Post Concussion Syndrome: The Invisible Injury

While there is more media attention and awareness about concussion, particularly in sport, there is little focus on the non athlete who becomes concussed.

There is even less widespread knowledge about the 15% who experience post concussion syndrome, symptoms that persist beyond one year and that may even be permanent.

January 20, 2015 forever changed my life in a split second. I took a step on my icy driveway and before I knew it I was flat on my back, my head hitting the concrete with enough force for my brain to rattle inside my skull. Now screaming and clutching my head, my three daughters approached me cautiously to determine if I had split it open. While my concussion was serious, the term “mild acquired brain injury” is used as I did not lose consciousness.

I then became the poster child of what not to do.

I drove my daughter to the dentist, tears streaming down my face. Headache and dizziness setting in, I knew something was amiss, but made dinner and drove to the dance studio. When I returned I remarked to my husband that I felt like I drank 3 glasses of wine even though I had not consumed a drop. This is when we realized I had sustained a concussion. I did not think it was necessary to seek medical care, because “they are just going to tell me to rest and lie down which I will do”… I did not do this enough and the inevitable symptoms started to emerge. A few days later the pain at the base of my neck and down my chest was an indication I had experienced whiplash as well.

One week later I went to see my family doctor as things worsened. Excruciating fatigue had set in, headaches, and vestibular issues just turning in my kitchen from fridge to counter let alone being in the car. Anything crossing my visual field caused a ‘firework’ across my forehead.

Flash forward 23 months and the daily cocktail of forehead pressure and burn (like a nail is lodged in my forehead), mental fogginess (akin to jet lag coupled with extreme sleep deprivation) dizziness, headaches, and more have forced many changes to my life.

This infamous you tube video is ironically a tool I used when I used to deliver workshops; now I constantly feel the nail….

As the doctors have told me this journey will not be a straightforward progression to recovery. There will be many ups and downs; as time has passed some symptoms are not as prevalent while others have lasted. There are many resources to assist the concussed athlete, particularly young adults, but there is a huge gap for the walking wounded “average” adult. With the help of Facebook support groups and the advice of others who have been through it I have been able to try different therapies, approaches and accept that some things are just different now.

The other day a bus passed across my car and for the first time I did not feel the need to avert my eyes. I realized I had turned a corner. The next morning I was seated in a restaurant with a table of friends and as the coffee cup to my right was raised I felt the tell- tale fireworks happen…the whoosh of pain and dizziness across my forehead as I was processing too much stimuli. And so it goes.

I had not suffered migraines previously however they now occur 1-3 times a month; symptoms change over time which is normal for someone with a mild brain injury. The effects linger up to a week, despite the medications I take as they start and the botox treatments of 45 plus needles (my neurologist won’t tell me how many!) injected across the back of my scalp every 90 days.

“Are you still dealing with that concussion?” Is something I am often asked. Sadly, I too had thought of this as a finite experience. We are led to believe that a concussion is something that has a beginning and an end with full recovery to previous function.

When it first happened I was sure I would be back to myself in a few months. Affectionately referred to by my community as “the Tasmanian devil on speed”, I was juggling the needs of a busy household, part time employment, high level volunteer work and exercised with a passion. I have cut out much of this. The little that I continue to do is a trade off between the high of being productive vs the low of the immediate symptoms experienced when I am required to focus or take on too much activity.

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My youngest daughter, a keen observer, turned to me the other night and tapped into my biggest fear “Mommy, are you ever going to be better? I mean, you are better than when it first happened… but like you were before?”

I have always been an optimist and do see how some of the changes I have made are also better for me and my family. While I may look fine there are days I wish the nail in my forehead could be seen… That the inevitable aftermath to that coffee/meeting/grocery shopping would be known

While many people experience a concussion and return to their pre-concussed levels of sport and return to life, there needs to be more awareness on how easily a non athlete can become concussed and the effects of a mild traumatic brain injury on the average middle aged person. Perhaps others would not make the same mistakes I had and more resources would be dedicated to helping those who experience the aftermath.

-Stacey Leavitt Wright

 

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