If I had a dollar for every time I heard someone say “you should just wrap yourself in bubble wrap” during my freshman year, I’d have stacks of cash. Jokes like this always made me laugh. I’ve never heard of anyone else starting off his or her freshman year with a concussion and ending with a fractured hip. It’s hard to believe that what started as my most difficult year ended up changing my perspective on life.
It began as a typical Sunday morning. I had a travel hockey game at our rink. Chasing down a puck at full speed, an opposing player threw an elbow at my chin. My head snapped back and struck the ice. I skated off the ice not knowing that this would be the last time I would ever play hockey again.
At first I didn’t realize I had a concussion. I skated off the ice feeling slightly dizzy, but it went away after a few minutes. The next day I had a headache, but I attributed it to eye strain from studying. My parents took me to the doctor. When he asked me about my symptoms, I couldn’t remember the word “headache” and had trouble recalling other words as well. After the exam, I was diagnosed with a concussion. The next day, my headache became worse and was accompanied by dizziness. I went to the emergency room. I could barely move. Any movement made the headache worse. All I could do was squeeze my head in between 2 pillows and lay in the dark. I had a mild concussion 6 months prior and I knew this concussion was very different. The doctor hoped that my symptoms would recede after a few weeks but instead, they intensified. I now had daily headaches, fatigue, neck and back pain, blurred vision, constant blinking, balance problems, sensitivity to light and noise as well as sleep disturbances.
I went to a concussion specialist who gave me an ImPACT test (Immediate Post- Concussion Assessment and Cognitive Test) which is a computerized assessment tool used to evaluate concussions. The results confirmed that my concussion was serious and I needed help. Prior to this, I never knew how important it was for athletes to take this type of test and get a baseline result prior to experiencing a head injury. My concussion was obvious but had it not been, having a baseline to compare post concussion results would have been helpful. I was forced to withdraw from activities, enroll in home tutoring and engage in physical therapy.
I recovered at home for the next 4 months. It took a great amount of determination, patience and positivity. Much of my time was spent at the vestibular therapist’s office 3 times per week and it was an hour’s drive away. Vestibular therapy is a type of physical therapy that dealt with my balance and vision issues. I was seeing halos over objects and experiencing dizziness. This therapy worked on my eye tracking to “reset” my vision as well as focused on my balance issues. During this time, tutors also came to my home since I couldn’t attend school. Trying to study and maintain high grades in honors courses while dealing with concussion symptoms was very challenging, but I did it. My usual studying methods had to change. If my head hurt and the lights were too bright, I listened to audio books in the dark. I also discovered the value of positivity and staying hopeful.
Now, this is where the bubble wrap fits in. After I made a full recovery from the concussion and returned to school, baseball tryouts started. Not having done any physical activity in 4 months, I tried out and made the team! Unfortunately, I fractured my hip while sliding, ending my season early. With the help of some physical therapy and a hopeful mindset, I recovered and became even stronger from the strength training.
People always ask me if I miss hockey. Of course I do, I’ve played the game since I was 4, but the concussion experience transformed my life. I discovered things about myself that I never knew and the opportunities that I’m afforded now mean much more than they did prior to my concussion and injury – I now know how quickly things can be lost in life. My goal is for my story to reach those struggling with concussions and my experience provides them hope.