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How One Veteran Tried to Hide Her Memory Loss After a Traumatic Brain Injury

She eventually got lines tattooed on her arm for “keeping notes.”

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Elana Duffy, a former U.S. Army sergeant, grew up with near-perfect memory recall. She excelled in school, graduating from college early. Everything changed one day during her deployment, when a detonation left her with a traumatic brain injury (TBI).

Now a survivor of a TBI, Duffy recalls the difficult time she went through and the struggles to keep her job. “[The] bomb hits, [and] my brain is gone,” she says. “I couldn’t remember anything.”

The Incident That Caused Her Traumatic Brain Injury

One day during her deployment, Duffy was sitting in the seat of her truck. She heard over the radio that they were going to have a controlled detonation. “Around five minutes later … the bomb hit our convoy,” says Duffy.

From that moment on, Duffy couldn’t remember dates, times, events, or names. She would constantly forget the names of people she had been working with for several months. Additionally, she had symptoms of dizziness, lack of coordination, migraines, and gradual vision loss. “I was seeing shadows on the side, and I thought I was losing my mind,” she says.

What Duffy didn’t realize is that these were common symptoms of a TBI. (Learn more about TBI symptoms here.)

Hiding Her Symptoms

As these symptoms progressed, Duffy resorted to hiding her difficulties in fear of being pulled from her mission. “I still wanted to get my hands dirty. I still wanted to solve these problems,” she says.

She tried to find ways to cope and hide her forgetfulness and other symptoms. For example, to help herself remember names, Duffy often resorted to reading name tags of the people she interacted with.

Another thing thing Duffy would do to help herself remember things was scribbling notes on her arm. It got to the point where one of her soldiers suggested she get lines tattooed on her arm to keep her notes organized. (When she left the Army, that is exactly what she did.)

Her job was to get her soldiers trained and to make sure they had what they needed. However, she didn’t want to admit that she wasn’t getting what she needed: her own help.

TBI is unfortunately common for veterans. Learn more here about another veteran who hid her TBI symptoms while deployed.