In January 2009 I was diagnosed with post-concussion syndrome from the accumulation of concussions that went undetected after ten years of hockey and lacrosse. The latest was October 28, 2008, when I was playing goalie for the Aurora Tigers Midget AA team. During that game I was run, and the back of my head hit the post and then the ice. The goal counted with only ten seconds left in the second period, during which it is believed I lay unconscious. I remember seeing all black lying on my back trying to catch my breath. I opened my eyes and slowly regained my breath. I was required to go to the bench for the remainder of the second period because I was down for too long to remain in the game. My coach and trainer repetitively asked, “Are you okay to play?” I decided to return to play in the third period after becoming very emotional and telling my team to protect me.
Any competitive athlete questioned if they are okay to play will always say “yes.” I wish I was either given no option or was more in tune with how I felt. The third period seemed to drift by with cloudy vision, which I had experienced playing hockey on and off for about six years, not realizing it was the sign of a concussion. The following day at school I didn’t feel right. I had a constant migraine and went to the hospital. I was told I had had a concussion and was instructed not to play hockey until the headache was gone, though going to school would not be harmful.
After four months of trying to determine what was wrong with me, practising with the team once and making numerous trips to the hospital, I was living as normal as possible. In school and at work I felt achy, tired, headachy, and frustrated. Family and friends noticed me becoming easily irritated. I remember sitting in my room itching to do something, and this usually resulted in me getting into a fight with mom or my siblings. Co-workers noticed my lack of memory; I repeatedly forgot about my shifts, which was extremely uncharacteristic.
Once getting in touch with Dr. Echlin in January, I was “shut down” from my grade 12 year immediately and I didn’t know when I would return or if I would be graduating or going to university with my classmates. The worst part about the entire situation was that I did not know when I would be back to normal, when I could play hockey, and when I could go back to school. Once being shut down I was not allowed to use the TV, computer or Xbox, was on a regimented sleep schedule, didn’t attend school or do work, and was limited to what felt like no life. As an outlet I tried watching my team play, but the noise, lights, and watching what I was missing out on was too hard to take. My coach and trainer showed very little understanding and must have sought legal advice as they removed themselves from the situation. I ultimately became disconnected from the team entirely, which was tough as I had always prided myself on being a team player.
Other symptoms I had developed were sensitivity to light and sound. I could only watch half a period of hockey on TV before developing a migraine. I had also become extremely emotional; I remember absolutely bawling my eyes out on occasion for extended periods of time, losing complete control of my emotions. Once again this was uncharacteristic of my normal behaviour. Depression was there, and thoughts of suicide crossed my mind on a few occasions. This was a scary time in my life; I had never lost touch with my emotions and thoughts to such an extent. I also had headaches so bad I couldn’t sleep. I was put on sleeping pills ; these slowly became addicting so I tried to sleep without them.
It was not until late February or early March that I began taking two classes in school, and one night school course in order to finish my final year. My weekly schedule was basically attending night school twice a week and going into school once a week for the social aspect and to collect work for the week. Weekends I would rarely see friends; if I did I was home by 10 pm and felt I was missing out on one of the best years of my life.
These were some of the darkest days of my life. Every morning there was basically nothing to look forward to except my girlfriend, friends and the hope of playing hockey again. Thanks to my family and friends, and the cooperation of teachers, I managed to graduate with honours. The summer was a good shut down period with no work and little stress. Over the summer I decided to attend university with a reduced course load. Although my doctor was not entirely in agreement with the idea, I felt it would be more detrimental to watch all my friends go away and feel even more disconnected than to partake in classes part time. I believe I definitely made the right decision. I rested up over the summer to take three courses as opposed to five in each semester. My university was extremely willing to work with me, supplying numerous accommodations. I am taking my core courses and tacking on electives at the end of my university career, or as I can handle to take them.
Throughout this entire experience it has been a struggle to deal with my emotions, headaches and entirely new lifestyle. I will never forget absolutely breaking down the day I was told I would probably never play contact sports again. Removing sports from my lifestyle has been extremely difficult; it feels like I completely lost my identity as a person. The hardest part through all of this is the fact that, as much as people can try to understand, no one knows what it’s like until they go through it. Through my experiences the emotional side of the injury has been tougher to deal with compared to the daily headaches. My doctor, girlfriend and family are extremely conscious of what I am going through and are very understanding in the toughest of times. For the most part friends and other outsiders do not see my injury like they would a broken leg; it’s an invisible condition. Friends may make comments if I can’t come out, or when they feel like I have an unfair advantage writing exams with accommodations. One outlet I find relieving is talking to other people with PCS and other brain injuries to share experiences. Through university I have definitely had some fun and have learned not to push it, which took a long time after training myself to constantly push as an athlete. I am slowly coming to terms with my condition; I have learned to cope with it as much as possible. It has been almost a year and a half now of headaches. I am slowly losing hope at a 100 percent recovery. Although I would love some answers as to when I am going to get better, I am taking it day by day and hoping for the best. Another question I would love answered is, if I had never played in the third period would things be different today? Unfortunately there is no answer to these questions. Lately I have had little sign of improvement with only a month remaining in the school year. I am hoping another summer of shutting down will be the cure.