Concussion Chronicle: Summary of the Symptoms

Here are the symptoms I've experienced during the concussion journey

We will begin the Concussion Chronicle with a description of where I was before the injury and the symptoms I have suffered since.

BEFORE THE INJURY: I was in a really good place, with stable emotions (not always the case with me) and working very well intellectually. I was writing quickly and fluidly and was a week ahead of schedule on the 2014 Baseball Prospect Book. Memory was excellent. Indeed, at some point in early October I remember thinking that the last time I'd felt so sharp intellectually was in my early 30s (I'm 45 now).

The injury occurred about noon on October 14, 2013.

The initial pain was about an 8 on the 0-10 pain scale. I laid down for an hour, the pain went away, and I felt fine.

I woke up on the 15th with a migraine. I get those occasionally, maybe two or three times a year. I took some medicine and it went away. On the 16th I woke up with a migraine again, except this time it did not respond to medication. On the 17th, the migraine was worse, and by the end of the day I felt really "off" mentally; unable to write properly and just feeling like I wanted to sleep. This was even worse on the 18th, so my wife took me to the ER.

They did a CAT scan, diagnosed a concussion, but found no serious damage. I was warned that the concussion symptoms might get strange and that they could last anywhere from a few more days to several weeks. They gave me some medicine which fixed the migraine, and told me to rest, avoiding all stress (work, family) as much as possible until the symptoms abated.

I did not follow these instructions properly and continued trying to live my normal life. This was a mistake.

I will drop the chronological approach, because I can't pinpoint what happened on what day from this point on. Frankly much of the time between the 20th and November 7th was a blur. Somewhere in there was another doctor visit where they told me these were all concussion symptoms but that I needed to REST to fix it. But these are the things I experienced:

***Daily migraines which did not respond well to medication.
***Wild mood swings, including inappropriately negative responses to innocuous situations.
***Any attempt to seriously concentrate created a strong headache, different than the migraine pain although sometimes occurring at the same time. At times these headaches got up to a 9-level, just short of the worst pain I've ever had in my life.
***Almost-daily anxiety attacks
***Short-term memory much worse than normal. Long-term memory was unaffected.
***Could not listen to music, read, or watch TV without causing pain.
***Bright light would intensify migraine pain.
***Would occasionally lose my balance, falling to the left.
***Insomnia
***Constant feeling of "pressure" in the head.
***Occasional inability to speak properly. I could "see" the words in my head, but had to really concentrate to get them out. This was infrequent but far more frightening to me than any other symptom.

All attempts to work normally, do any serious physical exercise, and read anything but light material would make it all worse.

Very slowly and gradually it began to get better, although again I can't tell you what happened what exact day.

***The first improvement was with music; I could listen again.
***The second improvement was with light.
***Balance returned to normal.
***Migraine frequency and severity declined.

Oddly, once I could listen to music again and watch TV, I got completely obsessed with the Buffalo Springfield/Neil Young songs "Mr. Soul" and "Broken Arrow." By obsessed, I mean listening to them over and over again and finding myself unable to stop. They would make me weep, but the release seemed to help my head. I also had dreams about the movie Apollo 13 several times, which is why I began using it as a metaphor a couple of weeks ago. I probably watched this clip 100 times. The lyrical content of the songs (Mr. Soul, Broken Arrow) and the themes of the movie were obviously being worked over by my subconscious mind.

After my four-day rest away from home last weekend, almost all the symptoms were gone and I felt almost normal again. However, my wife's car accident on November 12 caused a massive rebound. After the adrenaline wore off, my symptoms returned to full force, particularly the anxiety, insomnia, and head pressure. It has gotten better the last couple of days, to the point where I can write this article.

So, where am I today? General cognition and memory seem back to normal, although not at the heightened sharpness I had before the injury. Speech is normal unless I am very tired. Intellectual concentration still poses problems; the head pain and pressure ramp up if I concentrate too long. I wrote an article yesterday and this one today without much trouble, although I backed off when the pain began to ramp.

Pain itself is intermittent, ranging from 0 to 6 or so on the pain scale. The pressure feeling comes and goes. Mood swings, Neil Young and Apollo obsessions are still strangely in place and seem to crowd out other things, although not to the extent they did last week.

Anyway, that is where I am. I find writing this down to be useful: it reminds me that, while not fixed, I am getting there. It helps my morale. The next step will be turning my attention back to baseball.

Ah yes, baseball. What would it be like being a baseball player with this? It was impossible to write during most of this; I can't imagine what it would be like to try to play. I found just by trying to walk my dog that physical exercise was guaranteed to make the symptoms worse. Doing something a professional athlete does would be another order higher than that, particularly in a phase of the game that requires intellectual concentration at the same time you are exercising.

Not all concussions are like this, of course. I'm told that younger people usually rebound more quickly, often within a week. My age likely plays a role in the length of the recovery, and the fact that I tried to work through it at first made it worse I'm sure.

In any event, even "mild" concussions are serious stuff. All concussions are brain injuries. No one should doubt the struggles of Justin Morneau or Brian Roberts. If you are ever diagnosed with a concussion, or start having weird symptoms after taking a blow to the head, do NOT write it off. Get it checked out, and follow the doctor's instructions. Don't try to tough it out.

Ignoring or downplaying concussions isn't brave. It is stupid. Don't be stupid.

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