Where do I start? I haven’t always been good to you and for that, I’m sorry. I have even taken you for granted at times. I have put crap in you and still expected you to function. I have pushed you beyond your limits and cursed you when you fail me. I have neglected the signs of damage. We’re not in bad shape, don’t get me wrong. It could be much worse. And we’re still here.
Thank You to Paramedics Everywhere
One of my favourite scenes in the summer is the hay fields, with their bails (round or square, it doesn’t matter) all spread out in neat rows. It’s picturesque and beautiful and reminds me of my country upbringing. I have had seasonal allergies, or “hay fever”, since I was young and have taken some form of medication nearly every year from about May to October. The exception to that was when I was vegan–I didn’t seem to suffer from pollen enough during that time to warrant medication, which is interesting. Growing up, I had many friends with farms. I used to help with haying and would sneeze, itch, and get hives, but it didn’t really stop me from doing much. It was manageable.
I have always taken great pride in my teeth. My dad used to “motivate” us when we were kids by paying us every time we came home from the dentist with no cavities. It worked very well. Until about a month ago, I had never had a cavity. I enjoyed going to the dentist because everyone was amazed with my teeth. Then, a month ago, it happened. The dentist told me I had a cavity. He immediately started setting up to drill out the cavity and fill it in. Thank goodness for the dark glasses they give you because I cried the whole time. It didn’t hurt, but I was crushed. In the grand scheme of things, 42 years with no cavities is still an accomplishment. One cavity is no big deal, right?
But what happens when the bad part is in your brain? What happens when it can’t be drilled out and filled back in?
Take care of your body; it’s the only one you get
Here is an excerpt from Chapter 6 of my upcoming publication, Letters to My Hypothetical Children. This book is organized in two different ways. The first is that the chapters roughly align with the eight dimensions of wellness: environmental (Chapter 1), intellectual (Chapter 2), occupational (Chapter 3), financial (Chapter 4), spiritual (Chapter 5), physical (Chapter 6), social (Chapter 7), and emotional (Chapter 8). I tried to group the stories in themes, and these were the themes that made the most sense to me. That’s why there are eight chapters. Because it’s organized in themes, there will be some minor repetition of stories from different perspectives (I’ll try to keep it to a minimum).
Rowan’s Law Day
Four years ago, I fell hard. Literally. I fell backwards and down into a recessed patio and hit head first. I’m 5’5″ and the patio had four steps, so my head fell well over 6′ before cracking on the brick. It was June and the air conditioning was on, but my mom heard the noise from inside despite the windows being closed. My ex-husband and girls’ dad watched it happen and tried to reach me before I fell. He watched me fall with my arms doing circles in the air. I remember the pain but I didn’t lose consciousness. I curled into a ball rocking and holding my head. I was immediately nauseated and my head was bleeding pretty bad. When the ambulance came, I remember telling the paramedic that she might want to move because I was going to throw up. My sister was a paramedic, but I had never been in an ambulance. It was an intense experience to say the least.
At the hospital, they put 3 staples in my head. The doctor had to wait for me to stop throwing up before they could proceed. He asked me if I wanted freezing first, in which case we would have to wait another half hour. I said I would just grin and bear it for the sake of 2 staples. Yes, that’s right. He initially said 2 and then gave me a bonus staple for good measure. It’s exactly like what you would picture in your mind. A heavy duty stapler being popped into your damaged and bleeding head. The silver lining is that he didn’t shave or cut my hair.
Then the doctor noticed that my left eye was swelling and turning purple. He started asking questions about how I fell. “Did your arm come up and hit you in the face? Were you holding something in your hand?” No one could quite tell me why my eye was black. It was actually a friend of mine at a holiday dinner several months later who said, “That’s physics. Your brain gave you a black eye from the inside out.” I also believe he used my story as an example in class. You’re welcome!
As a side note, I’ve always had headaches. Usually migraines, but all kinds of headaches from a very young age. This was nothing like I had experienced before. The closest I can come to describing it is that the concussion was a headache from the outside in while my other headaches were from the inside out. It was a pain that I couldn’t alleviate. I took ibuprofen as advised and used ice packs. I couldn’t keep my eyes open for very long and any noise would cause even more pain. As I gradually recovered, I found that I needed sunglasses and a hat to shield my eyes. When I started to work again, I could only do a half hour to start. I slept and rested.
I thought once I “recovered” it would be over. I saw so many doctors and all I heard was “give it time”. I was given medication for chronic pain by a neurologist, I was treated by a chiropractor, my eyes were tested by an ophthalmologist. I felt I would never get back to “normal” and that I would simply have to accept the new me. The new me was extra sensitive to lights and sounds, she couldn’t listen to more than one noise at a time, she had difficulty concentrating especially when fatigued, she was irritable, she was almost always in pain (except maybe when sleeping), her memory was worse than normal, and she had trouble finding words. To be quite honest, she was a shadow of her former self. A dark shadow.
And just when I thought I was learning to cope and adjust to my new normal, I hit my head again. Not even that hard, but it was enough to set me back again. This cycle happened a few times over the past 4 years, until (once again, feeling fairly good) my daughter jumped onto my lap and bonked my chin with her head. This couldn’t be the rest of my life. I shouldn’t have to be afraid of being close to anyone or anything, should I? I should be able to play with my children, no?
On this, Rowan’s Law Day, I write this post about concussions, traumatic brain injury (TBI), and post-concussion syndrome (PCS). If you’ve never had one of these, you really have no idea what it’s like. “Rowan’s Law Day” is in honour of the memory of Rowan Stringer, commemorated on the last Wednesday in September to raise awareness about concussions and concussion safety. Rowan Stringer was a 17-year-old Ottawa rugby player who experienced 3 head injuries in 6 days and died from second impact syndrome (catastrophic swelling of the brain) (Government of Ontario, n.d.). I am on a mission to bring understanding to everyone so they can support the people in their lives who might be suffering. It’s not a “trend” or “fad” and it’s certainly not limited to professional athletes (though I will say, I don’t know how they ever play again after going through this). If anyone can learn from my experience, I would be grateful and happy.
But this post is also about the light at the end of the tunnel–hope. I found little to no help from traditional medicine and had to seek out alternative therapies on my own. As luck would have it, I finally found help. I learned about Irlen® Syndrome from 3 different people in the last year and the most recent person linked it directly to concussions. And I thought, “maybe I should be tested”. What is Irlen® Syndrome? You can read about it on my website here or at www.irlen.com.
What I want you to know though is that, for the first time in 4 years, I have hope. Hope that my brain can actually recover. I am more myself today than I have been in years. I’m not popping ibuprofen every day multiple times, I’m not falling asleep with an ice pack behind my head, I’m not nearly as irritable (unless it’s before my morning coffee!), and I have my words back (yay!).
I am able to handle so much more and function without “coping” and shortcuts. I used to try and rest as much as possible so that when my girls came home I would be there for them, but then was debilitated afterward. And most of all, I’m not in pain all the time. You don’t realize how much pain you’re tolerating until it’s gone. There are many things that can and have helped me along the way: Bioflex Laser Therapy, physiotherapy, massage, Cannabidiol (CBD) oil, but Irlen® spectral filters are one very big piece in the puzzle.
Government of Ontario. (n.d.). Rowan’s Law Day. Retrieved October 19, 2021, from https://www.ontario.ca/page/rowans-law-day.