I am going to share a very personal story here, because I feel it would be healing for me to share, and because I want to help anyone who suffers from this heal faster.
This is the story of my oldest child, who has graciously given me permission to share this with you.
In August, I got a phone call. “I was just in an accident, I am bloody, but I am ok.” Alright, I thought, I can handle this. She was a few hours from home by car, and was telling me that she was going to follow her friend, who was more seriously injured, to a hospital nearby. Her employer got on the phone, told me that my child should not, in fact, drive, and that I needed to prepare myself for the extent of injury that she had sustained. In other words, my kid was extremely beat up, and in no condition to be behind the wheel of a car.
We arranged for her to be driven to the hospital, and my husband immediately got in the car to meet her there. I stayed home with our son. After waiting for many hours in the ER to be seen, they gave up and left the ER that night at midnight. The next day, they went to a different ER, got examined, and was released with a broken finger, severe lacerations on her knees, shoulder, neck, and a fat lip- the result of her teeth going through her upper lip.
We count ourselves as extremely lucky; a bullet dodged; full of gratitude for a bad situation that could have been much worse.
Once the adrenaline wore off, the crying started. We thought it was because her summer job was over, her friends were dispersing, and school was not set to start for over a month. Depressed, anxious, and irritable, she was pretty inconsolable. A hard thing for any parent to see. We hoped that school would make the depression go away. Certainly once she was back with her friends, doing what she loved, learning, excelling, experiencing her second year at the school of her dreams, the crying and depression would stop. We urged her to hold on, to get excited for the upcoming semester, and tried our best to help her.
A visit to a psychiatrist resulted in an antidepressant. Eager to feel better, to feel happy again, to be able to tolerate company and family and friends, she diligently took her medication. She trudged through the next month, trying to muscle through her mood, sleeping too much or not at all, eagerly awaiting the start of school, praying that we were right and it would get better as soon as she was back at school. But the depression was severe. She cried every day. Asked for help every day. Questioned whether or not to go back to school. Wondered how she would be able to function away from the support of home.
Finally, she was off to school.. My husband and I hoped that she would miraculously be better there. But depression is terrible. The daily crying continued, along with multiple calls a day to me. I would try my best to pick her up and dust her off, reassure her, and calm her down. She could barely make it through the day, let alone her classes.
I searched for practitioners to help her. She saw a psychiatrist, a psychologist, a reiki healer, and energy medicine practitioner. No progress. I finally found a Naturopathic Doctor who is also a psychologist. After their second visit, the doctor called me and told me that she believes that our child is suffering from mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) stemming from her accident in August.
Finally! We had an explanation for the extraordinary behavior of our oldest child. The lightbulbs went on and we celebrated that we had an explanation for her depression, her disordered sleep, her inability to sit through class or focus long enough to read a book.
We had no idea that a mTBI could affect someone this way. I hope, by telling this story, that you might recognize this if you see this in someone you know. Because we wasted so much time, and she had so much suffering, we are only starting now, months later, to get her the help she actually needs.
Home now, she has the space, solitude, quiet, support, and tools to start her healing process.
I know we are in a valley where we pride ourselves on athletics and extreme sport. Those lucky enough to practice these activities with a coach have the advantage of having someone think of concussion as a possibility when an injury occurs. The rest of us need more education.
Concussion is a mild traumatic brain injury (mTBI) that is caused by biomechanical forces. It can be caused by a direct hit to the head OR a hit to the body. It may not cause a loss of consciousness, has transient neurological signs that can be present for moments to hours, and results in neuropathological changes that are functional NOT structural so that there is no standard imaging that can identify a concussion.
Concussion is best diagnosed when a baseline concussion test is performed, which is common only among those involved in sports at this time. Since there is no imaging that can diagnose concussion, it is best diagnosed based on history, symptoms, and physical exams.
- Symptoms of concussion are numerous and variable. mTBI can present as any and all of these symptoms:
- Physical (somatic)- loss of balance, headache, dizziness, blurred vision, tinnitus, nausea and vomiting, fatigue, sensitivity to light and sound, numbness, insomnia
- Cognitive (mental)- brain fog, inability to focus, poor concentration, impaired reactions, slower processing, loss of executive function
- Emotional (psychiatric)- irritability, depression and sadness, anxiety
- Sleep disorders
Embarrassingly, even as a doctor, I failed to recognize this diagnosis in my own child. While I do not blame myself, I am sad that she suffered for so long without the appropriate help. Without treatment, we have prolonged her symptoms and her healing time. Now, I have her on the appropriate diet and supplements. She is working on her mental health, is getting help with the physical symptoms and her vestibular functioning, and is improving, slowly but surely!
Be on the lookout. Concussion does not look like I thought it would at all. And now, hopefully, you will be better aware of the signs and symptoms to recognize mTBI and help prevent any undue suffering in someone you care about.
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