It’s been a while. Nearly three weeks ago, I hit my head while picking up some laundry. I stood up too fast underneath a drop-down ceiling and the rest is history.
What followed? A concussion, many long-lasting headaches and long periods of dizziness, two emergency room visits to GBMC, a bad reaction to Hydrocodone and Augmentin, and three follow up doctors' visits. Oh, and a lot of missed work and nearly a week and a half of lost sleep, which led to depression and severe anxiety.
I don't want to write too much about all the things that went wrong from the start -- namely the fact that the first time I went to the ER that the doctor NEVER even told my fiance or I that I had a concussion (which means that I was not under medical "watch" when I should've been). Funny enough, my little accident is pretty timely when considering the discussion that's going on in Congress about how school systems handle concussions among high school athletes (read a good Washington Post story about it here).
More than anything, figuring out what to do to feel better was the hardest part. Concussions are disgustingly tricky and after having been through a few weeks of hell, I figure I might as well share the wealth of knowledge I gained because it may help someone, somewhere.
If you hit your head really hard and are in pain and are dizzy for hours, make sure you figure out what’s going on; do not rely on the ER to physically tell you. Go to the ER, get a CT scan, and before you leave, have the person you’re with carefully read through the thick packet of discharge papers that the hospital hands you. Not doing this was my biggest mistake. Make sure you are under “watch” – concussions are very serious. Even if you don’t pass out after hitting your head (I didn’t), it doesn’t mean the head injury is any less serious and you shouldn’t try to get back into your regular activities within the first few days (like I foolishly did).
Give yourself some time -- up to two full weeks -- to recover. For me, this was extremely difficult. Don’t rush back into work or school for the sake of all the assignments you’re missing. It’s not worth feeling worse for longer. Football players may be back on the field only a week after a concussion sometimes, but do you think they have to spend a lot of time sitting in front of the computer or on their feet leading a discussion or instructing a group of people for their job in between? My guess is no.
Drink Pedialyte and lots of water to stay hydrated. Your brain needs a lot of energy to repair itself. I drank anywhere from 8-9 bottles of water a day the first four or five days of my concussion and was still thirsty. The second time I was in the ER, I was told that I was dehydrated and was hooked up to an IV for fluids, which was a huge surprise since I was drinking so much water. After that, I drank diluted cups of Pedialyte, mixed with water, to stay hydrated.
If you’re experiencing pain behind or under your eyes and into your ear it could be from a concurrent neck injury or from the fluid that builds up in your sinuses as your brain tries to repair itself from all that was jolted around inside your head. I was told that I had an acute sinus infection and chronic sinusitis, even though I didn’t have symptoms of a sinus infection before bumping my head and have only had one sinus infection (last April) in the last 8 or 9 years. The pressure you’re feeling is from the injury. Take a decongestant and do a sinus rinse twice a day (I recommend NeilMed). You don’t need to get on high-powered antibiotics because, if you’re like me, it will result with many sleepless nights spent in the bathroom as you deal with their uncontrollable side effects.
NOTE TO ABOVE: I would try the natural sinus rinse before attempting decongestants as I'm not sure how a decongestant might react so closely after bumping your head. Decongestants also have a reputation for slightly dehydrating you under even more normal circumstances. A natural rinse is always better than medication (unless you actually have a sinus infection, in which case the rinse can give you an ear infection -- doctors have told me this on multiple occasions).
Unfortunately, you can only take Tylenol or a pain reliever that's acetaminophen-based; consuming pain-relieving narcotics is a terrible idea. It’s a huge drag – Tylenol barely works for me – but you can’t use Motrin, Ibuprofin, Advil or any of the good stuff to get rid of your headache because it can promote more internal bleeding (and you don’t want to have a clot form in your brain, right?) Narcotics aren’t a good idea either, especially if you have a bad reaction from them and lose even more sleep. (Hydrocodone made it hard for me to breathe, so I will never take it ever again.) After a couple of weeks, you should be okay to get back on Advil and other adequate pain relievers that aren’t hard on your liver (like Tylenol), but ask your doctor first.
Try to stay away from activities that may strain your eyes or ears. Don’t spend too much time in front of the computer, try not to go somewhere with bright, institutional lighting (and if you have to, don’t stay there long), moderate your television watching (it’s best to not watch any TV at all), try not to read books, magazines, etc. and don’t make yourself go to loud, noisy places.
Follow up with recommended doctors' and specialists' appointments. Two different ER doctors told me that my CT scans showed sinus polyps, which require a series of treatments often leading to surgery. Come to find out, two different ENT specialists at the same ENT clinic told me that this was not the case at all and that what was showing up on my CT scans was no where near my sinuses. Not to mention that their recommended treatment was actually what got me on the road to recovery.
The most important part of all the above is receiving adequate medical care and getting plenty of rest. If I could’ve just scooted over a little bit before standing up, then maybe my brother and his girlfriend could’ve still come over for a night of drinking and Rock Band, maybe I could’ve still met Laura Lippman, or made it to two friends’ birthday celebrations.
There are so many what-ifs. If anything, at least I have another story to tell, right?
Carrie Oleynik is a writer based in Baltimore, Md.
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