Concussion Be Gone

By Nicole Toole

All my life, I have been an athlete. For as long as I can remember, I always had a basketball in my hands. It's in my blood and a part of who I am. I loved the game more than I loved anything really, but the thing that I loved so much was also what brought me the greatest amount of pain. My life completely changed on Friday, January 12th. I remember that night like it was yesterday, my team was playing against the best  team in our county, North Forsyth High School. It was a difficult and hard night, but I was working my behind off to score points for my team. Then I was hit, literally. I went up for a lay-up and came tumbling down, slamming my head into the ground. Immediately, I came to tears. The trainer took me away and had me go through a series of tests to determine the severity of my brain injury. I couldn’t say the months of the year backwards or dart my eyes back and forth without an excruciating amount of pain entering the back right corner of my head, where I had been hit. The trainers words will forever ring in my ears as he told me I had a “very mild” concussion.

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The fact that the trainer told me that my brain injury was “very mild” is almost hysterical to me now, because though it might have been mild, I endured a long battle with it for eight months. Nothing seemed too mild about it. But after this trainer’s diagnosis, I went home and rested like I was instructed. The next morning, I felt amazing, even normal. I had no concussion-related symptoms for two days straight, so in my head I agreed with the trainer this was definitely just a mild concussion. I went to basketball practice that Monday morning and sat out the entire practice. Still, no symptoms. It wasn’t until I went to my first period class, Calculus, that everything would come tumbling down. I remember walking into class, sitting in my chair, and looking up at the board for the warm-up problems. Immediately my head began to go off. This was no regular headache, the best way that I can describe it is like bombs being blown off, while sharp pains strike deeply into the sockets of your brain. Graphic I know, but that was how intense the pain was.

 

My school nurse instructed that I immediately go home and see a doctor. Later that week I went to see Dr. Oluseun A. Olufade at Emory Sports Medicine. He simply told me that I needed to rest and in due time my pain would go away. He was right, the first week I improved tremendously, even to the point that I thought I was completely done with this concussion thing. My confidence ran a little bit too high, and I decided that I was ready to attend my team’s basketball game. I wasn’t even close to handling the light, sound, and high activity that was within the building that night. This night set me all the way back to day one of my injury and is when the vicious cycle in my recovery began. For a week I would get better, then I would get worse. It never failed, month after month nothing changed no matter how much I rested or how many medications I took--my head pain and sensitivities did not go away.

 

This vicious cycle began to put me in a very dark place. I began to develop depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts, all of which I never shared with anyone - not even my doctor. As time went on I knew that if I didn’t do something then, I might end up doing something irreversible. Coming up to my fourth month anniversary with my concussion, I went into fight mode. I began extensive research on post-concussion syndrome and therapies to treat it. One specific blog post that I found was about a man who had had post-concussion syndrome for almost over a year and completely recovered. This gave me hope. What changed everything for him was daily exercise. I remember my doctor telling me about studies, in which they found that exercise had been very beneficial for concussion recoveries, so I decided that I had nothing to lose and would give it a try.

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The first week and a half that I began the daily exercises was terrible, I had pounding headaches, nausea, you name it I had it, but I persevered and did the workouts every single day. After that second week, I felt significantly better, better than I ever had before. I also changed my diet to become heavily plant-based and routinely did my vestibular exercises every morning. For the first time, I was seeing significant strides to a full recovery. As time went by, my setbacks became less frequent and my headaches decreased in severity. By August, I had gone one full week without any symptoms and by September I was completely symptom free and attended my first concert!

 

I was proud of myself, I had made it to the other side and was finally free, but something kept telling me that I couldn’t just move on. I knew that I had to help others obtain the freedom that I had won. Thus, I decided to create ConcussionBeGone. ConcussionBeGone is a blog platform that strives to educate those with brain injuries ways to heal, while also giving them a community of people going through the exact same struggles that they are. I hope that by sharing my own personal experiences, I can encourage someone to keep going and to keep fighting. My mom would always tell me, there’s nothing like turning what the devil meant for harm and turning it for the good of others. And I think she was right.

 

Happy Healing Everybody.

 

Nicole Toole

Jeff Brooks