It’s been a while since I last posted. Writing has not come easily for me recently. I have had a very difficult time getting myself to sit still long enough, and then there was that whole concussion thing. That made it even more difficult. With that, I feel very fortunate to be writing tonight.
About three weeks ago, I was out running with one of my dogs (probably not the one you think), and he spotted a squirrel. He made a run for it, but because of the rate at which we were traveling, and our positions relative to one another, somehow my legs were swept out from behind me, and I landed on the pavement, the back of my head breaking the fall. I honestly cannot remember now if it was his legs or the leash that did it; it’s all kind of a haze. But I can still remember the sound my head made as it struck the concrete, and it makes me cringe, I feel a little bit ill, and my legs still tingle when I think about it. The pain was instantaneous.
I dropped the leash, but the dog wasn’t leaving my side. That squirrel was long gone and forgotten. He began licking at my arms and legs (I’d like to think it was by way of apology and provision of comfort). Fortunately, another runner was out that morning, keeping pace about twenty or thirty steps behind.
“Don’t move. That was a really bad fall you just took.”
I couldn’t have moved if I’d wanted to at that point. Not without help, anyway. The most I could do was put my hands to my head and try to apply some pressure to stop the bleeding (and I hoped, the pain). He flagged down a passing motorist and briefly explained what happened. They called for an ambulance.
She introduced herself. I didn’t recall her name, but later came to learn it was Donna. She was wearing a necklace.
“I know you don’t know me. But I’m a good person; I was just on my way to church. I am going to take your dog for you. I have a daughter who loves dogs; he’s going to be fine. Is there someone we can call for you?”
There was no one to call. My family lives out of state. I couldn’t think of a single person to contact. At least not immediately. Eventually I was able to provide the name of a friend, and instructions for how to access her contact information from my phone. Which required providing access information to my house. All of which I gladly dispensed. To a complete stranger. As I lay bleeding on the sidewalk, unable to move, and having an increasingly difficult time thinking or speaking coherently.
Another driver stopped. I don’t recall her name either.
“I’m ___________. I’m a doctor. What is your name? Do you remember what day it is? How many fingers am I holding up?”
I blinked and the paramedics were there. They asked if they could take out the braid on the left side of my head to get a better look at my injury. They washed the wound, apologizing for the pain. All I felt was refreshing, cool liquid. And pain. But not from that. This pain was emanating from inside my head. And my arm. They noticed the abrasions and cleaned and bandaged the arm.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” “No.”
“You are an adult. We can’t make you go.”
“I think you should go and get checked out.”
“Do you want us to call someone to take you to the hospital?” “No.”
“Do you want someone to take you home?” “No.”
Honestly, I just wanted to lie there on the sidewalk until the pain went away. But the pain wasn’t going away. It was getting worse. Every minute it seemed to be worse. Only now it wasn’t the pain in the back of my head. It was pressure building in the front of my head. I wanted everyone to stop asking me questions and trying to make me make decisions for myself. I wanted to curl up in the fetal position and cry. I wanted to go to sleep.
It felt like there were about thirty people gathered around. I couldn’t keep the voices straight.
“Do you think you can stand up?” “No.”
Because I’d stated that I didn’t want to go to the hospital, there was one attempt to get me to sit up (in preparation to stand, I assume). As soon as we tried, I knew I was going to the emergency room. The whole world looked gray, and I felt sick. I would not be upright again that day.
“Do you want to go to the hospital?” “No. But yes.”
As they were getting ready to put me in the ambulance, I remembered something important.
“I have another dog. He hasn’t been outside yet.”
“I’ll take care of him.” That was Donna.
“He will bark, but he is really friendly; he just doesn’t know how to communicate. He loves people. He hates other dogs. Except for that one. They are fine together.”
I thought about trying to explain how to feed them, and where the food was, but I couldn’t make the thoughts coalesce. If I could just take a nap, I’d be fine.
It is really uncomfortable to be strapped to a board. I mean, beyond the general discomfort created by a throbbing skull. It puts a lot of pressure on your lower back to have your legs strapped down with no way of bending your knees. They tried to give me oxygen. That was uncomfortable, too. Clearly no one in that ambulance was worried about my overall comfort except me. They kept talking and asking questions. I wanted them to stop so I could drift off to sleep. But they didn’t.
“We’re about ten minutes away. I just called the hospital; they are expecting us. We just have about seven minutes to go. We will be there in three minutes.”
Time was passing really fast.
“Is this your name?” Something was wrong with it. I don’t recall what, but I must have figured it out because the wrist band was correct when I saw it later.
“Can you please turn off the lights?”
I blinked twice and my friend was there. She had my purse. But my new insurance card wasn’t in it. It was sitting on my desk. She read to me. I couldn’t focus. There was too much pressure in my head, but it was comforting to hear.
“I’m going to stitch up your head.”
“Really? You are going to stitch it before you take her for a CT scan? Does that even make sense?”
The nurse left the room.
“I’m sorry, but I just don’t think that’s very smart of them. Your head is still swelling.”
I honestly didn’t care what they did to me, but I was glad to find I had an advocate when she spoke up. I had clearly thought of the right contact.
“You can stitch a water balloon, too, for all the good it will do.”
The nurse came back.
“We’re not going to stitch. We’re going to take her for the CT scan first.”
They took me for the CT scan; I was shivering, and it was hard to hold still. Just when I started to drift off, it was finished and they were taking me back to the room. I was so cold. I couldn’t get comfortable. My eyes wouldn’t stop watering, and I couldn’t make myself stop whimpering. I was so hot.
They gave me Vicodin, and something for nausea. I expected the discomfort to ease, but it didn’t. And the pressure kept getting worse.
“On a scale of one to ten; how would you rate the pain?”
“Not…pain… Pressure. There’s so much pressure!”
Results came back. Soft tissue hematoma; no subcutaneous bleeds. Concussion. Follow-up with a specialist in a week. Discharge instructions. Mumbling. Prescriptions to be filled.
“When can I run again? When can I go back to Krav Maga?” Yeah. I have priorities.
“You’re sending her home?! She lives alone.”
“The CT scan was clear; she just needs some rest. She should start to feel normal in 24-48 hours.”
The drive home was a nightmare. Why did they pick the new hospital? It was so far away from my house. Wave after wave of nausea washed over me. I wanted to tell my friend to pull over so I could throw up and lie in the grass. All I could manage to say was that I felt sick. I tried rolling down the window; surely fresh air would help. It didn’t. The air was hot. I asked her to blast the A/C, and I reclined the chair and blocked my eyes from the sun. Why are there so many speed bumps in my complex? Why do I live on the second floor?
My friend and my home teachers from church helped me to my house. I collapsed on the couch. My friend busied herself making arrangements for me. One friend came and stayed the first twenty-four hours, diligently waking me every hour or so to ensure I was still conscious. Donna brought my dog back. The women from church brought in meals all week. Freshly baked bread, chicken pot pie, salad, pizza, enchiladas, bagels… only I couldn’t taste or smell any of it. People took turns walking my dogs. My co-worker came every day with his daughter and walked the dogs and brought me lunch. My neighbor came in every morning before work and took the dogs out. My dad came to town and spent several days with me, and took care of my boys. Not quite the vacation he’d envisioned.
My blinds were closed and blankets hung from the windows to block out the light. I couldn’t watch television or look at my phone or computer. It hurt my head too much. Sometimes I listened to television with my eyes closed just to pass the time. For the first week, I just wanted to sleep all the time anyway. I averaged 18 hours a day for about four days. My speech was slow. My thoughts were slow. Apparently I knocked the ADHD right out of my head (temporarily).
When I walked my dogs for the first time, I noticed signs of spring growing in the grass and catalogued them as “white purples, and yellow purples, and blue purples, and purple purp…” Uh oh. That’s not right. Flowers, not purples. Flowers was the word I was looking for, but didn’t notice until I doubled up on the purples.
Thoughts that seemed clear in my mind were impossible to articulate. Even simple thoughts. I almost gave up trying to schedule a follow-up appointment because it was so difficult to express myself. Fortunately, as I was calling the concussion center, they were quite adept at filling in the blanks.
Strangest of all was the effect on my senses of smell and taste. I could smell bacon cooking, but I could not taste it. I could taste bleu cheese in my salad, but I could not smell it. Both senses were extremely muted. I could typically identify whether I was eating something sweet or savory, but I could not identify any subtleties of flavor. It took all of the fun out of eating.
A week later I followed up with a specialist. He administered some tests, which very clearly confirmed that I have a brain injury. It’s not my first. The last one did not have the extreme physical symptoms and affected very different regions of my brain. Follow-up testing since has shown that my brain is healing, and the doctor expects a full and complete recovery.
It’s been about three weeks. I still have a knot on my head and I’m still pulling dried blood out of my hair. Sometimes I still get lost in the middle of a sentence or my thoughts stutter. Too much light can occasionally create headache waves behind my eyes. My reaction scores are still too low for me to drive safely. But I am beyond fortunate. Not just in my recovery, but in the entire sequence of events. I have run that route many times before and never encountered another person. I would not have been visible from the road where I fell, so unless they’d noticed the dog and stopped to investigate, it’s unlikely a driver would have seen me.
I can write thank you cards to the many friends and neighbors who provided service and assistance to me, although words alone are hardly sufficient thanks. I simply could not have taken care of myself or my dogs on my own.
But it’s those first strangers I wish I could meet again to express my gratitude. Sadly, I would never recognize them. I could see them when I am out on a walk with my boys, and I would never know it; maybe I already have. They were my guardian angels that day. Good Samaritans who set the wheels in motion that allowed me to get the care I needed so I could heal. I didn’t know them, but I trusted and relied on them; I had no choice. I needed them. They are very special to me. Even though I cannot remember what they look like, and I don’t know their names, I will never forget how they helped me.
Thank you, Running Man. Thank you, Donna. Thank you, Doctor.