BY KATIE UHLAENDER
So, there has been a ton of media on concussions lately, but to me all I’ve heard is “bla bla, these are really bad, common in high-contact sports, and people are still learning.” My thoughts were: I’ve had plenty of concussions and I’m fine. I was good after a week; sucks for those guys that are having issues. Not to mention the culture for many athletes in our sport is to try to be dumb on the impact and scat tests, so that our baseline for a concussion is just below normal. We really, really hate to be taken out of the game. So, I think there is something missing here. No one really understands concussions or what the consequences are to a mild concussion. Everyone obviously knows that if the athlete can’t walk or talk, their brain may be bleeding and they need to take a break, but what happens when it’s like the concussion I had and all it did was expose the worst sides of my personality, diet and math skills?
In my case, I crushed the impact test and the scat test. So, the protocol was to do an exertion test after 48 hours. No one thought to check out my head or neck, even though the right side of my face was swollen. I thought I was going to be good in a day or two; I’ve hit my head before and I’m a tough chick be back in no time! However, my symptoms were much less subtle than any one realized. I had issues with problem solving, planning and organizing; I wanted to sleep non-stop and eat cereal and trail mix till I burst! The problem solving, planning and organizing was not apparent right away because it was only things that had to deal with forethought or that I hadn’t dealt with. So to me I just thought I was too tired to deal with any of that and slept most of the time initially. My first attempt at the exertion test wasn’t so bad, just had a little pressure in my head. Everyone assumed it’d be gone in a day or two.
One week later, I seemed to be getting worse. I couldn’t stop eating; I was getting depressed; I couldn’t workout; I couldn’t slide; my brain seemed to be effected by stimulants, so I couldn’t drink coffee; reading was annoying; and I couldn’t seem to pay attention to anything for very long. Time seemed to go really fast as well, which makes me wonder how often I was just staring off at nothing? But no one knew these things, because I was alone the majority of the time. I would only come out of my room when I felt ok to talk, walk, eat and try the exertion test again.
I finally called a Canadian slider, Mellissa Hollingsworth, who had been dealing with some concussion issues. Also, I knew because of NHL star Sidney Crosby that the Canadians were on top of concussion research. She told me about her Valentus crew that had been helping her. I had a meeting with the United States Olympic Committee doc and he thought it best I see someone who understood concussions. I was freaked out at this point, because doing nothing seemed to have made me worse. From 24 hours post-concussion to one week later, I had actually gotten less tolerant to exertion!
So, with my brain mushy, I attempted to pack. However, I couldn’t pack like normal by thinking about what I “would” need. I had to look at an object and think, ‘Have I used this in the past?’ and deduce from there if I needed it! Five hours later, I was packed.
Coming to Calgary has been amazing. I did brain wave therapy, saw an osteopath, naturopath, two different concussion specialists, and have been getting soft tissue and chiro work every day. This is what I found out:
1) I did have a concussion, but the cognitive symptoms dissipated after 10 days.
2) Nutrition plays a huge part in the recovery of the brain, especially B vitamins, which could be why I was craving cereal and nuts… lots of good fats for the brain and thiamine in cereal. However, the amount I consumed was excessive… you’re welcome ;)
3) I had a neck injury that was overlooked to the SCM (sternocleidomastoid muscle), which if it had been treated right away my recovery would have been much quicker. This stupid neck muscle man, it is crazy! It caused some serious side effects. It was like getting karate chopped in the neck by a silent ninja and I would randomly feel like I was going to pass out! I didn’t know that was my neck. I felt like I had serious brain damage and didn’t know if I was going to be able to continue as an athlete ever again!
4) The person with the concussion should not be the one to plan, organize or seek out help… it’s really hard
5) Just because the athlete can walk and talk doesn’t mean they aren’t concussed
6) Doing nothing is not the answer for a concussion
7) The best thing to do is meditate, because it forces you to relax, not watch TV, not read, not play on your iPhone, and let your brain heal
8) GO SEE A CHIRO/ART person who knows about neck injuries or how to treat concussions!
I was depressed, couldn’t stop eating, and confused at what was going on with my body. The turning point for me was when I complained to a friend and he found another friend that was studying sports medicine at the University of Calgary. He happened to be working under the doctors specializing in concussions at the university! He showed me that my neck was the main cause of my symptoms because he could recreate them or make them go away with soft tissue work or certain pressure points in my neck! However, because it had been almost 3-4 weeks with no therapy on my neck, I was now in for a long road of recovery, which is where I am now. Conrad, my friend and awesome chiro, has been working on my neck every day since. I have finally gotten a week of dry land training in (lifting, running and pushing), and took my first two runs down the track yesterday. I am now looking at having to maintaining my neck for the rest of the season til it recovers from that karate chop to the neck.