Concussion – My first-hand/ forehead experience
October 18, 2015
Alison Epperson, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Health Ed.
Murray State University
We’ve committed several articles to this topic, but this one comes from my ironic first-hand experience just last month.
I took one of my classes to Memphis for a tour of St. Jude and Ronald McDonald House at the culmination of a semester long service learning project. Because Memphis is a three hour drive from Murray, we rented a shuttle bus for our day trip, which began at 7:30 am.
Sitting in the front row, about 30 minutes into the trip, I bent down to get some paperwork off the floor board and the bus driver hit the brakes. As he did, I face planted into the partition bar in front of me – right at the bridge of my nose / forehead.
If you’ve ever been hit in the nose, you know it’s one of those moments when you think “@#$%, OUCH!” As your eyes water, you hope no one sees you about to pass out from wincing in pain. Fortunately for me, college students on a bus at 8 am = NO ONE is awake!
As the day went on, a few people asked me “What happened to your nose?” but to be honest, I didn’t even know what they were talking about, after the initial pain went away, I never thought about it again. Really, the only visible evidence was a red blotch on my nose that looked like sunglass imprints.
After returning to Murray, I worked our men’s home basketball game at the scorer’s table and still felt no pain, but did have several people comment on the now developing bruise.
Around 1 pm the next day, my face started to hurt. Thinking that I was getting a sinus infection as a weather front was moving in, I took some sinus medicine and tried not to pay attention to it especially since it was the week prior to finals. As the day progressed, the pain in my face grew more intense.
Around 8:30 pm I was at my mother’s house with my son. We had been talking for about an hour and while the pain was annoying, it was like a flip switched. All the sudden I got nauseated and couldn’t take the sound of the conversation and my head started pounding.
I hurried home and put my son to bed, and put ice packs on my head. The pain continued to intensify until 11 pm at which time, I started to violently throw up. At that moment, it occurred to me that I had a concussion!
So the injury occurred at 8:30 am on a Wednesday, the initial pain started at approximately noon on Thursday, and became a full blown issue around 11pm.
I have never been more thankful for all the lectures I’ve given about concussions. I started asking myself questions to check my memory (‘What day is this? What is my schedule for next week?’), and pacing to stay awake. I will say that the worst part of the night was when I tried singing to stay awake and for whatever reason, all I could think to sing was Taylor Swift’s ‘Shake it Off’!
I continued to throw up/dry-heave until 3:30 am. I knew I had to get my son up and get him to school before 8, and by this point I was beyond exhausted. I don’t really remember 3:30-7am, but I guess I was just in the bed sitting up; lying down actually increased dizziness and nausea and intensity of head pounding.
After getting my son to school, I went to see my orthopedic doctor for another issue. At least I was not as nauseated, but thought he could at least tell me if he thought my nose was broken – thankfully it was not. We joked about me ‘getting into a bar fight and losing’ and then he confirmed that I did concuss, but since I never lost consciousness during the initial hit, that it would be considered mild.
I went back to work that day, but really struggled with lights, sound and focus. The weekend was rough as I did develop sinus issues and drainage with a cough – and of course had some beautiful bruising across my nose and eyes.
On Monday, by the end of the day I noticed I was very irritable, the radio was annoying, I didn’t want to talk to people, was nauseated all the time, and was awake nearly every hour of every night several nights in a row. This continued through Friday and I just attributed it to stress of finals week and sinus drainage (I guess I really did knock the snot out of my head).
Friday, a full nine days later, we were serving a lunch for our senior students. I was standing in the food service area and smelled the mashed potatoes and green beans and it hit me like a brick wall – instant nausea which sent me flying into the restroom. I went back to my office to review my concussion information and realized I met every checkmark for “post-concussion syndrome!”
Thankful that I had a bottle of Zofran left over from a previous surgery, I took that and was able to get some relief from the nausea. This continued for two full weeks. I would experience waves of nausea, I was very sensitive to sound, light and smell. I did make an appointment with my doctor to have a CAT scan, which came back normal.
When the word spread around my building that I had a concussion, I just joked that I was doing my part for 1st level research. All kidding aside, I am honestly very grateful for the experience personally as well as those who were around me during those three weeks (family, friends and colleagues), as it served as quite a ‘teachable moment.’
As we started back to school this week, I have shared my experience with all my classes and explained to them that a hit to the head can result in delayed onset symptoms. While the initial injury seemed trivial, it was the 36 hours after that were a nightmare, literally.
Again, in all my teaching I have warned and warned and warned about paying attention to symptoms and the seriousness of Second Impact Syndrome. I fully understand now how long it took my brain to return to ‘normal’ after that impact which I thought was no big deal, had I been in a situation in which I was hit again, it could have been deadly.
At this point, for those of you who work in fitness facilities, intramurals and club sports, I cannot stress enough the importance of paying attention to ANY head injury. At the very least, document the time and what happened; unless you are a trained professional, your opinion as to the level of seriousness isn’t valid.
Talk with your staff about this extensively, especially younger staff as they are more inclined to blow off a minor injury report usually due to embarrassment, or just general lack of awareness.
You may also have the opportunity to utilize coach’s meetings/official’s clinics as a time to educate your participants. Utilize your social media outlets in small blurbs for “tip of the week” or “did you know…” There are also several concussion twitter accounts such as; Concussion Connection, The Concussion Blog, Managing Concussions, Concussion Report, Concussion Toolbox, Concussion Link, USports Concussion, Concussion Treatment, and No Concussion. By following any/all of these accounts, you are repeatedly exposed to information and as a result, become more aware of the seriousness of concussions.
It could also be to your benefit to post information about signs/symptoms of concussion, especially the importance of understanding these may not occur at the exact time of the injury.
Furthermore, don’t just stop at sharing information regarding the concussion. Post-concussion syndrome can last up to three months and can be debilitating as the waves of nausea sensitivity to sound, smell and light can totally disrupt your ability to function.
To conclude, for those of us who work in places and events associated with a higher risk for injury, it is our due diligence to take responsibility for increasing awareness, education and response regarding the number of issues/concerns associated with concussions.