On Tuesday morning -this was August 13th- Hubby and I were on our way to work. We drove along the northbound 99 freeway just as we always did five days a week, every single week. I was sitting in the front passenger seat as per usual, with my eyes closed but not sleeping. With my anxiety I do not sleep in moving cars, but nor do I find it easy to watch what is going on around me. Traffic, freeway driving, high speeds, they feed my anxiety. So I close my eyes and try to relax.
“Oh shit!” I hear from Hubby as I feel the breaks slow, but not stop, the car.
I open my eyes and immediately see the tail lights of the truck in front of us lit up. Hubby turns the wheel and I think in that split second, “Oh, good, we’ll miss him.” That thought is torn from me as I feel the massive hit from behind and am whipped back in my seat as the force from that hit sends our car front driver headlight into the side bumper of the truck we just swerved to miss.
Our car is in a flurry of movement and Hubby is trying to straighten us out and stop the car from moving. We go from the center lane to suddenly being off the road and now coming back toward the freeway again. I see a street sign coming at us fast, “Stop the car. Stop the car. Stop the car.” I shout.
“I’m trying!” Hubby shouts.
Now we’re in the right lane of the freeway and our car is coming to a stop. Hubby pulls us off to the side of the freeway again, but this time in a calm, slow fashion and to park us in a safe (as safe as possible on the side of a fast and busy freeway) place.
We both sit there for a moment, making sure we’re really stopped and OK. A good samaritan pulls up behind us and rushes over to my door and opens it. “Are you OK? Are you both OK?”
“I’m OK.” Hubby and I say in unison.
“Are you OK?” Hubby asks me. Then, “We’re OK.”
“C’mon, get out.” The lady says as she holds out a hand to me. “Were you asleep?” She asks, and I find that an odd question as I unthinkingly answer no.
“Our seats broke on impact.” Hubby says and then I realize my seat is laying in a half down reclined position. I look over to the driver seat where Hubby still sits and see that his seat is also laying back.
“Oh, wow.” I say in surprise. “We were hit that hard…”
“And your airbags didn’t go off?” She half states half asks.
“No,” Hubby says, we’re now out of the car and standing behind it. “I think maybe because we were hit from behind and thrown back? No forward force?”
The other person in the good samaritan’s car has called the police. We talk about what has just happened, the truck that hit us was a work truck and it drove off.
“A hit and run.”
A friend we work with has seen us on the side of the road and pulls over. We talk to her for a bit, explain what happened. She also has called the police.
Eventually all others have to leave and Hubby and I wait alone. Hubby calls the police two more times before a motorcycle cop finally arrives. We get towed off the freeway and make our report, call insurance, find out the guy that hit us didn’t run, he just pulled off further up ahead.
Long story short, we got in a car accident on the freeway, hit from behind. At the time we think we got away with nothing but bumps and bruises. I did not hit my head. We do not go to the doctor because we have no reason to think we need to.
We do not go to work the day of the accident because it takes over half the day to take care of all the initial stuff and get a rental car to cover us the next few days.
I start to feel stiff and sore all over by that evening and take 400mg of Motrin and a muscle relaxer before bed to make sure I sleep well and get the rest my body needs that night.
We return to work the very next day. I feel stiff and sore that day and have a couple nasty looking bruises on my left ring finger and left shin. I feel a bit tired/sleepy, weak in the legs, and have a bit of a tension headache on and off. I blame all this on my body being stiff and sore from the accident and nothing more.
That evening I take 400mg of Motrin and a muscle relaxer again.
The next two days I continue to feel stiff and sore, but it is less and less severe as the days go on. I continue to feel tired/sleepy on and off and have the tension headaches on and off and everything I eat or drink seems to taste like chemicals, but these symptoms are not severe and are easily ignored. The weakness in my legs when I walk is getting worse and worrisome, but I have no reason to think this has anything to do with the accident, I’m more inclined to think my already bad heart is acting up.
Friday night I go to bed around 10 P.M.. I wake up Saturday at 1 P.M., it is very rare these days for me to sleep past 8 A.M. at the latest. I feel stiff and sore, dizzy, unsteady, and just plain ‘off’. I blame it on being overslept.
Hubby asks me more than once within the next hour if I’m OK. I tell him all my symptoms and that I think I just slept too much. I also point out that it seems really, really bright, all the light is bothering me a bit.
Hubby tells me to just take it easy today, and he is going to as well, we deserve it.
I slowly keep feeling worse and worse all day, I can’t quite put my finger on it, something just isn’t right. We had planned to go hang out with some friends that evening but I decide I’m going to stay home. I tell Hubby to go have fun, I’ll be fine just watching movies.
A couple hours later I’m feeling miserable so I decide to call the advice nurse. I tell the nurse all my symptoms and how long I’ve had them, I mention the accident earlier in the week. In addition to the symptoms I mentioned above, I also by now have started feeling short of breath and having a tad bit of chest pain.
The advice nurse puts me on hold and consults the ER doctor on call. The ER doctor doesn’t think I need to go to ER but should make a next day appointment. I make the appointment and then hang up.
It’s now well past time to feed my cats so I decide to do that. As I bend over to set down a bowl of food I just keep going down and end up on my hands and knees. The dizzy feeling, the unsteadiness is getting to me. I get back up and go to the sink to wash my hands. A loud ringing comes up in my ears and I lean over the sink and close my eyes until it passes.
I decide to take a shower, showers always make me feel better. I go to my bedroom. Why did I come in here? I go to the bathroom, I set my phone on the counter, I take off my insulin pump and put it in the drawer where I always put it for shower time.
As I wash I have to keep one hand on the wall to keep from losing my balance. I’m washing my hair and then wonder why it’s not getting sudsy. I had put conditioner in my hair, not shampoo.
Somehow I make it through the shower and get out. I almost fall over again as I dry off. I walk to my bedroom. I stand there blankly for a moment (I really don’t know how long it was). I realize I left my pump in the bathroom and go back and get it and return to the bedroom. I get dressed. I decide to call Hubby and tell him I think I need to go to ER. Where’s my phone?
Where’s my phone?
I want to cry. Something really isn’t right. I’m worried about myself. Maybe I’m overreacting…
Where’s my phone?
I find my phone in the bathroom and call Hubby. He asks what’s wrong. I try to tell him everything but it all comes out not quite straight. He asks me if I need to go to ER. I say I don’t know. No…..
He asks me again. I mumble something and then say never mind and hang up on him.
My breath is getting shorter, my chest is hurting more. I’m very worried. Am I having a heart attack?
Hubby calls back. “Tamra, if you need to go to the emergency room it’s OK, we’ll come get you, Nathan said it’s no problem. Do you want us to come get you?” We didn’t have a car at this point because we had to return the rental that morning and hadn’t bought a new car yet.
“I don’t know.” I said pathetically.
“OK, we’re coming right now.”
Hubby and our good friend, Nathan, arrived in just a few short minutes. We were dropped of at the local ER within a few more short minutes (Hooray for small towns).
My mind was getting more foggy at this point but I remember checking in. Hubby explained my symptoms (primarily the chest pain and shortness of breath). A band was placed on my wrist (if I saved every single one of those I’ve ever gotten I could wallpaper my house. #chroniclife) and papers were signed.
They gave me a wheelchair and told us to wait to be called.
A few minutes later they called me into the triage room. First they weighed me. I watched the numbers on the digital scale. They settled on a number, I new I was looking at numbers but for the life of me I couldn’t understand what it said, what it meant! I looked at my Hubby with a frightened face.
I was immediately ushered to a seat and my BP and temp were taken as two nurses asked me questions. Hubby answered most of them. I couldn’t keep up. One nurse asked me a question and I started to answer, then…”I’m sorry, what did you ask me?”
“It’s OK, I got everything I need now.”
Later I would get a glimpse at my paperwork and see that one of the symptoms they listed from triage was sluggishness.
We were sent back to the waiting-room and sat there for the next 45 minutes before getting taken into the actual ER. I just sat there in the waiting-room with my head down and eyes closed because the light felt so very bright and I was so very sleepy.
In the ER they took my BP again and asked more questions. They checked my blood-glucose as well since I am type 1 diabetic. It was high so I gave myself a correction bolus right then and there. I was a little worried they might protest that (you’d be surprised at how much hospitals/ERs feel they need to control while you’re there) but the nurse said nothing. Good.
The ER doctor ordered a chest x-ray, so I was taken for that.
I was brought back to ER and given an actual bed this time. They hooked me up to the heart monitor and automatic BP machine that checks your BP every ten minutes.
By this time I was feeling better. Not a ton, but better. The shortness of breath and chest pain were gone. I lay there with Hubby sitting in a chair at the foot of my bed. All the curtains were drawn, we listened to the goings on in the beds on either side of us. The guy to my right had a painful toe infection (abscess). The poor guy to my left had a blocked GI tube and it sounded miserable for him.
Finally I got to actually meet the ER doctor. He was young and kind, albeit serious.
He went over the reasons I came in, and all of my symptoms. He asked exactly what day we had been in the accident. We told him everything.
“Well, your heart is just fine. What you had tonight was a panic attack.”
“OK, so nothings wrong…” Hubby said.
“Nothing’s wrong with her heart,” He said to hubby, then he looked to me. “What you have is Post-Concussion Syndrome. Panic attacks are one of the symptoms, as well as the light sensitivity, dizziness…” He mentioned some other symptoms as well (see below for a list of all common symptoms).
“How do we treat it?” Hubby asked.
“You need to be lazy, basically,” He smiled. “stay in low light, avoid computers…”
“She has a pair of those dark sunglasses they give you after eye surgery…”
“Those would be great.” He nodded. “Don’t use your computer, no reading, audio books are good, but no reading…basically be as lazy as possible for awhile. Don’t do anything to stimulate your brain…light is a big stimulator that’s why you want to stay in low light…”
We talked a bit more and he told me to follow up with my doctor.
We went home. I felt better knowing now why I felt so off.
What is Post-Concussion Syndrome?
The syndrome is complex in that one can suffer many or few symptoms that last days, weeks, or even months. The syndrome often sets in anywhere from 4 days to 14 days after the concussion occurs. Basically, you get a concussion, then 4 to 14 days later you start to have the symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome, which indicate the brain has been injured and is probably in process of healing. Some people get the syndrome, some don’t, it is not understood why. Some professionals think it is psychological while others think it is physical, and many think it is both. With my current experience, I think it is both.
Symptoms of Post-Concussion Syndrome are:
Headache (usually tension or migraine)
Fatigue (physical and/or mental)
Loss of concentration and memory
Tinnitus (ringing in the ears)
Noise and/or light sensitivity
Changes in taste and smell
Treatment: Generally treatment includes staying in low light and avoiding mental stimulation as much as possible. Basically, get lots of rest. Your doctor may order tests such as x-ray or CT scan to check for skull fractures and bleeds in the brain which may require more/other treatment.
The following Monday I did go and see my primary doctor. She agreed with the treatment the ER doctor had suggested. She also ordered a leg x-ray because of the pain and large bruise on my left shin, and a CT scan of my head to check for bleeds and fractures. Later that day I got the x-ray and scan done and the next day my doctor e-mailed me the results, no fracture in my leg or skull and no bleeds. So my brain is just bruised and needs time to heal. OK, no problem, right?
Over the next couple of weeks I did not go to work. I just sat around the house watching T.V. and movies with the screen brightness way down, and listened to audio books. I checked my Facebook via phone now and then, with the screen brightness way down, even though I wasn’t supposed to at all. I was bored out of my mind!
All the symptoms I had came and went, sometimes mild, sometimes more severe. I had trouble talking sometimes. Sometimes it was like I wanted to say something, I knew what I wanted to say, but it got all road-blocked and jumbled on the way out. Other times I could talk just fine but I didn’t use the correct words. For instance one morning Hubby and I were talking about a volcano that was erupting and I was trying to say something about the lava but the word lava kept coming out “volcano”. This type of aphasia came and went over the first week of recovery.
I suffered a lot of tension headaches often. I wore sunglasses constantly for the first week and a half because I was so light sensitive.
Then the insomnia kicked in. There were several days where I was tired, I was sleepy, but I could not sleep. One night I just couldn’t sleep and I sat on the couch just trying to relax but my brain kept telling me Hubby didn’t love me and didn’t care about me (which I know damn well is the farthest from the truth) and I just sobbed and sobbed. At the very same time I was so super light sensitive that even though it was the middle of the night and nearly pitch black I could still pick up the tiniest bit of light and it bugged the hell out of me! On top of that every little sound seemed to be supper loud! It wasn’t a good night.
I had many days and nights of hypersensitivity to light, sound, and emotion.
The insomnia didn’t come or last as long or often as the fatigue/sleepiness. It seems that every few days I have a 30-40 hour period of time where I can’t stay awake. I literally shut down and sleep a solid 30-40 hours straight. Nothing wakes me up that would usually wake me. Hubby would have to shake and shout at me to wake me, then I would just mumble, grumble, roll over and fall right back to sleep. It’s almost like I’m in a coma rather than just sleeping (but I do dream). I don’t even wake to go pee (no I don’t wet the bed). This worries Hubby and me quite a bit.
At the beginning of my recovery I had a lot of short-term memory loss. I would forget to do things I normally would never forget to do, like feeding the cats on time, taking my pills, checking my BG, eating (I lost most of my appetite for a while), showering, etc.. And whenever I tried to actively access memories, recent or long past, I would get a headache and become very sleepy, as well as have trouble accessing those memories.
I also had trouble with critical thinking. Whenever I put effort into concentrating my critical thought I would get a headache and very sleepy. I would be able to do the thinking with success, but it hurt to do it and took a bit longer than it should have.
I had a lot of dizziness, especially upon waking, sitting up, walking. Usually it would go away and then come and go throughout the day, but sometimes it would be there all day, all the time. As of today (Sept. 2nd) I still have quite a bit of dizziness, this is one symptom that doesn’t seem to be getting better with time. Hopefully soon.
I have anxiety. I’ve had it all my life and I take medication for it. The post-Concussion Syndrome has made it worse, to the point where my medication isn’t helping. I can say, however, that it does seem to be getting better with time.
I’ve only had two instances of ringing in the ears. The day I went to the ER, and about a week later. Both times the ringing was loud but only lasted a minute or so.
I did not have any trouble with blurry vision until about two weeks into recovery. One day I just noticed that with or without my glasses my vision was so blurry it got in the way of life. I kept rubbing my eyes and blinking, putting eye drops in, and cleaning my glasses, then it dawned on me, “damn, my vision is blurry”. As of today it still is.
That chemical taste I mentioned earlier, it went away about a week into recovery.
OK, so now it’s time to talk about a symptom that I have not seen listed on any symptom lists for Post-Concussion Syndrome. Maybe it has something to do with my injury, maybe it doesn’t…
I have always had very vivid dreams, that’s just me, a very vivid dreamer. Since my head injury my dreams have seemed even more vivid. Sometimes when I wake I am stuck in a confused state for a minute or so. Am I still asleep or am I awake? Am I still dreaming or is this reality? Was I dreaming or was that something that really happened?
This can be kind of scary.
SO, here I am still recovering. Who knows how long it will take. Hopefully soon I will be able to go back to work and get back to life as I once knew it. I have an appointment with my primary doctor tomorrow. And I have a mental health appointment next week.