Misunderstanding my concussion

Imagine yourself in a gym, full of 12- and 13-year-olds, running back and forth while dribbling a basketball. Seems pretty simple, right? Well, that very simple exercise was what sent me to the ER on my first ambulance ride. It happened so fast. A classmate lost control of the ball, flew up in the air, and landed smack on my head. Ouch! But I kept on running. I was a small pre-teen; getting accidentally hit by objects wasn’t anything new. Little did I know that this was the beginning of a long medical and emotional journey of learning what it means to be supported by God and by others.

I kept running, trying to ignore the pain, but it was no use. My head started throbbing. I had to stop, tears streaming down my face. I was ushered by some friends to my teacher.
“Are you dizzy?”
“Does your neck hurt?”
“Do you want some ice?”

The days that followed were quite eventful. I had a panic attack during my first trip to the hospital. My second trip to the hospital was just two days later, because I looked like I was going to faint. I was unable to sleep and I was way more talkative than normal. The diagnosis was a mild concussion.

About a week after I got bumped in the head, I went back to school. I was looking forward to sharing my adventures with my classmates, but barely anyone cared about what I had to say. I found out that my sister had told a classmate about my concussion, and she told the rest of my class. So everyone already knew, end of the story. Except I was still living through an ongoing story of headaches, fatigue, and a lack of concentration. In the following months, I often needed to go home early. 

You can’t see a headache. Although my closest friends may have cared about my well-being,  I received very little sympathy or support from my peers. I was just the girl who was absent a lot. 

I felt misunderstood and disappointed. It seemed as if barely any of my classmates cared enough to listen.

Keeping my scoliosis a secret

Months after I got my concussion, four words rang through my ears, causing my head to spin again: 
“You will need surgery.”
I clenched my teeth as my heart struggled to maintain a steady rhythm. I was ushered into another room. 
“Surgery is big news, huh?” 
I stayed quiet, blinking back any signs of fear that may have come across my face. I just nodded my head in agreement. 

Shortly after, I was face to face with my friends.
All I told them was that I had “just” had a doctor’s appointment.

Before I had my concussion, I found out I was diagnosed with scoliosis. The need for surgery had nothing to do with my concussion, which was contrary to what a lot of my peers thought. When I found out about my diagnosis, I felt embarrassed about the fact that I would need a brace at night, and did not want to go into detail about my new medical reality with my friends, because I feared what they might think.

Overwhelmed, confused, and disconnected

The following Labour Day weekend, a few months before my surgery, there were unexpected and difficult moments of heavy emotion. A housewarming party, seeing a friend with cancer, and my sister’s sixteenth birthday party completely overwhelmed me.  

The next day was my first day of grade eight. So much had happened that weekend. I was exhausted, and I walked into school crying as if someone in my family had just died. To make matters worse, most of my friends were not in my class. I was silent and puffy eyed. 

After lunch, I went to the next class on my schedule, except when I knocked on the door, nobody answered. I don’t know why, but I thought it was a good idea to wander off into the field instead of going to the main office for help. I was just walking, listening to music for comfort. I even thought that nothing could hurt me. But I was delusional. 

Confusion hit me like a ton of bricks when someone approached me, asking why I was in the field. I told her, “I want them to be happy.” She looked at me, puzzled, then brought me inside. To my astonishment, I’d been wandering around in the field for hours; my parents were worried sick. 

I was ushered to the office to meet with my new vice principal. He tried to understand what was going on. Because it was the first day of school, he didn’t punish me for essentially skipping class. So I gathered my things and headed home. He was compassionate towards me, but still, no one tried to understand my bizarre thoughts. 

Medical misconceptions

I was still not myself for quite some time. I needed professional help. I was admitted to the psych ward of the children’s hospital. When I was triaged, I claimed to know people whom I’ve never met before. My parents could not recognize their daughter. 

After two weeks of being in the hospital, I was finally well enough to go home. My whole experience, my odd behaviour and thoughts, was summarized as me being anxious about my upcoming back surgery. If you ask me, that was an overgeneralization. My surgery was surely at the back of my mind, but it all had to do with the fact that I never really got the time to properly process each individual thing that happened over the Labour Day weekend. Looking back, I can say with confidence that at least Jesus knew my situation at a time where I felt like no one else did.

A battle of holding back

When I was preparing myself to go back to school, I was given a way to explain my absence to my friends: I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital. That’s it, no further details.

When I went back to school, I remember a guy in my class saying, “Oh I thought you were dead.” 
What a welcome back to normal life. At least my friends made it seem like they missed me. 

Then came the questions. 
“What happened to you? “
“Where were you?” 
I told them what I’ve been advised to say: “I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital.”
That wasn’t a sufficient answer. They felt entitled to know more. 

“Yeah, but what did you have?”
I repeated: “I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital.”

“Did it have anything to do with your heart?”
“No,” I replied, confused why they would ask.

Later, I discovered that there was a rumour going around that I had a heart condition. When I told people that wasn’t true, they would ask:
“Oh, then what did you have?”
“I don’t feel like talking about it.”
That seemed to quiet the questions—at least temporarily. 

Eventually people found out that I needed surgery for my back. Word spread among my teachers, and then to my classmates. It wasn’t the ideal way to share the news with my peers, but at least it took the pressure off my shoulders to explain myself to others.  

Fever and deja vu

I was back to my old self by the time the start of October rolled around. I was afraid of slipping back into that mental state where nothing I did or thought made sense. One night in October I experienced chills, a sign that I had a fever. My odd behaviour started to return, and I was once again admitted to the psych ward, but this time, I had my fever to blame. 

Again, after a few weeks, I was better. I went back to school. Again, I was given the same instructions from the hospital about what to say to my peers about why I was absent.

“Where were you?”
“I wasn’t feeling well, so I went to the hospital.”
“Yeah, but like, what did you have?”
“I had a fever.” Well at least that was the truth, just not the whole truth.

I knew that people thought it was weird that I had a fever for so long, but I didn’t let that bother me too much. Let them be skeptical. I felt like myself again, and that should be all that mattered. At least I had friends, like Farzana, who showed that they really cared about my health. 

Support during surgery

I was supposed to have my spinal fusion surgery at the end of October, but because of everything going on, it got postponed to February.

When the time for my surgery came, I was nervous. I remember my grandfather praying for me, and how touched I felt. I woke up the morning of the surgery with an encouraging email from one of my best friends, Melanie. It served as a confidence boost for me. She wrote: 

“Hi Amber,
I wanted to wish you luck on your surgery tomorrow. We hope time goes by fast so you come back to school soon.”

Right before the surgery, my surgeon reassured me with this: “I’ve performed this surgery many times. I know what I’m doing.”

He couldn’t have said anything more comforting. I felt ready to conquer whatever laid ahead of me. It was like God was speaking to me directly through my surgeon; he knew just what I needed to hear at that moment.

After my surgery, I felt very groggy, highly drugged with pain meds. The pain didn’t quite register yet because the pain meds had not worn off. But I was in for a rude awakening. I was in for the worst pain I’ve ever felt in my entire life. My mom was my rock. She was with me every day in the hospital, present to assist my every need. 

I remember getting another email from Melanie. Hearing from her made me smile! She asked how my operation was, when I would be coming back to school, and let me know that everyone missed me. I even received a big card from my class. It made me feel special and cared for that they put so much thought and effort into a card just for me. What a stark difference compared to how people treated me when I got my concussion.

To be able to confide in a friend such as Melanie about my experiences in the hospital felt like a weight off my shoulders, because it made me feel like I wasn’t dealing with my pain all alone.

When I went back to school, people asked me how I was feeling, and this time, for the first time in months, I was able to answer them honestly, holding nothing back. It felt good to finally be completely free to share all my pain with everyone. 

Passing on the comfort

Fast forward to a year or two, and my back felt significantly better. I was progressing towards being fully healed. One day, I found out that an old neighbour of mine was going to have the same surgery. I felt for her. I wanted to give her the comfort I had only dreamed of receiving.

I decided to message her:
It will probably be the worst excruciating pain you will ever experience. It will be painful, but just know that the pain will not last forever. Currently, about a year after I had the surgery, I barely feel any pain, to the point where me having had a surgery is not often at the forefront of my mind. 

She was thankful for me messaging her. It came in the nick of time because she had the surgery shortly after. Talk about perfect timing—God’s timing. 

It’s hard to go through tough challenges when people misunderstand your situation, especially those who should know you the best. It’s especially scary when you yourself can’t grasp what’s happening. For me, I really found comfort in God, who knows me fully, and understands not only my current situation, but also my future situations. Although God’s comfort is more than enough to always sustain me, the people who support me still matter, as they are the ones who build me up when I feel discouraged. So, telling my story is important because it allows me to give others the support that I didn’t always have. 

This article was written as part of the Writing Mentorship with our P2C-Students Editorial team.

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About the Author

Amber North

Amber is an English literature student at Concordia University in Montreal. In grade 2, she first aspired to be an author, and has kept that dream alive ever since. She expresses the love she experiences from God in poems, desiring to be a light for those who are going through hard times.

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