By Kimberly McNicholl
I 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.