get older. The post-accident Ronan is almost as old as the pre-accident Ronan now, and I find that whole concept very curious.
And what does the future hold?
I’ve finished my MBA, work is going well, I work for a growing company, and I’m getting married later in the year. It’s all good. Exercise is also a big part of my life and I believe the focus on running longer or faster than I have done before is my attempt to control my physical recovery. I was an athlete before the accident. My next dream is to run the marathon. My longest run this year so far is 18k.
Is the Head Injury in the past, or something you keep with you?
The head injury is part of who I am. It’s as much as part of me as, say, being Irish. I wouldn’t be who I am without head injury. My short haircut doesn’t hide the scars and I believe it has helped mould me into who I am today. It’s always going to be there. I’m probably now interested in it more than I ever was. I don’t regret it.
I know I’m lucky, I’ve been in clinics and I’ve seen other people who haven’t been as lucky. There’s a lot of hardship for families. My own parents thought I was gone. My heart had stopped; I had MRSA, pneumonia, the works. It was the forward thinking that got me through it I believe.
My forward looking approach – It does work and it is what I’d like to pass on to other people. I don’t believe I would have got better looking backwards or looking back at the accident and focusing on why it happened or what if I’d done this or that . The fact is, it happened. End of. Now it’s all forward moving whether physically, mentally or career-wise.