Bernie Goggins: A Profile of Life after Brain Injury

Bernie and Dotti Goggins

For a glimpse into the life of St. Joseph parishioner, Bernie Goggins, it might make some sense to look at pre and post July 27, 2002. That’s the day Goggins was mowing his front yard, stepped out into the road for a moment, was hit by a van and sent flying through the air. “Thankfully I was caught by the street, or I’d still be falling,” said Goggins.

“Forty feet and a month later,” as Goggins described it, he was still unconscious in the Trauma Unit of Vanderbilt Hospital, having endured multiple fractures and traumatic injuries, including to his left hip, and more seriously, his brain. Finally, little by little, he began to respond. “At first I was empty,” Goggins recalled. “People would come in and talk to me, but I could only fish out a little of what they said. I know I was inundated with ‘what’s my name?’ It got to a point where I just said, ‘Fred, isn’t it? No matter who or what sex they were.”

After being released from the Trauma Unit, Goggins spent a few weeks at Select Specialty Hospital in Nashville, and then three months at Vanderbilt Stallworth Rehabilitation Hospital. After leaving Stallworth in early November, Goggins continued to have daily physical, occupational and speech therapies, as he slowly re-entered the world of the living.

It was still a far cry from the world he had inhabited before. Pre-injury Bernie had been a Special Forces (Green Beret) medic and LPN during the Vietnam War, and then a Registered Nurse while living in Missouri, specializing in emergency rooms, intensive care and coronary care units.

After about 25 years, and residences in Missouri, Texas, Massachusetts and finally Tennessee, Goggins became disenchanted with the medical field, and made a “radical shift”. He established himself as a computer and networking technician, and ultimately owned his own company with a couple of employees and multiple clients in Nashville, Memphis and Chattanooga.

That was all before that fateful day. The man who had done delicate sutures on ER patients and created complex IT systems for businesses, was unable to tie his shoes or take a drink by himself – not because he was physically unable, but because his injured brain no longer knew how. “When you forget balance, trying to get that back is a challenge,” said Goggins. “When you forget the coordination necessary to walk, that’s a problem, too.

“You’ve got automaticity, that’s why you breathe,” Goggins continued. “That’s why your heart beats. So you can climb a flight of steps. You have to lose it before you realize you have to regain it. There were myriad things that I could remember having done, but I couldn’t remember how to do.”

Goggins has spent the last seven years regaining those skills necessary to live independently, or at least to do the daily tasks that most of us take for granted. He did not do it alone, thankfully. Goggins has benefited from the continued support, love and encouragement of his wife, Dotti, who is a full-time medical transcription editor. They’ve been married since 1994.

Over time, Goggins progressed from using a wheelchair to a walker to a cane, to walking on his own. Today he walks very slowly, and a bit awkwardly. When the injury to his fractured hip was repaired, one of his legs was a little shorter than the other.

Many of the little things that Dotti had been doing for him – like cutting his fingernails – he’s been able to achieve, and each new accomplishment, or re-learning of what he used to know, is welcomed by Goggins with great enthusiasm.

For his personal occupational and physical therapy, Goggins does exercises every day, like picking up individual BBs and transferring them from one cup to another. Or filling a cup of coffee and taking it to the kitchen table without concentrating on the cup, or his small steps to get there. He walks around the block several times a week with his dog, Penny.

He also exercises his mind, by playing games like FreeCell and Sudoku every day. He has strategies for keeping up with his world, that help him deal with the limitations of his short-term memory. He and Dotti have a large dry erase board for recording and visualizing his daily and weekly appointments, social or otherwise, and Goggins takes advantage of Microsoft Outlook extensively to remind him to go for walks, listen to a chapter in the Bible on his computer – it’s still a big struggle for him to read in the traditional manner – or to go through the Mysteries of the Rosary.

Against all odds and professional expectations, he’s been regaining sensations that he never thought he’d experience again, having endured the feeling of pins and needles in his arms and legs ever since the accident. “One miracle was feeling a bird dropping on my arm when going for a walk,” said Goggins. “Another miracle was sensing water droplets on the bath mat after going into the bathroom after my wife’s bath. Within the last month my nose started to itch. It itched so much, I irritated my nose until it bled. You can’t learn to itch – it just happens.”

Goggins does not use the word “miracle” lightly, or accidentally. He is convinced that these events are God’s work. Though the readers of this publication might not doubt that assessment, others do. But they would need to know something else about the pre-post injury Bernie, which makes the God contribution part difficult to refute.

The pre-injury Bernie was never a prolific writer, or reader. In fact, he recalled writing papers about hating to write in grade school. The post-injury Bernie has written over 1200 articles in the past two years, which he methodically stores on his computer, and makes available to those who might be interested at The subject matter of the articles covers the gamut, but there is almost always an undercurrent of faith and wonderment.

He claims these writings are not the result of deep thought; they just “happen”. “I was walking my dog the other day, when I ‘understood’ I should write, “For the Love of God,” explained Goggins. “It wasn’t an idea, it wasn’t a feeling – it was just indescribable. I came home and typed, ‘For the Love of God,” but I didn’t conceive it. It’s a Revelation. It comes from beyond.

“At one time I used to say, ‘where’d that come from?” continued Goggins. “But you can only say that for so long before you realize where that came from. After over a 1000 papers, I know it comes from God.”

Goggins was not a practicing Catholic before the accident. He credits Dotti – a life-long Catholic – for introducing him to the faith. He converted to Catholicism three years ago after completing the RCIA. “She goes to church every week, and I was going with her,” Goggins said. “I thought, ‘as long as I’m here, I might as well be able to take communion and participate a little more.’

“I have always had some shred of belief,” continued Goggins. “But I no longer have to believe – I know there’s a God. The reason I know it is this: why does the sun rise? It’s impossible, but it happens every day.”

This article first appeared in the Tennessee Register.

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