My concussion story

I had resigned myself to a staycation this Christmas break. I really wanted to go somewhere. But I was tired. And broke from 5 months of travelling.

So I got this idea that I’d at least spend every single day of my break outside.

On Christmas Eve, I had to work. But before the sunset, I ran up nearby PKOLS. From the summit, I watched the sunset with Mt. Baker in the background. I ran back down to my car before I needed a flashlight. I was feeling super fit and stoked for my week off in nature.

Person smiling with a dog behind them
Christmas Eve, 2018

Christmas Day, the plan was to go on a hike with the two people I’m in a relationship with.

I have been with my partner Bernard for almost 7 years. And as of December, I had recently started dating Al. She is the reason this beautiful black dog keeps showing up in all my photos. (If you want to know more about polyamory you can start with the Wikipedia or listen to this fabulous podcast.)

Bernard and Al hadn’t spent much time together yet. So we decided to all go for a little hike on Christmas Day. I was hoping they could get to know each other better.

Al’s dog Ollie had recently stopped coming back when we called her. So we decided to put her on a leash. I tied her around my waist so my hands would be free. So the three of us went off walking on an easy trail. I felt excited and nervous for them to be finally hanging out.

Then I tripped on a rock.

My head hit the ground. Hard.

I am (obviously) not new to hiking. Or tripping. I trip on stuff all the time. But I always catch myself. I guess since Ollie was tied to me, her forward momentum pulled me down.

Al went right into First Aid mode. I found this very embarrassing. I wanted to just get up and brush myself off. But because of her work as an athletic therapist, Al was trained to take hits to the head very seriously.

Once it seemed like I probably hadn’t broken my neck, she let me move. Then she started asking me questions like what day it and where I was. I was very confused and not sure why she was asking me these dumb questions.

Then I tried to stand up. I realized something was very, very wrong.

Everything was just way too bright. And thinking seemed very hard. Moving made me feel nauseous. I tried to shake off the “weirdness” but it didn’t work.

Me right after my accident, hoping that being silly would make everything OK. It did not.

I asked Bernard if we minded if we postponed our ski plans for tomorrow. He, of course, did not care about skiing at that moment.

Al told me that I should probably not make firm plans and just wait to see how I was feeling. Silly Al. She had no idea what she was talking about. I would be totally fine tomorrow.

Sadly, I was very, very wrong.

Things do not get better

Everything I read about concussions said that most people got better in 7-10 days. I went to the doctor to get their advice. I dutifully followed all the instructions. I rested.

And it did not get better.

I had a constant headache. Whenever I went outside, my vision became blurry. This didn’t really matter, as I couldn’t walk for more than 15 minutes anyway.

I couldn’t read. I couldn’t watch Netflix. I couldn’t go inside a store without feeling dizzy. I couldn’t prepare my own food. Showering was a monumentally difficult task.

Then I started not being able to breathe.

I went back to the doctor. When I told her my symptoms, she said, “What do you mean, you cannot go into a store? Why not?” She did not look at me when I was talking and typed things into her computer. Five minutes later, she was ready to go.

She told me difficulty breathing was not a concussion symptom. So I had to come back tomorrow to talk about that.

Ollie visiting me for the afternoon while I was stuck in bed

That evening, I still could not breathe. I remember sitting at my kitchen table with Bernard and Al, discussing if I should go to the Emergency Room.

I just couldn’t fathom the energy it would take to go there and sit. And wait. I just could not handle all those people and well … the physical act of sitting. And I did not want feel embarrassed that I was making a big deal out of nothing. I stayed at home.

I went back to the doctor the next day. She listened to my lungs. She told me I did not have any breathing problems. She told me I just had “a lot going on.” And sent me off with an inhaler to treat a problem she said I did not have.

Funny enough, this did not help my breathing.

This is when I consider briefly that I might be losing my mind.

Thanks to Dr. Google, I found a more sensible explanation. I was heading into day three of a panic attack. I had never had a panic attack before, so I hadn’t recognized the symptoms.

Anxiety is a common concussion symptom, especially for driven, busy folks. People who are used to pushing themselves hard. And then suddenly can’t think or do anything. Like me.

How I eventually got better

This was a huge turning point for me, as I realized just how seriously injured I was. And I needed way more help than a doctor could provide in our current health care system. So it was time for some specialized healthcare.

I saw an osteopath, who adjusted the bones in my head. She even went inside my mouth to get at some of them. After my first treatment, my headache was gone.

I saw an acupuncturist, who helped me calm down. I stopped having panic attacks.

I saw a physio who taught me about the latest concussion research. He helped me learn when to push myself and when to rest.

I saw an occupational therapist who helped me be able to read again. And come up with a gradual return to work plan.

Ollie helping me do my exercises

Where I am now

Most people recover from concussions. And I did too.

I am back to work full-time. I am back to driving, biking, reading, climbing, hiking and hanging out with people.

I was really fit before my concussion. I haven’t quite recovered physically from two months of laying in bed, but I’m working on it.

I feel like I am still more sensitive to bright lights and loud sounds. But maybe I always was? (Am I just noticing it now?)

“You’ll probably never be the same” is what one of my good friends told me. She too has recently recovered from a serious injury.

Even after the pain stops and you’re back at daily life again, things never really go back to what they were before. You are changed.

I feel so grateful that I had the kind of job where I could pay for all this help. And where I got paid medical leave.

I became a monthly donor to a local organization that helps people experiencing homelessness. Because without my very flexible and stable job, that is definitely the direction I would have been heading.

I also feel so lucky that I had two partners who were taking care of me. They cooked for me. Drove me places. Listened to Harry Potter audiobooks with me. (By now, they have spent quite a lot of time together. Christmas Day hike mission accomplished, I guess!)

And I also felt so lucky to have the support of my friends, too. People listened to me and went on little walks with me when I couldn’t do anything esle.

People are everything! Take care of one and other.

More outdoor adventure posts coming soon.

My first hike after I got my concussion. Back up PKOLS.

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One thought on “My concussion story

  1. Thanks Jes.

    Thanks for sharing this story. People say that the y love the outdoors because it is fun. . .However, it is not always fun. It is these kinds of things that bring us pause and help us to understand what is really important. Family and friends. 100% Well captured and well played.

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