I won’t understate how the past few weeks have been for me – they have been frightening and frustrating, and now I am thankful and hopeful that what I am experiencing won’t last forever.
I can definitely say that I have a whole new level of respect and appreciation for my ‘grey matter,’ and how fragile our bodies are.
Earlier this month, I was doing some repairs to our main bathtub in our house. Because of this, we started using a different shower/bath that we don’t normally use. It is slippery, and doesn’t have a very good mat, and nothing to hold onto. I already knew that I needed to be extra careful because of this.
I wasn’t really moving, or reaching for anything – my feet just simply slipped out from under me, and I went down quickly and violently – hitting my back against the faucet, and then the side of the tub.
I don’t remember specifically hitting my head, which, at the time was a relief (I have since learned that you don’t have to hit your head at all – a concussion happen by the force of a fall.) It took me about 5 minutes to collect myself and my bearings, and to get up very slowly to inspect the damage, and to make sure I wasn’t seriously hurt. I was alone in the house at the time which could have complicated matters had it been worse.
After The Fall
For the first few days after the fall, other than being really sore and stiff, I felt fine mentally. I could tell that I dinged up my back pretty bad, and that my neck was out of place, but I went back to my normal life, work, and family with the help of an ice pack, some ibuprofen, and a little extra rest.
It wasn’t until about 7 days later that I started to realize that something was off – much more so. For starters, I just wanted to sleep all of the time. I felt like I was actually sleeping pretty well, but when I woke in the morning, I just wanted to go back to bed, and stay there most of the day. I also noticed that I was forgetting, or taking longer to remember things that I knew very well, like names of movies, or bits of trivia, or names of acquaintances from the past.
I also felt dizzy, and slightly nauseous. I was feeling like I had just gotten spun around on a merry-go-round, and then asked to walk a straight line. I also noticed that I have been slightly shaky – something I noticed when we were out to dinner, and I was trying to dip a chip into the salsa. I kept getting salsa on my shirt from my hand trembling.
The situations that made me the most uncomfortable were times that I would try to watch a movie, or working on the computer. I was having trouble (and still am to some degree) following what I was watching, or concentrating what I was working on.
Being in large groups of people, or crowded places also seemed overwhelming, and gave me a sense of disconnect, and vertigo.
This was all not normal, and was starting to scare me. Was I losing my mind?
I finally decided to go see a doctor about all of this. I told her what happened, and she asked me several questions, and gave me a thorough looking-over. She noticed that the upper portions of my neck were swollen and as hard as a rock. It didn’t take long before I heard the words “post-concussive syndrome.”
Hearing those words were, believe it or not, a relief to me – and all made sense. I was thrilled that it did not appear to be something more sinister, or permanent, and that there was definitely a cause, an effect, and now hopes and expectations for a full recovery.
What I have learned, though, is that healing the body and mind from a concussion can take a long time. Depending on the severity of the injury, it can take weeks, to months, and at times even years to recover. Unfortunately, in the most severe cases, there can be permanent lingering issues. I am hopeful that mine will be on the order of weeks, but my doctor explained to me that I can expect to not feel fully normal for a few months, and she had some specific recommendations for me.
My doctor’s recommendations:
1) Most importantly, the best thing to do for a concussion is to get plenty of rest. She said that my wanting to sleep all of the time was my body and brain telling me that it needs rest to repair itself. I have been making sure to take lots of breaks during the day to lie down, and I have been going to bed early, and sleeping in as long as possible (not an easy task with a 6-year old in the house). However, I am “thankful” that this injury occurred during my Thanksgiving break, which allowed me to take some time off from my work (I work from home) and to have my wife take over many of the household and caregiving duties for my son (and me). She did a lot of the cooking, cleaning, and driving.
2) On that note – my doctor said that if I can help it, I shouldn’t drive, especially at night. My reaction time is much worse now, and at night, the bright lights can, and do make me woozy. My wife has been my chauffeur (by the way, I love her, and she is just wonderful!)
3) Don’t over-stimulate the brain. My doctor recommended this, and I have read in many places in my research about concussion that giving the brain a rest from things like TV, music, loud noises and bright lights will help. Even before I went to the doctor, I noticed that I was already turning the music off in my car, and not watching as much TV. Even reading books, or doing simple e-mail or computer-work can overload the brain during this healing process.
4) Don’t run, or do anything that can bounce your body and head around. I am a runner, so this has been the most difficult part of this process – not running. However, I am fortunate that I have a good gym that I go to that has a number of low-impact options to help me keep up on my exercise. I do the stair-climber, and walk on the treadmill. One thing that I have noticed, though, is that if I go at a busy time, the constant ‘bouncing’ motion of all of the other people using the treadmills, machines, and ellipticals constantly in my peripheral vision can make me dizzy, so I try to go at less-busy times.
5) Massage, and ice packs. Many times, people with head injuries also injure their necks, and the muscles from the head down through the back can become as hard as rocks, and can further aggravate the symptoms you are already experiencing. I’ve found that a good neck and back massage, followed by an ice pack makes me feel much better, and can minimize many of my discomforts for several hours. Fortunately, my wife is also well-versed at the art of massage, and I am fortunate to have her.
More things that might help with recovery
Since my fall, and diagnosis, I have done quite a bit of research on concussion, and things or activities that may help in the recovery process. I fully believe that the following recommendations and activities have been extremely helpful for me
1) Limiting coffee or other stimulating beverages or foods has helped. At first, I noticed that if I have coffee, I’ll feel good for a short time, and then the dizziness and vertigo sets in much more than on days that I don’t have coffee. This is certainly due to the brain being over-stimulated, and not being able to handle the jolt.
2) Meditation has been extremely helpful. I have read many accounts and blogs of people who have taken a good blow to the head or body who have recommended meditation to help ease the symptoms of post-concussive syndrome, and to help with concentration, stability, and focus. There are many of my concussive-comrades out there who believe that meditation can accelerate the healing process, and who have been given direct advice from their Neurologists to meditate in order to speed-up healing. I have been a pretty regular meditator for many years, and I believe that this has been instrumental in helping me feel normal, or as normal as I can be in the past weeks. I recommend finding a good recording of rain or ocean waves to listen to with headphones – something that I do first thing in the morning, and again mid-day when my brain starts getting tired again. Meditation makes sense, since it is essentially the opposite from stimulation, which is what we are trying to avoid.
3) Exercise (low-impact) has been very helpful to me. I have found that by just doing some solid, low-impact cardio or Yoga can help my muscles to loosen up, and to help my mind get into a more rhythmic, clear, and focused state. As a friend of mine puts it – exercise helps to “clean out the cobwebs upstairs.” Just going on a walk around the block will help my wooziness and concentration issues.
4) Uni-tasking, and not working so hard. This has been a tough one as well, since I run my own business out of my house, and I need to get quite a bit done on a daily basis to keep things going. However, I know that by doing too much, I am going to slow the healing process, and get too tired to sustain the pace. I have slowed down, and this injury has helped me to do one thing better – prioritize! I am now letting some of the smaller, more insignificant stuff fall through the cracks, or put on the back burner, and I am just trying to focus on what really matters right here and now. I’ve actually been able to get some significant things done in the past few weeks, but I have had to take lots of breaks, and minimize distractions. I am making a concerted effort to do only one thing at a time. It’s helped!
Signs and Symptoms of a Concussion:
I felt that my story might be helpful for my site, and seniors, since falls, and injuries due to falling are often-times associated with the elderly, and often-times these incidents happen in the bathroom, bath, or shower. No matter where seniors may be living – whether it is at home, with a relative, or perhaps in an assisted living home, I now know how important it is for them to live in a safe environment, with well designed and equipped bathrooms with handrails, easily reachable cabinets and switches, and walk-in-bathtubs or showers that have good floor mats, and places to sit if needed.
I am in my “young 40’s” and my ability to function in day-to-day life has been compromised from my fall. I told my wife that if I had to go back to a full-time job, or to perhaps being a full-time caregiver this week with the issues and symptoms I am experiencing, that I am not sure I could pull it off without help. Fortunately, by being able to work from home, I can work when I feel up to it, and I can rest when I need to. Many people are not so fortunate.
I have a new respect, and appreciation for anyone that has to deal with chronic back or neck issues, memory problems, dementia or permanent issues due to falls or injuries. I also now have a new understanding of, and respect for how necessary it is to have friends, family members, or caregivers to help during times of injury and ill-health.
Furthermore, I now can appreciate even more how assisted living can truly be a lifesaver for someone who may not have the social or family ties to care for them if they have trouble with the simple activities of daily living.
My prognosis is good, and my issues and complaints should be temporary. For this, I am extremely grateful and thankful.