In a blink | Alvernia Magazine
July 17, 2013 was a date I will never forget.
It was in the middle of a summer heat wave. I was doing 18 things at once, including working on a summer research grant with a colleague in my department. A new refrigerator had just been delivered to my house. I was giving my old one a good thorough cleaning since it was going into the garage; I wasn’t even thinking as I stood up quickly.
Then, it happened in a blink of an eye. BANG!
I hit my head REALLY HARD — on the open top freezer door. My vision went black. I started seeing stars and felt sick. I was crying because it hurt so badly.
My daughters called my husband, Lee, a family physician. He told me to ice the injury and stay still. The rest of the day it was just a headache.
BANG!!! BANG!!! BANG!!! I felt like someone was smashing my head with a hammer, and it would not stop! I woke up the next morning in unbelievable pain. I could hardly get out of bed. I couldn’t stand up, let alone walk. The room was spinning. I felt like I just got off a roller coaster. The slightest bit of light was excruciating. I was disoriented; my whole body ached.
I was tired and had no energy. The sound of any voice now seemed loud and irritating. The pounding in my head kept getting worse. I needed to walk so slowly and lean on my husband for support. I felt like a 90-year-old woman as he helped me into the car.
The journey begins
Driving to the hospital was horrendous. Despite closed eyes and sunglasses, I thought I was going to be sick. The traffic, the honking, even the birds chirping outside — they were all driving me insane. What was happening to me? I realized something was very wrong and I was scared.
After several medical evaluations and a string of tests including CT scans and MRIs, it was determined I had a bad concussion. My entire life came to a screeching halt. From that horrible day to the present, nothing would be the same. My symptoms continued. I was so fatigued, practically in bed all the time sleeping the days away.
I had no energy and constant horrible migraines. Even with all the shades drawn, I was extremely sensitive to noise and light. I would suffer bad bouts of vertigo when trying to do the smallest activity like walking outside to get the mail. For any relief I had to stay isolated with little or no contact with people. I kept hoping all of this would go away, and I would miraculously wake up fine.
I wanted my life to return to normal. However, I was now unable to start my new semester at Alvernia. I could not drive a car, use a computer, look at my iPhone or even read a book. It was horrible and extremely depressing.
Lee now had a huge burden placed upon him. He had to do everything from grocery shopping, preparing meals and helping the girls with homework to carpooling and doing the laundry. I was not capable of doing much of anything.
A diagnosis and plan
It took nearly two months after my initial injury before I was strong enough to begin therapy at Bryn Mawr Rehabilitation Hospital in Malvern. Here the reasons for my disabilities were finally explained to me. When I hit my head, my brain was rattled and possibly shifted inside my skull. Damage was on a microscopic, cellular level. This affected my vestibular system, causing my eyes to have difficulty processing motion.
In addition, my brain’s cells were having trouble producing energy, which is why I was very fatigued. I learned a concussion is really a traumatic brain injury (TBI) that can take a very long time to heal. Victims may look fine on the outside but can be completely incapacitated. It’s difficult to fathom because other injuries — like a broken arm — may only take weeks or months to heal.
In the months after my concussion, I learned of others in Berks County suffering from traumatic brain injuries like mine. This was reassuring; many are aware of athletes with concussions, but others are afflicted as well. I was able to reach out to them and form a support group. Today, there are about seven of us, and we have become close friends. I am also trying to start a support group at the university. Many post-concussive students have come to me for assistance and advice.
I feel very fortunate to have the support and understanding from the Alvernia community, especially Dr. Flynn, Dr. Shirley Williams, Dr. Beth Aracena, Jay Worrall, the Holleran Center for Community Engagement, Beth DeMeo, my department chair and Human Resources. The administration, faculty, staff and students have all been so wonderful! I really appreciate their kindness!
Back to school
After being away from teaching full time for more than a year, I was finally able to return to the classroom last fall on a part-time basis.
But I still suffer some effects from the TBI. I carry earplugs and sunglasses at all times because I remain somewhat sensitive to light and noise. On occasion, I get fatigued and dizzy, and headaches are still an ongoing part of the condition.
However, I am well on my way to recovery and can finally see the light at the end of the tunnel. I taught one course in the fall, and during the spring semester I taught two. I am even getting out with my family and can go to the mall for a bit. It seems I am now on a slow, steady road to recovery.
A new mission
Life teaches us all many lessons; some are more painful than others. For me, from my experience with TBI, I realized I now have a new mission. I want to be an advocate for traumatic brain injuries. I hope that my experience will be helpful to others in understanding concussion-related issues.
It has even become a research interest of mine. My physical therapist and I have discussed working together on a project to help promote concussion education. A concussion can unexpectedly happen to anyone in the blink of an eye, whether an athlete or even a college professor.
I don’t think people realize how debilitating and devastating these injuries can be. Throughout this entire ordeal, I learned not to take the little things for granted. I am happy to have my life returning and especially to be back on campus.