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.

12 thoughts on “16 Year Old NY HS Junior Has Her World Turned Upside Down By Concussion

  1. Brian Mcnihol

    Kim,
    There is a great life at the end of this injury. Your personal growth, determination and knowledge you are taking out of this crule injury will give you a better perspective on life. Its very unfortunate that you’re having to go through the mental as well as physical pain of a bad concussion. I feel for you and pray for your full recovery. Your mother is a very loving and persistant person when it come to her children. She and I are your gaurdian. There is nothing we will not do for our children.
    You continue to make me proud to be your father everyday. Thank you
    Remember always look up….
    Love Dad
    Your words “Freak Accident” should make other people think before doing anything stupid or dangerous without taking Precautions.

    Reply
    1. KL

      Kim, it is rare to meet a young woman so smart, so dedicated to her education, her family and friends. YOU are that woman and nothing will stop you… I know it and I want you to know it too. I know you think sometimes this concussion will get the better of you but remember that this will only be a blip in the phenomenal life you WILL have. Your strength, courage and perseverance has taken you this far and will provide you with what you will need to get you through. I am very grateful to know you and want you to know that if ever I could help you in any way I’m only a text away! Hug to you!

      Here’s a quote to think on…“Believe in yourself and all that you are. Know that there is something inside you that is greater than any obstacle.” – Christian D. Larson

      Reply
    2. Danelle

      I’m the mother of a 15 yr old dealing with PCS. I had no idea. The strength our children have is unbelievable. I’m falling apart but she is not. Wishing a full recovery for your daughter.

      Reply
  2. Julie Norris

    Hi Kimberly –

    Thanks for sharing your story. It helps with explaining to people what it’s like to live with post-concussion syndrome. I’m sorry you’re having to experience all this! I know how rough it is. I went through a long PCS recovery as well, so I know what you mean.

    I think you also touch upon an important point. Which is: you’re not alone. Concussion can really change your life and impose limitations, as you describe so well. There are many, many people dealing with it and it’s coming out more. It is possible to find others online that are going through it. Like I said, I think this post will help a lot. It’s definitely something I’m going to share!

    One thing I’d like you to keep in mind is that it’s common for people (I think) to start questioning your motives, the existence of a concussion – all of that. The longer it goes, the harder it becomes to convince people that it’s real. Just remember: I believe you! I know what you’re going through.

    Focus on positive changes as best you can, no matter how small. Hang in there!

    – Julie

    Reply
  3. concussionmom

    Kimberly, I wanted to let you know that my daughter is going through the exact same thing as you; she is also a junior, she missed her whole sophomore year. She had(still has) the same symptoms as you, had the isolation/brain rest, and her life is different now also. She is no longer able to play any sports(she played 4 during her freshman year and got hurt playing soccer). She would love to connect with you. Things do get better, but sometimes these concussions can just take a long long time. You can email me at concussionmom@gmail.com and I will give you her email and information. Keep up the fight!!!
    Jami (aka concussion mom)

    Reply
  4. Life After the Game

    Kimberly,

    First of all, we want to offer you our words of admiration for how you have handled the obstacles that PCS can throw at you. As a teenager, it’s not easy to deal with much if anything, let alone dealing with a concussion- but by reading your wonderfully written words, it’s evident that you can overcome any thing life throws at you.

    We created Life After the Game as a way to provide that vital support that concussed athletes need as they recover from a concussion. Between the two of us (Lauren and Samantha), we have suffered at least 16 concussions. Ironically we found one another much the same way you have found others struggling with PCS. We are both former college soccer players whose once successful careers were prematurely ended by multiple concussions.

    Lauren has been dealing with PCS symptoms since 2007 and has found some minor relief while also on Amantadine and a long list of other medications.

    Samantha has made great strides in her recovery from a concussion suffered in a car accident last summer.

    Together we do our best to walk through this post concussive life and post soccer career- the one thing that has helped us tremendously has been in the moments when you feel like there’s no hope and you can say hopeless things because things never get better- “I Understand”. Two simple words can change the course of recovery from a concussion.

    Thus, we created Life After the Game. We do encourage you to check out the website (www.lifeafterthegame.org) and glance through some of our own thoughts and struggles through our blogs.

    YOU ARE NOT ALONE!

    Lauren and Samantha
    Co-Founders
    Life After the Game

    Reply
  5. gwen

    Kim, proud you were able to share this and hopefully help others with your story. One of your Pediatricians called me after I faxed him the story and told me how he has some other patients who he currently sees who feel the same. He understood every word you said. Other mom’s are now communicating with you and you are opening up to other teenagers. I am proud of you. I am also proud of your boyfriend for being there for me as well as you. The friends that have helped you know how thankful I am.

    I hope Jay’s group can empower others to share their stories so we can learn more about concussions and help prevent most of them. Although getting teachers to come to the house has been a constant battle, there have been many at the school who have been wonderful and a few who have put their hearts into helping you. I thank them with all my heart!!!!

    The more concussion awareness we can spread might make the next person’s journey that much easier. People might understand and be able to reach out and schools can develop protocols and educational plans as well. Lack of knowledge is why people make comments. As I said to Jay, he is helping the cause “one brain at a time”.

    I agree with your dad … look up! We are going to move forward and get better!

    Love Mom

    Reply
  6. Christy

    Wow! Kim ur story is almost like mine! It’s amazing how true everything u said is! Idk if u see these replies but I’d love for u to join my post concussion support group! It’s every third Tuesday of the month t St. Charles Hospital! The group is fairly new and pretty much I’m the only one that shows up so it’s not much of a support group! If u r able to please make the effort t go! I could use a friend like u! If u want to contact me u can find me on Facebook, twitter, or email me at cash4christy@yahoo.com

    Thanx for encouraging me!
    Christy Chalgren

    Reply
  7. Christine Reilly

    What a brave and emotional story.
    My 14 year old is also on this same road. She was out of school for a total of 4 months and slowly started back. She is still on no tests,hw or grades and starts hight school in September. I UNDERSTAND ! I had a long recovery myself years ago and now I am watching my daughter suffer through the same process. THIS WILL NOT DEFINE YOU! You obviously have too many other sparkling qualities and in time will be able to thrive in ways you never would have without this awful experience. I am sorry this happened to you and hope your journey gets easier soon.

    Reply
  8. Denae

    I also have post concussion syndrome from being kicked in the head by a student (I was a teacher’s aide). This is a wonderful post and I’m glad I’m not alone. Thank you for sharing your story! You’re a brave young woman, and I’m glad you have so much support 🙂

    Reply
  9. Dana G

    Your essay is valuable and inspiring. I am still recovering from a concussion sustained in a head-on car accident that happened two years ago. You are eloquent and talented with words; it’s funny how the brain maintains certain functions (like writing ability) yet can’t recover very well in other ways. People assume that if you can write, or if you can speak eloquently, then everything must be “back to normal.” Those of us who have post-concussion symptoms know this is not true. Thank you for sharing this honest insight into your life. It speaks not only for you, but for all of us.

    Reply
  10. Alicia

    Kim,
    I am a mom of a 15 year old daughter with post concussion syndrome. Would your mom be willing to talk to me about her “mom” research? I am in the same boat she was in and I am just beginning my research. Could you have her contact me at alicia.klein@comcast.net?

    I would forever be grateful!

    Reply

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