It's hard to understand a brain injury until you have one.
October 2, 2017 10:21 AM   Subscribe

I noticed someone moving above me, and asked her what was happening. I was about to get a CT scan, she told me. She is the first person whose appearance I remember, even in part. She had Shirley Temple curls. I’m not sure what her face looked like, but I remember I liked her hair. I was a science journalist and had written about CT scans but I’d never had one before, I told her. So this was exciting. But as they moved me into the scanner, I wondered: was I a science journalist? I had spoken without thinking. My entire life before the ambulance felt dim and far off. I might as well have been born on the pavement, with the neck brace half on.
posted by ChuraChura (42 comments total) 42 users marked this as a favorite
oh lord this is stressful to read, i'm 2 years out of my last concussion and like. i already had extensive nerve damage issues in my head and neck and they've definitely gotten worse since then but who can say if that's a normal progression of stenosis or not. no one, apparently.

i did so many sports in school and there's no one alive who can conclusively tell me how badly or how often i was injured doing so and i can't remember.
posted by poffin boffin at 10:51 AM on October 2, 2017 [17 favorites]

a doctor came in to summarize what they’d found (concussion, nothing more serious) and give me prohibitions: no TV, no alcohol, no reading, no internet.

What... what else even is there to do?!
posted by Pope Guilty at 10:53 AM on October 2, 2017 [21 favorites]

My husband, who had a serious concussion a few years back, was reading this on-and-off again all weekend.

While strapped to a back- and neck-brace, in the hospital on Sunday, he confidently said he'd be back at work by Tuesday. I read highlights of "Paris 1919," which I happened to be reading at the time, to him, as he got a Dilaudid drip because the neck brace was painful. (I still associate the Paris Peace Conference, and what a racist Woodrow Wilson was--one of the sections I read to him--with concussions and small ER rooms.) It took 3 months to get him back to work, and he still has post-concussion syndrome symptoms, 3 or 4 years after the fact. Total rundown of injuries: sub-galeal bleeding around occipital lobe. Spinous process [the nobbly bit you sometimes see when looking at someone's back] fractures at C6 and some lumbar vertebra (only discovered months later during an MRI after he threw his back out at the location of the fracture). Incidental finding of a subarachnoid cyst. Scraping down the length of his face; I am terrible at bandaging and there's a funny photo of him looking like a kid who got caught playing with toilet paper.

I know the diagnoses well because I'm the one who had to communicate with insurance and work for him as he couldn't reliably read sentences for the first month. I wasn't there when he heard about his lumbar fracture so I don't know the details; he happily reported that his lower back MRI found a tibial fracture. I love him, but he's a terrible medical historian. Between the memory-loss of concussions and his lack of ability to repeat what doctors tell him, I am the Keeper of the Concussion Facts.

The fact that he's well enough to read this article and think about it is seriously is one of my daily comforts. Other than the headaches, he's recovered.

His was significantly less bad than the one in the article, but this hit me:

I alarmed people pretty much every time I mentioned my concussion. Never mind that the actual injury was not scary to me — it scared everyone around me.

He's a programmer. Everytime he discussed the injury with programmers, they developed a look of horror. Luckily, he had minor-to-no personality changes, but the thought of not being able to read, not being able to understand their job horrified people.

What... what else even is there to do?!

Sitting quietly in dim rooms, (low-involvement) podcasts, sleeping.
posted by flibbertigibbet at 10:56 AM on October 2, 2017 [22 favorites]

What... what else even is there to do?!

Sitting quietly in dim rooms, (low-involvement) podcasts, sleeping.

Board games!
posted by ricochet biscuit at 11:03 AM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

Oh, no. Imagining being stuck playing roll-your-dice move-your-mice board games that don't require thought is painful. For any length of time, much less long enough to recover from a brain injury.
posted by asperity at 11:12 AM on October 2, 2017 [3 favorites]

Both times I've had a concussion, the experience was remarkably pleasant. I'm not sure if it's the body breaking out the good drugs or what, but I really did feel much better about life. I tried to make sure I took careful notes the second time so that I could thank the first responders who's helped me and document the unintuitively positive nature of the experience.

Getting a head injury while having fun (in my case: Mountain Biking) brings up a great deal of guilt about taking resources from people whose troubles were less voluntarily acquired. Yet there is also a certain sanguine feeling that having been banged up a bit you have not been broken. It is the embodied feeling of liberation equivalent to the social feeling that one might find at Burning Man.

My most traumatic experience of concussion was learning after I woke that I was not dead.

This feeling is nearly impossible to describe. I woke standing* near a stream flanked by stands of rushes which, as the noon sunlight hit them just so, looked vaguely Elysian.

"Fuck," I said vehemently.

For a moment, I was filled with grief that I had died and would not see my friends and family, nor finish all I wanted to do in life. Then I was elated to discover that death was not final.

"Shit" I added, now in awe.

Suddenly a Freeway Sign on a far hill came halfway into focus and reality reasserted itself in a way that was so horrifying that I feel it viscerally even now.

"Where am I?" I asked querulously.

"Why do you keep asking that?" My friend Ben said. "That's got to be the fifth or six time we've been through this."

I walked over and picked up my bike, muttering unintelligibly even to myself. It didn't roll well so I dropped it and sat under a tree in what felt like a continuous motion. Ben took a picture and emailed it around.

Everything vibrated in the sunlight. It felt terrible to move, but wonderful to be alive. When the paramedics arrived, I joked with them about riding my bike out, but made sure to ask them to not do anything too expensive because I couldn't afford health insurance. One speculated they might need a helicopter to pick me up. "No, no helicopter," I spat through blood flowing freely into my mouth, "I want the budget plan!"

Eventually they loaded my wise ass in the back of a pickup truck and drove me out, chaparral screeching against the sides.. Ben took another picture but didn't send it to anyone for fear my mom would see it and think I was dead.

I made sure to ask everyone their name and rehearsed the names over and over in my head. When I got home, much later, I tried to write them down on a legal pad. No luck, the best I could do was Sunglasses Guy, Helicopter Woman, Nice Plastic Surgeon.

I don't recommend the experience, but the phenomenology of it is fascinating.
posted by ethansr at 11:38 AM on October 2, 2017 [45 favorites]

It's like reading a What I Did on My Summer Vacation only written by someone way more proficient with writing than myself. Brains are crazy weird things, man.
posted by Fezboy! at 11:42 AM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

My brother had a concussion after falling off his bike (no helmet) and a couple of years later my dad had a stroke. Each event changed them only slightly, which was fortunate, but they are still affected by each event. It's like something goes missing, which is a very intangible way of putting it.

I appreciated that the article pointed out that you don't need a hit on the head to have a concussion, because if I had known that last year I probably would have gone to a doctor. I tripped and fell, did not hit my head, but for weeks afterward I just had a vague sense of confusion and for the first few days I felt like my brains were scrambled. I don't doubt that I had a slight concussion now :/
posted by Calzephyr at 12:39 PM on October 2, 2017

Ulp! Got to the part about what they do to study live animals brains to study them and had to quit. Wish I hadn't read that.
posted by WalkerWestridge at 1:25 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

This hit home for me, but I have a feeling that it won’t fully sink in until I see one of my family members again because they’re the one living with some of the other side effects that concussions apparently can cause. We’re still trying to get proper answers. All we know is that multiple doctors agree that by having had so many concussions from age 15 to 45, the schizophrenia that was already kindling inside this relative’s brain went totally wild once all the cumulative effects happened. I don’t think that the concussions this relative has had are on par with what a football player might experience in terms of severity, but what the heck do I know? Everything is so complicated.

I’ll be rereading this again later. Thanks for sharing.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:29 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

A relative, not long out of high school, was hit by a car and went from an excellent aptitude for reading down to a first grade level due to a combination of vision and visual processing issues. Like others have experienced, you go to an ER for the initial incident and then there’s no one following up. And if you’re on your own your ability to self-assess your need for care, and to schedule appointments, and just deal, may be significantly impaired.

Concussions suck, and the lack of integration of care in the US confounds the chances of a decent recovery.
posted by zippy at 1:29 PM on October 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

A couple of years ago through a bizarre coincidence I fell and hit my head twice within a month. I did not get a CT scan to disagnose a conscussion but since I lost consciousness the urgent care doc told me to follow all the standard concussion recovery guidelines. It was torture.
After a couple weeks I decided that since I had never experienced any actually symptoms of concussion (besides fainting, due to the pain, which I am prone to), I probably did not have one, and I could go back to normal. But man, that sucked a lot. Also walking around with visible bruises on one's face tends to attract attention, especially as a married female.
posted by bq at 1:29 PM on October 2, 2017

Same, WalkerWestridge. I almost threw up at that. Brain research methods are fucking savage sometimes.
posted by Hermione Granger at 1:30 PM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

And if you’re on your own your ability to self-assess your need for care, and to schedule appointments, and just deal, may be significantly impaired

Note that this is true the moment you walk into the ER. I spent an eternity spelling my name and address to a clerk the first time I went to the ER. I was pretty proud of myself at the time, but what a bullshit waste of time.

Always, if possible, go to the ER in an ambulance with the lights flashing and the siren blaring. The intake procedure is limited to a couple light bumps as they ram the gurney through swinging doors and a woosh as the backboard you are taped to is lifted off the gurney and onto an operating table.
posted by ethansr at 1:39 PM on October 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

fine i'll wear my helmet
posted by grobstein at 1:59 PM on October 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

I had pretty much the same experience to my knock out concussion bike crash last year. I had several weeks of low level euphoria despite having savage bruising all over one side of my body and a severely painful injury to the arm on my other (which made side sleeping really really difficult).

It's so weird to not trust your brain or your emotions. I kept thinking "Am I really happy or is it just a brain injury?" and my brain kept saying "Who cares?"

It was the most weirdly ambivalent time of my life and I am still not certain that it didn't permanently shift my curmudgeonly disposition a little to the positive side.
posted by srboisvert at 2:02 PM on October 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

I once ended up in an ER with some kind of brain injury, this was when I was in the army. I wasn't sure what was going on when I woke up, my face felt really weird and I was sure I'd been hit by a car and was horribly disfigured and I thought the people I asked about it were lying to me, because I mean I could feel that my face was like half gone. But the most interesting thing was that I could answer all their questions, name, occupation, what town I was in, who was president, whatever, except for the ones involving numbers.

"..... 5? ............."
"Date of birth?"
"Oh I know that one, January ......... January ....................... .........."

Like I couldn't recall or combine or conceptualize or speak the numbers. I was sure that I knew the information but I just couldn't access it. It all went back to normal after a while (an hour? a day? three days? who knows?) and in fact those people weren't lying and half my face wasn't missing. But it was just such a strange feeling.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 3:21 PM on October 2, 2017 [10 favorites]

I had a severe concussion from a car accident about 11 years ago. I was rear-ended on the freeway by someone texting and not paying attention. We had all stopped and he was still going 65ish. I was wearing a seat belt but my seat back failed (evidently a thing in Honda Civics) and so I slid out from under my belt and cracked my head on the metal surrounding the back window. The impact was so severe that it crushed my T6 vertabrae as well as causing a few scalp lacerations and the concussion.

The accident happened at 4:30pm--I had (and still have) no memory of the day of the accident. It was my birthday and when my brother cleaned out my car at the tow lot in preparation for it being scrapped, he found a birthday present thatI had no memory of receiving.

I apparently got caught in a loop of saying my name and my Kaiser medical record number over and over. I "woke up" at about 10pm mid-sentence (repeating my MR#) with the nurse patting my hand and say, "I know, dear."

I was told I'd been through a CT scan and various other tests (which I had/have no recall of) and that I had to lay still while my back brace was being made for me. The hospital was very full (Highland in Oakland), and, finally after being in the hallway for some time, I was put in a negative pressure room to wait transfer to Kaiser in Marin where I live. While in the room, I was in and out of consciousness and hallucinated caterpillars crawling on the ceiling above me--good times.

Later the next day, I was transferred to Kaiser (still no clamshell brace so still flat on my back). When I got to Kaiser, the tech with the clamshell showed up either later that day or early the next -- that is not clear because I was in and out of consciousness. As soon as they had me sit up after the brace was on, I immediately had severe vertigo and nausea. I continued to throw up every time I stood up for the next couple of days. I still have vertigo if I stand too quickly or lean over too quickly.

After a brief and horrific stop at a nursing home for 2-3 days, I was allowed to go home with my Mom, who proceeded to take care of me for the couple of months it took for my back to heal. During that whole time, I slept a great deal, watched very little TV and listened to the Harry Potter books on tape. I also started playing WOW then, but mostly just ran around in the beginning area for a 1/2 hour here and there because I couldn't problem solve well and just couldn't focus.

The biggest remaining issue is some memory problems and my emotions. I cry at the drop of a hat--Hallmark commercials, sad songs on the radio, etc. I can't go to funerals because it is embarrassing when I cry more than the family--even when the person is not a close friend/relative. I also have a difficult time with public speaking--something I did well and frequently. Now, without warning, I can be giving a presentation and I will start choking up and tearing up. I've gotten good at just asking folks to hold on, drinking some water, breathing deeply and getting back on topic. But it is a pain in the ass.

It was disturbing, but now it is the new normal. However, I count myself lucky, because my attorney said that his other client who had the same type of accident (with the Civic seat back collapsing) is a paraplegic.

Dementia runs in my family. While my Mom was caring for me, I saw signs of her dementia starting so I ended up moving in with her and caring for her for the next 6 years. I figure I'm screwed between the genes and the concussion. I have a plan, but don't know if I'll carry it out.
posted by agatha_magatha at 3:22 PM on October 2, 2017 [24 favorites]

grobstein, helmets don't really prevent concussions, your brain still slams into the inside of your skull. That said, they are really good at preventing cuts and fractures.
posted by ajryan at 3:30 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

You might like to read "Over My Head: A Doctor's Own Story of Head Injury from the Inside Looking Out". It really brought home how quickly your life can change.
posted by olopua at 3:50 PM on October 2, 2017

grobstein, helmets don't really prevent concussions, your brain still slams into the inside of your skull. That said, they are really good at preventing cuts and fractures.

Doesn't the like crumple foam in there use up some of the energy getting destroyed so it doesn't have to rock and roll your brain? Does that not help at all? :(
posted by grobstein at 4:09 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

(It is generally believed that modern helmets help prevent and reduce the severity of concussions, although only slightly. While there's scant data available because it's incredibly hard to study, we know that several of the mechanisms of helmet protection likely help protect against concussions. Helmets may increase the risk of rotational injury but definitely reduce the damage from impacts. The jury is still out whether the former outweighs the latter but our best information so far says, "a helmet may help." You can find advocacy groups like CR saying things like, "wearing a bike helmet will likely help reduce the chances of suffering a concussion from a bike accident, at least a little." We're not sure, but they're probably not wrong.)
posted by introp at 4:17 PM on October 2, 2017 [7 favorites]

This story is a real downer but at least Monday Night Football is about to start.
posted by glonous keming at 5:34 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

Doesn't the like crumple foam in there use up some of the energy getting destroyed so it doesn't have to rock and roll your brain? Does that not help at all?

Without getting into pros and cons of bike helmet use, no they don't have any real effect on concussions. They do however help stop the skull from getting fractured, but are not designed to prevent concussions. Concussion protection requires a more substantial device, such as you'd find in motorcycle helmets, and is a limitation of the materials available for the manufacture of bike helmets.

It is part of the trade-off with bike helmets that you must weight the benefits of preventing some number of skull fractures versus increased risk of some types of neck injuries.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 5:46 PM on October 2, 2017 [6 favorites]

There's a group at Virginia Tech that has started testing football and hockey helmets for concussion prevention. It looks like they're planning on doing bicycle helmets in the future as well.

No hockey helmets have earned their 5-star rating, and only one 4-star, though this is better than what was available in their first batch of testing where, iirc, only 2 or 3 helmets even achieved 3-star.
posted by ghharr at 6:28 PM on October 2, 2017

13 years ago I got rear-ended by a car whilst riding my bike (he didn't see me!)... my helmet gave me a little cut on the back of my head that needed like, 10 stitches, but that was hugely preferable to the skull fracture and tremendous abrasions the back of my head would've suffered without it.

No concussion, either.

But the road rash on my back (my shirt slid up) was the stuff of nightmares.
posted by allthinky at 6:43 PM on October 2, 2017

I managed to give myself a concussion when I was in third grade. Playing kickball at some classmate's birthday party (I was not the most coordinated or athletic child). I have been told that after my head hit the floor someone asked if I saw birdies, and I said "no, stars". Aaaaanyhoo, they called an ambulance and my parents.

I stayed in the hospital overnight, but no head imaging (did that technology even exist in the 80s?). I lost about half a days worth of memory, getting back some of the morning, but nothing within 2 hours of the event, for sure. The energies involved were low, and I never developed any of the symptoms the author described (besides being lethargic for maybe a day). Neither my parents nor anyone else mentioned any personality changes, but I was 9, so who would even notice?
posted by Phredward at 7:55 PM on October 2, 2017

Always, if possible, go to the ER in an ambulance with the lights flashing and the siren blaring.

YES. In competition, I got hit in the head and knocked down twice (innocuously, I'm a fencer). I was assessed by the trainers ("What day of the week is it?" "Uh, no idea, but I know it's Day 5 of Summer Nationals" was a good enough answer) and told I seemed okay.

After I got home from that event, though, I was sitting perseverating (repeating thoughts in a circular fashion) and when I finally realized it was happening, I took myself to the ER.

After a long time, a tired resident diagnosed a UTI and sent me on my way with some antibiotics, which I didn't take. I'm 66. At my age, a UTI just means I'm alive. When I finally saw my own doctor a couple of days later, he agreed I probably had a concussion, and we both agreed it was a mild one and too late to do much about it now. He also told me it was okay to throw out the antibiotics, which were absolutely the wrong ones for a UTI anyway.

My daughter had a bad concussion in college as a result of a rugby game and took herself to the hospital too. They thought she was drunk and treated her badly, and screwed up the health insurance as well so that we were still receiving bills years later.
posted by Peach at 8:10 PM on October 2, 2017 [2 favorites]

I got a pretty severe concussion in a bicycle accident 6 years ago and I didn't really know what was going on for about 5 days. I was wearing a helmet.

I'm now, for the first time, looking back at the trajectory of my life and wondering if my personality changed in that moment. It's a very disquieting thought.
posted by 256 at 8:35 PM on October 2, 2017 [5 favorites]

Didn't most people get concussions growing up in the pre-1980s? It seemed to me that it was a serious but normal thing for kids to get knocked unconscious doing regular kid things - sports, goofing around after school, fights, etc. I was a pretty normal 1970s, non-jock, non-fighting type kid and had at least three that received no medical attention (unless you call getting a hot water bottle placed on my head once by a severely misguided part-time school nurse). Does it make a difference if you had them as kids when your brain was still forming as opposed to as an adult? This article along with recently helping my 80 year old father with some medical forms that required an accounting of accidents during his work career - and us together figuring out that he's likely had at least 10 concussion, maybe a bunch more, has me reassessing the impact they have.
posted by acroyear at 9:32 PM on October 2, 2017

There have been three known ones, in my adult life (for these purposes, age 18 onward).

Confounders: I fainted a lot as a kid and I still faint at unfortunate times now; in my teens, the jerk who throttled me also enjoyed slamming my head into brick walls, which I tried to forget ASAP; I've had ADHD all along too, so things like "bad temper" and "impulsive" and "can't read a page of a book without having to double back" were already part of the package. (Lord knows "rotten pain tolerance" and "obscenely sensitive to smells and tastes and noises and ugly colors" were already pre-loaded too.)

What was different after the first one (18 years old, MVA, pretty serious TBI -- open head injury, out like a light, no memory of the collision) was an overwhelming sense that I wanted to die, that I was just clearly supposed to die. I didn't want to kill myself, but the passive death wish was overwhelming. The article also touches on the weirdness of the mind creating absurd scenarios in which the injury must have occurred -- I was sure when I heard the EMT refer to me as a "survivor" that he meant everyone else was dead, and I was sure I knew who everyone-else was. Other symptoms, people related to me, but I guess I wasn't "there" for them.

The second one (a year later; fainting on hard tile floor in public in response to pain) had more of the "everybody's dead" feeling, and the amnesia, but it was less intense, and instead of yearning for death I remember being loopy and telling lots of stupid jokes, over and over.

The third was at age 34 (slip and fall, knocked my head on a cast iron bathtub, knocked it in the other direction when the person trying to help me up failed to realize I had no muscle control). I remember being combative, SCARY combative, furiously stubborn that "I've had worse ones than this, it is not an emergency." Emotionally labile for days; dizzy and desperate to sleep at all times; word retrieval was horribly poor and has never been the same. That goes triple for anger and sadness and hilarity and whatever else my id cooks up. People mistake TBI and ADHD for "excuses." People insist it's "depression" because THAT is what a normal person in Utah should have, or because I've built up a brilliant facade of wit and/or fake-listening skills as a defense mechanism over the years.

Metacognition being what it is, it's hard to talk about without wanting to conk out right now -- and yet, as my insomnia continues to worsen, I sometimes waste hours in the middle of the night reading up on what's possibly to come.

My day job is in a med school. I've told my husband to donate my remains and to make particular mention of checking out my hopeless brain on postmortem. Sometimes I take it as a given that there will be more of these, that concussions and ADHD are some sort of vicious circle, or that the general ungluing will continue to progress regardless, and the day will come when I stop noticing it.
posted by armeowda at 10:06 PM on October 2, 2017 [1 favorite]

My lifelong best friend went down a set of stone steps on his head. He was not wearing a bike helmet. He survived but with profound brain damage. My friend essentially disappeared and a new person was left in his place. A completely different personality. To this day, 30 years later, it is astounding to visit him and compare him to the other person that used to live in that body. The worst part, I think, is that the part of his brain with the memories survived intact. He still remembers graduating from college with a 3.98 after four years of busting his butt to be the best he could be and being so excited to head off to med school. He is fully aware of everything he has lost. Completely aware of it.
posted by KazamaSmokers at 6:39 AM on October 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

That was a pretty good article. I've had a bunch of TIAs, and they've all varied in the experience, but most of them have included that general sense of quiet contentment. Temporary brain damage is kinda weirdly fun - like a lucid dream on cough mix. Your brain-body goes "huh, this is too much, let's just stare at the weird stain wall here" and then it's been several hours. It always takes several days of exhausted sleep and then a sort of slow dragging up to recover from a TIA.

Passing the neurologist exam is pretty easy, but the cognitive effects linger. Last one had right-sided weakness, and it took over a week for me to really feel steady holding things with that hand. I spent the week practicing lots of hand exercises, fine and gross motor skills and doing cross-body movements. Ditto for reading, I worked my way up from simple texts and tasks to harder books. It's bloody exhausting but there's not much else you can do.

Because I'm lucky. I go in and out of the stroke unit regularly for observation stays and I go home walking and talking. One of these days - hopefully far far away - I'll be in there a lot longer, and I have to think about stroke recovery and more.

This post and the comments have however convinced me that I should definitely sell my bicycle.
posted by dorothyisunderwood at 8:01 AM on October 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

12 years ago I hit a root pushing up the asphalt trail at speed on the bottom of a hill on rollerblades. I remember flying through the air, and the next thing I remember is walking up the steps of the art museum a half mile away, an undetermined amount of time later. They called the squad for me. My personality is a little bit different now than it was before the accident, but I've lived with new me for long enough that I don't remember the difference.
posted by Kwine at 8:29 AM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

My worst one was at 16, after wiping out on a bike downhill in the woods at full speed and skidding on my face. I didn't get the low-grade euphoria. I remember sitting on the couch for hours the next day, bawling my eyes out and not understanding why I was crying. (I should've had treatment, but I was neglected medically growing up. Still pissed about that.) The others were mild, from slipping and falling at various times. I haven't noticed any lasting effects, but wonder what the future holds, since alzheimers & dementia run in the family.
posted by jhope71 at 11:06 AM on October 3, 2017

I am perversely grateful to learn that I am not the only person whose TBI experience (age 11) included thinking something along the lines of, "OH I am dead now and feel amazing about that." Also, "why are you cutting away the left leg of my very favorite flannel-lined jeans since I AM OBVIOUSLY ABOUT TO BE BURIED IN THESE MY FAVORITE JEANS YOU NITWITS."
posted by sutureselves at 11:57 AM on October 3, 2017 [5 favorites]

Ten years ago, my stepfather was injured on his bike by a pick-up turning left in front of him. He went from a triathlete to a quadriplegic that day. (C4-C5 fracture) His helmet might have done something, but his skull was comprehensively fractured. It saved him - his brain swelled but was free to do so. He is not the same in so many ways, which is not surprising. My mother's life was changed forever, too.

I will never, ever ride a bike on a street again, ever, nope. It's the least I can do for my mom.
posted by corvikate at 12:26 PM on October 3, 2017 [1 favorite]

I've banged my brain bucket more times than most NFL players. I've crashed on skateboards and bicycles (I'm 47; no one wore helmets when I was a kid). I've fallen out of trees, fallen down stairs, done a little boxing and a lot of martial arts (headgear in boxing, none in TKD until much later). I've been knocked completely out several times. I played a year and a half of football in midle school/high school, and pickup tackle football. I'm literally sitting here trying to remember all the times I've had my bell rung, and failing. A lot. Some worse that others. Sometimes it was a shake it off sort of thing, other times it was "Why am I walking here? How did I get here?"

I did a lot of other abuse to my brain growing up (mostly alcohol), but also had terrible aseptic meningitis that nearly killed me, and my body quit absorbing spinal fluid until they had to do lumbar punctures just to relieve the pressure and headaches.

Most my life I've just accepted the fact that my brain doesn't work like other people's. I know I don't experience time the same as most people. I often don't know what month we're in, have a terrible time remembering the year, and never remember when something happened. I once wrote a letter of recommendation for a friend, and I wrote, "I've known her for over six years, and..." This friend said, "You realize we've known each other for twelve, right?" Twelve is more than six.

I can't remember what years I worked which jobs, can't remember the year my mother passed away, don't remember what year I started college, etc. I can figure these things out if I spend enough time, but I can't even remember things like when I moved to Minneapolis or when I moved back to Iowa.

My partner is my calendar. She remembers what year we visited Rome. She remembers when we went to DC. She remembers the birthdays and anniversaries. I have to compensate. I use my iPhone and iCal for pretty much everything.

I've been thinking of getting an fMRI just to see how much of my brain is dark. I'm fairly certain I'll end up donating my brain to science.
posted by cjorgensen at 12:52 PM on October 3, 2017 [3 favorites]

I've had post-concussion syndrome for two years (as of yesterday, cheers, I wonder if Hallmark makes a card for that) and, like the author, I find I've been oddly cheerful about it. I don't know if it's a survival technique or what. I certainly have very dark days, but overall I've been less upset than I would have predicted despite chronic pain.

My sister and mom also both have post-concussion syndrome now, all from unrelated falls of various kind. I feel science should study us.
posted by The corpse in the library at 3:02 PM on October 3, 2017

Last week I was in a little car/bus thing (I was on the bus) and was thrown forward hard enough that I bruised my shin. But I didn't hit my head. A few days later I learned that wasn't necessary, and by then I could tell I had whiplash. Whatever was going on was very mild, but I was definitely thinking slowly and my reactions were slow.

On Saturday, a mefite friend emailed me a copy of a comment I had just made, highlighting all the typos and autöcörrect* mistakes I missed and I explained what had happened the day before, Friday. I emailed him a short while later to say it had been Thursday. I feel better, but I'm super conscious of how my brain is working right now. It wasn't serious but it was a real wakeup call.

Didn't most people get concussions growing up in the pre-1980s?

I remember in the 70s, 7th grade, playing touch football with some friends after school, boys and girls, no protective gear. I got beaned right in the temple with the pointy end of the football, and took a break to stand on the sidelines. I then got it in the other temple. That night I went to the ER with my first migraine. I mostly don't get them anymore but I sure did before. Maybe there's no connsection

Going to read up on post-concussion syndrome now.

*iPad started adding umlauts, too tired to figure out why.
posted by Room 641-A at 5:10 PM on October 3, 2017 [2 favorites]

*iPad started adding umlauts, too tired to figure out why.

You held the character too long and slid up to the alternative character.

So I am getting to an age where I can tell my brain is slowing down. Its takes me longer to do the calculations on whether or not the odds are in my favor or how many outs I have when playing poker for example, and when writing I sometimes can't think of the word I actually want. Now, both these things happened before, but I can tell the frequency is increasing and the duration of the pause is longer.

I've had fears for years that I'll eventually have some sort of brain related problem. Like I said above, about the only organ I've abused more is my liver.

I have tinnitus, depression, chronic pain (probably unrelated, but who knows?), and I have other emotional/intellect weirdness. I won't lay all this at the feet of youthful concussions or brain battery, but if I had it to do over again I'd like to imagine I'd treat myself a bit better.

There's a scene in one of Glenn Cook's books, where his Garret PI character is talking about a sociopath, and he says something like, "Her brain was broken. I meet a lot of people with broken brains, and none of them ever care they aren't like others." That idea has sort of stuck with me a bit. I like the way I see the world. I like how my brain finds humor in the literal. I think the way I think adds to my creativity. Who knows how I'd be if I hadn't had so many injuries.

At this point, about the only concerns I really have is early onset dementia or some sort of long term and delayed behavioral changes. Otherwise I am cool with how I process the world.
posted by cjorgensen at 7:23 AM on October 4, 2017 [1 favorite]

I wholeheartedly encourage anyone with a TBI to seek out a mental health professional who specializes in these conditions to help you navigate these murky waters. Many people feel a false sense of insecurity because those closest to you may not recognize externally what is torturing you internally. Do your best to find whatever local/online resources will suit your needs, and try to work on very, very small victories before embarking on anything larger. Above all - sleep as much as you can, be gentle to yourself, be brutally honest as often as possible and there was something else I had that just faded away.
You'd think after spending 45 minutes trying to write 1 paragraph I would have remembered my ending.
posted by TomSophieIvy at 12:08 AM on October 5, 2017 [3 favorites]

« Older “... games that encourage players to take a moment...   |   Black Farmers and Changing Times Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments