Tag Archives: severe head trauma

Wednesday Morning Ramblings

A dull thud tapped me on the forehead, like someone had taken their palm and bumped me playfully.  The next thing I knew, I was sitting on the ground with two shotputs in my lap, which strange because I’d only been carrying one.  I rolled them away and tried to get my bearings, but everything was a swirl of colors and sounds.  Then, I felt a tickle on my eyebrow, like sweat was dripping, so I reached up to wipe it away and pulled back a hand coated in blood.  That’s when I knew something bizarre had happened.

On this day in 1989 at roughly 3:30 in the afternoon, I nearly lost my life.  An 8 lb. shotput had struck me on the right side of the head just above the hairline. I suffered a nasty laceration, exposing my skull, a severe brain contusion, and at the time, when they still graded concussions, the highest grade concussion on the chart.  Fortunately, it had hit me on the hardest part of the skull and didn’t fracture or even crack the bone.  Also, because of the angle, it mostly glanced off my head instead of impacting with full force.  I spent three days in the hospital, lost 20 lbs. from the trauma, and literally nearly died.  To this day, I live with some symptoms of post-concussion syndrome.

For many years, I wallowed in self-pity for everything the accident took from me: mostly the opportunities to play college football and join the marines on an ROTC scholarship.  Then, one day I woke up and realized that I was fortunate simply to be alive.  Today, as I mark the 23rd anniversary of the day that changed my life, I want to focus more on what the accident has given me, namely an appreciation for my life and my creativity.  Without those, I wouldn’t be the man I am today, and I’m fairly happy with that man.

In terms of appreciation, I see each day as a blessing, as time I’ve been granted by grace.  Even with all the turmoil and difficulties of the last five years, being alive and on this earth allows me the opportunity to learn and grow and laugh and love.  I’ve gotten to experience fatherhood, and if it took enduring that accident a hundred times to have my sons, line me up.  In terms of creativity, I’m convinced that at least in part, the injury awakened some part of my brain that had mostly been dormant.  At the very least, it forced me to turn my attention away from athletics and towards writing, so I see now that the accident has given me far more than it took.

Not too long ago, I found Bobby, the boy who had mistakenly thrown it, and got to tell him, after years of needing to share this, that I had never harbored any ill-will for him, even during the worst of my headaches and the darkest of days.  We were unsupervised kids, and even if he had had been trying to hit me, there was no way he could have done so on purpose.  It was just a dumb, fluke accident.  I hope he knows in his heart that he wasn’t to blame, and I hope he doesn’t carry around any misplaced feelings of guilt.  Bobby, if you happen to read this, I love you, man.

So today, as I remember that day and the subsequent years of symptoms, I ask all of you to do one thing.  Contact those you love most and tell them how you feel.  Don’t wait.  Do it now because you never know what split-second, dumb fluke could end their or your life.  Embrace your darkest moments, for even those days are blessings.  None of us are promised anything on the other side; everything beyond this world is pure speculation, so cherish each day on this earth.  Any day above ground is a good day.

Tuesday Night Ramblings

I’ve been keeping low key an issue I’ve been dealing with for the last 7-8 months, but now that I think I finally have some answers, I feel more comfortable sharing it openly.  Last summer, I started noticing a lot of unusual trembling and shaking in my left hand, and occasionally I would get a severe cramp in that palm which would draw my fingers together into an intensely painful knot.  Then, I started noticing that the coordination in both my hands was deteriorating, to the point that both typing and handwriting required tremendous amounts of concentration.  My balance and equilibrium also started to erode.  Ever since my accident, my equilibrium has been a little off, but by the end of summer/beginning of fall, just walking required a lot of effort.

For a couple of months, I ignored the symptoms, hoping they would go away, but by mid-September, things had gotten so bad, I had to accept it and face it head on.  At first, I really thought I had Parkinson’s.  People who have suffered severe head trauma are 11 times more likely to develop it than the general population, and when I read the ten warning signs of the disease, six of them matched what I was experiencing.  Fortunately, it was ruled out by three different doctors fairly quickly.  The downside was that none of them could tell me what was going on. By mid-October, I had developed random muscle spasms all over my body.  Sometimes, they were faint, other times intense, and there was no predicting when or where they might occur.  By that point, I was also feeling indescribably bad.  The closest I can come to describing it is that I quite literally felt like I was dying.  It took everything I had to get out of bed, up the stairs, in the shower, and to work.  By noon, I was so exhausted, I could barely concentrate, and even mundane tasks, like grading an essay or preparing a lesson plan, tasks I had performed thousands of times, took everything out of me.  At one point, I was so scared, I actually wrote letters to my sons to be given to them when they’re older in case I was dying.

The neurologist I was seeing ran test after test after test, and all of them came back normal.  After reading her dictations, I don’t think she ever took my symptoms seriously and truly seemed to dismiss me as some kind of hypochondriac.  Those of you who know me well should know that it takes a lot for me to even go to a doctor, and I’ve pushed myself and worked through all kinds of injuries and illnesses over the years.  Fortunately, my primary care physician did take me seriously and never treated me like I was imagining anything.  He’s a good doctor who has earned my respect for his compassion and kindness.  He knew I haven’t been faking anything or seeking pain meds or trying to file some bogus disability claim.  From the beginning, all I’ve wanted were answers.

Sometime in late November/early December, I had a long conversation with my cousin who has been diagnosed with Celiac Disease, and she convinced me that because of our family history, I should consider that I might have a sensitivity to gluten.  When I got to thinking about it, over the last couple of years I had begun to add breads, especially whole wheat, and beer back into my diet.  For several years, because of avoiding carbs, I had almost completely eliminated gluten by default.  Desperate to get better, I eliminated it from my diet again.  For the first few weeks, I didn’t really notice any difference, but then, sometime in mid-January, I realized that the muscle spasms had vanished, and much of the trembling had dissipated.  Also, that terrible feeling of dying was completely gone.  In short, I feel like I’m on the mend.

Today, I saw a GI specialist, and while the results of the blood work haven’t confirmed anything yet, he told me that gluten sensitivity can create a myriad of neurological symptoms by depositing a kind of plaque in the brain.  He also affirmed what I had begun to suspect, that I was already my own double blind study.  8-9 years ago, I eliminated gluten and got healthier.  Then, I added it back and got sick.  And he warned me that if I added it back again, the next time the symptoms would probably get even worse.  There are no guarantees that some of the neurological issues won’t already be permanent, but I should know in 4-5 months just how much I will heal.

While I won’t say I feel completely healthy today, I feel well enough to function, and I can live with where I am now, even if I don’t get any better.  Four months ago, I thought I was dying, so I’ll take it.  To those of you who already knew much of this, thank you for all of your support and concern.  For those of you who didn’t know, please understand that I didn’t want to make this widely known until I had some answers and knew what I was facing.  Again, nothing is fully confirmed, but I’m fairly certain I’m on the right track.  As I learn more, I’ll share more information, and I’ll try to write a few entries detailing the effects gluten can have on a neurological system.  Until then, cherish your health and nourish your body.