The last Sunday in July, at about 8:30 in the morning, I raised my left arm to signal to our Sunday morning riding group that a turn was coming up in about a half a block. Whoever happens to be in front is the default navigator. At the same time, I turned my head slightly to left to call out "left turn at the stop"...after all, you can't know if everyone is seeing your arm signal when they're all behind you. In the exact same brief moment of time, my front tire hit a hiding-in-the-shade-of-a-tree divot in the asphalt. I remember having only the slightest awareness that something was wrong before a more clear memory, which I now know was about a minute later, of being helped out of the street and to the grass. Paramedics came. I could walk under my own power, speak clearly, spell my name, and sign the form that I did not want to not go to the hospital. My youngest son, for the second time in ten months, came to collect me and my bike, a little worse for wear, and take us home.
I felt shaken and a little bit, how to describe, in a slightly altered state? Like my brain was on a half second time delay. But I didn't hurt badly anywhere. With the exception of a small amount of road rash on my arm, hip and knee and some pretty good cuts around my right eye from when my face plant drove my sunglasses into my skin, I seemed ok. I took a shower, cleaned up my abrasions and when my friends finished the ride and came to check on me, I was mowing my back yard. I felt a little annoyed about their body language indicating they thought it was a bad idea. They underestimated my super powers. By the time I came in the house and got something to eat, a low grade headache crept in. And damn, I was tired. Given how I had recently flown without wings off of my bike and onto my head, this was to be expected, right? I took a nap, hung around the house, had a quiet rest of the day. Later I sent an email to our management team at work, saying I'd had a bike wreck, thought the next morning I might be moving a little slowly, so to expect me around lunchtime.
Monday morning I felt ok. Slow and maybe still a little...altered? But not terrible. I made coffee, got breakfast, pulled on jeans and a t-shirt. I hadn't gotten the pre-crash intended yard work done after the mowing, so I wandered around the front yard and pulled the most egregious weeds for a short time after breakfast. I came in and sat down. Next I needed to do a little makeup camo on my cut up eye, change shoes and drive to work. That's when my awareness started to catch up with my reality. There was no way I could do any of that. I couldn't even imagine it. I could sit. Or maybe...in a few more energy gathering minutes...make my way back upstairs and prop up on pillows in bed. Maybe read. Ugh. No. Maybe just exist right there on the couch. Yep. That seemed more doable.
The "what, are you crazy?!" part of this whole thing is that I knew I had a concussion. I lost consciousness for a few seconds and despite my at-the-scene inclination to minimize, the paramedics had used the c word and I knew it was true. Outside of knowing that repeated concussions in a football context are very, very bad, I knew very little about the care and feeding of having my very own. I did know unless there's a serious brain bleed, a concussion can't really be treated and since I'm an under-reactor when it comes to illness or injury, I thought taking it easy and paying attention to my body would be the treatment plan. And from what I've learned, that pretty much is the treatment plan. What I've also learned is that I sucked at paying attention to my body during the first 24 hours.
Monday evening I walked one and a half blocks to our neighborhood supper club, where I eat supper every Monday evening. I felt ok getting there. About 45 minutes later, I realized I had begun the downhill slide and it was gaining speed. It seemed like a long walk home. Ugh. Tuesday was the day that got my attention. When I got out of bed, the room spun a little bit. Hmm. Dizziness. That's new. My neck, shoulders and back felt sore on Monday but had solidified overnight into one inflexible slab of concrete. And I was tired. Crazy, deep in my bones and in my brain tired. But still, no headache, no vision or speech issues, no ringing in my ears, no mood swings or irritability or fuzzy thinking. The dizziness was only present when I went from laying to standing and then quickly cleared. By this time I'd read probably 15 or so articles on concussion, selecting sources as reliable as possible, like Mayo Clinic and WebMD, and avoiding any like cureyourconcussionbyeatingtwentyavocados.com. (Not that I wouldn't love an excuse to eat 20 avocados.) I felt pretty confident I knew what to look for. Still, would this have been a good day to go ahead and get checked out? Perhaps. But I was too damn tired. The entire day involved being awake for one or two hours and then sleeping for two or three hours, eating and drinking water. The email I sent to the office was something like "This is going to be a slow roll. I won't be in today."
Wednesday I was definitely better. I only took two naps. Ninety minutes or so mid-morning and a couple of hours in the afternoon. I'd had a massage scheduled for late afternoon and had debated about whether to cancel. I went. I've been seeing her for years, so trusted her to be careful. Working around my road rash, she released so many knots from my neck to my lower back that by the end of the hour I felt like there was hope for my eventual restoration.
But by Thursday mid-day, the panic of a dull brain set in. I had both conceded I might need the entire week off of work, which I don't think I've ever done for injury or illness and began to realize while my body was slowly finding its mojo, my mind was not. I felt unmotivated and uninspired. When I thought about the work inevitably piling up at the office, I thought "oh well". I was afraid to go get my laptop and try to write something. What if my thinking was clear but my writing had gone to hell? I went to my jewelers bench and sat, looking at my tools and stones and metal. Normally when I don't even have time to do anything, if I sit on my stool and look at everything for even 5 seconds, I start feeling desire or even urgency to execute the next design. This time I sat there and felt overwhelmed if I felt anything at all. I looked at sketches. Felt nothing. Looked at a pair of stones with a couple of cut pieces of copper I'd laid out days earlier. Nothing. What if it never comes back? What if my creative brain has left the building? What if I always need 2 naps? What if I remain too afraid to even try to write, for fear it will be too hard and too boring?
I knew by this point that my brain was healing physically. The only real symptom that remained, besides needing more sleep than I have since I was pregnant, was the dizziness and it was ever so slowly getting better. But the thought that the crossroads of where my personality meets my cognitive function could be altered by this accident, which I though was possible because we know so little about our brains, was utterly terrifying. By outward appearance, I'm a logical and even tempered soul (at this stage in my life), however I still possess a finely tuned ability to occasionally grab onto an irrational fear and hold it tight. What if my Muse got lost? What if she was simply gone? What if I ended up unable to ever find my edge again? Got unaccomplished and unproductive? What if beauty would still seem beautiful but not that which could leave me speechless? What if thinking about how much I love my children never again brought me to tears?
Now three weeks out from the crash, I'm relieved and grateful to know that my brain will continue to serve me well. It has reclaimed its ability to sketch an earring design and urge me to get to my bench. It has risen to the daily host of challenges faced by managing a nonprofit organization. It still requires a little extra sleep but is kind to me when I comply. It has resumed its ability to organized several overlapping jumbled thoughts and ideas on a minute to minute basis. It is still reminding me if I take it slowly while the lingering dizziness fades to nothingness, it will help me get back to the gym and achieve my own personal version of superwoman strength and mightiness.
There is no particular moral to my story, but maybe a couple of fairly obvious truths. The first is a truth I would be remiss not to say: if you ride a bike, wear a helmet. Do it. There is no doubt my helmet saved me from a fate I don't want to imagine. The inside of my helmet looks like puzzle pieces. All the energy that it absorbed would've otherwise been absorbed by my head. The broader truth is this: Love your brain. It's everything. Literally everything.
Update another week later: the dizziness finally cleared but there's a funny thing about that. The only times I had been dizzy throughout the recovery was when I went from laying down to sitting or standing and if I tilted my head way back to look up. The last time I felt dizzy was the morning of August 21st when I got out of bed. We had an eclipse party at work...potluck and viewing. We got glasses for all and suspended all work for a couple of hours. There is a a big lawn in the center of our buildings which made the perfect place for eclipse watching. Not only did I not get dizzy when I put my viewing glasses on to watch the progression of the eclipse, or without them for the almost 2 minutes of full eclipse Nashville had, that was the day the dizziness left me altogether. I'm not saying that the eclipse cured the remnants of my concussion, but......
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Hi, I'm Donna. Long time artisan/creative. Full time work in nonprofit world. Mother of two adult sons. Currently, also mother of two cats.
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