After the Crash-A Play about Brain Injury

The play’s the thing!

Can a play affect the way health professionals deliver care and improve the quality of life for people who have suffered traumatic brain injury? While the research jury may still be out on these questions, evidence is mounting that drama is indeed a meaningful and memorable way to translate new knowledge.

After the Crash a play about brain injury written and directed by Julia Gray as part of a Toronto Rehab research project led by Drs. Angela Colantonio and Pia Kontos is receiving rave reviews from brain injury survivors, their families and health care professionals alike. Evaluations show that the drama, performed by professional actors, is having a profound effect on those who have seen it so far.

As playwright, Julia finds the reactions ‘moving and life-changing. One of the things I wasn’t expecting was the huge positive reaction, especially from the survivors.’

‘To have survivors stand up and say, ‘You ve captured my experience and everyone has to see this play,’ is wonderful,’ adds Dr. Kontos. ‘There isn’t any better affirmation of the research than that.’

After the Crash playAfter the Crash is based on information gathered from brain injury survivors, their family caregivers and health care providers in a series of focus groups along with findings from a literature search. The result is a moving even disturbing story about the devastating effects of a traumatic brain injury on Elliott, a lawyer, his wife, family and friends as he goes through the rehabilitation process and attempts to recover. The play takes the audience through a rollercoaster ride of emotions, and explores topics such as grieving and loss of self, how to deal with behavioural issues arising from brain injury, how to engage patients and families in the rehabilitation process and how to communicate effectively with a person who has sustained a brain injury.

As Saunderson Family Chair in Acquired Brain Injury Research at Toronto Rehab, Dr. Colantonio’s goal is to improve the quality of life for people with traumatic brain injury. ‘Brain injury can be catastrophic and often happens suddenly, and drama communicates that very effectively. The play reinforces the need for compassion for survivors and providing them with respect, choice and control,’ she says. ‘If After the Crash leads to more awareness and better patient care, then we’re a step closer to our goal.’

Traumatic brain injury is a leading cause of death and disability for people under 40 years of age with motor vehicle collisions and falls accounting for the majority of injuries. These sudden injuries can result in physical, emotional-behavioural and psychosocial impairments that can be temporary or permanent.

After the Crash has been performed at Toronto Rehab and in other rehabilitation hospitals, complex continuing care settings and conferences on brain injury in Toronto, London, Hamilton and Ottawa. In June, scenes were performed as part of Toronto Rehab’s annual general meeting. Toronto law firm Howie, Sacks & Henry sponsored a showing of the production for an international audience in June at the Festival of International Conferences on Caregiving, Disability, Aging and Technology (FICCDAT), an event co-hosted by Toronto Rehab and March of Dimes Canada.

The research team is exploring opportunities to sustain the project beyond the initial funding from the Change Foundation and the Canadian Institutes of Health Research. Toronto law firm Bogoroch and Associates, Toronto Rehab Foundation and the Ontario Rehabilitation Research Network have sponsored performances. The research network also provided funds for a video production of the play. Additional funding is being sought to continue live performances in order to increase awareness of traumatic brain injury and further evaluate the effects of the play on its audiences.

‘It’s a good adult learning model instead of a purely didactic presentation where you’re given facts and figures about the importance of considering clients’ views and what patient-centred care is all about,’ says Patsy McNamara, a physiotherapist and Manager of the neurocognitive care stream at the Ottawa Hospital. ‘The play is effective because it appeals to your emotional side. It makes it real.’

‘I enjoyed the play very much and feel like I will remember this knowledge more readily than if I had read the same thing in a book,’ comments another health professional who saw After the Crash.

That’s exactly the kind of response the research team was hoping to get from those who care for people with traumatic brain injury.

‘I’m an anthropologist by training so the kind of research that I do is all about close observations of people,’ says Dr. Kontos. ‘I’ve always found the process of having to translate that into text for publication very frustrating because something is always lost in translation the movements, textures, sounds, all of the richness of the lived life is lost.’

‘What’s wonderful about drama is that you are able to recover that,’ she adds. This is how we are going to get the research into practice to the health professionals who can actually make a difference in people’s lives.’

Toronto Performances
Sudbury Performances

From Toronto Rehab Magazine