My chiropractor is starting a brain injury clinic and asked me to share my story with others. She sent me the following questions:
How would you describe yourself? Are you a ____? (ex: mom, retire, businesswoman, etc)
How do you refer to yourself having a previous concussion?
“Marilee Curran is a writer with a fighting spirit. One who tries to balance her life through actions and words. She is a daughter, sibling, mother, lover, friend, who strives to care for those she loves while journeying on a quest of self-discovery of who she is. She strives to make peace from chaos, kindness from greed, compassion from fear. She balances the dancer and the martial artist.”
Above is how I describe myself in my blog. When I started blogging to deal with the pandemic I had no idea that my life was going to change in a few short moments. On Oct. 15, 2020, what started as a day looking for waterfalls to photograph (yes, I do that as well), turned into the start of a journey that has redefined how I see the world.
We were pulled over on the side of the road, waiting for the traffic to clear to reverse directions. Both of us looked in either direction. We maneuvered onto the road and across to our lane and was just straightening out, 2 lanes over when I heard a crunching car and the car spun. I remember looking at David, and him saying “holy shit, we got hit”, as the car struck us a 2nd time. There is no recollection of losing consciousness, nor do I remember hitting my head on anything. Lastly, I remember stopping on the shoulder. David asked if I was alright and my head felt as if I had hit something. I was dazed and looking at the debris on the side of the road, it looked familiar and took a few moments for me to realize it was the contents of my trunk.
I started gathering items off the side of the road, while he checked on the other driver.
When the EMTs showed up, I had a lump and bruise on my left temple. They suspected a head injury and whisked me away to the ER, where I was given some ice and Tylenol and sent on my way. There’s an old expression, if I knew then what I know now, things may have been different. The next week was pretty uneventful. We both felt tired and sore, but hey, we were in an accident, that happens. Headaches are normal, so is muscle pain. Something did feel off, but I chalked it up to anxiety about getting a new car, returning to work, and David returning to Florida.
A week later, I drove him to Logan Airport. It was a clear day and I had commuted to Dorchester for years, so the drive and the tunnels never bothered me. It was on this ride and that night, that I first realized something was seriously wrong. As I entered the tunnel to exit to Logan I suddenly felt like I was being stuffed into a box. I could not see what was on the side of me, what was in front of me was distorted. I tried not to panic as I missed the exit, had to turn around, and retrace to Logan. From Boston, I planned to drive to Keene to retrieve items from the car and then home.
This entailed back, windy roads. In the daylight, it felt as if I was on a roller coaster ride in zero gravity. I made it, but the ride home on darkened roads complicated by fog was the scariest ride I had taken in my life. I knew something was off with my depth perception and I started to feel as if my head was going to explode. Every oncoming headlight shot lasers into the back of my head. I knew then that I needed to call the doctor the next day.
What major symptoms do you experience due to the concussion?
My major symptoms were sensitivity to light, neck pain, migraines so severe that I would come home from work and spend my evenings in the dark. Changing direction or doing any type of up and down movement (sit-ups, push-ups, or jumping jacks) would cause vertigo. I would fall asleep and be in deep sleep for 3-4 hours at a time, any time of the day. I had difficulty driving. In addition to the depth perception problems (which caused disappearing lines in the roads and a feeling that I was driving into holes), my left eye did not move with the right. I would get a shooting pain that would travel across my left cheek and pulsate at the spot of impact on my left temple.
Did you seek concussion care after your concussion? Why or Why not?
After that scary, foggy night I knew I had to seek treatment. Something was off and it was beyond just taking a nap to fix it. My office is staffed with nurses and first responders. I went in the next morning, as I was expected. While talking to one of my co-workers I stumbled, literally on air. She had me call the doctor at that point, and I was sent to Concord Hospital, mid-pandemic to sit in a waiting room for 7 hours before a CT scan was done. It was then that I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome.
My primary immediately sent me to PT and OT while I waited for an appointment with a Neurologist. (This occurred about 4 months later). I had an MRI, both looked normal according to the records. My OT/PT was creative in finding exercises that worked for me. We incorporated karate moves into laser therapy and tracking. My main goal was to get back on the mat teaching and working towards my 3rd degree black belt.
The therapist was so good, that by the time I got to the Neurologist many of the symptoms had subsided to a livable level. She wanted to prescribe Gabapentin and Flexeril. I said no. I did not want to become a walking zombie. 1/3 of a Flexeril would knock me out for 24hrs, never mind 300mg of Gabapentin. She did not agree but did not push the matter. I continued with Therapy and visited an Ophthalmologist. He wasn’t helpful, but then my PT found a Neuro-Optometrist, and life changed in July of 2021.
After a thorough exam, I was prescribed colored lenses to wear once a day, my scripts for my eyeglasses were cut with prisms included to change the way the light was sending signals to my brain, and most importantly, she noted that I most likely had a neck or spine issue that was obstructing the optical nerves. She sent me to a Chiropractor. One visit, one set of x-rays later, and my life was on course to becoming normal again.
What does the concussion prevent you from doing?
The concussion only stops me from doing things if I let it. I had a long discussion with my boss after my CT Scan. I could have gone out of work on FMLA, but I didn’t want to. If I was having I good day, I did not want to sit around at home, if I was having a not-so-good day, I had the flexibility of moving my day around.
I used the activities that are most important to me: Hiking, Biking, Photography, Karate as goals to work towards. I could not bike 20 miles a day anymore, but I could go 1-2 and work from there. Techniques or drills in karate would cause me to get dizzy or winded, but I would still work out. My internal gauge to know how far I could push myself each task before nausea or vertigo kicked in. Each attempt, I would go a little longer.
Photography became my way to view the world. My eyes couldn’t see straight, but the camera didn’t lie. As my photography improved I knew I was learning to trust my eyesight again.
I did have some limitations. I rarely drove after dark, unless I was coming home from work. This did limit my ability to take classes at the studio or be on the mat teaching with the children, however, I could join in via zoom. I am a writer and a blogger and had difficulty for almost a year putting sentences together. In addition, I have had to change my style of learning. If I read through my notes for karate over the years, I can no longer visualize in my head how a technique is run. I have become an auditory learner.
What was your experience in the concussion recovery program?
It depends on where I consider myself started in a recovery program. One thing to keep in mind is you are never alone in a journey of recovery. It takes a team. I was blessed with 2 fantastic therapists who took an interest in making sure that I was going to reach my goals. They did some extra research to help me get to the right practitioners.
My bosses and co-workers were tremendously supportive of accommodating my work schedule. The workload never changed, but the flexibility was necessary to not get frustrated with the job and me.
My boyfriend, my best friend, my sons, family, and karate peers were all behind me, lifting me and pushing me a little bit more each day. Encouraging me to continue writing and reminding me of my goals.
Finally, my doctors worked together with me to get the help I needed. Not once did my primary or Neurologist hesitate when I asked for a referral.
What frustrates you (ticks you off) about having a concussion?
Nothing that I can come up with off-hand. Even at the beginning, I was never frustrated per se. Except when I was trying to write and would have writer’s block. However, I keep a mindset that it will get better. It may not be the same, I will have to adapt at times, but it will get better. I have always had the sense that everything happens for a reason. The accident has brought me closer to the man I love and I have gained a new passion for photography.
What frustrates you (ticks you off) about concussion recovery programs?
Personally nothing. However, I can not stand how most doctors are quick to jump to medication. I would advise people not to take medication to recover from a concussion unless necessary. I rarely take the medication anyway, but on a personal note, my ex-husband had a TBI years ago and the doctors pushed so much medication that he became unrecognizable. Trust yourself to heal positively. If a doctor is pushing meds, then find one who pushes you.
What did you love the most about concussion recovery facilities?
The people who have been most helpful in my recovery. My OT/PT, my doctors have all taken an interest in me. They were engaging, and for the 30 minutes or so I would spend at a time, I was their primary focus. We had normal conversations about life in that period, nothing ever felt like work. When someone is taking an interest in you, it is much easier and more beneficial, for you to take an interest in yourself.
If you could change one thing about __, what would it be?
I probably would have listened to my karate instructor (he goes to a chiropractor for everything), and gone sooner. At the very least, I probably would have requested X-rays from the start. I, like most, think of a head injury as knocking the brain. There is a chain reaction that I have learned brain, eye, spine, and vice versa. Everything is connected. Had I insisted on X-Rays in the ER or a neck brace for the ambulance ride, could things have been different? I don’t know.
What are the things in life that are most important to you? (ex: I could live without everything EXCEPT for __)
I could live without ever except purpose. Over the years I have held many titles/roles in life, but I always have had a purpose in each of those roles. I could not allow myself to let a concussion get the best of me, and push me into life without purpose. This is especially important in the past 2 years when the entire world has been locking itself down and people are hiding. I am not that kind of person. I believe that life is a never-ending journey worth living. There is always something new around the corner, always someone you can help.
Under ideal conditions, where do you see yourself in 1 year from now and 5 years from now?
Hopefully retire and travel with my bicycle, camera, blog, and David. LOL, And of course, wearing a long overdue 3rd-degree black belt. Concussion-wise, I don’t know. I would hope 100% recovered and perfect, but nothing is perfect. If it was, it would be boring.
What do you feel you need to help you get to the next step in your journey?
Time and perseverance to get through some of the lingering effects. I have my support team with me, I have my outlets for stress. Many people get frustrated and give up because we have become an instantaneous society. I don’t think that way, so I have a slight advantage. I am willing to continue working towards the life that I want.
Most importantly, I want to state, that life never goes as planned, but one should never lose sight of their goals and expectations in life. Treat challenges as a way to discover more about yourself and sharpen new ways to achieve the life you want.