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A word of caution on concussions

If you’ve been at the theatres recently, you’ve probably seen one of many Province of Ontario ads about concussions. The thing about those commercials is they are always using athletes as examples, because of a misconception that a concussion occurs only if you’ve hit your head. That, as I have recently found out, is not true.

About a month ago (end of August, to be perfectly honest), I slipped on a wet bathroom floor and fell down. Hard. Violently. Twice. In the moment, all I could register was the shock of my front body (elbows, knees) hitting the floor, and cannot recall if I did or didn’t hit my head. My thinking is, I didn’t. That didn’t stop me from feeling like crap the entire evening, including an awful nauseous and foggy sensation right before I went to sleep.
The next day, I slept the entire day. And I mean, the entire day. Didn’t get out of bed until 6pm, with massive pain across my entire body and my head. The second day, I went to work, only to be sent home midway through the day as I couldn’t focus on anything. That night, I went to a walk-in clinic, where I was referred to the nearest emergency hospital. After six hours of atrocious waiting in neon lights and noise, I finally got a slip saying I had a concussion and would need two weeks off work.

For those of you who are unfamiliar, a concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (TBI). It can occur after an impact to your head or after a whiplash-type injury that causes your head and brain to shake quickly back and forth. More often than not, a concussion also results in an altered mental state that may include becoming unconscious.
Those two weeks off work, I did what the doctor ordered. Rested – a lot. Minimized screen time. Towards the end of the second week, I started reading a bit, going outside… I was still incredibly sensitive to noise, light, and too much time on a screen resulted in a return of the symptoms. I still am experiencing those symptoms.
Still, like any good worker, I went back to work after my two weeks were up. The first day back in the office, I realized I was not supposed to be there. Between the neon lights, constant conversation, bright screens, and the overall stressful environment, it was a disaster. I worked from home the rest of that week, and the week after.

Soon, it was the end of the month, and I was still not getting better. You have to understand before this, I was able to multitask, to work on my assigned tasks and write my books, to handle both professional and business and personal. I was now reduced to barely being able to focus on one thing at a time, and this, with a lot of effort on my end.

I finally made an appointment with my regular physician, and saw him at the end of September. They gave me a self-test to do, and did a memory and balance examination. I failed both of those, unable to remember a list of five simple words nor hold my balance for longer than a second. To top it off, after a month, I still had 20 out of 22 symptoms of a concussion. So, not as on the road to recovery as I thought.
In the end, the doctor put me off work again for two weeks. I’m also seeing a physiotherapist who specializes in treating post-concussion syndrome – which is, it turns out, what I have now. Women are more likely to develop it following a concussion, and people who previously experienced chronic pain like migraines. Unfortunately, I meet both of those criteria. Research also shows that a poor social support system – too much undue stress from professional or personal – can add to the symptoms.
So, no, concussions don’t always heal in 7-10 days. You don’t always bounce back into your regular life. And it’s not true that you can only get a concussion if you hit your head. Strong impact or whiplash can also affect you.

Don’t make my mistake and assume. Please document yourself so you can recognize concussions signs in yourself and your loved ones.


Ottawa ON

Alexa Whitewolf    10/25/2019


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