We had planned a last-hurrah-to-summer trip for the few weeks before I had to return to work and since I was seeing marked improvement, we decided to push through and continue with the plan. The first leg of our trip involved a trip up to Delaware to Dogfish Head Brewery and camping along the coast. At that point, Jeff had me somewhat convinced, and I had somewhat convinced myself, that maybe I hadn’t really gotten a concussion and all of my symptoms were anxiety induced. So, with this in mind, I decided to do a small tasting at the brewery before we went to the beach. Almost immediately, I began to feel that foggy/fuzzy head feeling that only grew as we continued our evening and finally, really peaked that night while eating dinner at the brewery’s beach location. I’ll be honest: the feeling completely freaked me out, but I really thought that there was no way my brain was still injured if I had even had a concussion to begin with. I drove us to the campsite with blurry vision—the lights all had halos around them like back in my chlorinated water polo eyes days—and settled in to our tent.
The next morning, I still felt extremely dizzy, but we headed to our next destination—the suburbs of Pennsylvania–for our friends’ wedding. The next sequence of events still baffles me and I can now still only pin it down to my brain “healing” by reworking its pathways until I overloaded it by doing too much too fast.
I was pretty nervous when we first arrived, but for the sake of all of us, I decided to push through and ignore my symptoms. And it worked—I started to feel almost normal, just with intermittent dizziness episodes. I went to the rehearsal and wedding, fully convinced this event was now behind me…and proceeded to drink and dance into the morning hours. I woke up the next morning barely even hung over, and basically, feeling great. Our plane flight to San Francisco for the second leg of our trip left out of Baltimore, so we packed quickly and drove to the airport. Still feeling great, I downloaded a book onto my iPad—Gillian Flynn’s Sharp Objects—and got back to my normal self, ie, reading the entire book on my flight, barely pausing to eat, and completely forgetting? ignoring? my nurse practitioner’s advice to introduce all activities back slowly. Frankly, I’d never thought of reading as an activity that took too much energy or brain power, and was more focused on introducing activities such as exercise slowly. But, at the time, the reading triggered absolutely no return of my symptoms. For the next few days in San Francisco, I walked, shopped, ate, and drank to my heart’s desire, but was still getting 8-9 hours of sleep every night.
When we arrived in San Luis Obispo, the final leg of our trip, however, all of that changed. The first few days were still great. We had been looking forward to the trip for such a long time, and with only a few days there, were trying to fit in everything we had missed so much into a short amount of time. In turn, sleep was limited and fitful. The third day in SLO, I awoke after a late night downtown, and it was like someone had flipped a switch. I was dizzy and the foggy-head feeling was back. I tried to push through as I’d done before, but honestly, I was more than a little scared at this point. We took the redeye back to Baltimore and by this time, the vertigo was so violent that when I closed my eyes, it felt like I was on the deck of a ship during a violent storm, getting thrown around from side to side, front to back. From Baltimore, we had to drive the five hour back to Virginia where I had to start work the very next morning. Little did I know that that would be the start of an even longer journey.
When I awoke on Monday morning, none of my symptoms had alleviated and I drove to work dizzy, foggy, and anxious, and determined to not let anyone know about it. I succeeded the first two days in keeping my condition to myself, though it was probably very noticeable to everyone that something was wrong, but I was able to convince most people that I was just jetlagged from the trip. On Wednesday, however, one of co-workers pushed enough, and I finally broke down and told her what happened. She convinced me to see a new doctor just to be safe, so the following day, I left work early and saw a new doctor, convinced at this point that the nurse practioner I’d seen after those few days hadn’t really known what she was talking about.
I immediately connected with the new doctor, who listened and was encouraging despite my blubbering self. She flat out told me that she didn’t think I’d be able to work in my condition, but I told her I at least wanted to start the school year and go from there. She also ordered a CT scan since I’d gotten better then worse again, just to make sure that transition hadn’t been the result of a slow brain bleed. Of course, the first available appointment was Monday afternoon, so I would have to miss part of the first day of school. On Friday, I talked to my principal, who was surprisingly understanding, and made preparations for the first week of school to the best of my abilities.
Over the weekend, I partook in the great CT scan debate of 2014. My parents were concerned about the high levels of radiation I’d be exposing my head to when the possibility of a brain bleed was so small and while I was also concerned, I was more freaked out by the $1000 co-pay I’d have to shell out. Eventually, we decided to go through with it, and if I’d known how long of a recovery process was ahead of me, I wouldn’t have hesitated a second just to have that small piece of mind. I also tried my first of many medications: gabapentin. I was pretty skeptical about taking strong meds because I wanted to be able to listen to my body’s own cues, but decided to try it with the hopes of getting back to work sooner. I knew it would make me drowsy, but was not prepared for the anxiety, depression, and sluggishness that came with it. It brought me back to those initial brain foggy days after the concussion which scared the heck out of me. I pushed through and took them again the next day and though I felt slightly less drowsy, I suffered a minor panic attack in the grocery store—and haven’t taken gabapentin since.
On Monday, I struggled though the day with increasing vertigo and head pressure, and then left for the CT scan—which took all of about 30 seconds once I was in the machine. However, the next morning, it became clear that I just wasn’t going to be able to continue the start of the school year, then my worst case scenario, and secured a long term substitute for the next week and a half. I also received word that morning that my CT scan was clear—no brain bleed here. Getting to the end of the school day was pure torture, but it was so important to me that my students understand that I wasn’t abandoning them and would be back in just a few weeks. I hadn’t had the energy to put lesson plans together that morning, so I sat down to finish them at the end of the school day—big mistake. As I sat there trying to type, my mind kept going blank, and I just could not focus. When I closed my eyes, it again felt like I was on a ship in a violent storm—the vertigo was shifting and pulsing and moving erratically—and what also felt like waves of extreme pain/lightedheadess which was terrifying. Finally, it got to the point where I couldn’t even put sentences together—my brain was shutting down because of the stress load.
Somehow, I made it home (driving has never really triggered symptoms for me—I guess I’m a pretty mindless driver!), but the next few days were just awful, as I continued to feel the repercussions of trying to push through the past few days.
Click for Part One.