Brisbane's Lisa Cox has faced more hurdles than most - and she's incredibly happy. Her secret? Adopt a feeling of gratitude.This beautiful writer, university graduate, ambassodor, advocate, public speaker, author, wife and acquired brain injury survivor is spreading a message of positivity - listen up and learn.
Can you tell us about the fantastic work you’re doing?
I wear a few hats for work but generally speaking, I’m a Writer, Speaker and Consultant.
My disabilities (particularly the ‘invisible’ ones) prevent me from ever working full-time again so I’m learning to do the most each day with less time. I’m a Copywriter by trade (it was my previous job) and now I freelance for select clients. I’ve also written books, articles and have recently started blogging at http://lisacox.co/blog/ . I also speak at different events (from motivational speaking to medical conferences) and consult to hospitals as a Consumer Representative.
What is Streptococcus-A and how did it lead to your brain haemorrhage?
From what my family and I were told, I had a rare type of Strep-A. To this day, nobody knows how I contracted it but it certainly did some nasty things to my body. I was in a coma for a part of this and have months of amnesia so my recollection is non-existent. Here’s my understanding of it from what I was later told…
After the brain haemorrhage, all of my organs shut down and machines kept me alive for 2 months. I also developed pneumonia and Methicillin-resistant Staphylococcus aureus (MRSA). I also developed Disseminated intravascular coagulation (DIC) and despite all that had happened, this was the greatest threats to my survival. It’s basically where my blood wouldn’t clot and was more serious than many other things that happened.
Some of the drugs that saved my life have also caused arthritis throughout my body. You take the good with the bad!
My extremities (fingers, toes, arms and legs) all began turning black from lack of blood supply. Fortunately, only my left leg, right toes and nine fingertips were amputated because it could have been far worse. Even my nose turned black but I got to keep it!
So many people are blessed in the fact that they’ve never had a reason to go to hospital (apart from getting wisdom teeth out). That said, it’s usually the first thing people ask me about when they hear my story. Can you tell us a little about your experiences in hospital?
I spent over a year in hospital (transferred interstate between 3 different hospitals) the first time, in 2005/2006. I can’t remember the first few months (I was in a coma for 3 weeks and on life support for 2 months) and I was heavily medicated with pain killers which made me a zombie. I didn’t want to be in hospital but at the same time, I knew it was the best place for me (at that stage). I was also very aware of how ‘lucky’ I was to be in Australian hospitals. Had the same thing happened in a developing country, I would not be alive today.
The gratitude and perspective was a very important part of dealing with what had happened. Yes, I was in a really shitty situation but I knew there were far worse things happening around the world every day. I was also extremely grateful that eventually, I would be going home and not everyone got to do that.
I think some of my ‘just get on with it’ attitude to facing challenges comes from something I learnt years earlier playing sport. Could I change what had happened? No. So I had to make the most of a bad situation, if we lost a point on the volleyball court or I if fell off the rock face. I was bored senseless in hospital and would set myself little challenges to occupy my time. At first this included lifting my leg an inch or so off the bed, brushing my own teeth and feeding myself (I couldn’t do any of that for months).
I had no internet, smartphone or other device during that time so passed the day away in rehabilitation doing small, repetitive actions all day. I knew I had to retrain my brain as well as my body.
I’ve since returned to hospital many times over the past ten years for more operations and procedures. Including open heart surgery and a total hip replacement.
You are one of those rare gems that radiate positivity and selflessly want others to share the same outlook on life. Was this your attitude at age 24 the same, or did you develop this appreciation of life and gratitude after your injury?
I wouldn’t say any of this has ‘changed’ me, rather it has reaffirmed what I knew growing up – especially the importance of family and friends.
Physically, I’m very different but my morals and values are much the same. I did charity work years before my illness and I still do it now. It’s disappointing when people assume I’ve become a completely different person ‘suddenly’ working with charities.
Pre-ABI(acquired brain injury) I spent a little time in developing, third world areas and witnessed, first-hand, immense poverty and hardship. Having seen that, I was so grateful for my modest, middle-class upbringing. My parents also bought me up with a social conscience and appreciation for the little things.
I’m a Writer turned Writer. I haven’t been through hell to come out the other side a changed woman. I’m still doing what I love (writing) with the people I love – just now on wheels!
Do you think this is how you’ve gotten as far as you have physically/emotionally?
I think it definitely helped. We never had limitless toys, clothes or new things growing up and we (my 2 siblings and I) would find our own fun with what we had. This helped me in hospital to just be grateful for what I DID have, rather than what I didn’t have and make the most of it.
Very few public profiles on people with a disability are honest about the ‘dark times’ – although your haemorrhage happened years ago, do you sometimes go through down times or dark periods? If so, how do you pull yourself out of the black hole?
I had some very dark times in my early hospital days. When I was first told my leg would be amputated, I cried for days. I later discovered that months earlier my family had told me the same thing. Again I had cried but when I woke up in the morning I’d forgotten what they told me (about an amputation). They decided to wait until they told me again (and I remembered).
The word ‘çure’ has been used to explain my post-ABI brain which can be a bit misleading. The truth is, there isn’t a cure for brain injury and the scarring on my brain will always be there. Which means the side-effects will too – like anxiety. I’ve previously written about this in my blog. It’s not fun but it’s also nothing to be ashamed of. http://lisa-cox.com/2015/08/find-freedom-from-anxiety-in-your-kitchen/
I take an integrative approach to my health and (where I can) take personal responsibility for the lifestyle choices I make. I’m not perfect but I am aware pf how certain foods (for example) make me feel. I love physical exercise even though I can’t use half of the equipment in my gym. Wheelchairs and prosthetics aren’t a common sight in any gym and I have had a few strange looks! But I just do what I can because I know the positive effect it has on my body – both physically and mentally.
Another way I get out of black holes is to surround myself with positive, uplifting people. It would be impossible to stay positive if everyone around me was toxic.
How does your disability effect you day to day?
Disability has a huge impact on my life and stops me from doing plenty of things. But there are still lots of things I can do (like writing) so I focus on that. I can’t drive so my amazing family spend a lot of time driving me to medical appointments, speaking engagements and meetings. It’s not my leg, fingers or eyesight that I miss most (although it’s frustrating). It’s the independence they gave me.
What is your greatest achievement and/or what are you most proud of?
This has changed over the years. In 2005 it was brushing my own teeth. In 2006 it was standing unaided for 60 seconds. In 2007 it was doing an entire lap of the cricket ground on my walking frame. More recently it has been having my first 2 books published (Publisher: Wombat Books), continuing with another manuscript and starting my blog.
As a survivor of an ABI, I love the fact that I can plan or ‘make lists’ (even if they’re in the Notes app on my phone) because I’ve gone through the worst and come out the other side. So, where do you see yourself in five years time?
I love what I am currently doing so I hope to be doing more of it! I have travel plans on the horizon (we just got back from the US) and am really excited about some upcoming (work) projects.
List 3 things you can't live without?
Coffee, my computer (how I write) and my family – but not in that order
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