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Learning how to recover – lessons learned

January 30, 2023 Arianna Kaminski
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I got a concussion in my junior year of high school during gym class. It was an open gym, which meant that everyone was playing different sports chaotically in the same space. Some boys were haphazardly kicking basketballs across the gym, the teachers did not seem to mind. Eventually, one of the balls hit the back of my head. I wobbled but did not black out. Afterwards, I learned that apparently no one saw it happen.

I did not go to the nurse; I stuck through the rest of the school day. When my mom picked me up, she knew something was wrong. I shrugged it off, just a terrible headache, feeling off balance, and is the world spinning? I had an allergist appointment scheduled for that day. My mom asked if I wanted to cancel it and I said no, we would be charged a cancellation fee if we did.

We were on our way to the appointment when I ended up telling my mom that a basketball hit me in the head. While at the doctor, I had trouble understanding the nurse and the doctor asked if I was ok. When my mom said that I got hit in the head, the doctor looked into my eyes and told me to go to the hospital.

I slubbed my way to the car and cried. I did not want to go. But, of course, my mom made me. The hospital nurse asked me questions and I was silent. I could not understand what she was saying. My mom answered for me. Then the nurse rudely told my mom to be quiet because she was talking to me and I should be able to answer for myself.

Eventually the doctor entered, looked into my eyes, asked some questions, and said I should stay home from school tomorrow but should be better in 48 hours. I was worried because I had a test the next day and did not want to miss it.

Little did I know that I would spend the next few years jumping from doctor to doctor, trying to find relief from my pain and disorienting symptoms. I lost touch with most of my friends and had to lay down for most of every day. Doctors were never much help and just uttered, “time would heal.” I stopped going to different specialists because they made me feel worse with their arrogant comments. They had no concept of what it’s actually like to live with severe pain everyday. 

I was sick of taking the Impact test over and over just to be told that my results showed some struggle, but nothing alarming. I was never average, I always excelled at school and this came to bite me. When my test came back normal, these doctors who did not know me before my concussion thought I was fine. They did not have previous scores to compare to my current ones. They also did not know that I am relentless and even though it hurt to calculate answers, I forced myself to do it because that is who I am. 

Too bad the test did not monitor my heart rate, or blood pressure, or other physical symptoms that were triggered by the test. This would have given a clearer picture of how much the test wore out my brain. Too bad the test did not take into account the week that followed of unbearable pain caused by the “simple, quick” test taken on a computer screen, which is no friend to sensitive migraine eyes.

I gave myself permission to figure this out myself. Free reigns to use myself as an experiment and test different things to see if they would help. I tried everything from a salted, turmeric lemonade, to putting potatoes on my eyes. I was desperate. Eventually, I figured out that by introducing activities very slowly and in a controlled way into my life again, I could build up my endurance. Over the course of a few years, I went from needing help walking, to being able to wash the dishes and doing laundry on my own. I could go outside without needing sunglasses and I could watch movies again. Before this, I went years without watching movies because it was too stimulating for my eyes and ears.

I changed my diet and ate healthier to make my body stronger. I chose products with less artificial ingredients and got my body moving when I could. The trick was to not overdo it, that could lead to weeks of laying down. I learned this the hard way. It can be frustrating to be patient, but gladly, patience can be learned.

I started developing my own hobbies again and was eventually able to start pursuing my dreams of writing and working on movies. I interned and volunteered. Sometimes I had setbacks, but I was prepared to deal with them.

One of the hardest obstacles I encountered was learning to deal with people who thought I was “being dramatic,” or lazy. At first, I tried to educate them hoping it would bring out their empathy. Typically, this did not work and I was left defeated. Their comments hurt, so I decided to build a protective, metaphorical wall between me and those people, so I did not get so deeply hurt by their chosen ignorance.

This whole experience is very isolating. It can be hard to relate to people who complain over the same things I am grateful for. I thank my mom for sticking with me through it all. I owe her everything for driving me to doctors and helping me research remedies for years on end. 

Now, I have a book published of poems I wrote during my recovery and am developing a short film with the goal of spreading awareness. While I am still not back to how I was before the concussion, I try to focus on the improvements I have made and continue to push forward each day.

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