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WA HS Sophomore Lacrosse Player Reflects on the Physical and Emotional Damage of Post Concussion Syndrome

By Kait Dawson

kaitIf you were to look at me, you wouldn’t think anything was wrong. On the outside, I look like a normal, happy, healthy, teenage girl. But there is so much more going on inside my head than it seems. I am a completely different person than I was before. I have pounding headaches everyday, and I’m not able to remember something I was told five minutes ago, or a movie I’ve seen a dozen times. I have emotional outbursts. I’m constantly both mentally and physically exhausted. I’m losing friends who don’t understand why I am the way I am, and I sometimes feel hopeless and depressed. I struggle with insomnia and being so behind in school that I have to repeat classes. It is a seemingly never-ending bad dream that I can’t wake up from. I never thought much of the word “concussed” before it was relevant to me. But, that word is now my life.

I am now a completely different person than I was before my accident. I was a 4.0 student. I challenged myself daily and took school very seriously. I was a year ahead most students in math, science, and Spanish. I also played lacrosse five nights a week. Lacrosse was a huge part of my life. Pretty much all my friends were on the team. I also play basketball and tennis, but lacrosse was the love of my life. This contrasts greatly to how I am now, taking minimal classes and not even being allowed near a lacrosse ball.

The one thing I do remember very clearly is that day. It was a warm, sunny day in April, the 11th to be exact, and I was wearing my favorite shirt. In PE that day we were playing basketball and I was on a team with three of my closest friends. We won all of our games, so we made it to the championship, which happened to be against an all boys team. It was a rough, violent game that included a lot of fouling. There were two minutes left and we were tied. The only thing on my mind was winning. If I had known that this one game would impact the rest of my life, I might have been less competitive. A boy on the other team dropped the ball at the top of the key and I saw my opportunity to score. I quickly lunged forward. Little did I know, a boy on the other team also decided to lunge for the ball too. Our heads hit with an audible thud and I wobbled backwards in a daze. The gym spun around me, and my ears rang loudly. My head felt like it was going to explode from throbbing pain. I quickly snapped out of it and picked up the ball and scored a basket. We won that game, but my life had taken a dramatic turn for the worse.

When I got home, I told my mom about what happened and that my head was hurting. She checked to make sure my pupils were dilated evenly and made sure I wasn’t feeling nauseous. That was all she knew about concussions. We both thought nothing of what was happening. I bombed a biology test the next day. Biology was my best and favorite subject and I couldn’t understand why I did so poorly. I still didn’t realize what was going on. That night, I played a lacrosse game. I was disoriented the whole game and kept losing track of who had the ball. At this point, my head was still pounding. I was also super sensitive to light and noise. I will regret going to school the next day for the rest of my life.

I was planning on staying home because of my headache, but it was the Friday before spring break and I had two tests that day, one in English and one in Geometry. That day in PE, we were playing ultimate Frisbee. Being my usual competitive self, I was playing too roughly. I don’t remember anything about playing except for the moment I got hit. It was like one of those slow motion moments in a movie. I saw an opportunity and jumped in front of a girl on the other team that was about to catch a pass from a teammate. I swatted the Frisbee away from her and heard it hit the ground. This girl was obviously surprised about what happened and wasn’t expecting it at all. She flailed her arms and her left elbow made contact with my right temple. It was the same spot that the boy’s head hit in basketball a few days prior. I immediately collapsed on the field. I wasn’t unconscious, but I was really out of it. I got up slowly and tried to process what had happened. The PE teacher asked about what happened and I explained. After hearing that I was hit a few days ago, she tugged me off the field. I was sent straight to the nurse’s office and then straight to the doctor’s office from there. I was told that I had suffered a concussion.

My first thought was, “when can I play lacrosse again?” My pediatrician told me I would be completely better by next week. I canceled my travel plans for spring break and spent the whole week in bed in a dark room. I don’t remember that week at all except that I slept a lot. When it was the next week and I didn’t feel better, I was discouraged. But, my doctor assured me that it would only be two more weeks. She said that sometimes it takes a little longer. After each benchmark passed and I had no improvement, I began to lose hope. It was now the summer break and I wasn’t better at all. I spent the whole summer in bed. I left my house maybe five times at most and saw my friends only once. It was a really dark time for me. I was so confused. Why wasn’t my head getting any better?

Not much changed for the next few months. I had full testing done by a neuropsychologist and they couldn’t find anything wrong with me. It became very clear that full time school wasn’t an option so I dropped several classes and got a 504 plan. I hated the idea of this. I felt weak, like I couldn’t handle it. I wanted nothing more than to go back in time and stop myself from getting hurt. I had missed out on playing in the state championships with my lacrosse team, going to the Young Life camp that my friends and I had been talking about since 6th grade and everything else that mattered to me. I was still in a very dark place.

From then on, things didn’t get much better. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve wished I could go back to that day and change things. But, I can’t. I’m stuck with debilitating headaches, anxiety attacks, and just coping in general. I’m stuck with being this whole new person that I don’t recognize. I’m stuck with Post Concussive Syndrome for the time being and there’s nothing I can do about it. The only thing left to do is to be positive and pray that my brain will heal soon. I’ve had to miss out on so many opportunities over the last year because of it and I’ve struggled with periods of depression. But recently, I have come to accept it. I’ve learned that there’s no point in getting upset about something I can’t change. I could have PCS for another month, or another year. There’s no way to know. But the thing I have learned is to just “let it be”. I’ve finally come to terms with it. I no longer get stressed about small things like I used to. It’s not the road I chose, but it’s the one I’ve been dealt.

I don’t know when I’ll be able to play lacrosse again. I pray every night that my concussion will go away so that things can get back to normal and I can play the game I love so much. The one thing I do know for sure is that, when I do return to the lacrosse field, I will be wearing a helmet. I will be the only one on the field sporting such lovely headgear, but I don’t care. I will wear it proudly because I know that I am protecting my head.