Category Archives: Accident

Up and Coming NYC Corporate Young Gun Tastes the Sting of PCS

{Editor’s note: So many of us here at The Project have dealt and are dealing with Post-Concussion Syndrome from our days in sports. When I started The Project, it quickly became apparent to me that suffering people came from every avenue imaginable. Every sport whether collision-based or not was represented. What surprised me, however, were the people who I never considered that we heard from: soldiers, housewives from the Heartland who slipped and fell on ice, people injured in car accidents, cooks who had pots fall on their heads, and kids who hit their heads on the playground.  As a professional, *Anonymous joins the growing ranks of us who can now verbalize just how terrible and all-encompassing Post-Concussion Syndrome is.  –Jay}

By *Anonymous

anon-278x300My story as it relates to concussions started, unfortunately, at a very early age. I was around 8 years old, maybe a year or two younger. Playing backyard baseball with my brother and two babysitters, one of the babysitters hit the ball with a (metal) bat, and flung it away from her. The bat came whirling through the air at me; the thick part of it smashed into my forehead. I was knocked unconscious instantly, and woke up later (not sure how long I was out for) in my kitchen. Everything was bright, so bright it hurt to see, I was woozy, the world was spinning around me, and the sounds I heard seemed to somehow “blend” together. A large lump, almost the size of a baseball, grew on the front of my forehead.

At the time, no one really talked about it being a concussion. I don’t remember how we treated it, or what the doctors or my parents did to help me recover. That whole period is just kind of black in my mind. Eventually I got better and did not have, or seem to have, any symptoms of PCS… I was only a child, after all.

Throughout the course of playing high school soccer, I suffered two concussions, about a year and a half to two years apart. One time I went for an aggressive diving header and ended up flying head first into the goal post. Although I did not lose consciousness, I was sidelined, clearly “out of it,” and have this memory of the light being very painful for me in the days after this concussion. The second concussion came from another incident involving a low-to-the ground header; essentially, I was going for the diving header as another player wound up to kick the ball. My head got to the ball before the opponent’s foot did. When my opponent’s kick was executed, my head now occupied the space where the ball was, and I got a full force kick to the skull. I have absolutely no memory of what happened afterwards, the recovery, or anything in that general time frame. Though I did begin to grow depressed after this, it did not seem to be anything out of the ordinary “teenage angst” that everyone seemed to be going through. I did not think this growing depression could be linked to the concussions.

After this, it was about 7 and half years until my fourth concussion. I made it through college and almost 4 years in the working world without getting another concussion. That changed one day on my commute home at my former employer from Newark, NJ to Robbinsville, NJ. On the NJ Transit, I was sitting with a “train friend” of mine. I got up to go throw away some trash. The train lurched, so I tried to catch myself. In trying to catch myself in knee-jerk-reaction fashion, I propelled my head forcefully up and into the metal rails used to keep luggage bags above your head. I immediately fell back into my seat and was concussed. I do not have any memory of this, or the car ride home. Not sure how I was able to operate a car after this — I may have had my mom come get me, but I really can’t remember as I’m typing this. I do not remember going to a doctor, but I did see my family doctor at some point, who diagnosed me with concussion and ordered me home in recovery mode until I got better.

I was out of work for a while; that week after, light, sounds, TV… everything caused unbearable head pain. I couldn’t think or read or do anything I normally did. My depressed thoughts devolved into suicidal thinking, something I had never experienced before. I could not control my emotions or my thinking, and quite frankly, I wanted to die. I felt like a prisoner in my own body/mind. After nearly 2 weeks out of work, I finally went back. When I encountered my train friend, who I only ever interacted with on the train, she was very concerned for me. She tried looking me up but could not find me online, and we had never bothered to exchange numbers (since she was married and I was dating my now ex-girlfriend). She told me after hitting my head I was rambling to her as if utterly insane or drunk, going on about things that did not make sense or seem logical. Nor were these things connected to my train friend in any way… I was just talking and talking, kind of slipping in and out of awareness, as she later described to me.

She told me she never saw anyone start rambling like a lunatic after hitting their head, while also seeming to be on the verge of passing out. After this concussion, I started to experience depression like I had never experienced before. Depressed, suicidal thoughts became almost normal… and it seemed to take hours for me to build up the will to move. I never tried talking to family, friends, or even a doctor about it… I still did not see a connection between the concussions and the worsening state of my mind. Other than the diagnosis and being told by the doc to rest, I didn’t speak to the doctor again about it or the mental fallout that seemed to be happening to me. I would say after 5 or 6 months, my mental state started to improve and I was able to move past the depression, for the most part.

Finally, in March of 2015, I sustained my 5th and (hopefully) final concussion. I was with a new employer in NYC since November of 2014, and I started off tremendously strong at my new job. Everyone liked me a lot, and people were impressed by my willingness to take things on and always lend a hand. I was apparently a huge upgrade over the person who was my predecessor. One day before that 5th concussion, the wife of our CFO (my boss) came by our office to visit and when she met me she said “Oh so you’reeee the one I hear so much about! Well, let me tell you, he really loves you. Keep it up, kid.” I was ecstatic. I was on cloud 9. I thought I had been nominated for “top 30 under 30” or something really worthy of the great feelings that comment gave me.

That all changed after my 5th concussion… dramatically. Walking to work with ice on the ground, I slipped on my block just a few hundred yards away from my front door and landed on my back. My head jerked backwards and smashed into the icy concrete. I remember struggling to get up, needing the help of a person walking by to get back on my feet. Though I was woozy and really hurting, I was also freezing and only thinking of getting to work on time. I did not think I had concussed myself. I walked the 2 miles to the train station, got on the PATH train, and took it into NYC to go to work. The one memory I have of that walk is constantly wondering why walking was so hard. It didn’t make sense. I knew it was icy, but I also knew that my legs and body in general shouldn’t feel so clumsy and mushy because of ice on the ground.

On the train I nearly vomited due to overwhelming nausea, which did not start until the train began moving. Then I put two and two together, and realized I must have concussed myself again. After getting off the train, I turned around and went home, emailing my boss what happened. He was cool with it, since I had not called out before, and he seemed to be a sports guy, so I assumed he knew a bit about concussions and understood. I went to the doctor’s office who I told the story to, the doctor took one look at my eyes (one pupil was huge, the other was very small, apparently) and I was diagnosed with concussion; they ordered a scan of my brain. Luckily, there was no bleeding.

After this 5th concussion, everything in my life spiraled out of control. Horrible, earsplitting head/brain aches became common… every day I fight some form of head and/or brain pain. It is like an ever present, dull ache. Some days intense, other days less so. I thought about — and unfortunately continue to do so — suicide on an almost daily basis; I do not seem to have control of these thoughts. I do not want to think these things, but they come into my mind. There is no off button to press to make them go away. When I try to muster the will to shove these thoughts aside, it is like I am drawing power from a source whose supply of energy has dried up.

My mood swings became unbearable and uncontrollable. Depression worse than ever before, and there seems to be no end in sight. Never have I experienced anger that infuriates me beyond reason. Never have I experienced absolutely crippling depression, to the point where I don’t want to get out of bed. I also have this fluctuating pressure that comes in my head and seems to go from one side of my skull to the other. I hear ringing every so often as well, like a prolonged and subtle screeching-type of tone that no one else hears if I ask them if they hear the same thing. My eyes now also do this thing where they kind of twitch/flicker — not my eyelids, but my pupils. They’ll just kind of flicker without me intending to move them. Usually they flicker up and to the right. This never used to happen to me before my 5th concussion.

Many important aspects of my life suffered after this concussion. My relationship with my ex-girlfriend, a woman I am still very much in love with, who I once thought I would marry, suffered perhaps more than anything else external to my mind. Essentially, my PCS symptoms – notably, me and her being unaware that PCS was the underlying cause of my new-found, horrible perception of life – drove her to the point of having a psychotic breakdown. Without knowing about PCS, I let the mood swings and the anger consume me at times, and I treated her very poorly. My treatment of her eventually drove her away from me and made her display behavior that was extremely out of character for her. After learning about PCS, I have tried to recover and rebuild what we had, but the damage was already done… it is too late to fix, even after she knows why I changed so dramatically.

I was living with my ex for over a year before that March 2015 concussion. We were very happy together; no fights or bad things that were out of the ordinary for a young couple living together. As of Dec. 15th, 2015, we broke up in horrible fashion and she moved out. She cannot tolerate my mood swings, my anger, my depression, the way I have changed, the way I attack her verbally now when I am mad… when I think about the fights we’ve had, and how the root of them are my inability to control my mind and what I say when I am overcome with rage and anger… in addition to my inability to properly process and understand what she says… I want to cry. I get depressed. Dark thoughts invade my mind and do not relent. I wish she did not have to experience this, and that I did not use my words to hurt her, but I cannot turn back time.

My work suffered after this, tremendously. In fact, I believe I was almost fired, or came pretty damn close — I got in pretty big trouble and was put “on notice” about it — for chronic absenteeism and calling out too much… and for being late (which was not a problem before my 5th concussion), which is usually connected to a morning headache, poor sleep, or feeling really depressed and moving slowly. If you look at my work record, I did not call out a single day of work before my 5th concussion. Post-concussion, not only did I burn all of my sick time in calling out on random days, but I burned through all my vacation time as well, which work had to turn into sick time for me after my actual sick time was exhausted. Some days I called out due to headaches/migraines and some days I was just too depressed to move.

On top of this, at work I am unfocused, easily distracted, and seem to always have a slight headache when I begin to think deeply. I am just not the same employee — or person — I used to be. I routinely forget what I was working on, as I’m working on it. My work looks down on me for calling out so much. They do not want to hear about comparing my sick days pre-5th-concussion vs. my sick days post-5th-concussion. They see it as “an excuse.” I used to be the new young-gun, ascending star in the company; our COO went out of his way to tell me how bright my “Destiny” could be… now I am the problem employee, the one who gets eye rolled at if they talk about a problem (PCS), and the one no one wants to deal with. My thoughts are that soon, they will try to get me to resign. They definitely have not responded favorably to any of my PCS-related problems, or my explanations of the problems… I do not expect them to want to tolerate this much longer… nor do I want to continue commuting into NYC when it causes so much physical pain and mental stress; especially for an employer who is unwilling to make a compromise with me on a health issue.

Fights with friends, family, and random people on trains have amped up. I am systematically isolating myself from everyone who was ever important to me… at least, I was doing so before I was diagnosed with PCS and letting my altered mental state run wild, unchecked. Knowledge is power, and now that I know, I am doing the best I can to keep myself stable.

I am constantly on public transportation, going to and from NYC. The lights, the noises, the poor quality of the commute — getting jerked back and forth on PATH and subway trains — drives me CRAZY. Things that used to annoy me — people cracking their gum too loud, sniffling incessantly, or making tapping noises with their feet or hands — now drive me to the brink of insanity and make me seethe with rage. If I forget my headphones that day, it will be a miserable day, because I end up on the trains in fear of the sounds coming from commuters and the train itself. Even when I do remember my headphones, I get a headache from listening to my music… but it at least beats out the rage from listening to the noises people make on public transportation. I literally want to hurt everyone who makes a noise that makes me “tick”… I feel helpless saying this, but I cannot control the anger or rage and it is virtually guaranteed I will be extremely miserable and nasty the rest of the day. I am so mentally unhealthy, I do not know where or how to begin to get better. PCS is an extremely difficult opponent to fight… and I want to punch every single person in the face who looks at me skeptically, when I describe it to them.

I have tried to get work to be on board with letting me work from home, something almost everyone at my company can do — at least some of the time, which would be a great relief to me — but they won’t even entertain the notion. My position is not defined as a work from home position (which they had to “explicitly explain to me” as they like to point out), and nothing I tell them about concussions or PCS will change their mind. In fact, when I talked to them about this, they look at me skeptically like I am some crazy nut job off the street. I personally feel as if I would be a much healthier person, mentally, if I did not have to commute to and from NYC every day… at least until I get better.

So finally, about two weeks ago — around the same time as my breakup with my ex — I reached out to NYU Langone Concussion Center, which happens to be right around the corner from my job. I saw Dr. Myrna Cardiel, who was great… when I left her office, I felt so happy and confident she would be able to help me, I cried. In fact, thinking about my hopefulness now is bringing tears to my eyes. Dr. Cardiel said I undoubtedly have a bad case of PCS. She gave me migraine medication Cambia and prescribed Effexor, which I have not started yet. I am nervous to use the antidepressant, as I’ve never had them before.

At this point, I really don’t care what happens with my work or anything else. I just want to leave this dark and despair-laden place I have been in for ¾ of a year. My biggest struggle daily is dealing with my own thoughts and feelings. Since I have no sick time left (and since work is convinced I am some delinquent employee seeking to use sick time on a whim to feed my fleeting desire to randomly not come to work), I need to wait until 2016 when my time re-fills to really start doing what Dr. Cardiel wants to do. That includes a 5 hour long mental fitness test that will evaluate my psych, isolate different sections of my brain and measure how they are working, as well as rigorously test my memory. I haven’t mentioned it, but every step along the way from March 2015 to today has been riddled with random patches of lost memory. This memory loss has been a huge factor at work especially, as I am CONSTANTLY apologizing to people for forgetting to do something they asked me to do.

So after these tests in early 2016, Dr. Cardiel will start me on a more specific therapy that will be tailored to me, based on the test results. I think, out of everything she told me, what gave me the most hope was hearing: “You are not alone. We are here to help you, and we will. You will get better.”

Really, that help cannot come fast enough. I need it.

Amidst the Pain of Post-Concussion Syndrome, PA Girl Finds Herself

{Editor’s note: I am constantly amazed when I hear the stories of people who deal with PCS in school. As someone who inherently knows the misery involved with PCS because I deal with it myself, Alyssa’s story is heartbreaking for me. I am heartened though, by her maturity beyond her age and her resilience. I know that she will be successful as she moves forward in her life –Jay}

doudsMy name is Alyssa Douds. I am 18 and live in the Pittsburgh area.

Growing up, I was a tomboy. I played basketball, volleyball, softball, and I bowled. I had many friends and always kept busy! I always pictured myself growing up going to school for volleyball and majoring in sports management. Two days before my eighth grade year in August 2009, my mom, my friends, and I went to an arcade. Who would have ever thought that going to an arcade could change your life?

The arcade game “The Vortex” fell on my head. I tried to duck, but it smashed the back of my head. Right away, I knew something was wrong. Everything was blurry and I just wanted to throw up. I didn’t even know what my name was! My mom took me straight to the Emergency room. The doctor told me that I was fine and that every hit in the head wasn’t a concussion. Two days later was my first day of eighth grade. I went to school and kept coming home every day with a headache! I felt really confused and lost walking the halls. I still wasn’t myself. My mom called my primary doctor and they referred us to the UPMC Concussion Clinic. Continue reading

Graduating NJ HS Senior’s Concussion Complicates The End of Her School Year

{Editor’s note: I can’t think of any time that’s a good one to suffer a concussion and ensuing symptoms, but the crunch time leading up to high school graduation seems exceptionally brutal. Becca echoes the uncertainty that all of us who suffer from PCS feel. Her positivity, however, is what will lead her through it. –Jay}

beccaBy Becca Earnest

Wednesday April 30th, 2014.

My accident isn’t due to an athletic injury, although I did play my share of softball, field hockey, and a teeny bit of soccer when I was young. I didn’t hit my head in a brave, heroic type of way how most athletes suffer their concussions. Although I do remember very well the defeated feeling you receive when you’re told you’re not allowed to go back to playing the sport you’re most passionate about. I was on the verge of tearing my rotator cuff my freshman year of high school playing for the lady lions softball and I was told that if I was to continue playing and continuing to wear out my arm, I would probably need surgery and have to deal with that injury for the rest of my life. But that’s beside the point, I just wanted to say that I identify with that loss and kudos to those of you that turned that loss into a gain and are helping other players out. You’re the realest of the MVPs out there.

My accident that resulted in my head injury was from a simple little fender bender on my way to school one morning. It was 7:30 and like always, I was running late. Continue reading

Multiple Concussion Sufferer From PA Details Her Experiences

{ Editor’s note: Isabella’s experience highlights the most common (and nerve-wracking) bullet point that many of us have learned as multiple concussion sufferers: That it takes virtually no effort at all to re-injure yourself once you get the ball rolling with concussions. We know that the effects of concussions are cumulative and that each one increases the likelihood of the next one- even from a slight bump. Living under that sort of cloud day to day is stressful and very difficult; especially, as you are working hard to recover from current symptoms.   – Jay }

By Isabella Cantafio

isabellaI never knew what a concussion was until I got my first one in a soccer game in 6th grade. I headed the ball in the air with another player and fell back whipping my head off the ground. I remember feeling in a blur and sat out for about 5 minutes before returning into play. By the end of the game my head felt like someone was hitting it with a hammer and I was on a merry go round ride. My next concussion came in 8th grade from hitting my head off the gymnasium floor leaving me unconscious for 2 minutes and sending me to the hospital.

Nearing the end of my freshman year, I was in a water park accident that caused a concussion and forced me to end my 9th grade year early.

A few weeks after the accident (never being officially cleared by IMPACT test) I was playing soccer with some friends and got kicked in the head causing another concussion.

Over the summer until the start of my sophomore year I had intermittent headaches, got easily dizzy and overall didn’t feel right. I didn’t think it was from the concussion but when school started I found it hard to concentrate, my grades started slipping and the headaches just got worse.

Two months into the school year, I passed out, hitting my head and was unconscious for almost a half an hour spending 3 days in the hospital under observation for seizure activity. After the accident, I had double/ blurry vision for several months, fainting spells, problems in school, and severe migraines that seemed to never leave.

Doing vision and vestibular therapy for 5 months things started to improve until fooling around with some friends I got pushed back jarring my head causing many of my symptoms to come roaring back.

I was forced to end my sophomore year early bed bound for 5 months unable to watch tv, text or do anything that would stimulate my brain. It was horrible to say the least.

Playing basketball my junior year I got hit in the head causing another concussion.

A few months after that, I got a knee to the head and blacked out for several seconds. Not much force was needed to knock me out at this point. The summer leading to my senior year I had moderate improvements in my post-concussion symptoms and was really looking forward to senior year and looking into college.

Just when everything started improving, things spiraled downward quickly, and I got back to back concussions, 2 weeks apart. The latter of the two was a car accident that caused a neck injury and more concussion problems. I’ve been in and out of the hospital trying to get the migraines under control, doing more vision and vestibular therapy and cognitive exercises to help with short term memory problems and concentration issues, sleeping problems and mood swings.

The one thing out of my experience I have learned is to never take anything for granted. You may think you are “invincible” and you can play through any pain. But with concussions it is your brain, something you can’t replace, you need to take care of it.

No game is worth years or possibly a lifetime of problems. I can never play sports again, I still have many problems from my injuries and my college plans are on hold for now. But sometimes in life the road that everyone else is taking, isn’t the road you are supposed to be on.

Take every day one day at a time and never give up!


16 Year Old NY HS Junior Has Her World Turned Upside Down By Concussion

By Kimberly McNicholl

kimberlymcI had everything going for me. I had my own tutoring business, I was extracting DNA at a lab for a college university, and taking Physics and Chemistry courses in school. I was enrolled in drivers ed and practicing driving. I was a group leader in my school’s Robotics team and had straight “A’s”. My schedule was always packed. I loved it that way. Never would anyone imagine that a small bump on the head would cause me to lose all of this.

Everybody bumps heads once in awhile. It’s so common that you forget it happened because it’s such a minuscule part of your life. Your head may hurt for a little bit, but a week later you would forget it even happened. That’s why when I got my concussion, no one thought anything of it. The night of the concussion was the most painful night of my life. I spent the entire night in tears not being able to sleep because of the throbbing pains. The next morning, I was diagnosed with a “significant concussion” and was advised to take the rest of the week off and return to school on Monday. As the week went by, the headaches did not subside in the slightest bit. I was living on pain pills and even the tiniest noise or light could induce tears from the excruciating pain.

Trying to go back to school that Monday after seeing a Concussion Specialist was absolutely impossible. I ended up leaving early and seeing a different doctor. I was told by her that my health was more important than my education, and that I would not be able to go back to school until I was somewhat recovered. Not only that, but I was no longer able to look at any screens, or listen to any loud music. That meant no cell phone, no computer, no iPod and no way to contact my friends other than the house phone. I had to give up my whole life to go into complete isolation for a month.

During this isolation, most of my time was spent in a dark room listening to audiobooks and doing anything to ease the constant headaches. As time went by, most of my friends started to forget about me. I was out of sight and out of mind to them. Only a few close friends would call and visit me. The isolation was depressing. I would be lying if I said I stayed strong during this time period. I cried often and felt extremely lonely. I had many emotional breakdowns and anxiety attacks which made the headaches worse. I missed my life and my friends who had forgotten about me. I tried a couple of times to leave my house, but car rides as well as fluorescent lights made me sick. Even seeing too many colors in one place would make my head spin. 

Also during this time, the school district attempted to start me on home schooling. While I could usually handle seven hours worth of school without a break, I couldn’t handle twenty minutes of tutoring without completely breaking down. I was forced to drop one of my science courses because of my lack of lab hours. The labs would have been basically impossible for me to make up. Because I was not attending school, Smithtown’s policy stated I would be unable to attend all the clubs I was in. I was forced to miss the entire build season in Robotics. My entire life was falling apart and there was nothing anyone could do to help me. The depression got so bad where I was advised to start seeing my old social worker again. Although it helped a little, it is basically impossible to keep your head up when you lose your entire life and all you get in return is non-stop pain. 

Although the pain was the worst symptom, there were plenty more accompanying it and making my life miserable.I was constantly dizzy to the point where sometimes I couldn’t walk across the room without falling. I was also having memory problems and my vision was very blurred. Occasionally I would start to see stars and I always felt like I was in a fog. I didn’t feel like myself and didn’t remember what I was like pre-concussion. During this entire time I was not myself, and I hated the person who I had become. I felt lazy and disgusting from laying in bed for weeks. I hated myself for not being strong through this. I didn’t believe that I would ever get better. After six weeks of these symptoms, the Doctor decided that I would need medication to give me the push I needed to get better. I was put on Amantadine, which is also used for Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s patients. This was a miracle drug, it minimized most of the symptoms just enough so that I could start being a human being again. 

After ten weeks of isolation, I was finally cleared to go back to school for four periods a day. On top of that, I would be doing home tutoring after school to try to catch up on all the work I missed. After several fights with the school, I finally got all the tutors I needed for my five core classes. Although I was back in school, the amount of limitations I had were insane. No gym, a zero percent exertion rate, no homework, no tests or quizes, and no independent reading were just some of the requests on the several doctors notes the school received. As much as I wanted to go back to school, it was torture. My head was constantly still hurting. The doctor tried helping the constant headaches by increasing the Amantadine. Unfortunately, this did not help at all and I experienced extreme shortness of breath. I couldn’t even walk up a flight of stairs without feeling as though I just ran a mile. 

As of now I am in five periods of school a day. I still have tutors after school and I am just starting to get my life back, although I don’t think it will ever go back to the way it was at the beginning of this year. I still am not allowed to do any physical activity and I have to restrict my mental activity. I have a list of accommodations regarding school work. The school is currently in the process of completing the 504 paperwork, so the teachers are forced to listen to these limits, which has been a problem for the last two months.

Every two weeks I go back to the doctor who is tracking my progress and we are always trying new things to try to push start recovery. Recently my body became immune to the Amantadine and my doctor advised me to stop taking it and try acupuncture. The week I got off the Amantadine was a very hard week to get through. I’m not sure if we were wrong and the pill was actually helping, if it was withdrawal symptoms or if it was just because of the relapse I had the week before. Regardless, it caused a decent amount of pain. In the past month I have relapsed twice. Once from doing too much homework and another time from lawn work. Although I recover from the relapses, it sets me back a couple of weeks and scares me. I’m always terrified that I will have to go back into isolation if I over work myself. 

Especially in the eleventh grade, the pressure to get all your work done on time is immense. Colleges look at this year more than any other year, and that causes extreme amounts of stress to every kid going through it. As of now, I still can not read without getting massive headaches. This makes me unable to sit through four hour reading comprehension tests like the SATs and ACTs. After working a whole lifetime to try to get into college, the fact that I may only get one shot on these standardized tests is frustrating to deal with. I also know that if I don’t recover over the summer, these scores will be a lot lower and not be an accurate representation of all the hard work I put into educating myself. The college board is very stingy when it comes to giving extra time on their tests. Because the impact test I took in November and in February tested for mostly cognitive and memory symptoms, which I didn’t have as much of, my scores did not represent how bad my pain was. The only way the college board will even consider giving me extra time on the standardized tests is if I take a neuropsychological test. I will most likely be taking this over the summer considering it is seven hours of intense testing that can very easily cause concussion patients to relapse. Even now, taking tests causes me a lot of anxiety. Although I learn the material and understand it, It takes me a little longer than most and I forget it very easily. Also forty minutes of pure concentration and writing is enough to induce headaches. Thankfully, most of my teachers are working with me and making learning this years curriculum a little easier. 

When going through freak accidents like this, the most important thing is support from friends and family. Without this support, it is absolutely impossible to recover. During this time you need your friends and family to step up and help you in whatever ways possible. Even if its just believing you when you say your head hurts or you can’t do something. It sometimes gets to the point where if enough people tell me that I am “milking it” or “overreacting” to get out of work, I start to believe it myself. I start pushing myself harder to show them that I am truly trying my best and I end up relapsing by the end of the week or sooner.

Because of lack of support and ignorant comments from most of my extended family, I know how important it is to educate people on Post-Concussion Syndrome, which is why I am writing this paper. People think since you look fine on the outside, that you are fine, which is not the case. Because concussions are “invisible injuries” that you can’t even see on a MRI or CAT scan, people have a hard time believing that it could be as painful and hard to get through as it is. I have met other people with concussions, some even worse than mine, who also agree that support is so important during this recovery period. Unfortunately, some people think they know everything about concussions and won’t take the time to research them, you don’t always get the support you need. A person with a cast on their leg would never be expected to run a mile, so why are concussion patients expected to do all the mental work of a “normal person”?

I know I would not have been able to survive this injury without the amazing support of my mom, my boyfriend, and specifically two of my close friends. These close friends would call often and sit with me for hours, even though I wasn’t able to do much. One of my close friends would occasionally sit with me and read me things off of our favorite websites since he knew I couldn’t go on the computer. My other friend would call me several times a week and make time every week to visit me and sit with me. He would also attempt to help me with physics and drivers ed homework, even though I later ended up dropping both. I can not thank these two people enough, they are truly my best friends and they proved it during this time. My boyfriend was over any time he had the chance to be and is always the first one to offer if I need help with anything. He is always keeping a close eye out for me and making sure I won’t do anything that will hurt me in the long run. Whenever I have headaches, he makes me rest, he literally deserves an award for dealing with my stubbornness.

My mom was the biggest help, and still is. She is constantly fighting with the school to get me everything I need to succeed. She is on basically every concussion website known to man talking to other concussion patients and looking up remedies and medications that could help shorten the recovery process. She was there for me for every emotional breakdown and for every tear I shed. She took off of work to be with me and took me to every doctor’s appointment, while also making sure I was only seeing the best doctors. She put everything into making my isolation easier on me. 

The reason I’m posting this is because people with Post Concussion Syndrome need to know they are not alone and that they are going to get better. There is a reason we got hurt and we are all going to somehow make it into a positive experience. As soon as I started talking to people off of these websites, I started to feel a lot better. There is a whole community of amazing people from all over willing to help you and talk to you because they went through exactly what you’re going through. I want to be there for someone like all these people have been there for me.

Sara Birkholz, on Post Concussion Syndrome, From the Trenches

imagesaraThe past several months I have picked up and read books about personal accounts of survival. The authors have amazed me with their strength and their new outlook on life once they have emerged from whatever dark tunnel or trial was placed in their life. As I finished reading each story, however, I could not help but wonder what their story would look like if they had written it in the midst of their battle. I have struggled to write this article because I do not yet have the insight of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel. I do not know how my “crisis” so to speak, will turn out. I decided in a way this is a good thing because the purpose of The Knockout Project is to educate people on what the ramifications of a concussion can be. Stepping into the life of someone who is currently living day in and day out with the consequences of a concussion can shed a lot of light on why it is so important to protect ourselves and those we love from being injured.

First I would like to start with the definition of concussion. A concussion is a traumatic brain injury that alters the way your brain functions. In the past when I heard someone had suffered from a concussion, I did not think much of it. My first reaction was NEVER “Bobby received a traumatic brain injury today during football practice.” Instead I thought, “whew, Bobby had his bell rung a bit at football practice and should be fine.” I am sure that is the way the majority of people feel about concussions. I thought this way about concussions until last August.

On August 7, 2012, our family decided to end a fun three day trip to Duluth, MN by going on the new Alpine Coaster at Spirit Mountain. After all, it was on the way out of town and the kids were pretty pumped about riding it. I hopped on the sled like contraption with my daughter. As we left the boarding station the employee told us “go as fast as you can, the sled is attached to the tracks and you cannot be thrown off.” Of course once my 10 year old heard that great news, we were full steam ahead. As I saw the first turn approaching I felt like we were going much too fast and leaned forward to grab the brake. I was too late, and because I had not leaned into the turn and was in an awkward position, I got whipped to the right. I actually felt my head snap and was dazed the rest of the way down the mountain. At the bottom I told my husband and kids that I did not feel well and that I was jarred on the first turn. We all just laughed and talked about mom being a wimp and getting too old to go on rides.

Within 48 hours from my ride down the mountain, I started having dizzy spells.

Within 72 hours I ended up in the emergency room because I could not stop throwing up. I did not even initially associate my symptoms with anything that had happened at Spirit Mountain. I thought to have a concussion, you had to be knocked out. Many tests were ordered to figure out what was going on with me and why I was suddenly having a “neurological event” (that is what the doctors described it as on those first few days). Eventually, I was sent home with the “good” news that my CT and MRI were both clear.

It was not until about 10 days after the accident, and continued nausea, vomiting and dizziness, that I called the neurologist to tell him about the Alpine Coaster ride. He confirmed that I did not need to be knocked unconscious to have a concussion and that I was indeed having concussion symptoms. He told me to continue as I was and all my symptoms should clear on their own within 6 weeks.

Fast forward to today, February 26th, 2013. I am almost 7 months post accident, and as I sit and type this article I am wearing sunglasses because the back light from the computer screen is excruciating for me. I have not had one moment since August without nausea, dizziness, light sensitivity, and disequilibrium. Up until Christmas, I was still vomiting almost daily. Even bending over to get laundry out of the dryer makes me feel like I am spinning so much I have to rush to a toilet. Every time I am in the car and we go from moving to a stop I have a wave of nausea come over me that is so severe that I have to prepare and have bags in the car. Entering into a big box store, like Target, makes me feel even more off balance and dizzy. I try to wear a baseball cap and sunglasses into stores but even that does not take away the increased nausea and disequilibrium that the fluorescent lighting causes. From the moment my feet hit the floor and my eyes open this is my current “normal”.

Before this accident I was an avid runner, taught spinning classes at the local gym, practiced law part time, helped coach my kids in various sports, spent tons of time with my girlfriends and family and absolutely loved and embraced every day. Today I struggle to even get through a day. I have prayed to die over and over because my physical symptoms are so horrendous. I cry myself to sleep many nights because I know in the morning I am facing another day like this. I feel awful 100% of the day. I have severe nausea 100% of the day. I am dizzy from the moment I stand up. I feel off balance 100% of the day. Grabbing milk and juice quick from a grocery store is excruciating with all the lights and stimulation.

People do not understand what it is like to live this way. I have gotten everything from “what is your problem, you just have a concussion” to “certainly you can’t still be having symptoms?!” But the worst was recently when I retrieved my file from the clinic and the doctor had written “hypochondriac” and “health anxiety” as his conclusions to my problems. ARE YOU KIDDING ME??!! I could not make up these symptoms if I tried. And frankly, I would be living my life to the fullest not spending time at a clinic. That is all I want and pray for… old life back. It is a very scary moment when you are still sick and miserable every second of the day and the doctor who was in charge of “helping” you does not even understand concussions and doesn’t even believe you.

I am now seeing a new set of doctors in Minneapolis, MN who truly understand post concussion syndrome. Every time I leave their offices, I feel even more educated about brain injuries. In two short visits, they have gotten to the bottom of the dizziness and nausea. Apparently, my whole ocular system was knocked out of whack in the accident and each eye is focusing on a different objects and sending different messages to my brain. The scary part is about 50% of the brain is devoted to visual processing. So, I know I am still facing a long road to recovery with my therapists. I am also undergoing vestibular therapy to get my balance back. I never realized that one small, or what I thought was small, whiplash event could damage so many centers in my brain.

Finally, living with PCS is a very lonely journey. I have learned that as your symptoms persist, everyone moves on with their lives. Every once in awhile they throw you a “how are you?” Sometimes I tell people things are a little bit better only because I do not want to go through the process of trying to describe my symptoms. Sometimes I tell them I am little bit better because I wish so badly they were getting a little bit better. But the honest answer is “I am the same.” I have not seen any recovery in over half a year. PCS is a time when you really learn who your friends and loved ones are, and you learn that health, above anything else, is a true blessing you took for granted every day.

As you can see, when you are in the midst of a dark tunnel the story is not exactly inspiring but it is real! This is a very frank look at my current life with post concussion syndrome. In addition, you get to see how absolutely devastating a head injury can be. I do not have a history of concussions. This is my story after just one concussion event. All it takes is one event to have lingering, debilitating post concussion symptoms. I want people to realize that risking your brain to go back into a game is not a good decision. Riding a bike or going skiing without a helmet should be unthinkable. I could go on, but ultimately I want to educate others as much as possible, because even though I was in a freak accident, other people have the chance to step away from a sport or event before more damage is done. Also, I want to emphasize how important it is to find the right doctors and therapists if you are having lingering symptoms from a head injury. Trust your gut. The doctors are working for you and this is your brain not a cut that needs stitches.

I know in the end, God never gives us a challenge we cannot handle. With the help of my husband and two wonderful kids, current doctors and therapists, and the love of all my other PCS pals, I know this has to get better and I can continue to persevere. I plan to continue to update all of you on my progress in therapy and hope I can help anyone who is currently going through this. I hope someday I can write again with the insight of recovering from this monster. People with head injuries have an invisible injury. We look healthy on the outside, but deal with very real, disabling, miserable side affects every day. Concussions are not something to take lightly. As Sir Francis Bacon said, “Knowledge is power.” And now you know.