Brain Injury Survivor Finds The Funny In Her Life-Changing Experience
“I don’t know if I’m gonna die in five days or five minutes. But I did not clear my browser history.” – Mimi Hayes
Mimi Hayes wants you to laugh at her pain. That’s not what you typically hear from a brain injury survivor, but there’s nothing typical about Mimi.
In 2014, 22-year-old Mimi had just graduated and was starting her new job as a teacher at East High School, just outside Denver. She was also a runner, writer, and in great health.
On her fifth day of her brand-new career, something didn’t feel right. Standing before her students, she felt a bad headache pounding in her ears. She didn’t think much of it, even as the headache persisted through the day. When she came home, she mentioned it to her mother, who immediately hurried her to the hospital.
The doctor didn’t think anything was serious and sent her home.
Over the course of the next few days, Mimi experienced vertigo, had double vision and suffered from an ear infection. Again, her mother insisted she return to the hospital. And once again, the doctor sent her home, even though the neurologist expressed some concern about her impaired vision.
The next morning, she felt even worse, so it was back to the ER. Her mom told the nurse that they weren’t leaving this time. Since her eyes weren’t tracking, they agreed to do an MRI. That’s when they discovered she had a small brain hemorrhage, but insisted she go home and spend a month on bed-rest.
During that month, she couldn’t walk, continued seeing double and developed slurred speech. But the final straw for Mimi was when she lost her taste buds.
So it was back to the hospital for a second MRI, which showed the hemorrhage had increased in size, and was now big enough to be removed safely. Three days later, she had successful brain surgery, but the hard work was just beginning.
She had to retrain her neck to move on its own in order to see sideways and was still seeing double. Despite this, they wanted to send her home in order to recuperate in her own environment. Super Advocate Mom would have none of it, and got her admitted to Spaulding Rehab Center in Aurora, CO.
“Everyone asks me what it’s like to have a brain hemorrhage. They’re like, ‘did you taste shapes, or hear colors?’ No. It felt like a headache. You’re probably having one right now.” – Mimi Hayes
Over the next three months, she fought her way back through an intensive program that incorporated speech, physical and occupation therapy. She had to relearn everything – even walk. Within a month, she was back on her feet; a month later she was cleared to drive, and a month after that, she was able to run again.
Her biggest issue was the inability to filter audio through her ears, as she perceived all stimuli at the same level. This made paying attention an annoying struggle. No wonder she was exhausted every day by 5:00pm.
With limited energy, she realized she had to prioritize what she wanted to do with her life and not let her brain injury get her down; After returning to the classroom for a year, she made an unusual decision.
Mimi moved to New York and to perform stand-up comedy and write about her traumatic experience. Before long, she was on stage at Stand UP NY, Dangerfield’s and The Upright Citizen’s Brigade.
Appropriately enough, her book is titled ”I’ll Be OK, It’s Just a Hole in My Head: A Memoir on Heartbreak and Head Trauma.” In it, she reveals her inner thoughts and struggles, even dating. Spoiler alert: She’s doing much better now.
Mimi also adapted her book into a one-woman show, which she debuted at the 2019 Edinburgh Fringe Festival. True to form, she promoted her show by walking through town dressed as a giant brain. She also has a popular podcast, “Mimi and the Brain,” which includes discussions with neuroscientists.
“Have you ever been on a date so bad you can hear your uterus shutting? Like a scene out of Game of Thrones: ‘CLOSE THE GATES! CLOSE THE GATES!'” – Mimi Hayes
Mimi Hayes’ experience isn’t unique. When it comes to brain injury, it’s often difficult to get an accurate diagnosis, but she encourages people to be self-aware. “Take care of yourself, listen to your body. Have clear boundaries with yourself. If you’re tired, take a nap. Drink lots of water. And don’t be reluctant to call 911.”
Her story also underscores the importance of having a vocal advocate, in her case, it was her mother. Mimi offers this: “My advice to anybody in the same position: Have a mom like mine…or just call my mom.”
Check out Mimi at MimiHayes.com and @MimiHayesBrain.
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Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona (BIAAZ) is the only statewide nonprofit organization dedicated to improving the lives of adults and children with brain injuries through prevention, advocacy, awareness and education. What began in 1984 as a grassroots effort has grown into a strong statewide presence, providing valuable life-long resources and community support for individuals with traumatic and non-traumatic brain injuries, caregivers and the professionals who work with them.
Brain Injury Alliance is also committed to providing care for veterans, which includes working with the Congressional Brain Injury Task Force on legislation requiring those dishonorably discharged to be certain their behaviors are not related to brain injury.
For more information on living well after brain injury, contact the Brain Injury Alliance of Arizona Statewide Neuro Info-Line 888- 500-9165 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
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