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Eric Skavdahl

July 4, 2024

On January 12, 2013, I was attempting to tie down a cover across the 6 foot bed of my truck with a 3 foot bungee cord. I hooked one end of the cord the bed just behind the cab window. As I tried with all of my strength to connect the opposite end of the cords metal coil to the tailgate, the coil on the other end broke loose and shot back at an estimated 160 miles per hour with the metal coil striking me just above the right temple and the hook slicing a 2 inch gash above my forehead. I dropped to the ground delirious, confused and bleeding profusely. After crawling to the porch with blood all over my face and my 13 year old son screaming “Dad!!” , I got into the house, showered and cleaned the wound and began an internet search to self-diagnose myself based on my symptoms. Based on my search, I had a MTBI and would be fine in 3-4 days.

This began what has now been an eleven and half year journey that in one word I describe as “difficult” and my wife simply says the journey has been “long”. I work in the tech industry in Silicon Valley and after two weeks of attempting to go into work, calling in sick, trying to come back in, my wise and insightful manager told me to get to a doctor and do not come back until I have been diagnosed and with a treatment plan. So, I got into to see my PCP, who had been my PCP for a long while. When she walked into the room and made eye contact with me, the first thing she said was “What happened to you?” I explained he accident and my off and on symptoms, she indicated I was most likely suffering from post-concussive syndrome and would be off work initially for 60 days “but this could take you a year to recover from”. I was like what the heck, that’s not what my internet search said!

I was battling cervicogenic headaches, double vision, nausea, severe fatigue, light and sound sensitivity, sleep disruption, memory loss, you name it. I couldn’t watch TV, couldn’t drive, be in loud and bright environments and suffering from panic attacks. I was initially referred to neurologists who were more “pain management” experts who tried to treat me with “Needling”, epidurals and medications. It became clear that they were not experienced with TBI’s and I eventually got referred to a sports medicine physician, with experience in head injuries, relationships with vestibular and physical therapists and ophthalmologists, all with experience with treating TBI’s. This physician became my recovery “quarterback” as I refer to him.

He referred me to UPMC, University of Pittsburg Medical Center where they have a special head injury department. I traveled there and spent two days being examined by physicians, therapists and ophthalmologists. I returned with a treatment plan that I began working on with my “quarterback” and his team.

I ended up being off work and on disability until June of 2015 when I went back to work at a popular social media company.

The actual 8 hour interview process was so taxing that I believed that if offered the job, I would not be able to do it. But my physician told me something that has stuck with me and proved to be right: You need to “expose and recover”. You need to expose yourself to all of the elements, physical, cognitive, mental and emotional challenges, then recover, and do it all over again. It’s the only way to rebuild and regain yourself. I took the job and “faked normal” while doing the best I could.

Eleven and a half years, four employers, three different leaves on disability, addictions to medications, missed holidays and special occasions, marital and family challenges, I am still “exposing and recovering” to a life trajectory that has been just tremendously challenging.

I have been judged by “friends” who discounted the invisible injury as old age, my imagination even quietly questioning whether the injury was real and not just a bump on the head.

That being said, I am grateful for the following:
My family standing by me with an injury that we did not understand and had no timeline for full recovery. It has been almost as tough on them as it has been me.

My true friends who never questioned me. Who still ask me how I am feeling. Who took me to their own doctors or researched remedies and made humble suggestions on alternative treatments.

My manager at the time of the injury who told me to go see a doctor and not come back until I had a diagnosis and a treatment plan. And who fought the company’s disability provider on my behalf when they tried to cancel my coverage.

My first manager at the social media company whose compassionate and nonjudgmental response when I disclosed my injury and that I was “faking normal” at times.

My sports medicine physician: I feel as if we partnered on my recovery. He never rushed me, we talked through possible remedies, approaches, medicines..etc. He was transparent that the medical community did not have this all figured out. We learned together.

My vestibular physical therapist. She brought tears to my eyes on my first appointment because she was finishing my sentences when I was explaining what I was experiences.

My ophthalmologist and neuro-ophthalmologist who together figured out my visual issues as a result of the injury.

What I learned on my own.
Nothing felt and still feels better than my head submersed in water.
Acupuncture helped alleviate my symptoms, not cure them, but alleviate them at times.
Exercise is essential to recovery, but over doing it can set you back.
Expose and recover is real. But there is no timeline for full recovery.

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