Dennis Eastman reflects on his ordeals following a brain injury 23 years ago.

Dennis Eastman reflects on his ordeals following a brain injury 23 years ago.

Brain Injury Awareness Month – The long and winding road to recovery

Dennis Eastman has been struggling with the effects of a brain injury suffered 23 years ago.

Dennis Eastman’s life ended when he was 23 years old.

The Nelson native was an amicable young man. He was mild tempered, athletic and he loved life.

But like many young men he was searching for his place in that life and he got mixed up with the wrong crowd, a crowd that led him even further astray after his mom, Sherry, died of bone cancer.

At the time he was working at a sawmill in Revelstoke. Coming home one night on a day off in Nelson he had too much to drink, missed a curve in the road in his car, took out 60 feet of guardrail and crashed his vehicle at the foot of High Street.

Dennis Eastman did not die that night, but the life he knew did. When he woke up from a coma 60 days later with a brain injury and numerous broken bones, he spent the next year relearning how to walk, talk and develop basic motor skills, and the well-adjusted young man was gone.

It was replaced by a man who could not hold his rage, a job, or to communicate with others and he ended up on the street and dealing with addictions. For that fact, Dennis Eastman wished he had died at the scene 23 years ago.

“I wish I would have never woken up. If I wouldn’t have woken up, I wouldn’t be dealing with this right now. I would have died,” he said, 23 years later.

That night began 16 years of what could only be described as a search for a geographical cure, as Eastman spent the years trying to solve the dilemma of his new life with a brain injury, battling depression and suicidal depression to boot, moving over 90 times.

His life mirrored the sometimes insurmountable hurdles thrown at those with a brain injury: being in and out of the psychiatric ward or jail; misunderstood and dismissed by social service agencies because he was too difficult to deal with; facing government red tape and unhelpful bureaucrats—and all because of his brain injury.

But that is the nature of life with a brain injury, said West Kootenay Brain Injury Association outreach worker Jennie Kelly during June’s Brain Injury Awareness Month. The government system is onerous to deal with, so arduous many people become discouraged and fall by the wayside.

“It’s hard enough for people without a brain injury to deal with the government, but it’s even harder for a person with a brain injury,” she said. “There are so many hoops for people with a brain injury to jump through just to get help, and the government doesn’t make it any easier for them.”

For years the pattern was the same as Eastman would find a place, get situated, sometimes find work, but then something would happen. Invariably Eastman would get angry, he would embarrass himself, and then would have to pack up and move and try somewhere else.

He tried to work several times after the accident and found he could not hold down a job. He would get frustrated and had trouble focusing and concentrating on what was at hand. If he didn’t quit he was fired.

So welfare became his bread and butter, as did homelessness, addictions to drugs like heroin and alcohol, and attempts at suicide became frequent, with depression eventually coming home to roost.

“If you suffer from mental illness, you have depression thrown in,” he said.

Eastman fell through the cracks of the system. For 16 years he battled with ICBC to get some kind of compensation for his brain injury. There was a clause in the Insurance Act that stated if anyone sustained a brain injury in a car accident, drinking and driving or not, they were entitled to some money for rehabilitation.

Although Eastman could walk and talk, drive a vehicle, he could not hold down a job and needed help, he just couldn’t seem to communicate that. He grew frustrated quite easily, a frustration that often spawned an angry, ‘F’-word riddled outburst. In a government office filled with the maze of bureaucracy, such outbursts were frequent and often resulted in Eastman dealing with police rather than government officials.

“I see life black and white now, I don’t see the colours in it. They (government) don’t want to see that,” he said. “(With government) you have to play the waiting game. And the hardest thing for a person with a brain injury to do is to wait.”

Eastman said he was never told what he was entitled to. Instead, he had to try and find a counselor who was knowledgeable about the system and who could point him in the right direction.

He found one. It took him 16 years to get ICBC annuity through Canada Life, to get them to classify him as not being able to return to work. It will now last until he is 65 when he would receive pension.

His life is now on track. He hasn’t been depressed in years now that his medications have been correctly sorted out. And he’s been in a relationship that has changed his life around, living in Salmo for the last few years in a house he can finally call his own.

Eastman hoped his story could shed some light on the difficulty of living with a brain injury during national Brain Injury Awareness month.

“When you ain’t got nothing, life is pretty hopeless … but no matter what, you have to keep trying and fighting and hoping it will get better,” he said. “Now life is making up for all those years of nothing.”

Just Posted

Work has begun on the $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp. File photo
Work begins on Slocan Valley fibre-optic line

The $10-million, 120-kilometre fibre-optic line runs from Playmor Junction to north of Nakusp

Prince Charles Secondary School
School District 8 votes in favour of name change for Secondary School in Creston

In an act of reconciliation, a new name will be chosen for Prince Charles Secondary School

A B.C. police officer shows an approved roadside screening device. Photo: Saanich News file
Woman caught passed out behind the wheel in Trail

Police located the 38-year old in her parked but still running car, and had to rouse her awake.

Jade Osecki leading a Fridays for Future climate march in Nelson in 2020. Photo: Submitted
Nelson Grade 12 student Jade Osecki wins Suzy Hamilton Award

Carolyn Schramm was also honoured in this year’s environmental award for West Kootenay women

Photo courtesy of Mercer Celgar
Mercer Celgar to install new technology thanks to $4.5 million in federal funds

Project features process to improve fibre processing and address regional fibre availability issues

Maxwell Johnson is seen in Bella Bella, B.C., in an undated photo. The Indigenous man from British Columbia has filed complaints with the B.C. Human Rights Tribunal and the Canadian Human Rights Commission after he and his granddaughter were handcuffed when they tried to open a bank account. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Heiltsuk Nation, Damien Gillis, *MANDATORY CREDIT*
VIDEO: Chiefs join human rights case of Indigenous man handcuffed by police in B.C. bank

Maxwell Johnson said he wants change, not just words, from Vancouver police

Tk’emlups te Secwepemc Chief Rosanne Casimir stands outside the former Kamloops Indian Residential School after speaking to reporters, in Kamloops, B.C., on Friday, June 4, 2021.THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Kamloops chief says more unmarked graves will be found across Canada

Chief Rosanne Casimir told a virtual news conference the nation expects to release a report at the end of June

A woman wears a vaccinated sticker after receiving a COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination clinic run by Vancouver Coastal Health, in Richmond, B.C., Saturday, April 10, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
B.C. ranks among highest in world in COVID-19 first-dose shots: health officials

More than 76% of eligible people have received their 1st shot

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

An artists conception of the new terminal building at the Pitt Meadows Regional Airport.
Air travel taking off in B.C., but lack of traffic controllers a sky-high concern

There will be demand for more air traffic controllers: Miller

Canadian Armed Forces experts are on their way to North Vancouver after a local homeowner expressed worry about a military artifact he recently purchased. (Twitter DNV Fire and Rescue)
Military called in to deal with antique ‘shell’ at North Vancouver home

‘The person somehow purchased a bombshell innocently believing it was an out-of-commission military artifact’

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz have set their wedding date for February, hoping that more COVID-19 restrictions will have lifted. (The Macleans)
B.C. couples ‘gambling’ on whether COVID rules will let them dance at their wedding

Amy Kobelt and Tony Cruz pushed back their wedding in hopes of being able to celebrate it without the constraints of COVID-19

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Most Read