Two weeks ago today I was in a car accident. I won’t go into the details of the accident since the claims are still pending, but it resulted in my car spinning 180 degrees and then slamming into a curb. It wasn’t scary for some reason* but I do remember hoping I wouldn’t get spun out into traffic and hit again. Thankfully, I spun onto a side street where there were no cars.
The cosmetic damage of my car wasn’t bad, and I was able** to drive home after the accident:
The car belonging to the other person fared a little worse and had to be towed away.
But check this out: if the curb hadn’t been there, my car would have been brought to a stop by either a huge steel power pole or an above-ground gas utility. I’m pretty darn thankful the curb was there.
Frank was a few hundred yards ahead of me in his own car when the accident happened, so I called him and asked him to come back. We called the police, and exchanged info, and then Frank had to head to the airport for a super important work trip while I drove to pick up Christopher from school. I felt really spacy but assumed it was from nerves/shock from the accident.
Fast forward about 4 hours: I’d just fumbled my way through a phone call with the insurance agent, and realized that I really couldn’t think clearly. My head was really starting to hurt, and the light in my office was painful to my eyes. I contacted a doctor friend who said I probably had a concussion. I was feeling just clearheaded enough to drive*** so I called my parents to ask me to meet me at urgent care, which they happily did. The doc examined me, noted my sky-high blood pressure, confirmed that I was indeed concussed, and fussed around with my neck and back. I tried to express that my neck and back would be fine, that is was my brain I was worried about, but they ignored my rambling a little bit and carried on. They released me with non-narcotic painkillers that cut the pain without affecting my mental state, so I could be monitored at home for worsening confusion.
At this point, I was really out of it, but aware that I was out of it, and suggested to my parents that I probably shouldn’t drive. Duh.
The interesting thing is that I can say, with 95% certainty, that I didn’t hit my head on anything inside the car. But apparently when you get spun around at relatively high speeds and then slam to a stop, your brain bounces around inside your skull. (This inspired me to sing my Shelley-as-Jimmy-Fallon-as-Neil-Young rendition of “I Whip My Brains Back and Forth” to Frank, who wasn’t amused. Link here if you haven’t seen the video I’m referring to.)
I was in pretty good spirits about the whole thing for the first 2 days or so. To be honest, I thought the whole thing was a little bit interesting. It’s like there was a tiny unaffected part of my brain that was observing & reporting what was going on elsewhere. By the third day, it became obvious I wasn’t going to just bounce back from the concussion immediately. I didn’t realize until I managed to read a little bit online, that a concussion is classified as a mild traumatic brain injury, and that effects & recovery time can vary widely. Then, I started to worry that I might not ever come back all the way. I know now that I was being pretty impatient – I’m still fighting that – but I hadn’t been given a set of expectations. Also, I was just foggy & emotional and tired from trying to make my brain focus.
I spent the rest of the week feeling really…slow. I thought slowly, talked slowly, and even walked slowly. But mostly I sat. It was boring as hell. I couldn’t focus enough to read – my eyes kept jumping all over the page – so I spent all week watching crap TV and playing Draw Something on my iPad. Frank was able, through a series of maneuvers involving flight changes, rental cars, and a long late-night drive from DFW, to come home a night early to take care of me and give my parents a break.
The day-by-day blow of my concussion recovery isn’t that interesting, so I’ll give the highlights.
Here is the list of concussion symptoms/effects:
- Headache or a feeling of pressure in the head
- Temporary loss of consciousness
- Confusion or feeling as if in a fog
- Amnesia surrounding the traumatic event
- Dizziness or “seeing stars”
- Ringing in the ears
- Nausea or vomiting
- Slurred speech
- Concentration and memory complaints
- Irritability and other personality changes
- Sensitivity to light and noise
- Sleep disturbances
- Psychological adjustment problems and depression
- Disorders of taste and smell
Other than “depression” I can put a check mark next to each of the items in the list. One of the main things I experienced that’s not addressed directly is stimulation overload. If I was watching TV and Christopher asked me a question, I had to pause the show, wait a few seconds, and then ask him to say it again so I could pay attention. If I wanted to talk on the phone, I needed to go into a quiet, dark room and concentrate really hard on the conversation. That’s improved a lot.
I’d also add these to my list:
- Lack of patience
- Motion sickness and slight balance issues.
Here are a couple other interesting things that happened:
– By Friday (4 days post concussion) I was walking up and down stairs slowly. I noticed I was watching my feet while navigating the stairs, and realized that if I didn’t, I couldn’t tell where my feet were or which stair they were on. That was a little freaky.
– On Monday (7 days post concussion) I was feeling marginally better so we went to Costco. It was pretty overwhelming – it can be on a normal brain day – but I managed ok. On the way in I saw someone with a hibiscus tree in the cart and said “ooh I want one of those! Let’s check them out when we get over to them.” Once the tree was out of my line of sight, I immediately forgot about it until I saw another one, then said “oh yeah! I want one of those!” then forgot again until we actually passed all the trees in the aisle. That was pretty funny.
– On Wednesday night (9 days post concussion) Frank and I both walked into our bathroom. I noticed the closet light was on, so I turned it off. Maybe 10 seconds later Frank said, “Glad we came back in here so we could turn that light off” and I replied, “What light?”
– On Friday (11 days post concussion) I talked to the insurance agent again, and he inquired whether I was feeling better. When I said I was, he said “Yeah, that first time we spoke you could barely talk, and you weren’t really answering my questions very well.” This makes me laugh, because he’d never talked to me before and had probably just assumed I was an idiot.
– And last night, 14 days post concussion, just as I thought I was returning to normal: I didn’t get a joke on Modern Family because it referred back to something earlier in the episode, which I had forgotten. This was more than a bit discouraging, but I decided to think it’s also a little bit funny, and a sign that I need to be patient.
I’m also not driving yet. The doctors have left it up to me and Frank to decide when I can start driving again. I thought I might be ready today, but after the Modern Family silliness last night, and because Frank says I’m “still a half-step off” in reaction time, I’m not going to push it.
A medical friend of mine said I’m doing “awesome” for someone who was hit by a car going 35-40mph. I’m trying to remember that, and it’s helping with my patience. Sometimes.
Probably the most interesting thing about all of this to me is the reminder that consciousness, the part of us that makes us us, is just a privilege granted to us by our brain, and the brain will shut that thing down if it needs to conserve energy for other things. It’s eerie knowing I’m not really in charge up there, but as I don’t know how to repair brains or manually keep my heart beating, I guess it’s ok. When I exert myself too much, I get really slow and dopey again, so I stop and rest.
So, I’m getting better but apparently it’s going to be a while before all systems will be go. That’s ok. I have a lot of games of Draw Something going to keep me occupied in the meantime. Also, this video makes me laugh and feel better about my own brain. Seriously, it’s horriblelarious. Enjoy. (Thanks, Renée.)
* probably because my brains were in the process of being scrambled.
** the car was driveable. I shouldn’t have driven.