Sunday, May 27, 2012

Head Hurricanes

I've named each of my concussions, because if hurricanes can wreak destruction and still be named for their own identities then the storms to my head deserve the same, but maybe not so genteel.  I do, after all, have a good deal of resentment and malice towards them for upending my life.

The first was Social Mutant.  This one snuck on me, and took me awhile to know.  I had slipped on a boat ramp one icy morning in January, sliding down it to the beach at the end of my street.  I realize now I was knocked unconscious, though, being alone, I wasn't sure.  I thought I just fell and a man and a dog very quickly ran to my assistance, but since I later remembered them as far down the street when I took the turn to the beach, I think I was out for a minute or two because I was lying there, dazed, when the dog came and licked me.  I also thought for some reason that because I had on the hood of my coat I couldn't have hurt my head.  I believed this for quite some time, since denial of injury is my very special friend.  Months, in fact.  I ended up going to my doctor that spring and saying I had dementia because I couldn't recognize any of the staff coming to work with my son Billy every afternoon.

She didn't think I had dementia, bless her, but did send me to a neurologist, who did testing that August that my memory wasn't great but wasn't notably impaired either--it was borderline.  I said I was very suspicous of everyone because I was having such difficulties remembering details that I would also shake them:  "Are you sure?  Are you kidding around with me?  Did I really do that?  Did you?  Didn't I say that to you?  Why are you looking at me that way?"

So at first I became the Social Mutant (SM) because I couldn't recognize anybody I hadn't known at least a year, and seen at least a dozen times, I had this weird trick where if I "guessed" their name, even though I was sure I had never known them, I was right at least half the time.  So, my visual memory, rocky as it was, did link in some backhand way to my verbal memory.  In this way I got pretty good at greeting strangers like I knew them, though something was usually off and they looked at me odd.  Then I became the SM because I was paranoid, and shaking everyone I knew and loved with my suspicions and frustrations.  This lasted most of 2009, and then it faded away.  By Christmas, the cleanup from SM was nearly complete.

I had six good months, then I was kicked in the head at work during a floor restraint, and knocked back into the nurse's station, causing a concussive injury I call Brain Freeze (BF). Here, there was no delay as the symptoms roared forth, more each hour for days until I was nearly incapacitated with migraines, word-finding problems, insomnia, mood swings and memory deficits. What I also realized was that these problems were familiar, because I'd had them the year before without recognizing what they were.  I couldn't cook, I couldn't drive, I couldn't stand noise or light or smells. Still, denial was ever-present and I kept trying to move, to fix, to understand.  I went back and back to the doctor looking for meds for the migraines, meds to prevent the migraines, meds to help with the fogginess, treatments to fix what was wrong.

In the end all this running around looking for solutions probably extended the length and course of Brain Freeze.  For BF thrived on the chaos of my days--the hundreds of things I was trying to get done while I was out of work, the time I was trying to spend with my kids to make up (why?) for years of full-time work, the general hubbub of a household of a dozen people.  I got more and more frustrated, strained, impatient, angry, and impaired.  It wasn't until I was sent to a neurologist, who noted the steel tension of my neck and shoulders and sent me to physical therapy, where they listened through my half-hour sessions as I talked about my days while unknoting my muscles, that I realized how ridiculous I was being.  I needed to stop moving.  Once I did this, for about six weeks, I felt better.  I returned to work and, slowly, got back my functioning there and at home.

BF is still with me.  I don't think I've recovered my mind's former quickness, and I still get much more easily overwhelmed with a number of people talking than I ever did before.  My memory is still mediocre, and I have to write down everything I want to get done in a day or the effort of trying to remember such things uses the brain power I need to actually do such things.  I still get headaches, though the migraines are blessedly infrequent.  But my personality returned--where I'd turned into an anxious shrew, I'm back to...a more relaxed...person.  Maybe even more even-tempered than before, less demanding of myself and others, more grateful for good things, and eager to find more.  I started writing in earnest, something I enjoy even when it strains my brain, and I worked harder in my marriage to be a better wife because I could better see all my flaws, magnified.  I eventaully accepted the limitations that came with BF, and appreciated when they were only background noise rather than front-and-center problems.  I recovered, which isn't the same as returning to the same place I was before.  There is no standing still or going back, is there?

So when I had my third concussion last week, I was surprised that denial was still so close to hand.  Though on the very day it happened I lied flat on the couch in my office for hours, disoriented and largely unable to move, I did not tell anyone what was happening, nor did I go to the hospital.  With BF I had driven myself there, which is bad enough, but with Sea Sick (SS) I just drove home, and stayed in bed for another day, and then came back to work.

For while there are similarities between SS and the others, it has it's own qualities, and since some of these were different and unfamiliar, my quasi-logic told me the injury must be different too, not a concussion.  Or, I reasoned, my hitting my head on the floor was just re-triggering BF, an aftershock so to speak, and would go away in a day or two.  I can't explain otherwise why I went to work even though I couldn't steadily walk.  Or I waited two days to see a doctor.  Or until that point I was not honest about the symptoms I was having with myself or anyone else.

Once I did see the doctor, though, and stopped with the nonsense about how "I'm fine," I haven't resisted the head injury the way I did so vigorously in the past.  SS makes me nauseous when I move, and I have retched quite a bit, which I know can be indicative of an inner ear injury, and/or a more severe concussion and/or pressure on the brain, though my headaches are actually less than last time--just a constant, dull, waxing and waning ache in the back of my head rather than the soul-searing, skull-splitting migraines of BF.  I still have the mental fogginess, the memory problems, some blurred vision, insomnia, mood lability and irritability, inability to do something else while someone is talking to me.  And the no moving--this is new, and already quite a large problem.  I'm a girl who likes to move.

However, I am delighted to find that if I don't move (i.e. don't cook, or clean, or walk, or drive, or go out in the sun, or have the TV or radio on, and if the kids aren't fighting outside my bedroom door) I can write and read relatively well, though it has to be easy reading, and the writing can be no more than two hours, in the morning.  With BF I could not at all--I couldn't focus on the page, I couldn't remember how to type--so this if anything convinces me that SS is another concussion, with its own personality.

Since it lives through me, this means I have a different personality for now, also.  I am cautious and guarded, irritiable and suspicious, like an elder shut-in, but with a boozy side to me too, one that giggles over very stupid things and makes off-color and inappropriate comments, frequently.  I often wear a frown, I can feel it with my fingers, because somehoe the pressure from my head seems to force down my entire face.  I hate the smell of food and can stomach only the same, bland tastes--toast, tea, water, popcorn, chocolate, oatmeal, coffee, wine--okay, not always bland :).  Except sometimes, when I have a break in the storm, and I'm not nauseous and eat anything, ravenously.  So, no weight loss, sadly.

And while I never again was able to enjoy television again after BF, mostly because of the commercials but also because it couldn't hold my interest (with the exceptions of favorite movies, baseball games and up to 30 minutes of morning news, all of which I found to be soothing), I am now completely intolerant of anyone watching TV around me, and my poor husband is forced to watch shows on his nook with headphones.  Which he tells me is no sacrifice since he doesn't have to put up with my eye-rolling and sighing like he has to with the TV on.  Which is not a public comment on his TV show selection.  Truly.

What is also different this time is that I've quickly accepted that I'm impaired, and miserable, and that this will last some time, and that I might not be the same afterwards.  The destruction, like a hurricane, is heavy but I will, with time, recover.  I just have to wait for it.

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