A month ago, I was enjoying the simple beauty of skating at a neighbourhood park, playing ice hockey with my kids and a few friends.
Today, I am sitting on the sidelines of my life, experiencing the frustration of recovering from a concussion.
It was a beautiful bright winter weekend morning. We were taking advantage of a rare day of decent outdoor ice to play some shinny. I don’t know whether to blame the kid colliding into my knees or my own clumsiness, but I wiped out and hit the back of my head on the ice.
I stubbornly insist that my children always wear a helmet while skating. However, in a vivid illustration of parental double standards, my own head was unprotected. My thick tuque provided little cushion from the blow.
Let me quickly disabuse any notions on the severity of this whack. I did not see stars. I did not throw up. I was not “out cold,” as my 10-year-old, Hardy-Boys-reading son wondered. I have full memory of the event and got up within a few seconds and continued to skate.
About 15 minutes after the fall, however, I began to feel odd. Sick to my stomach and slightly off balance. I took off my skates and headed home.
For the rest of the day, I felt nauseous. But after a good night’s sleep, I awoke the next morning feeling fine. Until the afternoon, when I started to feel sick again. Then it stopped and I felt better. Until the symptoms came back yet again.
Monday morning, I went to see my doctor, who diagnosed me with a mild concussion.
“Is this your first?” a friend asked, as if I had just announced I was expecting a child.
“Yes,” I said.
“I’ve had five or six,” he said. “The last one felt like I was hung over for two months. I just didn’t feel like myself.”
With three young kids who play hockey, I consider myself fairly well educated on brain injuries. But reading the articles about athletes who are paid to knock each other down, and living it yourself, are two different things. Over the past few weeks, I have experienced a dizzying spectrum of emotions – from worried to annoyed to feeling unproductive and, more often than not, straight-up bored.
As one of my friends pointed out, my career as a management consultant, writer and editor makes me a “brain worker.” And it turns out that unlike staying off your sprained ankle, it is remarkably difficult to stay off your brain.
For the first two weeks, I was completely unable to work. Sitting at the computer for more than a few minutes would spiral me into a kind of nausea reminiscent of the mornings of my third pregnancy.
Now, I can usually pull off an hour or two at the computer. But my head is regularly too muddy for my comfort.
Sometimes I sit at my laptop and try to will myself to focus.
It doesn’t work.
I may as well be willing myself to run a race with a broken leg. Like it or not, I have to allow my body the time it needs to heal.
My doctor told me I can expect recovery to take six weeks. At first I hoped she was wrong, thinking I would be on the other side of this injury in a week or two. Now, I hope she is right, fearing that it may take even longer.
“Wow, a concussion,” people tell me. “You’re just like Sidney Crosby.”
Actually I’m not. We’re different in countless ways, chief among them the fact that I am not paid $9-million a year. There’s also the reality that as someone who is self-employed, I have zero financial protection when I am not able to work. And let’s not neglect the small detail that an entire continent is not peering in on my halting recovery.
That said, my community has stepped in. My husband has been patient and encourages me to get more rest. My church is cooking our family meals for a couple of weeks. And my clients have shrugged their shoulders and told me to just get back to it when you can. All told, I feel well supported.
Over the past few weeks, I have heard a multitude of concussion stories from people in my circle. I have learned you can get a concussion from pretty much any activity imaginable, including building props for a high-school theatre production, wrestling with siblings and running into trees. Other concussion-inducing exploits I’ve heard about include broomball, British bulldog, tobogganing, rugby, hockey, horseplay and more hockey.
One friend told me his latest of several concussions came from carrying two baskets of laundry up the stairs and walking into a low ceiling beam. Even housework is hazardous. As a result of the current media focus on brain injuries, my laundry friend has only recently realized it is not normal to go through life feeling dizzy.
One of the most frustrating things about this experience has been its unpredictability. Instead of getting progressively better day by day, my symptoms seem to disappear and reappear at random. I have blissful periods of phantom full recovery when I want to shout from the rooftops, “It’s over! I’m better!”
Then, a few minutes or hours later, I feel like I am on the deck of a fishing vessel in a gale. The ground pitches and rolls, and I find myself seeking a darkened room, cursing this concussion once more.
Sidney, now I understand.
Brenda Melles lives in Kingston.
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