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Domestic Violence and Abuse

Being Me Eltje: Recovery from a Recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury


My goal is simply to be able to live an independent life. And I will never get there 100%. So I have to define independence differently now. I find that life has… lost its shine. This is Eltje just one year ago
at the Tour de France. The last thing she remembers before
her accident is cycling on a
rural highway in New Zealand. It’s likely she was the
victim of a hit-and-run. Medics use the Glasgow Coma Scale to
determine how severe a brain injury
is. When Eltje was assessed, her score
was the lowest possible survivable
rate. OK, so just hold on
before you do any steps. Doctors never expected that
she would ever speak again. However, she’s been lucky. Now she’s anxious to
progress faster. That early stage, that first six
months particularly, is where we
see— or tend to see the most change. And then gradually over time, it,
sort of, plateaus out a bit. Eltje will be leaving soon. She wants a full recovery and
is keen to learn how much
improvement is possible. If you were to try riding a bike, it
would carry significant risks for
you. OK.
Yeah. I want to ride my bike. (SOBS) I miss that. Having completed a full year
of medical rehabilitation, Eltje is aware any future
improvements will come
from her own efforts. (ALARM SOUNDS) She’s determined to progress beyond
what doctors thought possible. It’s been a year—
over a year, actually, about 16 months, since my accident. And everything is different. I was in rehab at ABI Rehab
first for half a year, and then got discharged into
so-called slow stream rehab. I was there for seven months. And then I moved to Cambridge,
to here. I sleep really well because I take a sleeping pill at night, and also
an antidepressant, and those two together really
give me a good sleep. Even if I’ve had a rough day, I settle to sleep within
20 minutes usually. It might not look like it, but
that’s actually a challenge to
hit the cup and not the bench. Most things are challenging. And so with doing them, I get the brain to learn. And everything I do and
something goes wrong, I do it again, and then hopefully
get it right, and that’s a
learning for the brain. From the moment she wakes, she’s
focused on challenging herself
both mentally and physically. The brain injury didn’t shake her
pure determination. It’s safe to do it this way
because all my knives are blunt. Eltje has insisted on maintaining
her independence with minimal
support from friends or carers. In the past month, Eltje has broken
her wrist falling during an exercise
routine, but that’s not stopping her. That was a real setback because I
was much more dependant after that. And I obviously strive
for independence. But after a few days, I got over it and thought it was just
another obstacle. Every morning I do a few exercises. That kinda wakes the body up. And a lot of it is core stuff. And hopefully it will also
help with my walking. And then my physio gave me
a few tummy exercises. Initially, I couldn’t lift
my hips off the ground at all, so I can do that now. And then I do a few gym ball things. With that, you try to do
a controlled movement. And then a little bit
more core stuff. Five more of those. I have a right-sided ataxia, so ataxia is when the nervous system
sends your muscles wrong messages, so you can’t just extend your
leg like this, but it suddenly
goes like that. And the same with the arm. And so it’s more or less,
erratic movement, and you obviously have to
counterbalance on your
so-called good side. Balance is one of her main issues — complicated by an eye condition. That’s double vision now. I see my main image here, but the other one I see rotated and dropped to the right side. Just the brain giving the eye the wrong information. They are going to do surgery on it,
and hopefully the two images will
be one on top of the other. Like it should be. Every morning I have to
look at my schedule and also compare with my diary in order not to forget anything. So, today is first walking a little bit, then to the gym, and then we might go
to the bike shop, and then later on in the afternoon,
John’s going to come. Routine is absolutely important,
because otherwise I’d forget things, and if I have my routine, then it’s easier to follow through
with all the exercises that I have
to do, with the appointments that I have, and I get flustered really easily
if there’s a change to that. Hi, Nikki. Come in. Hey, Eltje. How are you? I’m all right. So, today, Eltje, we’re going
to do our route to Countdown. Yeah.
So we’re going to do it the same
way as we’ve done it last time. So we start with our grounding
exercise for 30 seconds, and then we’ll follow the same
route as we did on Monday. And I’ll be guiding you,
if you need the help.
Yeah. We’re doing the same route exactly
the same way just so that you’re
able to recall it, so that you’ll eventually do it
independently. Hopefully, yeah.
Definitely. There you go, Eltje. Thanks. Eltje was excited to
get this walking bike, which allows her to get into the
community and go longer distances. We provide total assistance —
full assistance initially so that we’re really making sure
that Eltje makes no mistakes. And then what we start doing next is
actually meeting Eltje in different
places so that she’s doing some and
all of the route on her own. So, going out to the gym or the supermarket, and then
I have to find my way back. And that sounds easy,
but it’s not easy for me, because I go twice around a corner
and already don’t know how to get
back. That’s how bad it is. The other good thing about the
Alinker is I can walk a few
kilometres even without getting tired. She defines her own rehabilitation
goals and objectives, so when
we’re working together, it’s Eltje who’s saying, you know,
what we need to achieve and how we
need to achieve it, which is great for my work. So, it’s good it happened like this,
so you don’t underestimate it.
Yeah. The brain is really good at setting
down new neural pathways, and we
call that neuroplasticity, and what happens is that when
Eltje’s learning a new route, we’re making a new neural pathway,
which then will help her to remember
the route from then on in. My goal with the OT is in the long-run to be able to go on my own to the supermarket, gym, cafe or wherever I want to go and find my way back, obviously. We made it.
Well done, Eltje.
You did really well. Eltje’s had a long career
as a physiotherapist. I wait for my transport, and while I’m doing that, I just routinely do those exercises. Every spare moment is an
opportunity for rehab. Stepping forward, backwards
and sideways. Just for coordination of the legs. And it’s… And also alternate weight-bearing. So I do that in this corner,
so I can save myself hopefully. Then my transport lady
is going to pick me up. (CAR APPROACHES) Morning, Connie.
Morning. A perfect day for a walk, eh?
Yeah. The ultimate goal would be to be
able to walk without a walking aid. And I have that belt
on in case I tumble. So they walk behind me and can,
kind of, get me back into balance, but in the long-run, I would like to
be able to walk without anybody
behind me or… but that might never happen.
Don’t know. Thank you. My mum was quite strict. And so to me, it’s kinda normal to
follow through with all the things, all that, say, with my routine,
and there’s no exemptions to it. I simply have to learn to actually
let go of that sometimes, I was
told. (CHUCKLES) And not to be too hard on myself, but that’s a learning process. In the pool, we are working
a lot on walking, itself. Some balance exercises as well. OK, so we’re gonna
sit on the noodle. So we’re gonna work on
your sitting balance. It’s gonna be a bit of fun. Just
come into the middle of the pool and see if you can stay balanced
on that noodle the whole time. That’s it. The benefits of this Hydropool is
that we’re able to do a lot of
balance stuff that we can’t do around the home or
in a gym — that is we get to push
the boundaries a bit more. Eltje does have some balance
problems with weakness down
one side, and due to her ataxia,
or involuntary movements. And obviously, if we do lose
our balance and slip or fall, you’re just gonna get a bit wet,
so it enables us to challenge
the boundaries a bit more. Good?
Yeah. Nice. I was a physio here in New Zealand for about 15 years, and before that
in Germany for about eight years. And my physio, obviously, doesn’t
have that amount of experience; he’s still young. But we can discuss
things and talk about it and usually find a common answer
to the problem. Knees nice and high. Eltje’s actually awesome
to work with. She’s one of those clients that you
don’t actually have to do much
pushing or motivating. She’s extremely motivated
and really hard working. And now flick your
heels up the back. So I think most of our energy is
more around shaping what exercises
she does participate in and make sure that she’s safe and,
I guess, using that energy and
motivation to keep progressing and keep challenging the
right areas of her rehab. And see if you can hold that
position. It’s gonna take some
work on those shoulders as well. Awesome. Yeah, I used to be quite passionate
about my physio work. I obviously miss the good feedback
that I used to get. How are you finding that? It’s all right as long
as I can stand like this.
Yeah. But next thing would be
‘put your feet together.’
(LAUGHS) Exactly. So put your feet together.
(CHUCKLES) I miss that kind of
challenge as well, but hopefully it can get back to
some sort of work. It might not
be physical physio, but it might be some consulting type
of thing. Right, that’s us for today, Eltje. So, in the meantime, I want you
to keep doing your home exercise
programme that we’ve practising. I do. Yeah.
Cool. And then we’ll
see you at the gym and go over your lower limb
strength exercises. On Tuesday?
On Tuesday. At what time? 8.30.
Yeah, cool.
Cool. I don’t feel hunger any more,
or appetite or anything, so I have to remind myself to eat.
I have to look at the watch. When it’s lunchtime. And it has
happened the odd time that I’ve
forgotten to eat. Maybe that feeling will come back. But I just don’t have it now. I’m fine with breakfast, because
it’s what I do in the morning, but everything else is more for— kinda a nuisance almost. Everything seems to be awkward. I kinda get used to it. (CHUCKLES) Quite often I don’t buy food because
it’s too difficult to handle. And I just buy food that’s
easier to handle. So I just have toast and salmon. I could have something else, but I don’t… Like I said, I don’t bother. For example, I like to eat avocados. But I find it too difficult
to eat them properly, so I don’t buy them. To be honest, my body is
letting me down a lot. So I don’t really think
I should feed it, but, anyway, I feed it
because I have to, but that’s all it is; it’s a chore. And the first six weeks were
just all over the place. I had thousands of assessments
and people talking to me and stuff. And that was just too much for me. Whereas now, it’s kinda
settled everything. So now a certain routine
seems to be established, so that’s good. The fatigue hasn’t improved much. I think I can handle mental fatigue
easier than physical fatigue. I can’t delay a break, and so
I learned that the hard way. Everything breaks down
if I don’t have my rest. During the day, there’s actually
still lots of obstacles, so I am quite appreciative of
the help that I have now. I’m Caroline. I’m Eltje’s support
worker. And I help Eltje with
lots of different things — taking down the laundry, dishes, cleaning. Caroline does do my housework,
more or less. A lot of those things
I couldn’t do at all. Some of them I can do partially, but she’s definitely a big help,
also in respect of my energy. She— The things that she does,
if I would have to do them, I
would be completely stuffed. Cycling buddy John is a loyal
friend and advocate and visits almost daily. Hi there.
Hi. How are you? I’m good. But buggered. It was
a long day for me.
Yeah, yeah. A year and a half ago, I was
obviously was not able to make
any decisions for myself, so it was completely up to him to
make sure that things are happening, therapies are happening and stuff. But he now needs to step back from
that and more live his own life
more. So, which Indian place
did you go to? The one where you were last time? Yes, it’s Hello Indian,
next to the Stables Cafe. Oh yeah. And that’s more than medium. That’s actually hot. Oh. Now you have the Alinker, you’re
physically capable of getting
into town and the cafe or the gym or the shop. Yeah, it still needs
a few repetitions to go. Yeah, but it’s—
I can’t do it on my own.
It’s pretty exciting, though. Yeah, it’s a great sign.
Hmm. I think it’s definitely—
You’re definitely… gaining. Since Eltje was discharged
from Laura Fergusson, there was an initial period where I
was very involved in her support. But in the last few months, she’s
got more a handle on being able to
live independently with support, and so I am not involved with
her day-to-day life. Well, that was good. And I’ll be
back tomorrow at 8 o’clock, so you need your bike clothes on. That’s it. Okey-doke.
OK, I’ll see you tomorrow morning. Good night!
Good night.
Have a good sleep. Eltje’s injuries were so extreme,
many believed she’d never ride
a bike again. She started with a trike. But now there’s a new goal —
competing at the Paralympics. I am OK now with a trike. Initially, I thought
that’s not what I want. But I’m OK now because it’s enables
to go out there and feel the wind and enjoy being active. In the end, you’ve gotta be able to
lead an independent, happy life. And part of that for a happy life
would be for me to go for rides
like today, so if that leads to a certain level where I can compete against others, I’m happy with that. She’s courageous. It takes a lot of guts to hang in
there, and she never wavers. Giving up just isn’t
in her vocabulary. On the bicycle, you have
a good pace of moving. I just enjoy that. If I go for
rides, so even if I found it hard, at the end, when I’m back home, I feel just relieved and happy. Attitude was made with funding
from NZ on Air.

Cesar Sullivan

57 thoughts on “Being Me Eltje: Recovery from a Recovery from a Traumatic Brain Injury

  1. She was my favorite person in the Brain Trauma series. She's so enlightened and inspirational and I hope she is able to start competing. Much luck in life to you Eltje!

  2. What an inspirational lady. She has really defied her odds. Her British friend John seems so lovely. Wishing her all the best with everything and hope she gets to the Paralympics.

  3. This woman has so much strength & determination! Such a tremendous lady & an inspiration to all – wish you all the best & more in your future 💚

  4. As an athlete I couldn't imagine having my physical abilities taken away from me so suddenly. It's one of he biggest parts of who I am, my identity is wrapped up in my physical strength and ability. The depression must be so deep and dark for her. Honestly I don't know if I could be strong enough to get through something like this. She is an amazing woman, just to keep trying and living life is more than most could do.

  5. Eltje is amazing and inspirational, not because of her injury but because of her overwhelming drive to improve. She must have been amazing to have as a physio. It's good to see she's doing so well.

  6. She was the one I wanted to see an update on so badly. I seem to remember that they were very concerned about her house in the last episode due to many stairs and hanging bikes,etc. it appears she may have moved to make things more accessible for her? She has come such a long way. Hope to see her compete one day in the Paralympics. Thanks so much!

  7. Eltjeeee!! I'm so happy to see her, I so wished for an update, she showed me how much one can accomplish when they don't give up, and how much better even awful situations can get. She is truly my hero…

  8. eltje is so inspiring! i love her determination to improve every day and get as much normality back into her life! i wish her all the best with her journey!! she's doing SO well!! xx

    lana, 22, gold coast

  9. I do not feel sorry for you.. because I know you are a survivor..life had planned something worst of the worst for you.. but with your tenacity of living.. you have just disarmed the life's power to beat you down..
    salute to your spirit ma'am… truly inspirational.. & great work by the team of #Attitude

  10. What a truly inspirational woman! May the poor soul who hit her see this series and see that their cowardness to leave the scene did not kill this beautiful lady's spirit.

  11. This woman is incredibly strong-willed. I find her attitude and her lack of self-pity despite her incredibly challenging situation inspiring to say the least.

  12. tbi 5 years ago and I still wear an eye patch for crooked and sideways double vision. Without my patch I get super dizzy and motion sick:/

  13. Eltje is such an inspiration and has a very lovable way about her. Thank you so much for sharing her story!

  14. For everybody looking for an update:

    Malzbender's success at this year's nationals in tri-cycling elevated her to the Paralympic Potential Programme and Para Cycling coach Mike Bland says she has a good chance of making the Paralympic squad.

    Full article: http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=11883651

  15. I've often wondered of her progress and pleased to come across this update. l hope every personal goal she sets against herself she achieves. She's a remarkable lady. Look forward to the next update.

  16. This is an odd thought, and I hope nobody minds me sharing it… Perhaps we get the lessons which we need for our maximum growth in life. She was a person who was so hard on herself, so strict and pushing herself to the maximum. She had an experience which make her have to grow in completely different areas – letting go, forgiving herself, compassion, serenity, acceptance. Maybe on some level her higher self arranged to learn those lessons.

  17. y would any one put thumbs down …..if u were one out of 3 …u r a piece of sh**……she is amazing an a inspiration for me n many others you go girl …..god bless u r very independent. you r incredible

  18. Love this lady…she's just awesome, wonderful outlook. Her home is also fabulous, such a great series and the people who support her, one can only hope for such friends.

  19. Eltje Malzbender is now a member of the Para Cycling Paralympic Potential squad aiming for the Tokyo 2020 Paralympic Games.

  20. Eltje is amazing ! Her determination and fortitude are huge contributions to her recovery ! She’s come so far and she will continue to get better each day just because she is so dogged and determined to get better . All my best to her , she deserves it ❤️

  21. They need to see things like that here in America. We have the chair we just really need to work on it. New Zealand has the right idea. And of course fucking insurance doesn’t help to cover these good things.

  22. I absolutely love the way she thinks. I had a really you have a hard time when people don’t think this way. When people want everything done for them and not contribute anything.

  23. The hit and run showed the worse in people and Eltje's determination shows the best. I hope Eltje surprises herself by surpassing some of the goals she set for herself.

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