Concussions, and other fun things

There are few things in life which I value quite as much as the ability to think clearly. Food, family, and somewhere to live are all up there, of course, but aside from the basic necessities of living, what do you actually have if you can’t think?

I don’t mean thinking as in contemplating the deeper mysteries of life and all that (although I am the sort who enjoys that too, now and then), just… thinking. Being able to sit and know where you are, know how you’re feeling. Anticipate the finer things, such as how you’re going to get up, go into the kitchen, and put that kettle on for a cuppa. And then being able to get up, and not stop and think “Um, I’m in the kitchen. What was I about to do?”

A handy mug of tea

This, Jemma. It’s called tea, and it rules your life.

Last Friday, I had a pretty bad seizure and, although I don’t really remember doing so, hit my head kinda hard. I know this, because there’s a nice, handy bruise on the back of my head to remind me every time I lie down the wrong way. Now, this is a good opportunity for me to get sidetracked and point out that this wouldn’t have happened had the people around actually known what to do when someone has a seizure, and believe me, I will, another time. But today, the focus is the aftermath. The why, as it were.

The paramedics who are usually summoned when I have a seizure in public gave me the okay, advising me to make an appointment with my GP soon. Fair enough. There was no swelling on my head, and I was able to pass their checks. As far as anyone could see, I was tired, but otherwise okay. And tiredness is pretty normal after a seizure.

The problem with a lot of head injuries is that they are just as invisible as epilepsy. You have to go by the symptoms as and when they crop up. It’s like driving on a straight road in the dark with no lights on. Is there a pothole? Is there a tree down? There’s no way of knowing until you feel the suspension protest, or you suddenly stop moving with a loud crunching noise.

So, for Friday I was tired, but I expected that. I was even kinda groggy, but as I’d had a bit of a bad night, I even expected that too. Then Saturday rolled around and I started getting nausea and serious concentration issues. I took to holding my hand over my eyes to block out the window. By Saturday night I was in A&E having another seizure and taking that nausea to its logical and rather extreme conclusion.

The nausea I could handle. It’s not great, but, well. It happens. The worst part was feeling disconnected from my body. Feeling floaty and loose, woolly. People stood next to me talked and I could hear the words but none of it went in. Apparently there was a 30 second delay on me replying to people at one point. My memory of the evening is hazy. It was like a waking dream, with nothing quite making sense, and the hard to pin down feeling that I was doing something wrong, or there was something I ought to remember but couldn’t.

At one point the disorientation and nausea merged, and it was like being seasick lying still on a hospital trolley. There was no sense of time; it was like being in a bubble with no beginning and no end. Confused, sick, tired, and head pounding, unable to escape. It was the mother of all auras, one with no seizure to break its hold.

Sunday arrived, after a broken night of scans and ward changes. By mid-morning I felt in control of my body again, and by mid-afternoon I’d been discharged, and told to take it easy. Scans showed everything as being normal, and there was no swelling, just some bruising, so there was nothing for it but to rest.

You get a lovely collection of paperwork from hospital admissions, too.

You get a lovely collection of paperwork from hospital admissions, too.

And when it comes down to it, past a point that’s all you can do for any head injury. Get the measurable problems sorted, and then wait it out. But when you can walk and talk, and you haven’t any visible illnesses, or serious pain, it’s easy to forget that part. I caught myself on Monday getting cross with myself for napping and daydreaming, for losing concentration. I caught myself yesterday being irritated that one small trip into town for some groceries, just a five minute walk either way, should tire me out.

I catch myself today, rolling my eyes at myself as I wince while brushing my hair. I’m already cross with myself for standing in the middle of the room earlier thinking “Umm, what was I doing?”

And this is me. This is a me who deals with confusion and disorientation on a regular basis in the form of seizures and auras. I understand altered and impaired consciousness all too well. Heck, I was describing it as such to the paramedics while blatantly still suffering from it. So if I am this hard on myself, and I know what’s wrong, and I understand completely the seriousness and legitimacy of conditions of the head, how bad is it for someone who doesn’t?

Our society doesn’t allow for recovery. We have to be back to normal yesterday, never slowing down, never stopping. But that’s just not how our bodies work. You can’t always see the problem, but that doesn’t mean it isn’t there. We – society as a whole – need to do more to recognise that.

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