Parents-Please take concussions seriously, it really does matter.
This is my story.
This blog is probably the most pointed blog I will post on my website because it’s very personal. It is a story untold to most, and something I rarely/if ever bring up to anyone outside my inner circle.I bring it up today because I am mad, I am angry, and I am frustrated. You will understand why by the end of this. Bear with me for a moment.
I am a very outgoing person in nature. I love people.
People bring me joy.
Interacting with my clients, family and friends make me happy, and working with basketball players is my passion.
By contrast, I also happen to be very guarded and private.
It’s my coping mechanism, it’s my safety.
You see, I have a brain injury.
Brain injuries are invisible. Most of us with injuries sometimes known as a TBI or Traumatic Brain Injury are completely normal. We are completely happy, healthy, active people. And that’s the most frustrating part, is that we live outwardly normal lives. But within the comforts of our own homes, and in the inner sanctums of our own heads we are silently struggling. I am hoping this blog posts helps people understand that brain injuries are real, they are hard to notice at times, and they suck. And if I can get through to just one parent about how serious concussions really are, I’ve done what I’ve set out to do.
Like many basketball players, and kids in general, I had my fair share of knocks on the head. During my career as a basketball player I had my bell rung a few times. But in 2006 I was at Kalamazoo College during a basketball practice. It was a fluke thing, an accident if you will, but I was guarding our assistant coach in a controlled scrimmage and as she went to the basket she happened to step on my foot, as my weight shifted, my entire body whipped backwards and I landed-back of the head first-on the hardwood. I was knocked out for a split second.
When I came to my head coach and assistant coach were standing over me offering to help me up.
10 years ago there was a concussion protocol, but admittedly I didn’t take it serious.
I was a college basketball player with a job to do. The diagnosis was an overt concussion but what did I care?!
Yes I got dizzy when they tested me on the recumbent bike, yes I had a hard time focusing on words, letters, and my coach, no I don’t have headaches, no I don’t feel “foggy”. I am good to go!
All lies of course.
I just wanted to play, so I was going to say anything and everything to get me back on court.
I was 18 years old, I didn’t have any care in the world and wouldn’t truly know the impact of that concussion until 7 years later.
Over the next few years I dealt with depression, a feeling of sadness all the time, a feeling of not knowing what I was doing or where I was going in my life/career. These were just things that I chalked up to having a rough few years. I never dreamed of what was really going on.
Fast forward to me at 25 years old, having a conversation with a client of mine over the phone. When I hung up the phone with them I went to grab my schedule, and pencil this person in for their next appointment, but when I went to write their name down I had no clue of who I just talked to. Poof-gone.
I started to realize something was wrong. I sought out a neurologist at 19 after the concussion and he did an MRI then and explained everything was fine, no damage, I am just “over-worked” or “over-worried” as he put it.
However, years later when I forgot my clients name directly after talking to them I asked him for a second MRI to be conducted. He obliged with the same feeling of “I’m overreacting” and “I’m over-worked”.
This particular doctor is here in East Lansing, one that I will not name but my family and I almost sued due to malpractice. Let’s just say if the statute of limitation wasn’t up, we would have fought him for everything he was worth.
The second MRI came up negative for any results or damage. Out of sheer spite for this particular neurologist I sought a second opinion from a wonderful doctor at Sparrow Neurology Center.
He was an awesome guy, with a sunny disposition and beautiful energy. He asked me why I was there and I explained I was there out of spite and that I really truly believe something is going on with me.
I forget names,
I find it hard to articulate,
I lose or misplace items more than a 25 year old should,
Finding that last word in my sentence is unbearably hard some days,
Reading can prove to be difficult,
Focusing can prove to be impossible at times,
And my short term memory is awful for a person my age.
With a very puzzled look he very sweetly told me that both MRI’s had shown damage to my right frontal lobe. Both MRI’s showed up as abnormal.
I must have looked at him like he just insulted my mom, because he gave me this incredibly soft look, almost as if he was saying “I’m sorry” with just his eyes.
He went on to explain to me that in 2006 when I was whipped backwards and hit the back-left side of my head, my brain ricochet forward, creating the biggest impact to the right-front part of my brain. Which is where my damage was.
I sat in silence, trying to figure it all out.
I’m sure he saw my despair because he went right into his plan of action for me.
He said the next thing he would like to do is some brain testing(neurological testing). It was going to be 4-5 hours of every test under the sun:
Building something from memory
Recognizing letters, colors, patterns
Memorizing words, numbers, and then saying them backwards,
Blind folding me and making me feel my way through puzzles and shapes,
Finding certain items in a maze of other items,
Remembering sentences 10-15 words long,
Physically building the block tower they presented on paper
Etc. etc, etc, etc, etc for 5 hours.
Seriously, it was 5 hours of working the different part and components of my brain. It was frustrating, it was sad, it was ridiculous, and it was embarrassing. To not be able to repeat a simple sentence back to the evaluator was humiliating.
I got my results back, and I failed many parts of the test. My short-term memory, recall, and other functions that were dictated by the right-frontal lobe were all effected. My executive function, and ability to multi-task was still intact-thankfully.
But there it was on paper. My official diagnosis.
TBI, Right-Frontal Lobe.
What I learned from this neurologist at Sparrow was that if you catch the concussion and subsequent damage within a year of the initial impact, you have an 85% chance of regaining your function back with the proper nutrition, therapy, and brain “workouts”.
What pissed me off the most about him telling me this, was I was referred to the East Lansing neurologist within MONTHS of the 2006 concussion.
All of this struggle, all the the hardships, could have been thwarted. Probably not 100% but by some percentage. Instead, I waited 7 YEARS.
AND I only sought a different doctor because I was so angry at Mr. East Lansing.
I’m glad that I am on the sassier side, because I can’t imagine what my life would be like had I not gone to Sparrow for a second look..
I reconciled with the fact that I wouldn’t be “normal” in the normal sense. I would always have to deal with some shortcomings.
I delved deep into neurological reading, I changed my diet completely, I got on a supplement regimen specific for people with TBI’s, I changed anything I could to get a firm grasp on my future.
I cut carbs-began the ketogenic diet, cut out foods and drinks that cause or perpetuate inflammation, consulted with a homeopathic neurologist who was vital in understanding my body and my body’s responses to different environmental factors and foods. In short, I made a lot of changes.
And truly, things started to get better. The fog lifted a bit, I got a little more articulate, I remembered just a little bit more, I was able to focus and read a little bit better. I was able to cope better to what was going on.
But I cannot lie and say it’s easy living with a brain injury.
I have a debilitating subset of migraines called hemi-plegic migraines.
During these I lose vision little by little,
I go numb in one hemisphere of my body
My speech is slurred- I have frightened my wife and mom as I sound like a stroke victim when I am going through them.
I cannot speak or communicate as I go through aphasia. I can nod, walk, drive, but can’t voice what I’m thinking.
No medications work for migraines this severe and the ones that would I can’t take as I was born with only one kidney.
I am unwilling to take anything that could potentially do harm to my existing kidney (which doctors are thrilled to work with me on……not really).
So I sit and wait it out, sometimes I sleep, sometimes not.
I have light sensitivity.
This has proven to be incredibly frustrating because I’m a basketball coach. And being in a gym with bright lights has become more and more of an obstacle.
I have terrible short-term memory.
People think I’m not listening to them or paying attention, but I am. I just have a difficult time recalling that information. I write almost everything down, and that helps tremendously.
I have a hard time reading/focusing.
It’s more like a fog or disconnect from what I am reading or what I’m doing. I lose my place while reading a lot and I have to take a few passes at it to really comprehend it.
I used to get very angry and emotion-filled without warning.
I have never been an emotional person, I don’t cry or feel outwardly, but for no reason I would feel a pang of anger, or I would see something sad and feel such despair that I would worry what this road would lead to. It’s a scary thing to see yourself in a mirror and look like you, but inwardly feel different. Totally, and completely different.
*With mindful thought, proper diet, therapy, supplementation, and many years of trial and error this part has almost completely subsided*
One of the worst things though, is constantly worrying about the state of my brain as I get older. You hear of the horror stories of people getting older and forgetting who their kids are, getting lost going home, never remembering anything, or losing the image of what your spouse looks like. That terrifies me.
These are realities.
I started this blog today because I was having a really bad brain-day. As most people can understand, we all have bad days. We all have those days that don’t seem to go quite right. I have found that my coping mechanism for my fear or frustration with what’s going on in my brain is writing. I get it all out on paper.
I have never told this story to anyone outside of my circle. And this by NO means is a ploy for attention or comment.
I am a happy 29 year old. I live a relatively normal life. I love my jobs. I laugh, I have fun, I love, I create, I enjoy, I work, I live, I am complete. I just have this nagging diagnosis that slows me down sometimes.
I am telling this story now because I work more and more with young athletes, and I am reminded everyday of what this concussion 10 years ago still does to my everyday life. And what it will continue to do the rest of my life. I don’t want any of my players to make the mistakes I did. I am telling this story to shine a light on something that is a lot more serious that some people think it is.
If your child suffers any head injury, keep them out of that sport for as long as possible.
They will tell you they are fine,
They will tell you they aren’t dizzy,
They will tell you they can read just fine,
They will tell you they can focus and pay attention, no problem,
They will live their life in a completely and totally normal way.
Get them checked, push for an MRI, ask a million questions.
If you don’t feel like your doctor is giving you the proper attention or time, find another one ASAP!
Listen and watch the non-verbal cues your child is giving you:
Are they irritable (more than usual), have they removed themselves from otherwise social activities, have they stopped asking their friends to come over, have their grades started going downhill, have they been more quiet than usual, have they asked you the same questions a few times more than usual, have they had emotional outburst (sad, mad, angry, or rage), have they stopped enjoying their go-to fun activities.
Brain injuries are invisible. We do look fine, we do look happy, we do look healthy.
And the effects of the damage done don’t come to light for years sometimes. 10 years ago I would have done a lot of things differently. I would have been more patient. I wouldn’t have minimized what this could to do my future. I would have cared more.
This was a blog that was incredibly hard to write. It was even more tough to publish, but if this helps even one parent, I succeeded. In 2400 words I am hoping I can make an impact on someone.
To everyone who made it all the way through this post, THANK YOU. I appreciate you hearing my story.
To my own parents, thank you for putting up with me through the bad times, being there through it all, and fighting for me when no one heard my voice or called me crazy.
You are fantastic and this was not your fault.
As I said, today was a bad day, but most days are great days.
As I take a step back and really look at myself I am a happy, relatively healthy 29 year old.
I love my jobs, I love my life,
I am here kicking ass and taking names,
and I truly wouldn’t have it any other way.