This past Thursday, July 18, I experienced the worst “episode” thus far in my recovery. My brother and I were just sitting on the couch watching Seinfeld just like any other day and after about a half hour, the unbearable pain started. This was not a good time for my symptoms to increase; I had two college tours scheduled for the next morning. After a year and nine months, I felt like I had not made any progress. This episode came upon me suddenly – I couldn’t tolerate any light in the house at all. I immediately had my brother turn off all of the lights on the first floor of our house, bring me my sunglasses and Advil, and turn the volume down on the TV. I continued to watch in these conditions but my pain only become worse. I asked him to try and turn down the brightness on the TV, but it did not help, so I faced away from it on the other side of the couch, with my head in a pillow. I could not leave the room at this point, because I was in too much pain to actually get up and walk, and I could not be alone while I was feeling like this.
As my light sensitivity got worse, so did my nausea and head pain. My brother put a bucket next to the couch because I knew if I had to vomit, I would not be able to get to the bathroom. He was so patient with me and I’m so thankful to have such a great brother. As the minutes passed by, my head pain drastically increased. I kept thinking to myself that it was never this bad, not even in the beginning weeks of my injury. Maybe it was because I was incoherent during those weeks, I’m not sure, but I knew I could not remember a time when I was ever in this much pain and discomfort. I cannot even explain how awful I felt. All I could do was cry. I wondered why this type of pain would be happening now, at this time of day, and at this point in my recovery. I really thought I was past those unbearable days.
I don’t think it is possible to experience more pain than what I was experiencing that night; it was at least a 9 on a scale of 10. I wanted to go to the ER, but we figured there was nothing they could do for me. Nothing was helping me now, and getting up, getting in a car, and being in a hospital would have just made me worse. I already know I have a concussion, I’ve had an MRI and CAT scan, so there was nothing more that a hospital could do that I didn’t already know all too well – rest, hydrate, no TV, no phone, no reading, etc., and I was already doing all of this.
I knew this was not like the setback I had in April because I knew the exact cause of that, and I had no idea what was causing this episode. I thought I would feel better after a good night’s sleep, but the problem was getting myself to sleep. The first time I tried to get up off of the couch, it was extremely difficult. Normally, sitting up after lying down is difficult for me due to my neck, chest, and rib pain, all from the fall that caused my concussion. This time, it was worse. I felt my chest tightening, my ribs throbbing even more, and my neck felt like it was going to separate from my head. It took me an extra minute to finally sit up. When I tried walking, I was dizzy, unsteady, and every step made my head hurt even more, so my mom had to hold me while I walked.
It was now 8:45pm, and I had been feeling this way for almost 2 hours, and I was starting to get hungry. I knew I would not be able to chew, so my mom made me some clear broth. Thankfully, at 9:30, the pain started to decrease slightly. I was talking more, and I was moving my head around better while I was lying on the couch. I knew it would not be a setback like the one in April, however, I was still significantly worse than earlier in the day, and we had to consider our options for the next day. My mom did not feel like I could be left alone, so she stayed with me all night. It took a while for me to get to a point where I could finally fall asleep, at around 12:45am. I wanted to forget about this terrible pain because I had to be up at 7am for 2 college tours, and I was really looking forward to that.
When I woke up at 7, we decided that we were going to skip the first tour, because I was still not myself, and could benefit from the extra sleep. But, we were going to try and make the second tour later in the day. I woke up 3 hours later, and still feeling worse than an average day, but good enough to go on that tour. As the day went on, I returned back to my average daily symptoms. I realized that even though I can do more in a day than I could when I first got hurt, and that overall I am feeling better, these types of situations can still occur because I still have my brain injury. It was sudden, shocking, surprising, frustrating, and painful, but I got through it, and we know that these “episodes” can still happen because it is a long recovery process, and it takes time.
On an average day now, I am still sensitive to light, noise, flashing lights, patterned carpets, and things like revolving doors. I am coherent, can follow conversations, talk and eat without pain, and remember most things. Although I still cannot do physical activity or exercise, I can walk normally, and I have good balance. My head pain still consists of the constant pressure, ringing, and sharp shooting pains on a daily basis, and I still have neck, rib, and chest pain. All of these symptoms are a big improvement from a year ago and I can live a fairly normal life because I know how to manage my symptoms well, and I know my limits. I definitely do not live the life I lived before, and I still attend several therapies, treatments, and appointments on a regular basis, but they are all assisting in my recovery. Brain injuries are a work in progress.
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