I remember this game more vividly than any game I’ve ever played, even the ones that won my team and I gold medals, or trophies. I was playing for the London Lynx Belle A ringette team as a left defense. I’ve been playing for years by this point I was 17 years old, one of the youngest on the team of the three year age group. It was the last period of play against Exeter, the game was rough and we were only up by one, we had about 15 seconds left and I was fighting with another girl in the corner for the ring, just trying to keep her busy until the clock went out. The buzzer sounded signaling the end of the game and most of us were going to line up to shake hands. Next thing I knew I was laying on the ice dizzy and out of breath and not sure if I was able to get up. She’d hit me from behind into the boards after the play was over because I had stopped her scoring to send the game into overtime. I can’t remember if the game was important toward tournament qualification or provincials or anything like that, it was just another game as far as I knew. Eventually one of my good friends whom I’d been playing with for years came and helped me up, and I made it on my own through the line regardless of how dizzy and confused I was, just take it slow it’ll pass I kept telling myself.
Once back in the dressing room my coach was doing our usual post game speech and kept watching me, I guess I looked like I was about to pass out or something because he kept asking me if I was alright and I just remember telling him I felt sick and I’d hit my head on the boards on the way down before hitting it again on the ice, from what I could remember. I never lost consciousness but that doesn’t make it any less awful. He passed the speech over to our captain and sat with me, giving me water and some chocolate, which was when I really realized how much trouble I could be in for. If there was one thing that my coach didn’t see any different on with regards to our training outside practice and games it was our diet, no junk food, ever. The rest of the day was a blur of hospital rooms, xrays and the like, but no cat scans or anything too extreme, I apparently wasn’t injured enough for that because I didn’t pass out when I struck my head.
Let’s fast forward a year later. I had been off from that initial concussion for two and a half months, and the went back to sports as usual, I gave up ringette my senior year of high school to play on the girls hockey team, I had been doing that since grade 9 and really loved it. I knew that I couldn’t do both ringette and hockey as I needed to focus on getting into university for music, so I gave up competitive ringette to play in the youth orchestra in my city. However one thing never changed, I was and always will be a bit of a fighter on the ice. I got into a fair number of hockey fights that last year and probably got a couple more minor concussions but looking back now, who knows? I certainly don’t and I never felt as bad as I did the last time, so I never sat out. I am way too competitive for that, I’d take a hit to the head, get up, give my head a shake and tell myself to get back out there.
So its October of 2011 in our timeline now. I’m about a month into my first year of university at Laurier as an honours music student. I’ve got migraines almost daily and I’m just suffering from stress and the like. I really wasn’t doing well at all when I look back on it. Finally I went to see one of my professors to talk about it with him, he is also the associate dean of my program and thank goodness I did. He rushed me into the accommodations office where I met Derek Humphreys who got me in to see Dr. Echlin, and good thing he did.
By Christmas break I had been diagnosed with Post-Concussion Syndrome and was just burnt out completely. I had nothing left but I was so determined to stay in school and not lose my year which looking back looks like I was asking myself to climb Everest without training. I reduced my course load to the bare minimum, and worked with accommodation services at school to get proper alternatives in place to help me stay at school, and yes, it was still a big challenge to make it through because the one thing I needed to get better, is the one thing most university students do not do; sleep. By the end of that term I was doing a little better but I was still pretty burnt out by the end of exams. This time I chose to listen to Dr. Echlin’s advice as I figured I was being a bit difficult at the beginning to the point of getting unreasonable, it doesn’t just magically go back to normal in a week. That’s not how head injuries work. So I agreed with him that I should pass on working to save money for tuition, I’m fortunate that my parents started saving money for me for school when I was a baby, and instead focus on getting better. It was a good summer for me, I averaged 16 hours of sleep a day, and took one course online during the summer to catch up on the first year requirements for my psychology minor.
It is now half way through my second year and I am still struggling. The concussion has increased my already existing anxiety issues to the point of needing medication. I still don’t sleep enough during the year, and there are a fair amount of nights when my daily workload needs to get pinched, I spend my weekends catching up, and I work too hard sometimes. I’m resilient and I don’t want to give up. The best thing about this whole experience is how positive Derek and Dr. Echlin have been in understanding my condition and getting me any and all help I need, as well as the constant reminder that I will get better it just takes time. The most frustrating part is honestly, how much time will this take? Unfortunately, that is the question no one can answer. I plan to spend another summer doing courses online and I’m hoping to be doing well enough this year to get some part time work in.
I really want to take a second to focus on you now, the reader. I want to give you some advice. If you’re suffering like I was during my first year, I want to tell you the best thing I did for myself was put my pride and independence aside and ask for some help. There are a lot of people out there like Derek and Dr. Echlin who want to help you get better and help you do the best you can, but you have to ask them. Listen to their advice and don’t push yourself too hard. It’ll be difficult, it’s hard to watch everyone carry on with their lives when it feels like you’re stuck at a standstill going nowhere fast. You’ll get there, you’re not standing still, you’re moving slower. Thing is, and remember this, it is really quite important. While you have two feet, two hands, somewhere near a hundred bones, you’ve got one brain. That one brain has to last you an average of 85 years, so treat it with the respect it deserves because that’s a big responsibility for one organ to carry. And an even bigger responsibility on you to keep your brain safe as you can, because you get one chance, and you miss out on a whole lot when you hurt it. I’m just lucky I got to graduate with my class and go to school with my friends, and get the chance to work with people who are first and foremost concerned with helping me get better in my own time.