By: Lindsey Santos
Edited By: Carolyn Kenney
I think it’s about time I use the real date of when I actually got my first concussion. I’ve been using different dates in my writings in the hope that it will scramble my memory and I’ll forget eventually the date that is imprinted in my mind. Well, it didn’t work like I hoped it would.
So, I will use the real date: October 28th, 2010.
It was a cold, dark night. Our blood was pumping, fueling our energy as we arrived at the high school. Lights were shining down on the field that we were about to play on. Tension was growing as both teams warmed up for a rival conference game. I had played over 2,000 games of soccer, and I had no idea this one would end up changing my life. I was having one of the best games of the season. Distributing the ball and getting around people came simple to me. With one minute left, the score was zero-zero. We had a corner kick, so I went into a position where I could run in and head the ball. As I was jumping up, I was grabbed by the waist and pulled down to the ground. Before I had time to react, I was kicked in the head two times before blocking the third strike with my hand. I got up and took a few steps before I felt overwhelmed and threw up. I jogged myself off the field. Little did I know I would be on the sidelines for three months.
When I received my second concussion, I was in a basketball game. I was elbowed in the head while fighting for the ball. I knew immediately something was wrong. My vision was off and I didn’t feel right. The athletic trainer, Kelley, was quick to notice it and sat me out for the rest of the game. This was only one week after being cleared from the soccer injury, so when I went back to Boston Children’s Hospital, my doctor was not happy. He stated that if I were to receive another concussion he would pull me from sports. Let’s just say I didn’t go back to him after leaving the hospital with a third concussion practically a year later. I had definitely had more hits to the head in-between, but if I were to report them, I knew it would just be the same thing all over again.
The third time, I took a soccer ball to the temple. It was a full force strike that nailed me straight to the ground. I heard my coach come over and he was keeping me alert and asking questions. I stood up slowly and walked off in disbelief. The next few weeks were horrible. I could barely handle a car door closing without feeling like a gong went off in my head. The worst part about my concussions is how my personality has changed. It is so frustrating to know that I’ve changed but I can’t change myself back. Before all of this happened, I was the happiest kid with a contagious smile. Now, if you can get a smile out of me, then you’re doing a good job of entertaining me. Sometimes I can’t be as enthusiastic as I used to be about certain things. As much as I hate to admit it, my emotions are everywhere. I can go from being upset, to manic, to angry very quickly. Thankfully, I have learned to control my anger in better ways than I did two or three years ago. I now either ignore the situation and try and tune my head into something else, or I just become very quiet.
My anxiety can sometimes kick in randomly, too. One time, I was sitting in Biology class and out of nowhere I had an anxiety attack. I had no idea what hit me and I barely walked myself to the counselor’s room. Once I sat down she thought someone had slipped something into my water because it seemed like I was intensely high. The most displeasing part was when my dad had to come pick me up from school because they thought I was under the influence, and they rolled me out in a wheelchair, which was totally embarrassing. My anxiety attacks consist of feeling completely disoriented and unable to tell what reality is. Everything seems to move so slowly and I can’t grasp onto anything. It’s as if I’m falling in slow motion and I’m trying to hold myself up but it’s just an endless cycle I’m trapped in.
Ever since my concussions, I obviously haven’t been the same. I used to play sports year round. Due to the concussions, I was prohibited from doing strenuous activities and I couldn’t even make it through school half the time. This took a huge toll on me. I loved soccer and basketball, but I was sure I would be able to do other things. Before this happened, I went to a lot of events like games, the movies, nights out with friends, etc. Now, with my head, my sensitivity to noise, and my anxiety around a lot of people, I can’t really do much of that without getting a relapse headache.
Once I was allowed back to school I was completely confused, as if I had just come out of a four hour movie I didn’t understand. Everyone expected that I would just pick up where I had left off, and this was more pressure than I could have imagined. My teachers welcomed me back with work I had missed, and coaches were pressuring me to come back; the pressure was mounting. Classes were the most challenging obstacle of all. As soon as I tried to read an assignment, I got an instant headache. Struggling to make it through my classes became almost an everyday thing. I would ask my teachers for help and they would try to give it to me, but I just couldn’t comprehend the information. Asking for extra assistance soon fell off my table of options because it had started to feel pointless and even some of my teachers started giving me a hard time because they didn’t know what to do with me. Sometimes I would finally start to understand, but as soon as they were not there to guide me, I would be lost again; it was very aggravating. The 504 plan didn’t help much at the time, either. Some of my teachers weren’t aware of my condition and some major assignments were counted against me, which only made things harder.
Although I might appear fine to others, especially the uneducated ones, I’m not. The only time someone usually asks if I’m all right is if they see that I’m unable to stand up and walk straight. I was told once, by a fellow concussion friend, that she prefers to deal with her cancer than her traumatic brain injury (TBI). She reflected on how people treated her better when they realized she had cancer. Because concussions are an invisible injury and there is no specific treatment, she noticed that people didn’t think much of them and she wished they would be more compassionate. Dealing with headaches everyday, having trouble with memory, experiencing vision problems, and being used as an experiment is tiring.
Over the course of two years, I have been prescribed seven medications from my neurologist to try and cure my headaches. This doesn’t include painkillers and muscle relaxers from the ER visits, and four nerve block injections to my head. It’s hard to pick which one hurt most. Now I am under the care of Dr. Andrew Judelson at Spaulding Rehabilitation Hospital. So far he’s only prescribed three different medications, but I have never felt more confident in a doctor before. We’re getting somewhere; I can feel it. I was first prescribed Amantadine and that has helped a lot with getting through school. The other two are to help with the headaches / migraines, but nothing so far as worked. He referred me to Southcoast Rehabilitation Center for physical therapy, and speech therapy, which was easily one of the best decisions a doctor has made for me. My physical therapist, Angie, helped tremendously with my neck and vestibular problems. My speech therapist, Eileen, somehow improved my memory and attention without me even really realizing it was happening. I remember getting these horrible headaches when I first started seeing her and by the end, the work didn’t bring on a headache at all, which is huge for me! All the staff members there are awesome people, and I totally recommend them to anyone who needs the assistance.
Although I have improved, I still have everyday issues. It’s not easy at all. The impact can be very real, and very hard to cope with. I always thought I was mentally strong, but when I have to actually be strong and climb my way back from rock bottom, I’m tested several times on how strong I really am. Depression will set in, and I will want to give up. It’s never easy for us to talk about how our mental and emotional state was or is during the time of the TBI recovery process. It’s taken me years to finally start to come out about the “dark side” of my recovery. I used to cry just about everyday. I constantly picture how my life would be if this didn’t happen. Having no control over how I feel is torturous. I always feel “off” or “not right”. People are starting to hear more and more about athletes who have suffered concussions committing suicide. When my neurologist said that I’m showing symptoms of PTSD, my mom let heavy clouds in her mind release rain drops down her face. She was scared that I would end up like those “dead athletes”. Little did she know that I already hit that breaking point once. Although I may still experience a touch of how I felt that one day, I refuse to let myself retry what I did. I will never forget it. Silence as my eyes rolled back and I kept nodding off in a haze. Hours later light shone through the cracks of the soon to be shattered darkness. I awoke and had to either accept that it wasn’t meant to be, or think of a different approach for next time. I chose to accept that it wasn’t meant to be.
Changing so drastically in such a short period of time has been extremely negative for me. Once these changes stick around for a solid amount of time, TBI victims start to learn things. I asked a few of my concussion friends if they have learned anything as they continue through recovery. A few of the answers I received back were to enjoy the little things, how support can make a huge difference, not to take anything for granted, and that I have to be in touch with my sensitive side. A few of us have also learned that we shouldn’t judge people that seem strange. I know, myself, I view things from a totally different perspective now. Overall, what we all agreed on was how concussions are more serious than a lot of people think, and that education is key to preventing these types of injuries in the future so that others don’t have to go through what we have. The more people that are aware, the more we can make a positive difference, and that’s all that matters.